Tag Archives: books

Classic literature is still relevant in the modern world

By Polina Runova

Staff Writers

Classic literature has been a part of our lives and communities for many generations, and yet it never seems to grow old. Some would even argue that it is the difference in time that makes these books all the more valuable today. Whatever the reason, teachers and students agree that despite the distant language, classics definitely have their place in the modern world and in the classroom.

99 students in Summit Tahoma were asked to define a classic. The poll wielded results such as “a book that is relevant to society from the day it was made and even in the present time”; “it[‘s] universally a favorite to all kinds of people” and “a book that is exciting every time you read it”. Many students also admitted that they were “not sure” or even “had no idea.”

Randall Studstill, a librarian at the San Jose Public Library, said, “A classic is a book that’s been found valuable generation after generation.” This backs up the idea that to become a classic a piece of literature needs to first stand the test of time.

Dan Dowling, an English teacher at Discovery Charter School, agrees with this. A classic is “something that’s endured, that still is talked about, or still mentioned, or still on a booklist,” Mr. Dowling said. “Even though it was written maybe a hundred years ago, or something like that, it’s something that still is a well-known book.”

Andrea Rivard, an AP literature teacher at Summit Tahoma, defined a classic as “something that tells a story that transcends time” even if it hasn’t yet proven it. She has been teaching for four years, and she has come to believe in the value of classics written recently. “What other people do with classics is ‘if it’s modern then it can’t be classic’, and I don’t think that’s true,” Ms. Rivard said.

Almost everyone does agree that classic literature has a place in present and the future. Of the students surveyed, 70 percent said reading classics is beneficial, and 80 percent said classics are relevant in the modern world. The reason for this is that classics speak about issues that “everyone has to deal with,” Mr. Studstill explained. “The real themes that are addressed in the book are universal.”

“Anything that is truly classic, no matter when it was written, is going to have those universal themes,” Ms. Rivard said. “They’re going to deal with things like what it means to be human, what love is, different things around how we interact, how we treat each other, and I think all of those things are really important.”

Mr. Studstill added that adolescence, feeling alone and dealing with death are issues that last throughout history.

However, books written long ago aren’t always easily relatable to today’s problems, and Mr. Dowling argues that this is a further beneficial quality of classics. “I think that’s a really big  benefit – trying to learn how to look at what was okay, maybe, during a time, and think about what’s okay now,” he said. “I think that really helps people with their perspective.”

Mr. Dowling suggests that the aged, and perhaps slightly outdated content in some classics helps people “to step out of oneself and one’s time and look at it based on what it is.” He also adds that following literature history can help people better understand who they are, and how they came to be. “We don’t just think this for no reason,” he said. “We got to the way we think through a series of steps, and I think examining some of those steps through literature is very beneficial for a person to be well-rounded.”

Classics have come a long way, but many believe they are just getting started. “I think you’re going to get so much out of them,” Ms. Rivard said.

“They definitely have their place,” Mr. Dowling added. “Lessons learned in the past shouldn’t be forgotten.”

Classic literature is important today, not only because it shows us where we came from, but also because it looks toward where we might go. “Those kinds of issues, they’re not limited to a certain time or place,” Mr. Studstill said.

“Reading in general is really important,” Ms. Rivard said. “Most definitely, I am for classic literature in the classroom.”

See below for a video about classic literature:

Books influence the community

By Angela Hwang, Jacob Jasper, Meria Rothrock and Nadia Tatishcheva
Staff Writers

“I really didn’t start liking reading until I was in tenth grade. We had programs in middle school […] that after you read a book you had to take a quiz and then you have to earn so many points, and it just took all of the love of reading out completely of my life.”

Denali English teacher Sara Ragey

Denali English teacher Sara Ragey went on to explain that her reading experience got even worse in high school: “I could never find books that I enjoyed reading, and then any books that were assigned in class I didn’t want to read, and, in high school, it was challenging because I didn’t like reading up until that point and so my reading skills weren’t very good and so books that I had to read in high school were more challenging and because I didn’t understand them … it made me want to read less, so it was like this constant negative cycle of my relationship with reading.”

Ms. Ragey’s story is common to many people. Reading, an essential life skill, has therapeutic and social uses in addition to recreational and enrichment uses.

Stress relief or control is a (potential) therapeutic use for books. According to Yuki Ascue, a child therapist at the Sunnyvale Mental Health Clinic, “At least 60 percent of people turn to books to calm down.” Ms. Ascue explained that a study from the University of Minnesota backs up this claim.

Ms. Ascue explained, “Breathing calms the nervous system [so] if you like reading, it probably calms your nerves and helps with stress management [because] when your mind calms down, you’re activating a different nervous system.”

Esther Min, a Denali freshman agreed, saying: “[Reading] is like an escape, and the characters are making me happy.” Min went on to talk about how reading has increased her social awareness. “Every book has a moral lesson, and, every time I read, I learn more and live in the shoes of the character and try to feel what they are feeling which makes me more empathetic and increases my knowledge of society.”

Denali history teacher Sarah Rivas

Sarah Rivas, a history teacher at Summit Denali, shared her thoughts on how reading has affected her: “I think it’s exposed me to a lot of different viewpoints and ideas.” She went on to add that reading is a big part of her family: “When we read together, we all talk about the books we’ve read, share those stories.”

Mira Geffner, a librarian at the Sunnyvale Public Library, added, “I think it can give us a window into other cultures and individuals whose life experiences we may not be able to understand. […] And I think as a community it can help us understand one another better.”

Ms. Rivas then stated that “there’s [a] cultural awareness [aspect as well]. People, even now or when you get older, are going to make references to these books, and if you don’t know what Big Brother is talking about, you’re going to come off as ignorant and you’re not. I don’t want that to hold [students] back in life.”

Leigh Odum, the owner of Leigh’s Favorite Books

Leigh Odum, the owner of Leigh’s Favorite Books said, “I think there’s a book culture here in Sunnyvale, and I think that it’s one more way for people to connect, people that may not meet otherwise. I think one thing I’ve really noticed about Sunnyvale is Sunnyvale really feels like a small town, so even though it actually has a pretty big population.”

But, of course, reading also allows students to grow and shine. Cleo Chen, a Denali freshmen stated, “Reading inspired me to start writing because I was like, I want to do this too!” and Min said, “I feel like my English level has improved because of the new vocabulary in books.”

However, many people (teachers included), agree that forcing students to read takes away the love of reading. “In elementary school, I didn’t like reading because my mom made me read these really complicated classics, so I never really found out what books are like,” said an anonymous freshman.  

Denali English teacher Sara Ragey

Ms. Ragey confirms that reading is more enjoyable when one is reading something one enjoys: “Then [in 10th grade] I finally found a book that I enjoyed, and I felt like I was reading quickly and understanding and enjoying, and then after that, I was more open to reading.”

She also stated that, in her experience, students who enjoy reading also enjoy school more than students who do not enjoy reading. Her observations are backed up by the Waterford Institute.

Ms. Rivas said, “I think [reading] is a habit that we need to build. Reading is about, for some people, you need to build some stamina and that’s the only way you practice is by like reading in school for some people at home reading’s not emphasized, school’s the only time someone’s going to tell them to read, but then it’s also you’ve seen in all of your classes, reading is in every subject, and so it’s really important that you can read easily and quickly, and it’s also less stressful for you.”

For those that cannot get to the library, do not like carrying around large, bulky books, or have vision troubles, many libraries and bookstores offer ebooks. Ms. Odum said, “[Ebooks have] given customers more options. I think we had a number of customers that had problems with their vision, and so ebooks have given people that had trouble reading a chance to read.” Additionally, Ms. Geffner, the Sunnyvale librarian, said, “We [the library] also provide materials to a limited number of homebound Sunnyvale residents by making personalized deliveries every single month, to between 70 and 80 residents in the city who are not able to get to the library on their own.”

But what impact do ebooks have on the bookstores? Ryan Higgins, the owner of Comics Conspiracy said, ““It’s hard to tell. […] Things like Amazon, I find, doesn’t really affect us too much because a lot of people like to come in, you know, they’re more collectors than just trying to buy cheap stuff online. Clearly some books that are much cheaper on Amazon, I mean sometimes it’s hard to pass up those deals, but, for a lot of people, you know, they’re coming in for the experience of shopping in the store.”

The storefront of Leigh’s Favorite Books

But, for a regular bookstore, business can be harder to attain. “We have to be competitive in terms of pricing, or in terms of services that we offer, there has to be an advantage to buying a full price book or a book that’s discounted less than it is online,” Ms. Odum said, adding: “For us, I haven’t seen a downturn in sales and, again, ebooks existed when we opened our store, so I think it’s just given people more options.” This is in sharp contrast with what Forbes.com reported last year.

Ms. Odum continued, “I think it’s really important to just remember that there’s a new generation with completely different experiences and it’s important to adapt, but I always think it’s important [to encourage young people to read].”

Denali history teacher Sarah Rivas

Ms. Rivas expressed a similar wish for students: “I would like to see you all reading more, I think, not just documents but novels, longer texts that you need to engage with.”

Reading has come a long way since the Dark Ages when books were a rarity and only the wealthiest of people could read. Today we have the privilege of being able to read just about anywhere in a variety of ways from ebooks to bookstores and libraries to online pdfs and free reading websites. As Charles W. Eliot states, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” has amazing themes

By Trevor Wilson

Staff Writer

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” carries strong themes of racism and perseverance. The theme of racism is topical and will probably be for the foreseeable future; but, it is not why I love this book.

The theme of perseverance is what really connected with me and got me invested in what was going on in the story; this theme connected with me because I am currently going through high school and seeing someone go through conflict and coming out of it better than when he went in was extremely inspiring. It might not be as inspiring to people not in my situation, but the other themes are just as well developed.

So you might have noticed that I laser focus on the themes; well, that’s what I am going to do for the rest of the piece, and occasionally I will gush about how the themes play into the story and add to the overall impact of the novel.

This work stands out for two reasons: first, the work’s author is a well-regarded creator because of his effective use of a dark tone in his stories; second, because it talks about serious topics, including racism but also the more tangible problem of alcoholism (which affected the author’s life and that of his tribe).

The general premise of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is that a young man who has been raised on the reservation for his entire life realizes that his school can not help him, so he goes to another school. In this new school, he gains self-confidence and flourishes. It’s a lot more complex than all that, but that is the general gist of it.

The themes can be represented by the protagonist’s position in two power systems: his school and the reservation. The goals of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” are as follows: first, to talk about several themes, including segregation, racism and perseverance; second, to make a story about this kid and his struggles.

On the subject of whether or not the story accomplishes those goals, the short answer is yes. This book did it by quickly and effectively giving the reader an easy way to understand the themes in the form of the reservation and high school’s social systems.

The author, Sherman Alexie, of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is avowedly influenced by his childhood. He has gone through some problems like depression and alcoholism.

Alexie’s childhood is very similar to the character in the book. The book’s tone is similar to his previous books, meaning it’s funny, depressing and dark.

This author typically portrays a journey where a character experiences pain and gains clarity. This book doesn’t break with that formula: the main character experiences pain and gains clarity; however, the fact that he is going through such a familiar thing is heart-breaking and makes the story personal.

The dark tone might put off some readers; it nearly made me stop reading. The exhaustingly dark tone is offset by the sheer charm of the protagonist. He is enjoyable to read about and likeable in a way that makes you want to see him get past his struggles and go on to bigger and better things.

The story also has intricate symbolism. The main symbols that the theme is built around are the school and reservation; more specifically, the protagonist’s place in their social structure. I could see how the themes interacted with the story, and I reacted with excitement because something was changing, and then I proceeded to cry because this story is really sad.

The story is really sad, and that would often turn me off of a book, but this is different. It is different because it paces itself so the characters aren’t tortured before I am invested.

Let’s talk about that: it’s really interesting because when a story starts to focus on the pain of the characters it usually becomes less enjoyable; but, in this situation, it was just the natural progression of the story. I believe I stay invested through all the drama because the story primarily focuses on how the protagonist heals and becomes better instead of how they wallow in pain.

The most surprising thing to me is that the drama is entertaining. The drama-laden ending was emotionally draining and left me satisfied instead of just tired and depressed.

Near the end of the book, there was just a cascade of depressing events, which just exhausted me; however, even though misery happened, a lot of the events got resolved in a positive way, which just made me happy.

All in all, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is an emotional thrill ride that keeps your attention with a likable protagonist. It definitely fulfills the goal of being entertaining.

Now, did Alexie achieve his goal of tackling serious topics like racism and alcoholism? Well, yes, but it is confusing at times. At times, the symbolism that is supposed to convey the message is either muddled or is too complex for me.

Featured image (at the top of this post): Sherman Alexie shows off his book red ink PHOTO CREDIT: ASU English department