“Mr Hemingway says a lot of things I don’t understand, Matilda said to her. ‘Especially about men and women. But I loved it all the same. The way he tells it I feel I am right there on the spot watching it all happen.’ ‘A fine writer will always make you feel that,’ Mrs Phelps said . ‘And don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.”
The popular Netflix series about teenage angst and issues – including bullying, sexual orientation problems, drug use and suicide – has prompted many fans to look for similar material in literature. Of course, the series itself was based on the bestselling young-adult novel by Jay Asher, which came out in 2007. Therefore you might as well start there.
I would also recommend the following novels, which, in addition to the similarity and relevance of the issues discussed, are – just like the series – carefully crafted, brimming with colorful characters, mystery and suspense.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
(Originally published in 1993). Aimed at adults. Issues covered: suicide; teenage inadequacy; family problems.
This option is ideal for readers who are looking for more sophisticated and literary material on similar topics. This debut novel by Jeffrey Eugenides is certainly one the darkest (and funniest) I have ever read. The five oversheltered Lisbon sisters were difficult to differentiate: all blond, good-looking and reserved. Ranging from 13 to 17 in age, they were an eternal source of mystery and attraction to the young male kids of the neighborhood of this quiet Detroit suburb – these same boys, decades later, will narrate the sinister events which took place in the 1970s as an interesting choral voice, reminiscent of the format of Greek tragedies. Things get weird when the youngest sister, Cecilia, commits suicide, jumping from her bedroom window. Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon are devastated. The girls become progressively more detached and emotionally removed from their school and community until they stop leaving home altogether. Meanwhile, their house is undergoing a pathetic process of deterioration and decay. It looks terrible and smells bad. One year later, all the sisters will have killed themselves as well. What happened? Who’s to blame? Disturbing. Beautifully written. A masterpiece. The story was made into an acclaimed movie by director Sophia Coppola in 2000.
The Pact by Jodi Picoult
(Originally published in 1998). Aimed at young adults and adults. Issues covered: teenage pregnancy; young love; suicide.
Chris Harte and Emily Gold have known each other since they were born 17 years ago, only a few months apart. Their parents are neighbors and best friends. The kids were inseparable and their friendship blossomed into romantic love, which was exactly what their parents had been hoping for all along. They are about to finish high school, their whole lives ahead of them. Nevertheless, when they are found lying in a pool of blood near the carousel they loved going to at night, it looks like a double suicide took place. Could it have been a sinister pact? But only one bullet was fired and Chris survives, which makes the police suspect foul play.
Undone By Cat Clarke
(Originally published in 2013). Aimed at young adult readers. Issues covered: sexual orientation; bullying; suicide.
This time, instead of the infamous tapes of 13 Reasons Why, the protagonist, high-school student Jem Halliday, gets monthly letters from the afterlife with specific instructions for her to follow. The story, which takes place in a small town in England, is narrated in the first person by Jem, who has a huge crush on her best friend and long-time neighbor Kai McBride. Kai, who happens to be gay, is brutally outed when a video showing intimate scenes between him and another boy gets e-mailed anonymously to his colleagues at school, kicking off heavy homophobic bullying. As a result, Kai kills himself. Jem, outraged and angry, sets out on a mission to avenge her beloved friend. But to accomplish that, she needs to become part of the elite gang of popular kids at school.
A Gothic Christmas Angel by Anna Erishkigal
(Originally published in 2013). Aimed at young adults. Issues covered: relationships; family matters; suicide.
This retelling of Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol takes place in modern-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 18-year-old Cassie works as a barista to help her alcoholic and harping mother. Her father abandoned the family when she was a kid. It’s Christmas Eve. Cassie gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend of five months, and out of despair, deliberately crashes her car into an old beech tree. As she lies slumped over the steering wheel, Cassie has an out-of-body kind of experience, being visited upon by a dark angel, Jeremiel – described in the book as “a smoking hot, really tall Goth Dude”. Can he help her review her life and avoid being sucked by demons into Hell?
Would you have any other suggestions? Please let us know.
Looking for the perfect book to read during Halloween? The Shining by Stephen King is a classic: one of the scariest books ever written. One reason for its popularity is the novel was turned into a celebrated movie directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval in the main roles, back in the 1980s.
Rumor has it that King himself was not entirely happy with the movie adaptation. If you read the book, you will probably understand why. Although the movie is heavily inspired by the book, it takes a lot of detours from the original plot and skips important themes that play an essential subtext.
In broad strokes, the novel tells the story of Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic with a short temper, who – unable to find a job anywhere else, after beating up a student at the school he used to work as writing teacher – is hired, with the help of a friend, as the caretaker of the sinister Overlook hotel for the winter months, taking his young wife, Wendy, and their 5-year-old son, Danny, with him.
The hotel is completely empty and isolated. To spice things up, Danny has the gift of precognition, popularly known, among the initiated, as the shining: he can read people’s thoughts, foresee the future, and have glimpses of violent incidents that took place a long time ago. Weird things start happening at the hotel. The family, especially the father and the son, are haunted by ghosts and unusual experiences.
Among the strange ocurrences that contribute to its sense of horror, the novel depicts a topiary – bushes and trees trimmed in the form of a rabbit, two lions and a dog – that seems to come to life occasionally; a dead woman who rises from a bathtub in room 217 (to this day, guests in many real hotels are said to turn down the offer to occupy the room with this number because of the novel); images of a mob murder that happened years before materialize in vivid form in front of the kid; in addition, mufffled sounds of a mask ball from the past are heard continually at night.
Could all this be a metaphor for a darker link between father and son? The symptoms of something terrible lurking inside the boy and ready to blossom?
As the months go by and the winter becomes harsher, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the hotel inevitably starts to unhinge Jack Torrance, whose madness slowly sets in. He becomes a deadly menace to his own family.
(Watch the clip of one of the best scenes of the movie below. Warning: strong language is used)
Stephen King is not only a bestselling and prolific author, but he’s also really talented. His books are not just airport thrillers made out of a schematic formula meant to provide a couple of hours of entertainement before being thrown out in the trash can at the end of your journey. The Shining, for example, can be read on at least two different levels. On a simpler, more straightforward level, we have the chilling mystery tale of a family stranded by heavy snow and lack of telecommunications, living alone in a more than 50-year-old luxurious hotel up in the mountains of Colorado.
An even more disturbing way of interpreting The Shining, however, is to read it as a vigorous metaphor for alcoholism, its genetic origins and terrible consequences: the story would consist of hyperbolic images translating the symptoms of that powerful disease that can be handed down from father to son to grandson, causing extreme anxiety, cravings, hallucinations, madness, violence, and, ultimately, death.
As backstory, the reader learns that Jack’s own father was an alcoholic. He would come home from his job as a nurse, smelling of booze and behaving nastily to his wife and kids. Despite being very fond of his father, Jack’s love wears out, as he witnesses a vicious beating his Dad administers to his Mom, for no reason at all.
Danny and Jack, for their turn, are quite close too. As a matter of fact, the bond between father and son is so strong that Wendy sometimes feels left out of their peculiar masculine world, and, as a result, even gets a bit jealous.
In an alternative interpretation of the novel, therefore, the closeness between father and son, Jack’s increasing madness at the hotel and Danny’s precognition gift can be easily understood as the addictive genetic inheritance handed down to the next generation, the beginning of what will become for Danny a full-blown disease in the future.
Steven King himself was an alcoholic at the time he wrote the novel and the theme in The Shining reflects his own worries and unhappiness about the problem. Writing, after all, has always been a potent way of purging one’s own demons.
Whatever layer of the story you choose, rest assured it will scare the living daylights out of you, which is why the book is such a great thriller in all respects.The book sustains a very oppressive atmosphere, making it a rather dark reading experience – entirely suitable to celebrate your Halloween night. The tension in the story grows progressively unbearable, culminating in a gruesome climactic sequence. Not to be missed.
On the warm summer night of August 9th, 1969, a man and three women, riding an old Ford, pulled up to the sidewalk near the entrance of one of the mansions of the affluent neighborhood of Bel-Air, Los Angeles, stepped out and broke into the house, brutally stabbing and beating to death five people who were unlucky to be there.
One of the victims was budding actress Sharon Tate, wife of Polish movie director Roman Polanski, who was out of the country on a business trip. Eight-month pregnant Sharon was stabbed to death sixteen times and her blood was used to paint the word pig on the outside of the front door.
This was one of a series of similar murders that happened around the same place and time.
Charles Manson’s Philosophy
The gruesome crime shocked not only the residents of LA, putting the fear of god in many of the Hollywood celebrities that lived in the area – since everyone first thought it had to do with their fame and fortune – but it was also widely publicized all over the world.
It turned out that the reason behind the horrific murders was a combination of white supremacy concepts, Beatles songs and effective knowledge of how to manipulate people under the effect of hallucinatory drugs such as LSD. This amalgamation informed the insane philosophy conceived and passed on by of one of the most charismatic and dangerous leaders to appear in the recent history of the US: Charles Manson. He was the mentor of the killings, inducing the members of his close group of followers to perpetrate them.
Helter Skelter – The Book
The thrilling story of the investigation, arrest and prosecution of Charles Manson and his “family” is told in meticulous detail in the book HELTER SKELTER, written by Vincent Bugliosi (who prosecuted Manson in 1970) and Curt Gentry.
The investigation revealed that back in the mid 1960s, this strange man – who claimed to be Jesus Christ reincarnated – started to recruit dozens of very young outcasts, hippie-like types and school drop-outs – most of them heavy drug users – to live in a community in the outskirts of Los Angeles, California, in the proximity of the Death Valley desert, originating what became later known as the infamous Manson Family.
So powerful was the influence of Charles Manson over his suggestionable LSD-abusing acolytes that he was capable of monitoring their every move and ultimately managed to persuade them to commit a series of savage murders. He was their indisputable leader: they even tried to assume all the responsibility for the crimes to avoid incriminating him.
Of course, it’s impossible to summarize a 700-page book in the small space of a blog post. Especially as the book is packed with the details of the inquiries, the behavior of the press and the defense lawyers, the different phases of the trial, besides gifting the reader with a very thorough examination of the complex personalities, characters and motivation of the individuals involved in the murders. Written in the same vein of Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD (which holds the second post of most popular crime account), incorporating fiction techniques into a journalistic report, the book is a must-read for those interested in the analysis of how the psychopathic brain works.
The Cultural Context
The most important takeaway of the story of Charles Manson is to never underestimate the dangerous power of an intelligent and charismatic individual. The book is also great in the sense that not only does it tell in detail the story of the Manson Family, its origins and demise, but also contextualizes the facts within all the cultural changes – the flower power movement in particular – the US was undergoing at the time. It illuminates aspects of the youth culture of the 1960s few of us are aware of. In addition to that, the story provides an in-depth analysis of the methods Manson applied to turn human beings into automatons, robbing them of all the moral awareness and respect for other people’s life most human beings share, regardless of the culture they are a part of.
If you have read Helter Sketer too, please share your opinion about the book in the comments section below.
Together with Walt Disney, Rockwell is the most beloved American artist of the twentieth century. Of course, their work had a lot in common: they were both visual storytellers, capable of charming and mesmerizing their viewers with wonderful drawings, colors and movement. The animation in Rockwell’s work was obviously only suggested, as he dealt in illustrations, but they are never static. His brush lent them an inner life and dynamism that completely won over his audience.
From a very early age, Norman knew he wanted to be an illustrator. He was hired as art director of Boy’s Life, the scouts’ official magazine, when he was still in his teens. However, he became nationally known after he started his 47-seven-year collaboration with The Saturday Evening Post, having painted more than 300 illustrations mostly for the cover of that popular magazine.
Here are 10 of his best contributions to The Saturday Evening Post. Enjoy.
Norman Rockwell is the 5th volume of our successful series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. If you wish to know more about the series, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: NORMAN ROCKWELL
Teaching English with Art: Winslow Homer. This eighth volume of our successful series of eBooks combining ENGLISH TEACHING AND ART is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 vocabulary, speaking and writing activities for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by the best American artist of the XIX century.
The objective of the eBook is to expose the students to art while teaching English, fulfilling therefore one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to exercise their English discussing the works of Winslow Homer. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and emotion. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.
IMPORTANT NOTE. CUSTOMIZATION: if you wish to change the cover of any of the ebooks, add your school logo, negotiate a special price for a determined number of students, or make other suggestions of customization, do not hesitate to talk to us. We are VERY FLEXIBLE. Make your ebook UNIQUE!
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Your students are going to love the activities in this eBook!
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Phil Wade (please refer to his biodata at the bottom of this post) has been very supportive of my series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART from the very beginning. Last week he asked me if he could interview me for the ELT EBOOKS BLOG (www.eltebooks.wordpress.com ) he’s in charge of. He is an eBook writer himself and understands that the more we talk about these new trends and educate people about the cutting-edge work we are doing, the more informed the English Language Teaching (ELT) community will be, and, as a consequence, school coordinators, teachers, parents and students will be able to make better choices regarding the materials they adopt. Ebooks and self-publishing are the future of the industry, and I’m glad we chose to be on board this early. Here’s the interview as published in his blog.
Phil: What is your opinion of the current ELT ebook market?
Jorge Sette: Like all the other markets, the ELT book market is undergoing a radical transformation. It’s becoming digital. However, there is still a lot of resistance to this new reality. Teachers and parents of course, because of their age, tend to be more conservative, and therefore will prefer the use of print materials as a rule. It feels more tangible to them. On the other hand, even more forward-thinking or younger teachers, and also students, are not used to paying for anything they get from the Internet, which makes it difficult for ELT publishers and writers to go fully digital, as the business model has not been fully established yet. However, I firmly believe there’s no going back, and in the very near future we will all be reading and studying from tablets, smartphones and other devices. I myself have been reading mainly eBooks, e-magazines and e-newspapers for the past 5 years or so. And paying for them too (laugh).
Phil: How do you write your ebooks?
Jorge Sette: Well I love art and love English teaching, so it was only natural for me to combine both passions. I uploaded some free presentations involving teaching English in the context of art on SlideShare a couple of years ago and found out lots of other teachers liked the idea too. I realized then there was a market for these materials, as they were not common in the ELT world. So I decided to write a series of supplementary eBooks on vocabulary, speaking and writing which would tap into famous works of art as a springboard for exercises to be done in the language classroom. My writing process is the following: I tend to choose artists who are famous to start with. Then I go thorough their works on the Internet or print books I have at home to decide if their paintings lend themselves easily to the creation of classroom activities. Then I read a coupe of well-known biographies on the painter and watch videos about his works on YouTube, so I understand their life, style and motivations better. Even if very little of this homework is reflected directly in the books themselves, I know I will write better if I have this background knowledge and information about the artist stored in my head when I start developing the tasks.
Phil: What feedback have you received?
Jorge Sette: I have run some campaigns on Amazon.com where some of my eBooks are given away for free, as it’s important to get the word out, and have key teachers get to know and talk about them. These campaigns function in the same way publishers give free samples to teachers aiming at getting an adoption for their print materials. There have been hundreds of downloads throughout the world during these campaigns. However, not everybody who downloads the materials gives us feedback. Many teachers, though, have written to me directly saying they loved the books and that their students have been benefitting from the activities. Of course most people who care to write to us are the ones who have a positive opinion, so I still need to investigate more on how the books can be improved, as I haven’t received much negative feedback to help me in this direction.
Phil: Why does Art appeal to so many different kinds of teachers?
Jorge Sette: Well, teaching English with art is a powerful tool. I summarized all the advantages of using art in the language class in a post I wrote for my blog LINGUAGEM, which your readers can access by clicking here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1jO
As a summary, though, I would say that teachers like it because it makes the lesson more fun and, therefore, more motivating. It allows the inclusion, in the English class, of other subjects studied in the curriculum, such as a history, geography, mythology, psychology and literature. In addition to that, art involves emotion, which makes language more relevant and memorable. And, finally, its flexibility makes it easy for teachers to personalize exercises and allows for open answers and freer practice, which is an important phase in the language acquisition process: if the students use the language to express their own reality, dreams, experiences and aspirations, chances are their development as language learners will improve.
Phil: Which is your favourite activity from your ebooks and why?
Jorge Sette: I myself love the storytelling activities, both oral and written. Everyone loves a good story, and if you can create your own version of a story based on a painting, you will certainly enjoy the process. I encourage the use of process writing in the eBooks, which shifts the focus to drafting rather than coming up with a final product immediately. The more drafts a student produces the better writer she will become. Having said that, I suspect different students will enjoy different kinds of activities, so we provide a huge variety of exercises to cater for different tastes and learning styles.
ABOUT PHIL WADE:
Phil has been designing, managing and teaching English courses in language schools, universities and companies for 15 years. He has also written numerous articles and elearning courses. His current passion is ebooks and has written 11 ebooks and co-written several others. He is currently working on a Business English ebook due out in January. Phil blogs about ELT ebooks at www.eltebooks.wordpress.com
Vincent van Gogh was born in the village of Groot-Zundert, south of the Netherlands on March 30, 1853, to upper middle class parents. His father was a protestant pastor and the family lived in the parsonage near the border with Belgium. His family: father, mother, and five siblings were very important to the artist all his life. He had a love-and-hate relationship with them, especially his father Dorus, breaking up with him a number of times, but always patching things up and trying to reconcile with them. Reliving the peace and harmony of his childhood days in the Zundert parsonage, when the whole family lived together remained an obsession and an impossibility throughout van Gogh’s life.
Before he launched his career as an artist in 1880, van Gogh worked as an art dealer in the business of richer members of his family (Goupil and Cie), a teacher and an evangelist, never quite managing to succeed in any of these jobs. He was not lucky at love either, having been rejected by a cousin, which caused him, heartbroken, to decide to live with a prostitute, Sien, and her son for a couple of years. He claimed it was his duty to rescue her.
He considered himself a failure for not being able to find a place in society and to follow a proper career, blaming sometimes himself and other times the lack of support and vision of his family and acquaintances for not finding a professional role. His parents were in fact ashamed of his lonesome and difficult eldest son. In spite of all this, he spent most of his life living off the financial support of his father and, then, his brother Theo, 6 years his junior, with whom he developed a strong bond and carried out an extensive written correspondence. It’s through these letters that we know so much about the convoluted life and inner feelings of this artist.
Vincent van Gogh lacked interpersonal skills, was awkward in society, and full of contradictory feelings. Having trouble getting along with people in general was perhaps the main reason he was not able to keep the many jobs he held. He was eccentric, explosive and reclusive. Under the advice of his brother Theo, he finally found his true path as an artist. But, at the beginning he refused to produce anything commercial, so he could not live off his craft and talent. He focused on painting the human figure, especially members of the lower classes. And he didn’t like to use color. His drawings were mostly in black and white, made with pen or charcoal, or paintings in drab colors. He only drew and painted what he wished, never making any concessions to the market’s taste, which made his financial life very hard.
As we mentioned before, his favorite subject at the time was the human figure, and he was always striving to hire models among the common people of the various towns he lived in: peasants, miners, weavers and prostitutes. Most of them found it very hard to work with him, and he was always requiring more money from Theo to be able to hire more professional models in places like Antwerp, where he lived for a while.
Only when he moved to Paris in the late years of his short life, sharing a space with Theo, he started to fully develop as an artist, incorporating in his painting traits of the Impressionists – which were becoming very popular at the time – Japanese art, the social works of Manet and Courbet, features of the English landscapist John Constable, the pointillism of Seurat, among other influences. It was then that he started to use bright colors, leaving the drabness and the gloominess of his previous drawings and paintings behind.
In February 1888, he moved to Arles, in the south of France, to make use in his paintings of the bright colors under the Provence sun. There, he rented and lived in what became the famous Yellow House of his biography, initiating one of the most productive periods of his career, painting from day to night, sometimes finishing 3 works a day. Vincent dreamed of turning the place into a utopian community for modern artists – the Studio of the South – where they could work together, exchange ideas and create something unique, based on the strong influences of the past masters and yet innovating painting radically. He aimed for a new Renaissance.
In October 1888 the French painter Paul Gauguin came to Arles to live and work with van Gogh. They had a very tense and tumultuous relationship, though, which ended up with Gauguin leaving the house a couple of months after his arrival. Vincent was left in such an unstable mental state after the quarrel with Paul that he allegedly cut off part of his ear and sent it to a prostitute. He was committed to mental institutions twice after that.
Despite all the external influences van Gogh incorporated in his work, his paintings and drawings remained true to his deep feelings and notions of art. He developed idiosyncratic traits as an artist and imbued his landscapes, portraits, and still lives with his own very unique style, characterized by the use of bright and sometimes unusual combination of colors, large brushstrokes, and fine draftsmanship, which turned his works into effective channels to express his innermost feelings. The seeds of the XX’s century expressionism have been identified in van Gogh’s final and most famous woks.
His most famous paintings were produced during the last two years before his suicide on July 29t, 1890, at age 37. Out of more than 900 pieces of work he put out throughout his short but productive career, only one painting – The Red Vineyards Near Arles – was sold while he was still alive.
He never foresaw how successful he would become, although he was fully aware of how powerful his work was and never doubted his talent and vision as an artist. Today, his paintings sell for tens of millions of dollars, and he’s one of the most famous and beloved artists of Western culture. Among his most recognized paintings, we can list masterpieces such as The Potato Eaters, The Yellow House and Starry Night.
If you wish to a have a chance to discuss and practice English vocabulary, speaking and writing skills based on some of the invaluable works of this unique artist, please check out our series of supplementary materials TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, featuring, works not only by van Gogh, but also by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell so far. New materials are scheduled to come out in the near future, watch this space.
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What’s your favorite artist? Let us know so we can feature him/her in our series.