Takeaways from Four of Philip Roth’s Best Novels


Philip Roth died last night at 85. This article was written a couple of years ago.

For the usual readers of this blog, it’s no surprise that I consider Philip Roth the best living North American writer. This opinion is shared by many other people, so I’m not alone in this assumption.  I was lucky to have read my first Roth – although in Portuguese – when I was still in college: Portnoy’s Complaint. Of course, I was duly scandalized by the  account of the life and troubles of a young Jewish American man who does not refrain from telling the explicit details of his sexual activities to a silent therapist. Maybe I was not as shocked as the readers who first came across the book when it came out in the 1960s, but the late 1980s in Recife, Brazil, were still pretty conservative for the likes of Roth. As a matter of fact, I would say the whole world still is.

Novels by Philip Roth

Novels by Philip Roth

Roth does not mince words. He is brutal and unsentimental in the depiction of his characters,  despite the love and care you sense he feels for most of them deep down, if you read his novels attentively.  He tends to strip men and women of their social disguises, digs deep, and exposes them almost cruelly to our judgment. Some say he is a misogynist in his portrayal of women. Well, if you read Sabath’s Teather, in which he creates one of the most disgusting and at the same time fascinating male characters in Western literature, you may change your mind. He can be as harsh towards men, after all. The world is in general tougher on women and, therefore, misogynistic itself. Roth’s novels are a mere reflection of life as it is. More precisely: his novels illuminate angles and dark corners of life we try to hide from our eyes and thoughts.

This blog post has the simple objective of listing 4 of my favorite Roth novels and what I personally took away from them. Please don’t take my word for it. Immerse yourselves in the original sources and feel free to interpret them as you feel you should. The comments below may be entertaining, though. However, I’ll never presume they reveal the essence of each of the discussed works.

1, Nemesis: New Jersey in the mid 1940s. A horrible outbreak of polio causes mayhem in a peaceful community. Children are badly affected, especially the ones who live in the Jewish and Italian quarters of the city. Few families are not hit by tragedy. It’s practically impossible to run away from it. Are the gods against them or are they on their own in a world ruled by the random manifestations of an indifferent nature. Does it matter? The only option left for humans struck by horror and tragedy is to accept it and find a mental way of coping with the debris. Nothing else makes sense or will help our species. Stand up for yourself and fight on your terms. Throw your javelin with all the beauty and strength of a God (an image you will find in the book) and defy your peers in Mount Olympus.

2. American Pastoral: Winner of the Pulitzer prize for best work of fiction in 1998.  This novel tells the story of the idyllic life of a perfect upper-middle class American family,  eventually shattered to pieces when the sweet and amorous daughter grows up to become a rebel teenager and join militants in a protest against the Vietnam war, allegedly planting a bomb in the local post office and killing a bystander. She then runs away, disappearing forever from home. I guess the takeaway from this book is given in the first chapters, in a different context, when we are still in the story outside the story,  which makes the complex framing structure of the novel. Do we really know what people are like? Nathan Zuckerman, one of Roth’s recurrent characters, who may function as his alter ego, shares this painful truism with us: “You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.”

3. Sabbath’s Theater: Not for the faint of heart, this book depicts the progressive moral and physical deterioration of a man who has never had any other ambition rather than entertain people through running a marionette show in the streets of New York. It’s when this puppeteer blurs the limits between what you can do to your dolls as opposed to other real human beings that the problems start. You cannot manipulate people without suffering serious consequences. The dolls will turn on you eventually and your life will become a nightmare. The most amazing thing about the book is the ability of the writer to turn one of the most repellent characters ever created in Western literature, Mickey Sabbath, into a sympathetic and even lovable person for a legion of fans, who can sense all the humanity that oozes out of him.

4. The Human Stain (spoiler alert: you can’t discuss this book without giving some essential info away – in my defense, all I can say is the info I’m about to share will be revealed in the first chapters of the novel anyway.) This novel is not a whodunit kind of work, rest assured. A Jewish former professor and dean of the fictitious Athenas College in Massachusetts is forced to resign after, going through the roll call,  asks the class if a couple of listed students who never show up and whom he never met personally “are real or spooks”.  It so happens that in those days of the end of the 1990s spook was a loaded word, a derogatory epithet for African Americans. In the intolerant and hypocritical climate of the reign of the politically correct, the professor is the perfect scape goat, and everyone who’s ever held any grudge against him jumps at the opportunity to tap into the incident to profit from it, by destroying his reputation. Unjust, unfair, stupid. Worse: Professor Coleman Silk is in truth an African American  himself, who, for excelling in boxing when he was young and having light skin, passed for white in the eyes of a number of influencial people on his way up the sport’s ladder, and decided to assume this fake persona. He had been a youth in the 1950s and realized he would never have the same opportunities of a white person to fulfill his potential no matter how hard he tried. He is offered a way out and takes it, abandoning his family and his previous life, and recreating himself as a completely new person, whose potential could now be tapped to the full. He becomes the Jewish professor Silk. But he will pay dearly for it and for breaking other conventions of the times. He is a born transgressor.  A fighter. The reader is therefore left with the painful and disturbing question of whether he/she would have done the same thing. Haven’t we all done something similar to some extent in our lives: compromising, betraying, discarding deeply ingrained beliefs and principles to succeed and get ahead? Or at least to be given a shot at the possibility of winning, when all the odds are against us? A powerful and uncomfortable novel, I can’t stop returning to it. I’m always going back to Silk’s saga to reflect on my own values and how truthful I still remain to them.

American Writer Philip Roth

American Writer Philip Roth

If you have the chance, get one of those books and read them. I can guarantee they will change you somehow.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

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What’s the job of art?


It’s hard to define art: be it music, literature, visual arts, drama, etc. I would prefer to say that life would be impossible for most people without it. Call it escapism, if you wish.  Life can be very dry and purposeless without the varnish of art. It can be very lonely. Even meaningless. As Tennessee Williams once said:

“What implements have we but words, images, colors, scratches upon the caves of our solitude?”

Art is any expression of human emotion and feeling. It’s the telling of a story. We are all artists one way or another. This does not mean our work will be recognized in our lifetime or sold for millions of dollars in galleries, but what counts is what it does for you. The officially recognized great works of art follow criteria that varies according to time and audience. Their market value rises and lowers  at different times. So, we, as simple viewers or artists, should not care about what is considered by the experts GREAT ART. Give yourself the right to make or evaluate art,  based on your own guidelines. More than that, every piece of art which can transport you to a world that makes you happier, or feel more intensely, or evoke cherished memories, or give you hope and peace should count as great. It can be your creation or someone else’s.

I never forget the moment I first saw painter Peter Paul Rubens’  Samson and Delilah (picture below), while roaming the halls of the National Gallery in London. I did not know that painting. It beckoned at me from a distance and made me walk, transfixed, in its direction, wide-eyed and excited. Sensual, colorful, showing  unusual uses of a number of light sources to illuminate the scene,  and telling a story: that is all I wanted from a painting. I may have spent the next 20 min standing in front of the huge painting staring at it, looking like an idiot, with a silly smile glued to my face. Then I went back there two more times in the course of a 10-day vacation in London to experience the power of that painting again – it’s a good thing the National Gallery has free admission!

Samson and Delilhah, 1609, by Peter Paul Rubens. National Gallery, London.

Samson and Delilhah, 1609, by Peter Paul Rubens. National Gallery, London.

I found a copy of the painting on the Internet and excitedly emailed it to some of my close friends telling them how I had felt looking at it. That’s another thing about great experiences, it’s hard to enjoy them alone, you need to share. This post is obviously part of this need.

As for literature, another great type of  humanity’s artistic achievement, how many times have I drowned my sorrows by reading a novel by Philip Roth (one of my favorite writers, as many of you readers of this blog already know): the misery and problems of his characters far outweigh mine and serve as solace by giving me a deeper understanding of human beings. Roth is brutal and I doubt he intends to offer any comfort to the reader through his stories – but he does, regardless of what his original aim might be.

Author Philip Roth

Author Philip Roth

At the end of 2014, having some free time, I had the idea of combining two of my greatest passions – the English language and visual arts –  in a project: the series of ebooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART (for further info check out this post http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS ). I figured I could not be alone in enjoying studying a foreign language in the context of powerful images that would take me beyond the walls of the dreary language classroom and make me dream. I was right: after self-publishing eight ebooks and with a ninth coming out soon, I noticed that many other people all over the world shared my passions.

When I was a language/literature student in college, we had a very dry and uninteresting subject: Portuguese literature. I appreciate some may love it – art is individual and personal. But I must admit I loathed the company of Camoes and his  jingoism, despite the excellence of the teacher and her love for the subject. One day, however, she surprised us with a different approach to the teaching of the boring Portuguese literature of the Baroque era: she brought a projector to the classroom and contextualized  some of the visual art movements – which are inevitably reflected in the literature of the time – by showing works of famous artists. That was my first contact with Velázquez and his “borrachos”, partying with Bacchus. The teacher’s explanation of the painting and the artist was vibrant. The class was in awe. We were always in a hurry to leave the session and enjoy our cheap beer on Friday evenings (those were evening classes). That day, however, most people couldn’t care to leave when the class came to its official end, and let the teacher carry on for as long as she wanted. We had started to refine our taste: it was better to see Bacchus inebriate his minions than go out to Olinda and get drunk ourselves.

The Triumph of Bacchus, Velázquez, 1628, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The Triumph of Bacchus, Velázquez, 1628, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette

Modern times or the girl who almost got run over by my bike


It’s no news that most people, including me, spend 90% of their waking hours staring idiotically at the various device screens we carry around wherever we go – or, more likely – wherever we stay, motionless. My eyes keep shifting from my iPhone to the iPad to the laptop, and back to the iPhone again for hours on end.

We all check our social media news feed and timeline hundreds of times a day, count the likes and shares on the latest clever joke or quotation we posted, watch carefully the pictures of what our friends are eating, the problems they are having with traffic jams or with their kids.  I didn’t use to care at all what my friends’ kids did over the weekend or the costume they wore for the latest school function: now I follow these events with the attention and interest I used to devote to facts such as  the beginning of the Iraq War or the the inaugural speech of Queen Dilma. We won’t stop answering our messages about nothing on whatsapp or looking for our next prospective date on Tinder. The date will never happen in the real world, as one of the parties will cancel 5 min before the scheduled coffee, but this does not stop us from keeping trying and hoping for the best. Do married people do the same? Is that how they have lovers and affairs today?

I can’t cook well, but the Internet emboldens me to pass on tips on the kinds of seasoning and ingredients my relatives should use on their pasta for their next Sunday lunch – by the way, I will not be taking part in it, as they live in Recife, some 3,000 km from where I live –  and offer expert advice and consolation to my cousin who broke up a 10-month-old relationship  with her boyfriend, with the authority of a marriage councellor.

The current times are no doubt different from how we behaved only ten years ago, when our lives were more real than virtual. But what worries me is not to know if this is worse. I’m not complaining.

I have always been an avid reader and nothing in real life compares to the excitement I get from a well-written novel by Philip Roth  or an insightful factual book by Malcolm Gladwell, from whom I learned that, to excel in anything at world class level,  one needs to devote at least 10,000 hours to the practice of that skill: I counted nervously how much time I had left on Earth based on the average longevity of the members of my family – maybe I should have left the women out of the calculations, as they tend to outlive their men by many years – and was thrilled to find out that I still could pick a skill and try to become a Leonardo da Vinci at it.

I could still become a Leonardo da Vinci if I practice for at least 10,000 hours.

I could still become a Leonardo da Vinci if I practice for at least 10,000 hours.

 

So, if life as portrayed in fiction and non-fiction books is so much more enticing than reality, who are we to judge the validity of the virtual lives of today’s world – especially teenagers’ and kids’ – who have never known any other kind of life?  This is just a fact of human history, an unexpected turn taken by the course of our species,  and there is no way we will ever be the same again. Artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing  and genetic engineering are already on our doorstep, and the possibility of cloning yourself so you can have the ideal partner for life cannot be that distant in time.

Let’s embrace change. Disturbing? Definitely. But life is exciting for this very reason. Some people claim that it’s death that gives life meaning. We wouldn’t be able to love or appreciate anything if we did not know there would be an end to it. Soon.  Well, death is a kind of radical change, so the same goes for technology – we are living and appreciating a totally new life style, more and more isolated from the real (as opposed to virtual) contact with other human beings and nature, and getting used to it at an amazingly fast pace.  I foresee a time when the only opportunity we will have to be touching other people’s skins will be during the Carnival in Vila Madalena, when it’s impossible to avoid the barbaric crowds gathering around you, and I can’t refrain from flinching at the idea. Can’t we all do our own ALALAÔ from the comfort of the hammocks in the verandahs of our tiny apartments via Skype?

Physical contact with other people will be considered more and more dangerous and rare, as we immerse in our virtual worlds, moulded to our own tastes and specifications. Yesterday,  for example, I eagerly anticipated a time when, riding my bike,  I wouldn’t run the risk of running over a beautiful teenage girl who all of a sudden crossed my path at Parque Villa Lobos in Sao Paulo with her head down and eyes glued to the screen of her smartphone. As I yelled to warn her against the imminent catastrophe, she simply looked up at me with a defiant look in her face and carried on crossing the street as if I was just an annoying piece of Candy Crush Saga which wouldn’t align to her taste! I should have kept using the stationary bike at home.

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette.

 

 

 

 

Start your blog today: what are you waiting for?


I have some 2000 friends on Facebook.  Of course not all of them are close friends, but also family and business peers. Most of all are in ELT (ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING)  one way or another: as teachers, publishers, writers, distributors or students. Of course, our news feeds are packed with info about methodologies, new materials, suggestions on lessons, and self-congratulatory posts on how great it is to be a teacher. The latter, I must confess, are not among my favorite posts: you didn’t see Steve Jobs talking about how great it was to be a brilliant marketer all the time. He presented us the results of his work in terms of concrete products. Of course, with teaching, not all products are tangible, customers are more likely to talk about the quality of our service. However, if we are teachers, we should be teaching on the Internet: not only languages  – our main job – but other stuff we have fun with, things we like, activities we are good at and we can share with other people.

Sharing your interests and expertise with the world.

Sharing your interests and expertise with the world.

We live in a fascinating age where we can show our work on as many and varied platforms as we care to look for: photos on Instagram; videos on YouTube and Vimeo; pictorial suggestions and ideas on Pinterest; snippets of your expertise on Twitter; blogs on WordPress…. to name just the most common. I’m surprised you guys – the experts in inparting knowledge and sharing strategies in meaningful and structured ways –  are not doing that more often online. Most of you keep posting cat pictures and your latest dinner photo on Facebook. That’s fine: some of the cats are even cute, but you can do so much more.

Everytime I go through my news feed I’m fascinated to find out how my friends know about so many different and interesting things:  pets and how to treat them, unusual recipes, places to go to on vacation, art, suggestions on movies to watch, you name it. Most times, however, they just share a copy of something written by another person they might have come across online and expand  a little bit on that.

Well, do more.

Create a blog on the topic and let us learn from you. I have no idea how to cook, and would love to read a simple cooking blog written by any of my friends and would be glad to share with her the results of my efforts, for example. If, for some reason, you don’t like to write, use pictures, videos, cartoons. The important thing is to come up with a story. Create a thread that can lead us to what you are trying to teach us, the goal you wish us to reach. Make it didactic and systematic, set exercises, answer our questions, help us. Who knows, you may even make money out of it, if it gets great readership.

I myself started a blog (LINGUAGEM: jorgesette.com) a year ago just for fun, discussing not only language, my favorite topic, but other themes I enjoyed (movies, art, books, culture, TV shows,  marketing, sales),  but now the blog is becoming more and more professional, as it’s helping me promote the language eBooks I publish on Amazon.com. As I write in English, I’m easily read all over the world, and it’s really gratifying the sense of pride and accomplishment you get when  I see my humble stuff being read in the US, India, Pakistan, France, etc.  This year (2015) we’ve been getting more than 3000 views per month,  and getting stronger.

So, my recommendation is don’t think about the money first: publish something on the Internet for fun: gather an audience, build a network,  and make new friends. Then, if it works out, turn it into a business.

Don’t waste time: start teaching us today! It’s fun.

On the other hand, for those interested in reading how a professional blog for customers should be written, please refer to my previous article: Should you have a blog as a marketer:

 http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1bv

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

 

Rockwell…well…rocks!


Norman Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894. Growing up in a middle-class family in the Upper West side of Manhattan, Rockwell was never comfortable being a city boy. Although he spent the first years of his life in this urban environment, he thrived whenever he and his brother were allowed to spend some time in the countryside.

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.

Triple Self-Portrait, 1960.

Triple Self-Portrait, 1960.

Rockwell can be considered a family man in the sense that he was married 3 times and had 3 kids from his second wife, but most of his time he was dedicated to his work: 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. There was never much time for his wives and kids. Many say he was a detached and distant husband and father. He also travelled a lot, within the US and all over the world, always carrying on painting during these trips.

Rockwell never considered himself an artist, but an illustrator, specializing in genre scenes, depicting life in small-town America. His illustrations always have an element of humor, but you never fail to sense the pathos injected in the narrative as well. He was one of few popular realists in the world of modernist art of the XX century, where abstract painting ruled.

Before painting his models, he tended to have them photographed by a professional in the specific positions he wanted them to pose. His studio was full of props and costumes available to the models in the sessions. He was very particular about the way he wanted people to pose for him. In New York he used professional models, but when he moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts (from Arlington, Virginia) he started to choose models from the members of his own community: his relatives, friends and neighbors. He always had a photographer with him. He would paint afterwards based on these photos.

The paintings of Rockwell are usually regarded as the best representation of simple, pure and strong American values. As a matter of fact, he helped create these values and the American identity itself, in a land packed with immigrants from the most different cultural backgrounds and without much cohesion among themselves in the early 1900s. His illustrations – although not always depicting scenes of an accompanying written narrative – are one-frame stories in themselves. His art is all about visual storytelling. You can infer a whole narrative just by looking at one of his illustrations. No wonder, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg – two of the most popular storytellers of the last decades of XX century American cinema – are among his greatest admirers and owners of important collections of his works.

Rockwell was the opposite of the common stereotype of a bohemian Greenwich Village artist. His friends say he was polite, funny and meticulous. Some claim he was a neat freak, who would spend hours cleaning his studio and washing his brushes many times a day. He was a bit of a loner as well.

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. The triple self-portrait illustration (1960) we see above is an example of the charismatic paintings he could produce.

After working for almost 50 years as the main illustrator for the conservative Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell transitioned to the more liberal Life Magazine, where he could explore themes more relevant to the tumultuous times he was living in: the sixties. There, he could produce illustrations that talked to the main issues of the era: racial segregation, women’s liberation and the spacial program. In this post, we show one his most important works of this period: The Problem We All Live With, from 1964, where he depicts the first Afro-American child – a girl – to go to a desegregated school in New Orleans in 1961, facing all kinds of bullying, mainly from white mothers and teenagers on her way to class. She needed to be escorted by US marshals to be able to get into the school. Her name was Ruby Bridges and Rockwell’s illustration became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Problem with All Live with, 1964.

The Problem with All Live with, 1964.

On November 8th, 1978, at the age of 84, Norman Rockwell died peacefully in his sleep, due to emphysema. He had already begun to show symptoms of dementia in his final years.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, was founded in 1969 and houses the world’s largest collection of his works.

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

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Teaching English with Art: Norman Rockwell


Teaching English with Art! This ebook is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 speaking and writing activities for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by one of the most loved American artists of the XX century, NORMAN ROCKWELL, famous for his illustrations. 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 Rockwell This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest and motivation. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.

Click on the image below to download the ebook:

Teaching English with Art: Norman Rockwell

Click to the image above to download the eBook.

Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: NORMAN ROCKWELL

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Teaching English with Art: Monet


Teaching English with Art! This eBook is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 speaking and writing activities for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by French artist CLAUDE MONET, the founder of Impressionismo. The objective of the eBook is to expose the students to high 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 Monet. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest and motivation. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW TO DOWNLOAD THE EBOOK.

 

Teaching English with Art: Monet.

Click on the image to download the eBook.

Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MONET

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

13 Business Lessons from House of Cards


Apply the rules below at your own discretion in the workplace. The author assumes no responsibility for the consequences, although he is 99% sure they will help you climb the corporate ladder faster.

House of Cards - Netflix.

House of Cards – Netflix.

1. There is no difference between business and politics. Corporations are like the National Congress.

2. Crush your opponents again and again  (competition or coworkers). And yet again. But if they survive, align with them.

3. Keep your self-control. No shouting matches are allowed in public. Keep a perpetual fake smile on your face no matter what. There is sex, drugs and cigarettes to drown your misery at night. Use them in moderation.

4. Get married and have a big family. There is no way a single, childless person can prove their love and care for the constituents (or customers).

5. Lie, lie, lie. And lie once more. Do not commit to anything as far as possible. Then tell the truth, when you are out of danger and no one expects you to: now you become a hero.

6. If you are writing  a contract or some other kind of written document: make sure you get legal advice to make the language as vague as possible to allow for leeway and future changes.

7. Distance yourself as much as you can from the weak and broken. Discard them.

8. Involve your security personnel as much as you can. Get close. Have sex with them and your spouse together to tighten the relationship.

9. Unlike the common thought, intelligent people understand that being gay is not a personal choice and they couldn’t care less about who people go to bed with. However, play to your audience’s tastes and ignorance. If they hate gays, you must hate them too. And mean it. Typical doublethink tactic from Orwell’s 1984: study it.

10. Give condoms as a gift to whoever is sleeping with your husband. You don’t want him to financially support the bastard.

11. Eat ribs at shoddy joints.

12. Play the feminist card whenever you run out of options. “It’s because I’m a woman, right?”

13. Have Robin Wright on your side and get her to love you.

Good luck

Jorge Sette

How to work with the eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART


Teaching English with art has many advantages: it provides an exciting context; it exposes the students to beautiful and powerful images, making the lesson more memorable; it can easily be linked to other subjects in the school curriculum: history, geography, science, philosophy etc; and, as the response of human beings to different artworks is always unique, teachers can tap into that by personalizing speaking and writing activities. Personalization and freer practice are the most important stages in the language acquisition process.

Our eBooks bring photos of paintings of famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell,  Vincent van Gogh and Winslow Homer. Based on these paintings, each book brings a series of vocabulary, speaking and writing activities, composing a set of 30 items altogether, each divided in a number of exercises. The students are encouraged to work on both topic-based and task-based types of speaking activities, and explore the steps of process writing. Teachers are free to decide how much time their students should spend on each writing activity. Notice that, while the speaking activities should take place in class, some of the steps of the process writing activities, such as drafting and publishing, can be assigned as homework. For further information on these approaches, please refer to the following articles previously posted on the blog LINGUAGEM:  Topic-Based versus Task-Based Speaking Activities (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1nJ) and Writing: Focus on the Process not on the Product (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1ot)

Click on the picture above for further info

Click on the picture above for further info

The activities in each book cater for different linguistic levels, ranging from beginner (A1) to  advanced (C2). They are correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE, which makes it easy for the teacher to match the eBook exercises to whatever other teaching materials they are already using, providing, therefore, effective and interesting supplementary work on productive skills. These extra activities can be used as a warm-up; whenever the teacher feels the class needs a boost in their motivation during the lesson, through an energizing task; as a filler for a lesson which finished earlier; or as complement or extension to topics already covered in the main coursebook.

Our materials are not meant for self-study. It takes a teacher to monitor and lead the students through the activities, but the eBooks can be used both in traditional classrooms or on online courses. Ideally both teachers and students should have their own practice books – downloaded to the Kindle app on their desktops,  laptops, tablets or smartphones. Whenever the teacher wishes to provide heads-up exercises or have the students focus their attention more effectively, they can project the pages of the eBooks onto a blank wall, and ask the students to switch off their electronic devices.

Most of the speaking activities can be done in pairs or groups. Alternatively, the whole class can be involved. We suggest the teacher give the students some preparation time before they are ready to speak in front of the class. Another important technique would be to have the student repeat the same story, role plays or any other speaking activity with more than one partner, in sequence. He will invariably perform better the second or third time around.

As for the writing activities, we advocate the use of process writing techniques. The student should work on drafts that progressively get more sophisticated and accurate until they reach the final product. Students should be trained to self-correct or peer-correct these drafts. Teachers should establish how many drafts they expect for each activity. The final draft can then be corrected by the teacher before being displayed to the class in some form. Please remember that it’s during the drafting phase that students learn how to write. The final product is only a consequence. The longer they spend on the drafting phase, the better their writing is going to get.

In addition to the exercises, the eBooks bring short biographies of each of the artists featured, the historical context he lived in and the main characteristics of the artistic movement he participated in. The teacher should give the students a brief overview of the artist’s biography, his times, where he lived, and his style. Teachers will not need to go beyond what is written in the eBook, although there is a wealth of information freely available on the Internet if teachers or students wish a more in-depth introduction or to know more about the artist.

Some of the eBooks also contain short texts referring to specific artworks of that particular artist, either because they are prominent in his oeuvre or because they are based on historical or mythological events that, if explained in a more comprehensive way, will enhance the student’s understanding of the painting and help them with their English production.

We are certain these eBooks will prove invaluable in making your lessons stand out and help your students develop their English. For further info on the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please click here  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS and purchase the eBook about your favorite artist right now.

Check out this fun video clip on our CARAVAGGIO eBook:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Writing: focus on the process and not on the product


When you read a piece of good writing in The Economist, Folha de São Paulo or The New Yorker, you will probably wonder about the special powers of the writer. How is it possible to sit in front of a laptop and, in one go, come up with such a refined and polished text. The writer must have counted on a potent muse sitting by his side, you conclude. But, for anybody who has attempted the hard task of putting a piece of writing together, the recognition that the path is a little harder will soon dawn on him. Hemingway defined the process in the most dramatic way: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Of course, the Hemingway process would not be very popular in most of our schools and online courses today. As we are concerned mainly about writing in the language class in this post, we need to draw a line. After all, chances are teachers and coordinators would be charged with abuse and put in jail if they expected or encouraged the students to follow anything like the method proposed by the great author of THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA.

Luckily, there is a third way: fire the muse and follow a step-by-step process to your writing activities. Writing is a skill students must master. We have never written so much as in today’s world. Most of our communication on the Internet occurs in the form of writing, one way or another.

Following the 5-step process we’ll be outlining below is probably the most effective way to come up with a good text. Of course, if you have the privilege of counting on good professional editors, the process becomes a lot easier, but not many people – least of all language students – can afford this luxury on a day-to-day basis, so we must rely on ourselves, and, if we are lucky, on some of our friends and classmates for aid.

Process Writing

Process Writing

 

Therefore, what we are advocating here is that writing should not be a solitary activity: pairs or groups of students should take part in it, although, ideally, each one should be working on his own individual piece. There are very clear steps to follow in what is generally know as process writing. This is, in our opinion, the best approach to teach and practice this productive skill in the language classroom. Let’s cover each of the phases in the sections below.

1. Brainstorming (generating ideas). When you are given a writing assignment, get together with a colleague and think of all the ideas the topic might generate. Don’t censor yourself at this stage, anything goes. If there’s no given topic, your freedom is even greater, and you will have fun imagining all possible topics, points-of-view, arguments or characters that may go into your piece. This is more fun when done with another person or in a small group. Then, each one can follow their own thread of thoughts, after this initial kicking off of ideas, and get down to writing their first draft.

2. Drafting. Now it’s time to prioritize all the wonderful ideas you generated in the step above. Consider the physical space you need for the text: is it a blog post, a story, an essay, an infographics design, a tweet? How many words are you supposed to use in your assignment? Don’t even consider using all your ideas. Pre-select, choose, discard, adjust, change. Cut, cut, cut. Establish what should go into each paragraph, which sentence you will pick as the topic one. Draft and redraft as many times as you feel you should. The more, the better. Change sentences to a different part of the text for stronger impact or more consistency. Decide what should be the beginning, the middle and the end of the piece. It’s always easier to start with the end. Remember the clever words of the Cheshire Cat to Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll:

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

3Revising. Now, possibly with the help of a friend, you are going to begin refining and polishing your text. Your colleague will read the text, ask questions whose answers he would expect to find in it, but does not. He will probably make suggestions. There’s no need to take everything he says into consideration. Your are the writer after all, so the final decision is yours, but try and incorporate some of his feedback. Apply your own critical thinking skills to decide if the text is coherent, well thought out, convincing, logical.

4. Editing. This next step involves going deeper in the process started in the previous step. Time to check for grammar, vocabulary and syntax mistakes. Make sure collocations and register (formal and informal) are adequate. Have the spellcheck on your computer on. Consult a thesaurus, dictionaries, and grammar guides. Read aloud to make sure your text sounds good, to make sure it sounds English. Enter phrases and idioms you wish to use into Google to see if they appear in other texts and really mean what you wish to say. Again, get help from your friends.

5. Publishing. This is the last phase of your work. You will be deciding on the images to use, the layout, the kind of font you find appropriate. This part is a lot of fun, in general. Reread it one more time. Any more changes? If you are using a digital device, be brave and push the button PUBLISH. Next time you write something it will be even easier.

The Steps of Process Writing

The Steps of Process Writing

Sometimes these steps may occur in a different order. Writing is messy. Moreover, the number of drafts cannot be stipulated: the more the better. But we all know there are time constraints to be taken into account, and the final product needs to be presented at some point. So let’s use common sense, and work on your piece within a time frame that suits your teacher’s expectations. In a language lesson, of course, it is the drafting that counts: the more you focus on polishing and making your piece more impactful and error-free, by adding ideas, deciding on the best location of sentences, breaking paragraphs in more consistent ways, and finally asking your friends for help to identify grammar and vocabulary problems, the more you will be learning. That’s when learning is really taking place. The final product is only the logical consequence of the hardest possible work you put into the project.

And remember, the final product does not need to be a masterpiece. The secret to fine writing has been repeated countless times by the experts – although both students and teachers seem to resist it: good writing is rewriting. Besides, writing improves over time, and the more you practice, the better results you will get. Good luck.

NOTE: If you are interested in process writing, you may consider checking out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. Click here for further info on the series: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Check out this fun video clip on our CARAVAGGIO eBook:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.