Saturday, January 3, 2009

Elephant Stories I: Annotations

When I taught Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower in September, we did annotations. In our private reading, when we would come across an unfamiliar term or phrase or reference, we'd research it and bring our results back to enrich the reading experiences of our colleagues.

It was thrilling, at least for me, the very nerdy student/teacher in the driver's seat. It was as if the book was filled with little doors, waiting to be opened and explored by any reader willing to open them. In an earlier post, I made mention of some of these "doors" the students and I explored.

It was my first experience teaching any kind of literature, and I was improvising based on an assignment I'd done years earlier with Milton's Lycidas. I told my students this was a trick to tease further or deeper meaning out of a story. Another trick is to keep the book's title firmly in mind as you read; it hold a strong hint of some kind to what the authors considered important (although sometimes it is the publisher that names books). Anyway, it was a success, I like to think. I know my own experience of the book was enriched immeasurably.

While reading Water for Elephants, the temptation is to dive in and experience it in a dreamier way, letting my fancy take over, falling into fantasy. Or it would be easy to get swept along in the events of the story, the unfolding of the drama, and then speed right through to the conclusion. After all, something happens in the opening chapter that hangs in your mind while you read the rest of the book, which consists of the recollection of events that led to it. Like reading a thriller, you demand answers.

But that might cheat me out of some of this book's deliciousness, out of the savory pleasure of the 1930s underworld that intrigues me so.

For now, only one term has struck me as unfamiliar as required some research. Brownshirts. Which I will tell you all about in another post. Also coming will be a conversation I once had with the elephant trainer of a circus that came to town. Stay tuned.


Kristen said...

What an intriguing way to pursue a book!. . . . hmm. . . . Thanks for the tip!

Lucy said...

I look forward to coming posts. Is brownshirts like browncoats in Firefly? I guess I will just have to wait to find out...

Indie said...

Let's see, in Firefly the Browncoats were the good guys, the rebels fighting against fascism and the Alliance world order like Captain Reynolds, right? No, the Brownshirts were polar opposites.

Big City Poz said...

"While reading Water for Elephants, the temptation is to dive in and experience it in a dreamier way, letting my fancy take over, falling into fantasy."

Good books for me are often triggers for introspection or going back to certain moments in time. I sometimes spend as much time in thought as I do in reading.

Indie said...

Joe, me too.

I once encountered academic language for this phenomenon. Hermeneutics and heuristics.

I keep them straight by thinking of "hermetically sealed," so hermeneutics is confining a reading to what is in the text. While heuristics uses what's in the text as a springboard for thought (or teaching).