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Author Topic: Book suggestions
Lyrhawn
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For my grad seminar on teaching, I have to put together a final syllabus on a class of my choosing. I decided to do a second half American history survey course, so roughly Reconstruction to the Present.

I'm using a text book for the course that they have to read from every week, and I'm also mixing in supplemental readings and documents throughout the course. But I also want them to read two larger books. I was thinking of doing one actual short history book, and one novel, and I thought it might be fun to do something a little outside the box, so something science fiction. Unfortunately, my science fiction reservoir is a little dry for this assignment.

Can anything think of a science fiction book that might fit the bill? I need something they could write a five-page paper on and actually draw some relevance to an aspect of American history in the second half. Ideally I'd also like it to relate to either gender or race history in America. I'm already having them read a couple race, gender and labor related pieces. I'm trying to present a sort of stereotypical narrative via the textbook juxtaposed with a counter culture narrative in my lecture and supplemental readings.

I'm already pushing the bounds here and there in the lecture. During a discussion on Gilded Age labor practices, I'm going to give them some readings on labor relations, then show them the Battlestar Galactica episode "Dirty Hands" in class, followed by a class discussion on how the episode relates to the material.

If anyone has some suggestions, I'd be interested in checking them out. I have more traditional novels in mind, but I was hoping for something a little more fun after a long semester of heavy reading and lecture. Whatever the book, it needs to be somewhat on the shorter side. 200ish pages. And it can't be so dense that only an English major could get the subtext, these would be general Freshman taking a survey course.

Thanks ahead of time.

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Mr. Y
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Perhaps... "The Story of A Marriage" by andrew Sean Greer.

The story takes place in the fifties and should fit your criteria, IIRC.

Good luck with your syllabus.

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CT
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It's a shame that Octavia Butler's Kindred** (interview with author here) is set in the period just before the US Civil War.


***link is to Wikipedia -- used tinyurl because this board doesn't allow parentheses in URLs

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Stephan
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What about something alternate history related?

"What if this happened differently" is always a higher order thinking skill that teachers can use.

Fatherland or Guns of the South (they could continue the what-if into reconstruction).

What grade of students are you looking to make this for?

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SteveRogers
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I know Harry Turtledove has a vast amount of alternate history novels which are set during the Civil War or like World War II, but I haven't read any of them. So, I can't suggest a specific one or vouch for their quality or applicability.
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AchillesHeel
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Hmmm... Whispers: The Voices of Paranoia by Ronald K. Siegel who is professionally a pharmacologist and expert witness in trials concerning the long and short term effects of drug use, has had an uncommon amount of experience with high functioning people who suffer from manic paranoia. The paperback is 320 pages, but for anyone of college level the book should go by quick. It is also more fun than it sounds, from silly things like a man who believed that magical midgets were constantly running at high speeds just out of his line of sight to a man with several doctorates who when asked to scientifically explain his paranoia convinced much of the medical students in attendance that he was right.
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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
I know Harry Turtledove has a vast amount of alternate history novels which are set during the Civil War or like World War II, but I haven't read any of them. So, I can't suggest a specific one or vouch for their quality or applicability.

Only two are decent and non-repetitive. Guns of the South, and How Few Remain.
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Darth_Mauve
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How about a selection of short stories that cover that time period--after all that is the time period of Science Fiction. You can then compare and contrast what people perceived the future would be vs what it turned out to be.

From 20,000 Leagues to 1930's Asimov to Ender's Game to some cyber-punk. Compare Clark's anti-communist diatribes with Orwell's Animal Farm.

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AchillesHeel
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Exile and the Kingdom is a collection of short-stories by Albert Camus. Six very different stories that could make great in class topics.

My favorite is The Adulterous Wife, which has no infidelity in it but a ton of introspection.

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Aros
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Slaughterhouse Five? There are also a few Heinlein titles that might fit.

Maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald's May Day? Great post-WWI vignette. Plus it has the advantage of being very short. Not sci-fi, though.

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SteveRogers
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If it's for college aged kids, then some Vonnegut might be a good choice. I'm not sure how many people read him much anymore.
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Dr Strangelove
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No suggestions (ask me some European history suggestions and I got your back), but a great idea. I assigned novel(s) for the class I taught this past semester and they seemed to really enjoy it. Let me know if ever you design a class focused on the more interesting side of the pond [Wink] .
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Lyrhawn
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I'll be headed to your side of the intellectual aisle soon enough. I'm taking two classes next semester on Europe. I think one is just a general readings course in recent Euro history, and the other is War in Europe in the 20th century.

Our program stipulates we have a Grad Minor, so I have to take three classes in that god forsaken area of history. [Wink]

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Amilia
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X-Men was written to explore race relations, with Professor X as a stand-in for MLK, and Magneto as a stand-in for Malcolm X.

I've read essays on The Wizard of Oz as a populist parable. I'm not convinced that Baum wrote that into the book, but it makes for an interesting way to look at the story.

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SteveRogers
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quote:
Originally posted by Amilia:
X-Men was written to explore race relations, with Professor X as a stand-in for MLK, and Magneto as a stand-in for Malcolm X.

Then it must have been a pretty limited view of Malcolm X.
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Amilia:
X-Men was written to explore race relations, with Professor X as a stand-in for MLK, and Magneto as a stand-in for Malcolm X.

I've read essays on The Wizard of Oz as a populist parable. I'm not convinced that Baum wrote that into the book, but it makes for an interesting way to look at the story.

Yeah I've heard that about both things...though I'm not sure how I'd actually present X-Men to them like that. Is there a singular X-Men comic or cartoon episodes that really encapsulates that dynamic? If there is, I'd gladly use it. I was never much a reader of the comics, so I'm unsure, but I liked the show. I suppose I could use that in lecture.

I've read some critical reviews about Wizard of Oz as well. It seems most literary scholars sort of downplay that interpretation, though the surface-level allusions to things like the Yellow Brick Road and the Gold Standard, the fact that Dorothy lived in a farm state at a time when the Populist Party was a farmer's rebellion. Some of it is pretty cute, but I don't think it'd work unless I specifically taught the book to them like that, which I don't think I want to spend the time on.

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
quote:
Originally posted by Amilia:
X-Men was written to explore race relations, with Professor X as a stand-in for MLK, and Magneto as a stand-in for Malcolm X.

Then it must have been a pretty limited view of Malcolm X.
Yeah, it would have been. If you freeze Malcolm X in time before he went on his trip to Mecca, and you freeze MLK in time in 1963 at the March on Washington, then it works, because X was far more radical then in his early Black Power speeches and protests, and MLK seemed far more conciliatory.

The comparison works broadly...but it falls apart when you take the totality of both men into consideration, because there wasn't as much daylight between them at any given point as people like to think.

Though, you can also ask yourself how much daylight was between Magneto and Charles at any point. Magneto changes a lot.

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Aros
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If you're looking to go the comic route, Watchmen might be a good choice. A little about the theme from Wikipedia:

Bradford Wright described Watchmen as "Moore's obituary for the concept of heroes in general and superheroes in particular."[17] Putting the story in a contemporary sociological context, Wright wrote that the characters of Watchmen were Moore's "admonition to those who trusted in 'heroes' and leaders to guard the world's fate." He added that to place faith in such icons was to give up personal responsibility to "the Reagans, Thatchers, and other 'Watchmen' of the world who supposed to 'rescue' us and perhaps lay waste to the planet in the process".[37] Moore specifically stated in 1986 that he was writing Watchmen to be "not anti-Americanism, [but] anti-Reaganism," specifically believing that "at the moment a certain part of Reagan's America isn't scared. They think they're invulnerable."[3] While Moore wanted to write about "power politics" and the "worrying" times he lived in, he stated the reason that the story was set in an alternate reality was because he was worried that readers would "switch off" if he attacked a leader they admired.[4] Moore stated in 1986 that he "was consciously trying to do something that would make people feel uneasy."[3]

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SteveRogers
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Watchmen does have a lot of content which reflects the fears during the Cold War; but beware the naked blue penis.
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katdog42
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quote:
Originally posted by Stephan:
What about something alternate history related?

"What if this happened differently" is always a higher order thinking skill that teachers can use.

I agree. The first book (novella, I think) that popped into my head is Ward Moore's "Bring the Jubilee". It picks up in the United States in the 1900's about 30 years after the Confederacy won the war between the states. It's not too long and a pretty easy read, but would give LOTS of room for discussion.
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Lyrhawn
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I ended up going with Level 7.

Though I was really interested in a couple of these, and I've written a bunch down for the future.

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Dobbie
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quote:
Originally posted by katdog42:
quote:
Originally posted by Stephan:
What about something alternate history related?

"What if this happened differently" is always a higher order thinking skill that teachers can use.

I agree. The first book (novella, I think) that popped into my head is Ward Moore's "Bring the Jubilee". It picks up in the United States in the 1900's about 30 years after the Confederacy won the war between the states. It's not too long and a pretty easy read, but would give LOTS of room for discussion.
This whole anthology is pretty good.
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Amilia
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
quote:
Originally posted by Amilia:
X-Men was written to explore race relations, with Professor X as a stand-in for MLK, and Magneto as a stand-in for Malcolm X.

I've read essays on The Wizard of Oz as a populist parable. I'm not convinced that Baum wrote that into the book, but it makes for an interesting way to look at the story.

Yeah I've heard that about both things...though I'm not sure how I'd actually present X-Men to them like that. Is there a singular X-Men comic or cartoon episodes that really encapsulates that dynamic? If there is, I'd gladly use it. I was never much a reader of the comics, so I'm unsure, but I liked the show. I suppose I could use that in lecture.
Unfortunately, I'm not much of a comics reader either. I'm basing my recommendation on somewhat hazy memories of a lecture in a Race Relations class 10 years ago. Other things from that class stuck with me better, but that was the one that tied into SciFi. I would guess that you would want to start near the beginning of the run, but I have no real idea.

In trying to find the answer, though, I ran across this article, which I found very interesting.

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SteveRogers
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
I ended up going with Level 7.

Though I was really interested in a couple of these, and I've written a bunch down for the future.

I've never even heard of this book, so I'll have to take note of this myself for future reference.
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Lyrhawn
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My best friend bought it at a flea market and thought it was a trashy pulp paperback, but it was actually pretty big at the time, and has been studied a bit since then by scholars. It's solid for talking about Cold War hysteria.

There are also identity issues and a lot of other stuff going on.

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Foust
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quote:
Originally posted by Amilia:
X-Men was written to explore race relations, with Professor X as a stand-in for MLK, and Magneto as a stand-in for Malcolm X.

Not really. . . X-Men was only vaguely political until the 1980s. For example, until the 80s, Magneto was just a mustache twirling villain like any other.
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