Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Nostalgia and the Harry Potter series

First things first - congratulations to my dear friend, Ashlee, who just got a publishing deal! You can read all about it over at her blog.  I'm so proud of her, and can't wait to read her story!

So, to be perfectly honest, I had no idea what I wanted to talk about in this post until about...2 minutes ago, when I realized, Oh, wait, TODAY is Wednesday.  I'd been operating under the impression it was Tuesday.  How the time flies when you don't have work.

I had asked via Facebook status what book I should read next - something for work, or something for leisure.  I got many responses, all of them which I liked, but the one that really stood out to me was this:

"You should reread the Harry Potter series!"

And I thought, "By God, I should!" 

It's no secret that I've loved Harry Potter from the minute I picked it up.  It's truly a magical series, and much of that magic comes from the nostalgia of rereading the books.  I used to reread them constantly throughout high school, but fell away from that practice once college started - which is a travesty, I know.  But, it's amazing how childhood obsessions books can have that effect on you. 

Think about it.  Isn't it funny how some books just kind of return to you, in a flash or moment, when you seem to be doing something totally unrelated.  I feel like the most powerful books are like that.  I mean "powerful" in the sense of having staying power.  Perhaps their plot is just magical.  Perhaps it's the individual words, which are so beautifully strung together that they come to you during the most mundane tasks and suddenly enrich your day.  I find that books do this for me far more than any other type of entertainment or medium.  And that's what happened today, when it was suggested I reread Harry Potter.

Needless to say, this evening has been spent scouring the libraries of Tucson for the series.  I know what you're thinking - Alex, you mean to tell me you DON'T already own it??  Yes, I do - well, my family does, at any rate.  But my family lives in Phoenix, and we've actually lost 2 or 3 of the books, so I thought, I'll just borrow them. 

Only I can't.

Because there is not a single copy of Harry Potter checked in to any of the libraries in Tucson at this moment.

Now, this is disheartening, yes, but it's also heartwarming.  It's heartwarming to know that even now, all these years later, it's still so popular.  Now, granted, this may be in part due to the movie coming out in just a few days.  But I think that's the beauty of the series, and a testament to the sheer power of nostalgia and the magical qualities books can have.  It demonstrates that love of literature is still alive and well.  It also demonstrates that the U of A library clearly needs to stock more than just one copy of the book (I mean, C'MON!). 

I'll buy the series for myself someday (after I get a paycheck...).  In the meantime, though, any friends in Tucson who may own them, please consider letting me borrow it. I'll give it back, I promise!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sick Puppy

In what I hope is my final installment of Catching up on posts that are two weeks late due to procrastination, I bring you a review of Carl Hiaasen's Sick Puppy. 

Best described as "an environmentally-focused mystery thriller," Sick Puppy follows Twilly Spree, an eco-terrorist hell bent on teaching those who would deface the planet "a lesson."  After Twilly begins to stalk a perpetually littering Florida lobbyist named Palmer Stoat, he becomes embroiled in a political affair that threatens the environmental integrity of a small island off the coast of Florida named Toad Island. 

With it's breezy prose, fast pace, and hilarious characters, Sick Puppy is, simply put, a riot.  It's an exercise in absurdity, as well - none of the characters are particularly likeable (except for a large black Labrador named Boodle), and the antics of these individuals rank from absurdly corrupt to corruptly absurd.  Everything that happens is fantastical...at yet not.

Hiaasen's writing is strongest when he's talking about politics.  There is no political agenda that gets any reprieve from him; he tackles corruption in politics, lobbyists, and yes, even environmental action.  Hiaasen is no fan of extremism, and therefore while Twilly is a fun character to watch, even if you agree with his politics, you cannot condone his actions.  Everyone in this book is fair game.  Hiaasen is merciless in his handling of politicians and political figures.  And that's what makes it fun. 

Now, Sick Puppy isn't revolutionary or world-shattering.  And that's okay.  It's a fun, easy, and quick read for when you have some downtime or just want a good laugh.  And if you like political intrigue, murder, and mystery, it's got it all here, too.  Either way, it's a good book, and hopefully, you'll enjoy it just as I did.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

I missed yesterday's post, mostly because I was lazy, but also because I went to Zachary's, had a few Ace Pear Ciders and a slice of Pepperoni, and was pretty much done for the night (worth it). So I'm making it with a surprise Thursday posting! Whoot!

A little while ago, I read Switch, a nonfiction book I had purchased as part of my professional development. Being a grad student working for a large university, the title drew me in, mostly because I was interested to see if it could offer me any advice (or confidence) about working with a large department and making substantial, meaningful contributions.

Switch is a summary of the work of Chip and Dan Heath, two brothers who have studied large businesses and organizations and tried to create what is, in essence, a formula for enacting organizational change (in addition to familial and personal change).  

The book itself was pretty accessible - the writing was clear, and I did like the presentation of many examples and thought questions that allowed the reader to sort of 'quiz' themselves on how to change the presented situation. The examples were also encouraging to a grad like me - Chip and Dan provided plenty of scenarios where change was brought on by a lower-ranking employee. To be completely honest, it wasn't a mind-blowing text that instantly revolutionized my world, but it's simple advice is easy enough for me to implement (and I've been working to use their advice in every interaction I've had - when I've remembered to).  But, overall, it's a nice, fairly enjoyable read that helps pass the time, if nothing else.  Will it allow me to enact large-scale changes from my position next year?  Who knows?  I suppose only time will tell, but I will be referring to the book as the year goes on, to help me as a professional.

PREVIEW: hopefully, by Saturday, I'll be all caught up with reviewing books and then can get back to a regular schedule on Wednesday.  But it may not happen.  Because it's me.

-Alex

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thoughts on Teaching

Whew, it's been a long time.  These past two weeks, I've had car issues, helped my boyfriend move, hung out with boyfriend's parents, babysat, moved into my new apartment, celebrated my cat turning 7, and babysat some more.  And it wasn't just any kind of babysitting, it was babysitting for two year olds.  Two of them.  Twins.  Needless to say, I've not had any time to really update my blog, which makes me sad.  I've also not had a lot of time to read - in these past two weeks, I've completed two books, which granted isn't bad, but it's no where near the 8 I wanted to finish.  I've also lost a lot of drive when it comes to writing this particular blog post, but I'm gonna bear down and power through.

I've toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher a few times, and I'll probably muse on this prospect even more as I make my way through grad school.  And as I was reading James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me a few weeks ago, this fleeting idea seemed to really take hold and resonate with me.  A lot of things Mr. Loewen was critiquing about how our current educational system really struck a chord, and it's only been exacerbated by more recent developments about educational issues affecting my current city (which you can read about here and here). 

I've already made my approval for Tucson's Ethnic Studies implicit, but here, I'll outright state it: these classrooms are doing the right thing.  They are using unique texts to cover a new, wide range of material.  They also utilize primary texts and confront controversial issues, encourage students to have meaningful classroom discussions, and engage in thoughtful intellectual debate.  Benefits to the students have been thoroughly documented, and the audit that was ordered by Arizona Superintendent John Huppenthal (who, ironically, declared Ethnic Studies illegal despite the audit he ordered finding differently) has found that these classes work tremendously to close the achievement gap facing lower income and underprivileged students. 

But, anyway, back to what I was saying: I've thought a lot about how I would personally go about being a teacher.  It would be a tall order, for sure, especially given that teachers are treated horribly here in the U.S. and our educational system has lots of problems.  But I've thought of a few things:

1) Using primary sources (and eliminating pesky textbooks). Now, granted, I don't know a lot about Arizona's requirements for using certain texts in the classroom, but for everything from English to History, there is a more effective way to implement textbooks in the classroom.  Students have a wide range of resources available to them via the internet - access to novels, historical documents, pictures of artwork, and so on.  Utilizing resources via the internet is cheap and incredibly manageable, but I realize it might not always fly, so...

2) Revamp textbooks if you can't eliminate them.  Pearson allows you to customize textbooks for any grade level, an invaluable tool that allows you to not only include primary texts, but also primary responses to texts (such as newspaper or journal articles that provide supplementary or opposing viewpoints).  One can make the switch to digital text books.  Customized textbooks are often much cheaper (Pearson's book starts at only 8 dollars, plus 2 cents per page, which is completely manageable if combined with other resources such as online activities).  Again, this depends a lot on textbook adoption and individual school districts (and state laws), but in placing a large emphasis on cutting costs, this actually might be really easy to implement. 

3) Gamify education.  Okay, so this branches away from Loewen's argument somewhat and granted it might seem a little like it's coming out of left field, but bear with me.  One of Loewen's biggest critiques about how we teach history now is that it's boring.  Teachers make it boring.  The educational process has become boring.  And how do we fix it?  Well, one way is to gamify education. Granted, this is still a new concept, and it will ultimately be interesting to implement, but part of gamifying education is really just encouraging us to move away from what we are doing currently and truly foster intellectual and educational development.  Make education less about earning grades, and more about learning.  This is totally feasible, but unfortunately, schools have in many way become organizations with bottom-lines (be they monetary or other), and students and teachers stuffer as a result. 

All these things I mentioned are just little beginning steps, still budding thoughts that have yet to bear real fruit. 

I have to apologize for this post.  This entire entry is all over the place and feels incomplete, but hey, it's an update, and I suppose just writing this will get me back on track to continue updating.  Hopefully, getting this out now will help organize my thoughts on this topic in a more coherent fashion in the future, but, we'll see.

Anyway, I'm out, for now.  See you on Saturday!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Road

Firstly, an update - my blog has changed YET AGAIN. I was having technical difficulties with the other one, so I transferred to a new account with a slightly modified domain name. If you were following me before, please follow me again! I promise this is the last time!

Also, I missed Wednesday's post, due to helping my boyfriend move, and then I had car issues this week so I thought, "Screw it, I'll post it next Wednesday."

So, today's post is going to look at the next book on my list: Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

What is there to say about this book? Well, I can say with absolute certainty (forget 'certitude,' Anthony Weiner...) that this book is one of the most gripping I think I've ever read.  This was a book that got under my skin in a profoundly disturbing way.  Simply put, this was a book that was hard for me to read, yet even harder for me to put down.  I knew that when I started tearing up 10 pages in, I was in for a difficult read.

Set sometime after an unnamed apocalyptic cataclysm that has left the Earth rotting and decayed, a father and son make their way south to try and find some way of surviving along the coast.  The earth is entirely scorched, the wildlife and vegetation nothing more than dust.  The man and boy have to avoid "the bad guys," cults of ruthless cannibals who are constantly making their way down the road, looking for flesh.  There's hardly any food and water remaining, the days are always cold, and the world is covered in ash and darkness.  The only thing the two of them has is each other.

McCarthy's prose is at times breathtaking, though I personally think he relies a little too much on antiquated words; in a way, it forced me to brush up on my vocabulary, so not too bad, but annoying when you're trying to stay immersed.

Yet, the writing to the point, minimalist in form, which is appropriate for the style of the book - even quotation marks and apostrophes aren't included.  It's bare bones, and this is a style that I think really complements the overarching theme of the novel - when the world is ending, only the bare minimum exists. 

As for the content, there are times when the book is downright gruesome, with violent images and sometimes horrific passages.  Without giving anything away, I came to a point in the book where I had to put it down, because the visual imagery was just too awful for me to continue that I just couldn't go on.  I decided to go to bed, only to open the book 5 minutes later when I realized - "I can't go to sleep with that image in my brain. I have to keep going."

That was a common motif for me - I had to keep reading.  It was so bleak, so dreary, so hopeless, but I had to keep going because I needed to know something good was going to happen, and if it didn't, my heart would break.

There's very little that is happy about this book.  Time and time again, our protagonists are left hopeless, and at the back of my mind, I kept having niggling little thoughts that they weren't going to make it - that there was no way that anything good would happen. 

I was mostly right.  Within the last 10 pages of the book, I was bawling so hard I had to put the book down to compose myself.  There is a glimmer of hope in the end, but the weight of the oppressive sadness of the book is unrelenting.  After I finished, I could only think about all I had read and seen in my mind, and I was disturbed to the point of not sleeping that night.

I told my boyfriend this and he asked me, "Was it worth it?  If you could go back, would you still read it?"  At the time, I answered that, as far as literature goes, it's beautifully written.  And it is, and this is something that does help cushion the blow of the impact, I think.  McCarthy will include throw away lines references Joyce, Dickens, and other authors. Some people have criticized the book for this (along with stylistic choices), saying that the novel is pretentious or overwrought.  Maybe that is the case.  And that's okay.  But, I actually read it differently - as a sly reassurance.  Everything in the world is gone, but language, and more importantly, literature, still survives in these characters - civilization is gone, but narrative will live on, in some way.  McCarthy places a large emphasis on the fact that the father tells the boy stories - that's an important point.  As long as people still live, narrative still lives.  It's all very meta, I suppose.  At least, that was my take-away. 

But going back to the question, "Was it worth it?"  I thought a lot about this question.  In the end, I think what The Road does best is it provokes the critical thought: what would I do?  This is both a good and bad thing to contemplate.  What would I do if the world were utterly destroyed, and there was no hope left?  How would I manufacture hope?  Would I even be able to?  Would it be better to go on living in such a place, or not?  This is the question that kept me up for a week, that made this read so difficult for me.  How does one fathom the unfathomable?  Am I worse off for thinking about this topic?  I've been told, "it's not going to happen," in an attempt to be reassured.  But that isn't the point.  I think what the book's goal is to get you to think about humanity - your humanity, to be more specific.  What lengths would go to in order to survive in such situation?

Do I recommend The Road?  From a literary standpoint, yes.  I think its themes, its style, its characters are all important to read.  Even for those who don't like it, I think it's important to analyze.  From a personal standpoint, I think this is a book that people should read, yes, but they have to be prepared to really ask themselves the hard questions after they do.

As for me, I can't say I enjoyed the book so much as others.  But I do think that it's had a profound effect on me, and I think it's just as valuable to read books that make you contemplate yourself and your life choices.  To contemplate what it means to "live" and to be "humane."  It's a book that I know will probably haunt me for a very long time.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A book to make White People angry

Okay, the title is unfair.  But, there is some truth to it, because this week I look at Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.  And boy, is it a doozy.

The premise of Lies revolves around the idea of addressing the false history that is currently taught in our schools, tackling everything from the horrifying treatment of Native Americans by Colombus (and the Europeans in general), the seedy, shady doings of the US government and foreign relations, and even how U.S. History gets things such as slavery and Civil Rights so wrong.  The book also knocks a few U.S. presidents and other heroes off their pedestals, and expands upon a few narratives we have given some of our heroes (did you know that Helen Keller was a radical socialist? And that Woodrow Wilson was a raging white supremecist?  You do now).

If you've never heard of it, sociologist and historian James W. Loewen has thoroughly reviewed 12 textbooks currently used by school across American and examined them for historical accuracy. The results don't look to good. Aside from blatantly omitting crucial facts and breezing over the parts that make the U.S. look bad, Loewen points out that the most glaring error of these textbooks is that, simply, they are racist.  They only tell one kind of history: white history.

I found myself absolutely shocked to learn (rather, re-learn) my history about Native American Indians, the Reconstruction, even slavery and the Civil Rights Era.  The US has been far from perfect to minority groups, particularly racial minorities, and our treatment of them throughout history seems to be continually glossed over.  Loewen points out that,

Teachers and curricula that present African history and African Americans in a positive light are often condemned for being Afro-centric.

 Yet, he remarks, nothing is said about the portrayal of white Americans.  History is told from a Euro-centric point of view, with which no one seems to have a problem.  It makes me think of current legislation in Tucson, where there is a battle between the state superintendent Tom Horne, and the Tucson Unified School District, over what is called "Raza studies," or simply, race studies from Latino and Native American points of view.  Horne has said that these curricula should be banned, "because [they are] aimed primarily at members of one race, and we have testimony that this has promoted resentment toward one race."  Further,

But the bill would go beyond Tucson's Mexican-American offerings and would end other ethnic-centric courses, Horne said. Students would still be exposed to other cultures and traditions.
"You do it in the regular social-studies class," he said. "And you do it within the (state) standards."

The only problem with Mr. Horne's reasoning is that "regular" social-studies DO promote one race over the other - the white race.  And they DO promote resentment in other races - races that are not white.  The fact that history is not taught from the Native American point of view, who were indeed the first Americans, is evidence enough of that.  But this is where Loewen's struggle comes in.  While his book is noble, it also threatens the status quo.  It knocks white people down a notch.  That's something I'm personally okay with, but not everyone is at that point yet, and face it, there's nothing that makes white people angrier than being forced to recognize their privilege.  The total wrong-doings of slavery and the Civil War era regarding blacks is also far more stringent than any textbook would dare to present, out of fear of disrupting the establishment, not being adopted by mainly white school boards, and so on. 

And that's where Loewen gets to the crux of his argument (well, one of his cruxes...).  Books are sterilized, afraid of portraying anyone in a bad light, and certainly not in any position to promote controversy.  And this is a shame.  As Loewen writes:

Presenting a controversy seems somehow radical.  It invites students to come to their own conclusions.  Textbook authors don't let that happen.  They see their job as presenting "facts" for children to "learn," not encouraging them to think for themselves.  Such an approach keeps students ignorant of the reasoning, arguments, and weighing of evidence that go into social science.

This leads into another point of the book - how we teach history is all wrong.  Textbooks are tertiary sources.  Students (and teachers) need to rely on primary sources and lean into controversy.  With the internet readily available in nearly every school nowadays, this is easy.  By presenting history as real and controversial, instead of sterile and neatly sutured, students will be more engaged and more willing to learn.  Most importantly, they'll learn to think critically and make decisions for themselves, and not spout off misguided factoids without any real thought.

Now, I'm not going to make Lies out to be a perfect book.  It isn't.  Unfortunately, Loewen's bias and obvious disdain for anything on the right side of the political spectrum weakens his overall argument (and violates one of his own criticisms - his analysis, particularly of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, offers only one point of view, instead of offering enough controversy to generate thought and discussion, and allowing individuals to come to their own conclusions).  Further, his prose violates another one of his own criticisms - at times, it's far too long-winded, and Loewen drags points out for far to long, ultimately losing the reader's engagement at times.

That being said, the book is absolutely worth taking a look at, regardless of your personal political affiliation.  Right-leaning individuals may scoff at some of his ideas, or dismiss his findings and analysis, but Loewen has done a bang up job providing citations and references to back up his conclusions and his historical revisions.  This is a book that will make some people uncomfortable - but that's okay!  People need to be challenged, and hopefully, this book will do just that.

Loewen also offers some great ideas for how to revamp the teaching of history - but I'll talk about that more next Wednesday.


P.S. If you want to read more about the "Raza studies" bill, a brief introduction is here.

If you are interested, here are some other links:

Save Ethnic Studies AZ

Law and Border

Law and Border - La Raza Studies Documentary

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Classic Book Conundrum

This week, I've decided to tackle the age-old question: what makes a book a classic?
 
Unfortunately for me, there seems to be no universal criteria on which to make this distinction.  A Google search brings up about 336,000,000 results of people asking that same question, but there's no real answer designated anywhere, and that makes my job particularly hard.  I've seen a gamut of responses, but all are as arbitrary as the next.  Yet, our society HAS in fact determined that a set of books are worth reading through the generations.  Seriously, you see the word "classic book" thrown around as if it were a fact about nearly every book that just happens to seem old.  So it would be nice to know: really, what makes a book a classic?

Common responses have ranged from, "Classic books are those that are universally relevant," to "It can stand the test of time," which are similar enough, I suppose.  There's also the pithy maxim "it must have a timeless theme."  Basically, this concept has been debated by the likes of Italo Cavino to Mark Twain (or so says Wikipedia).  And yet, Cavino even acknowledged determining a universal list of "Classic" books is impossible:

“There is nothing for it but for all of us to invent our own ideal libraries of classics.”

Great.  Well, that being the case, I've decided - I'm not going to bother.

What I am going to do is instead take a look at publishing companies who sell books under the premise of being a 'classic book.'

In addition to bookselling chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders having their own special "classics" list, publishers like Random House, Oxford University Press, Modern Library, and Penguin Books sell what they determine are "classic" titles.  Obviously, these publishers have some idea or criteria for what makes a book a classic, but between all of them, there isn't real consistency.  From what I've seen, B&N, Borders, and Oxford World's Classics seem to include mostly books whose authors are dead, or that cannot be considered 'modern' classics.  Modern Library is dedicated to (no surprise) what they call "Modern Classics," and Penguin Classics and Random House's Everyman's Library is a nice eclectic mix of both old and new.

So, even amongst publishers, different books are considered "classics."  I'm not surprised that chains like B&N and Borders have lists made up primarily of older books - many books on their list are considered 'public domain,' so every few years, they can publish a new set of the same books, just with different covers and pages, and make a quick buck off the lit-nerds whose life isn't complete unless they own every edition of the same book they've already read 12 times.  But perhaps that's cynical of me (and honestly, I'll need to devote another post to that topic).  Let's look away from the profit-driven model of "Classic Book" and examine the content of the individual lists.

B&N and Borders share an interesting commonality: their lists are primarily made up with white, male authors.  With the exception of some famous females such as Austen, Bronte, Wharton,  and a few others, the list is overwhelmingly male.  B&N has what it calls an "African American" subsection of its classics, which includes 8 - eight! - books written by black authors (and of those 8, 2 are just reprints of earlier editions, so it's really 6). 8 out of 320 books published as a classic, written by black authors. And not just black authors, African American authors.  African and South American authors seem to be wholly unrepresented when it comes to classic books, from these publishers at any rate.

(Sidebar: to their credit, B&N does what I've seen no other publisher do: publish a book of 4 slave narratives, by typically unheard of authors - why they couldn't dedicate each their own book, well, that's a question for another day.)

But maybe that's not fair.  Maybe a wide range of novels from Africa or Central and South America just were not written centuries ago.  Totally possible.  Let's look at Oxford's list.  They include Cervantes, a Spanish author, but technically, being from Spain he's still European, so I don't know how I feel about singling him out.  On a positive note, Oxford features a much more even gender distribution, featuring women I've never even heard of (though, they do that with men too, so I'm not sold yet).  They do include Sayings from the Buddha by Pali Nikayas, have to give them credit for that.  But, overall, there seems to be even less non-white authors on this list.

Hmm. I'm beginning to pick up on a nasty trend.  Let's look at Modern Library's list.

Modern Library has identified a list of 100 Best Novels, not necessarily a classics list, but I'll modify it to my purposes. I'm only going to work with the Board's list, not because I have anything against the every-day reader, but because of their best books, they listed L. Ron Hubbard three separate times, and in my eyes, that's a travesty on a scale large enough to strip away any privilege they had in determining a "best novel" list.

Anyway, Modern Library scores points for including one of my favorite books, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, but loses points for including only 7 women (though, I originally thought it was ten because I mistakenly counted Evelyn Waugh as a woman - my bad).  Only 7 women, of 100.  On top of that, only a handful on non-white authors.

It seems what determines classic books is not the merit of the book itself, but the merit of how progressive our society can be when it comes to recognizing worthy titles.  It's not by accident that the majority of all these lists include white male authors.  And I don't want to discredit those authors - some of them are truly terrific.  Some are...not really my cup of tea.  But I am hard-pressed to believe that, even in our modern times, we cannot find more than a sampling of non-white authors writing truly fantastic books.

Ah, but Alex, you haven't finished the last two lists, by Random House and Penguins. Don't worry, I'm getting there.  I was actually quite surprised with these publishers.  Random House's Everyman's Essentials Library include 100 books, like Modern Library's, but the list is far from being as homogenous as the others.  Including more women (such as Toni Morrison), more Latino authors (Gabriel Garcia Marquez rightfully makes the list several times), and more Eastern and African authors (including Achebe and Lao-Tzu), it's a much more eclectic and expansive list.

But as far as classics goes, Penguin Classics by far and away has done the most extensive work with developing a library.  With over 1,500 books (and still growing), Penguin includes both Modern and old Classics.  But what I admire most about this publisher is their acknowledgment of the trend my brief research is demonstrating.

I shouldn't be surprised that the most famous and Classic books are those written by white men.  Our world still operates from the white man's perspective; privilege and racism are ever existing, so of course, our society lauds white men's contributions to literature and books.  But Penguin Classics does a bang up job addressing this notion:

In recent years there has been an expansion of Spanish, German and Italian translations, and a broadening of the publishing of non-fiction. The series is now as committed to philosophy, theology, travel, politics, history and autobiography as it is to fiction and poetry. There has been an increase in the representation of women's writing, particularly in the English language. The original Penguin English Library editions of the major nineteenth-century English novelistsDickens, Austen, Hardy, the Bront√ęs, Gaskellhave been replaced by new versions with up-to-date critical apparatus and freshly and accurately edited texts. There will continue to be a large growth in the representation of vernacular English texts within the Classics, both of fiction and poetry, in response to a much broader sense of literary tradition.

Now sixty years old, the series has little left to prove but much still to accomplish. Whilst reasonably comprehensive on European literature, the vast non-Western canon remains a challenge that can only be met gradually. Gaps cannot be filled overnight. A new edition requires the right person with both the skills and resources for this detailed, painstaking and demanding task.

My point in addressing this is not to clamor for the removal of titles from our "classics" lists.  I simply want publishers to begin to include authors who don't fit the white male paradigm we find in these lists.  This isn't just a book problem, either.  We find it in television and video games all the time as well (but that's for a future blog post).  Again, no hate for white people, or men; just a call for diversifying our libraries, and a challenge for us as a society to stretch ourselves when it comes to what we consume in media.  Why diversify?  Well, that's a post for another day.