RTW: Required Reading

From YA Highway:

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question to write about on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic:

Back to school time! What's your favorite book that you had to read for a class?

We had a great first day back to school yesterday!  Toad is in 4th grade and Birdy started Kindergarten.

Today's topic is a tough one for me.  As an English major and a political science minor with a focus on political theory, and then as a grad student in creative writing, I read a TON.  Back in March, the Road Trip took us to favorite literary moments, and when I looked back on it, several of them (ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, and "The Story of an Hour") had been assigned reading. 

I gave this a lot of thought, and landed on a book that came as a surprise even to me.  My professor would go into shock if he knew.

Walt Whitman's LEAVES OF GRASS.

From Goodreads:
"The most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed." — Ralph Waldo Emerson. Inspired by transcendentalism, Whitman's immortal collection includes some of the greatest poems of modern times, including his masterpiece "Song of Myself." Shattering standard conventions of symbolism and allegory, it stands as an unabashed celebration of body and nature.

source: University of Rhode Island

I used to love poetry.  Reading poetry, writing poetry.  Finding poetry in everyday life, in the lyrics of songs.

I was not a very good poet, but it wasn't until my junior year of college that I was told -- by my poetry writing professor -- just how bad I was.  In front of the the whole class.  As a 20-year-old college student, I should have been able to take that with a grain of salt, but instead I swallowed that bitter pill and stopped writing poetry.

Many years later I returned to school for my MFA in Creative Writing and was forced to take two poetry classes -- Form & Technique in Poetry and Contemporary Poetry.  When I whined to the program director (Rick Robbins, who is an awesome guy and a fantastic poet, by the way), he just shrugged and said, "You knew what you were getting into when you applied."

We studied LEAVES OF GRASS in Rick's class, as well as a companion text, WALT WHITMAN: THE MEASURE OF HIS SONG.

I was moved.  Beyond measure. 

I went on to read his Civil War poems and dive back into more literature from this, my favorite era in American Literature.  We must have had an assignment to write something inspired by Whitman, and I wrote a very short tribute, a three-page story about a Union soldier named Eliot Gray:
Eliot Gray, dying in the hot Virginia sun... thought of home and of the lush, green grass of Beacon Hill.  He thought of Catharine Kellen and the books they had loved.  He thought of that day in the spring, before the war, the sunny spring Sunday in the Common, when he had read aloud from a book of poems.  Had she removed her shoes and stockings and walked in the barefoot in the grass?  He thought she had.
Eliot Gray knew the words of the poet, Mr. Whitman, and with brown, brittle grass against his rough cheek, he whispered, The smoke of my own breath, echoes, ripples, and buzzed whispers.... the beating of my heart....the passing of blood and air through  my lungs.
 Eliot Gray felt the beating of his heart, the passing of blood and air through his lungs, and he knew that he was dying.
I didn't expect to learn so much and be so moved by this book, and perhaps that is why it stands out for me.

How about you?  What is your favorite book of required reading?

“And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles”
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


  1. Aww cute picture! Interesting list! I've never got too into poems but I feel I should be giving them more of a chance...!

  2. I've never heard of this. But I was never much of a poet fan, not even in my creative writing class. I always went for prose when I could.

    Although I did like William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience when we studied it for A*Level. :)

  3. I forget how much I love poetry sometimes. When I feel uninspired, it helps sometimes to pull out some old poetry. I haven't read this since college and I now have the urge to find my copy of Leaves of Grass. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I adore Leaves of Grass. :D Whitman is one of my favorite American authors/poets.

  5. Oh cute picture! I hope back to school goes well for them. I love your pick for RTW also. I don't think anyone else picked poetry.

  6. I loved this post, and grew up with a mother who constantly quoted Walt Whitman. I read a lot of poetry in my teens, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson were my favorites. Good luck to your kiddos too!

  7. Wasn't Whitman the one who called female writers "those scribbling women"? I am with Robin. I loved Blake's poetry.

    I remember falling in love with The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter my junior year of high school.

  8. Mine was The Great Gatsby. Love that book. Catcher in the Rye might be a close second. Oh, and Anna Karenina.

  9. Adorable photo! I want shoelaces just like Toad! I wish I knew more about poetry than I do. It can be so beautiful, and I don't read enough of it.

  10. Yes, cute school photos!
    I have always LOVED Walt Whitman.
    Fave read for a high school class? I liked modernist lit. So, Carson McCullers, Percy Walker, Capote. And now that I teach college lit? It's modernism again! This semester I'm most excited to teach Don DeLillo's Point Omega.

  11. This reminds me of my pick. I am not much for Whitman, but I can appreciate good poetry, especially when it touches you in a profound way. Thanks for sharing your favorite.

    Also, cute picture! Love the little heart :)

  12. I took all Shakespeare instead of poetry in college...Love old Will, but I have a feeling I missed out on a lot.

  13. I haven't read Whitman, but I do love poetry -- something about it can just really grab you, inspire you. I remember the first time I felt REALLY moved by poetry. We read some of Cisneros's work my freshman year, and I was just amazed at the flow and the rhythm and feeling in her words. I read 'The House on Mango Street' until my copy fell apart.

  14. I think I have to say Animal Farm. Only because it introduced me to George Orwell. His 1984 is one of my absolute favorites.

  15. I've never been much into poetry, and never been much of a poet myself. Not that I have no respect for poetry, but that I wouldn't trust myself to be able to tell good from bad. Especially when I'm writing it! :)

  16. I've never been the biggest fan of poetry (mostly because of all the analysis in high school that I hated SO much), but now I really want to give it another try. I don't know if I've read much Whitman and I really want to.

  17. I had an awesome ninth grade English teacher whose assignments inspired me to write poetry for our school newspaper (almost 30 years ago now!). I love Walt Whitman and have not picked up "Leaves of Grass" in many, many years. Your post has prompted me to go dig it out of the bookshelf. Thank you for that!

  18. What a great story! And I do not ever proclaim to be a poet, but considering Ellen Hopkins is one of my favorite authors, I must enjoy it! And I LOVE Walt Whitman. I love seeing him in many YA novels too.

  19. Well, now I have to go add this to my library list. You make it sound amazing. I haven't read that much poetry - except in school. I wonder if I'll appreciate it more now than I did then. I'd like to think I would.

  20. I haven't read a whole lot of poetry, although when I do, I tend to gravitate toward Emily Dickinson. But I might have to give some more of it a chance :)

    That being said, I actually started off writing poetry, all through middle school and high school. I stopped for the most part in college, although occasionally I'll still write one. The world is probably better off not reading it :)

  21. I loved some books when I was a child but never anything they made me read in class ... except "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." That was great, but now all newbie writers end their stories with "...and it was all a dream." Gag.
    I couldn't stand the classic when I was young, and I still can't. Give me a thriller, horror or sci-fi and I'm happy as a clam. :-D

  22. Other than Shel Silverstein, I haven't read a lot of Poetry. I liked A Tale of Two Cities and To Kill A Mockingbird. My favorite short story was "The Yellow Wallpaper.Great post.


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