Staying Home

This week’s Dream English Course looks at literature that portrays how women live during times of war, when they are not part of the fight but trying to maintain normalcy during turbulence. I tried to find a range of experiences: different ages, different wars, different countries. And different levels of involvement. Pride and Prejudice barely mentions the wars, while Gone with the Wind is right in the thick of it. The goal is to determine how cultures and lifestyles change during war through a female perspective.

Staying Home


Unit I: Two Sides of the Same Coin (7 weeks)

Texts: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Questions: How does Jo’s experience of the Civil War differ from Scarlett’s? How does war affect their romantic lives? What is the most important to them? How dramatically does the end of the war change their lives?


Unit II: Maintaining Class (3 weeks)

Texts: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Mrs. Dalloway  by Virginia Wolf

Questions: How much of high society can the characters maintain during/after war? What can’t they maintain? How much does the war affect their daily lives? Does it affect the male characters more than the female characters? Why are the social structures so important to the characters?


Unit III: Flirting with the Enemy (3 weeks)

Texts: Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene, Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Questions: How do the areas react to the foreign presence? Under what circumstances are the foreign soldiers there? How do the main characters develop relationships with the soldiers? How do others react to their relationship? What else changes because of their presence?


Unit IV: Adapting

Texts: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Man by Kim Thuy, Small Island by Andrea Levy

Questions: How does war change the characters’ lives? What decisions do they make that they would not otherwise? Do these decisions keep them safe? What role do secrets play in these novels? How do the characters view the enemy? What parts of their cultures do they hold on to?




Book Pairing of the Week? – Man

Man has it been a long week! But now it’s Friday, and while part of me just wants to binge RuPaul’s Drag Race and play computer games from last decade, part of me knows that I have to write about what I’m reading this week. Not to mention Man by Kim Thuy (there should be the lil squiggly above the “a” but I don’t know how to do that and Friday night is not when I want to figure it out) would be a complete disservice to the work, which I read in one day. I read that book while hungry, which is usually a big turn-off for me.

Truly, the book synopsis does a disservice to the work. While there is indeed one arranged marriage, one steamy love affair, and lots of food, there is also a beautiful look at mother-daughter relations and survival. I found those parts to be far more important. Maybe because I’m obsessed with how women function in a family. Whatever.

All the talk about the Vietnamese restaurant made me want pho. So I ordered it. Now, I know that last week I ordered sushi, so it feels a little like cheating. But I don’t presume to know anything about making up a pho. That would be a disaster. I ain’t proud. And what else do you want when reading Man? Nothing. Nothing I tell you!

Now, back to my Drag Race.

A Touch of Communism

After taking my own Labor Day break from Book Pairing of the Week (never fear…I’ll do one later this week), I’m back with a brand new English course! This week, I’m looking at Communism, both as a setting for literature around the world and as a philosophical debate in America. The first unit is all about shorter works that focus on many different characters and many different stories, all of which have different relationships to Communism. The second unit takes a deeper look at families who undergo a revolution. The third unit looks at the debate over Communism from an American perspective (of course), and the course ends with 1984 (because it would simply be a sin not to) and a lovely discussion about the likelihood of an Orwellian future. This is not a philosophy or economics course, so I did not include any Marx or other philosophers. Mostly, it’s about how Communism as social change and social structure affects people.

Also, I’d like to say that I use The House of the Spirits a lot for these, but it encompasses so much that I want to talk about! I am aware of it. I just don’t care.


A Touch of Communism 


Unit I: Glimpses of Life (2 weeks)

Texts: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, Man by Kim Thuy

Unit II: Changing Times (4 weeks)

Texts: Spring Moon by Bette Bao Lord, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Unit III: The Debate in America (10 weeks)

Texts: Living My Life by Emma Goldman, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinback, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Unit IV: The Future is Now?

Text: 1984


Questions: What are the characters’ relationships to Communism? How does it change their way of life? What does it not affect? How do the authors represent Communism? From what social position do the characters make their judgment?