World Book Day

by Marissa Matton

In honor of yesterday being World Book Day, I thought I would share some of my favorite books.

The other week in one of my classes, we talked about the low expectations we have of assigned reading. Typically if we’re “forced” to read something, we’ve already made up our minds about it not being enjoyable before we even get past the title page. I’ll admit to having fallen victim to this logic quite a few times over the years. That negative train of thought has also been proven wrong, however.

I first read my favorite book, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, in high school as assigned summer reading before my senior year. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the book, but I was nearly immediately taken with the tale of mortality and ethics. As part of that assigned reading, I also read The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I’ve had to read the novel in two courses since then, and each time I was drawn into Edna’s search for independence.

While I haven’t always been as lucky with my assigned reading, these two books have stayed with me as favorites years later, despite the fact that neither fall under my favorite genre of literature. From the moment I finished reading my first Nancy Drew novel, I devoured any mysteries I could come across. I came across And Then There Were None in middle school and immediately fell in love with Agatha Christie’s writing. The classic whodunnit helped fuel my passion for solving fictional crimes. I learned to pick apart scenes, searching for clues and piecing them together to deduct who committed the crimes.

Some people don’t enjoy rereading books, but I find comfort in picking up something familiar. If I were in a novel, my great character flaw would be my faulty memory. When I’m enjoying a book, I hate to have to put it down–partly because of the fact that I’m enjoying it, but mostly because of how probable it is I’ll have forgotten something important before picking it back up.

With the end of the semester approaching, I’m eager to tackle my ‘to-read’ list. After getting through the piles–yes piles–of books I’ve been pushing aside over the past few months, one of my goals is to finish reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I started the novel a couple of years ago, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t able to devote enough time to it.

I’m eager to hear some of your favorite books. What is it about them that stuck with you? Alternately, which books are on your to-read list?

What motivates us to read?

by Marissa Matton

After reading Leonce Gaiter’s post “Why men opt out of the (women’s) fiction world,” I started to consider the different motivations people have for reading.

Everyone reads for different reasons–whether it be because they enjoy it or because they have to. As a student, it seems like I fall into the latter category more often. Having a lot of my time devoted to assigned reading just makes the time I do get to spend reading for pleasure all the more important.

Reading has always been a favorite pastime of mine. There is nothing I enjoy more than being able to escape into a good book. Reading as a means of “escape” is something Leonce and I both agree on. How we are drawn into the books is where our agreement ends, however. In order to really enjoy a book, I need to feel some sort of connection–with a character, situation, location, something. Leonce, on the other hand, doesn’t “approach fiction to re-visit this world”.

I can understand that–I certainly don’t want to read about my own life over and over again. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy drawing connections between my life and what I read. Leonce uses the example of Harry Potter. I grew up with Harry and co. Despite how much I may have wanted that to be my life, I didn’t belong to Harry’s magical world. Dragons, potions, and spells have weren’t relatable, but I could connect with Hermoine’s bookish personality, which made it all the easier to feel like I was part of the book.

Leonce calls for “worlds recreated and re-imagined, instead of rehashed”. I can see the risk of relatable worlds feeling ‘rehashed’, but I don’t think a ‘recreated world’ has to be exclusive from familiarity. Familiarity in literature is the greatest strength of the Changing Lives Through Literature program. When students are able to relate lessons in the stories to their own lives, they begin on the path of change.

When I started to think about my reading habits, I had to break the down between my two motivations. Like I said, as a student, a lot of my current reading is assigned rather than chosen. I think because I’m not actively deciding those pieces of literature are worthy of my time, it’s necessary for me to find some way to situate myself into the stories. Otherwise, I’m more likely to view the reading as forced upon me.

I don’t know if this variation in opinion is because of gender, like Leonce claims, or some other difference between us, but I am curious. So, I turn this conversation over to you now. What motivates you to read? Would you rather read about something you know or ditch this world all together? Perhaps a combination of the two?

the Changing Lives Through Literature conversation

by Marissa Matton

Proving that Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) produces news-worthy results, the program was recently featured in two articles.

In an article for news station WBUR, Deborah Becker highlights a recent CLTL graduation ceremony held in Dorchester District Court. Along with Becker’s description of how the program runs are quotes from those involved–both students and facilitators. Hearing from participants from both sides of the program reveals the secret to CLTL’s success.

Facilitator Tam Neville describes literature as a “tool to help provoke thoughtful discussion and to develop relationships”. According to Judge Weingarten, a facilitator of the Dorchester men’s program, his job is to create a safe place for discussion, which is the key to the program’s participants making changes in their lives. As the students reflect on their readings, they relate lessons from the literature to their lives.

Probation officer Pamela Pierce notes how the students learn from each other, changing their views of not only the criminal justice system, but also themselves–a key to them not committing new crimes after graduating from the program. Abby, one of the Dorchester graduates, praises the relationships she made and attributes the program for putting her on the college-bound track.

This type of personal change is the basis of Elizabeth Svoboda’s article for DailyGood. Svoboda weaves together tales to discuss the importance of storytelling–an agent of transformation.

CLTL is described in the article as “proving that well-told stories can also re-orient the lives of adult offenders”. The connections that can be made between literature and our lives is clear in the example Svoboda provides of a student connecting The Old Man and the Sea to his own struggle with drugs.

There are lessons to be learned for all of us, not just the CLTL students. And as made evident by all those who participate in CLTL, discussion is the key to unlocking these lessons. The conversation created by Becker and Svoboda are important and align with the goals of this blog–to sustain conversation beyond the classroom. Let’s continue the conversation and keep learning from one another.

more articles about Changing Lives Through Literature

A call for change

by Marissa Matton

With 2.4 million inmates, the United States has the highest prison population of the world. Behind only Seychelles, we also have the second highest incarceration rate. The United States makes up only five percent of the world’s population, yet we have twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners. These are alarming statistics, but what do they really mean for our nation?

As a nation, we’re led to believe that people who break laws are bad and should be put behind bars. We never consider much past that– how long they should be in prison, where the money comes from, what happens to the prisoners after they’re released.

The sad fact about released prisoners is that the majority of them are incarcerated again. A study showed that 62.5% of released prisoners were convicted of another crime after being released from prison. Two-thirds of them committed another crime within just one year of their release.

What good is a prison sentence if an inmate is going to repeat the same actions upon release? You’ve only temporarily delayed new crimes from being committed. Shouldn’t our nation be aiming for a higher goal? Isn’t prevention what we should be targeting? The United States prison system is severely suffering when it comes to reforming inmates.

A prison sentence alone is not enough to keep a prisoner from committing future offenses. This fact is abundantly clear when juvenile detentions are taken into consideration. A study of Chicago youth incarceration showed that young offenders were sixty-seven percent more likely to be in jail again by the age of twenty-five. What’s even worse, is that they were more likely to commit violent crimes, including homicide.

On average, it costs twenty-four thousand dollars per inmate per year. Billions are spent on incarceration every year. The billions of dollars that go into keeping these prisons not full but overcrowded would be better spent on alternative sentencing programs.

Changing Lives Through Literature is an excellent example of a program that truly works. A study showed that less than fifty percent of graduates committed a new offense after completing the program. Why is this program so more effective than incarceration alone? Students in the program  are are learning hands-on in the classroom, gaining the tools necessary to reevaluate their decisions and change their perspectives.

Locking away everyone who breaks the law is not only not possible, but also not feasible. We need to recognize the issues associated with the prison system, and just as the Changing Lives Through Literature students learn to change their perspectives, we need to as well. Alternative sentencing programs overall produce better results than prison sentences and are often less expensive. This is the direction we need to head towards, instead of relying on prison sentences.

Lessons from my childhood friends

by Marissa Matton

I recently came across an article about the “lessons” that can be learned from classic children’s books. Somewhere between the piece mocking The Very Hungry Caterpillar for glamorizing gluttony and criticizing Matlida for favoring magical powers over parents, I moved past my indignation at my favorite childhood books being knocked down and stopped to consider what lasting lessons I truly learned while reading growing up.

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is one of the best examples of a children’s story that seamlessly weaves an important life lesson into a child-friendly tale. Although a case can be made that the tree’s selflessness was her downfall, isn’t the boy’s journey through life sadder? He takes and he takes from the tree, but in the end the canoe, the house, everything he’s able to get from the tree doesn’t last him. All the tree has left to give is her love and support, which is all he needs in the end.

There’s a fine line between not giving enough and giving too much, which The Giving Tree shows. If the boy had cared more about what he needed than what he wanted, he wouldn’t have used the tree, his friend. Through the boy’s mistakes I learned what it takes to be a good friend and how selfish acts won’t make me happy in the end.

E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was the first, but certainly not last, book that made me cry. While the sad tale teaches us about loss, the real moral of the story lies within the friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur. Unlike the friendship between the boy and the tree, Charlotte and Wilbur are loyal to each other. Whereas I learned how not to act from the boy, these two friends taught me how I should. Charlotte looks after Wilbur, an act he repays by looking after her children after she dies. Her death may have been heartbreaking, but it was a lesson within itself. Life is hard. There will be setbacks, but life continues. Following the two friends on their journey, I learned about compassion.

It would be impossible to talk about books I grew up reading without mentioning Nancy Drew. With an eight-decade history behind her, I was able to grow up with the teen detective. She may have been more of a role model for girls, but her impact could leave a lasting impression on anyone. Influential women such as Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Sonia Sotomayor have all listed Nancy Drew as one of their role models. With each mystery I solved alongside Nancy, I learned about the pursuit of truth and justice. I found the courage to pursue my goals and never squash my curiosity.

Published in 1964, The Giving Tree is the newest of these three. The story is still very much present on the bookshelves of children. Sixty-two years after its publication, the same can be said for Charlotte’s Web and Nancy Drew has been a role model for the past eighty-four years, crossing over into other forms of media including television, movies, and video games. There is a reason these books have remained in the hearts of their readers long after they’ve grown.

Some of these lessons may seem simplistic, but they’re important life lessons that last. They build the foundation for us to be the best version of ourselves we can be.

Hello, readers!

As the new editor, I wanted to take the time to properly introduce myself. My name is Marissa Matton and I will be in charge of the content for this blog until the end of the Spring 2015 semester.

I am in my first year of the Professional Writing Program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. I graduated last spring from UMass Dartmouth with a bachelor’s degree in Writing, Communication & Rhetoric and minor in Literature & Criticism. I have worked in the field of web writing for the past year, and I look forward to this new position.

With your help, my goal for this year is to produce articles on a regular basis. I am eager to work with previous guest writers and I hope to see new writers as well. I encourage any readers who may not think of themselves as writers to try their hand at writing a piece or to contribute by actively commenting.

We are accepting submissions. If you’re interested in writing an entry, please read our guidelines and contact us at cltl@umassd.edu. I look forward to your comments, submissions, and questions!

Marissa