Clear the Cobwebs off the Classics: Popular Literature Reads

By Courtney Gordner

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Dystopian societies overrun by vampires, androids and zombies have been infecting our brains with late-night, page-turning cliffhangers. Unforeseen heroes and “knights in shining armor” charm our daydreams and engage us as we hang on to every image and detail. In a world full of blockbuster book series–Twilight, The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Harry Potter–people everywhere are buzzing about the rush you get from reading a book.

Why not go back then, and shed some light on those who started this whole science-fiction and fantasy craze? Believe it or not, classic authors have been toying with these same subjects long before ideas of new societies and worlds became mainstream. These “originals” were all at one point were considered “taboo” because their content was so avant-garde. If you like what’s hot today in literature, you should absolutely crack open some of these classics. They will not disappoint.

1. Fahrenheit 451– Ray Bradbury


(If you enjoy reading novels like Roth’s Divergent, Kacvinsky’s Awaken or Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.)

Banned Books Week is typically held the last week in September by the American Library Association, and this classic was banned due to its questionable themes and language. If you’re interested in reading about societal pressures and the fight for freedom of expression and intellect, this is the perfect book for you.

Guy Montag, a firefighter trained to burn books, comes across a young girl that changes his world forever. As she shows him a life full of free thought and beauty in words, he begins to see a world outside of government control; a world full of love, freedom and hope.

2. 1984– George Orwell

Colin Dunn

Colin Dunn

(If you enjoy reading novels like Collin’s The Hunger Games or Cline’s Ready Player One.)

Coincidentally enough, Orwell wrote this classic in 1948, prophesying the future and what he envisioned the world to be in 1984. He invented the idea of “Big Brother” and how the government can control a society and the ability to have free thought. This is a great read that paints a picture of concepts way ahead of his time.

The story follows a lower-class man, Winston, who works at the Ministry of Truth altering historical events to meet “The Party’s” needs. He receives a strange note from a young girl that says “I love you,” and he begins to question his place in the world. Writing his “crimes” or thoughts in his notebook, his oppression changes from subtle to oblivious. Another portrayal of human independence and freedom, Orwell captivates his audience at each page turn.

3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream– William Shakespeare

(If you enjoy reading novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight.)

Definitely not the typical romance novel, this classic play really captures the impulsive side of love and puts a satirical twist on “soul mates.” Shakespeare comments on how blindly and easily humans fall in love by showcasing a mash-up of love triangles that will confuse even the reader. However, with his fun quips, the characters extreme personalities will be sure to keep you in stitches.


4. Frankenstein– Mary Shelley

(If you enjoy reading novels such as Harry Potter, World War Z or Marion’s Warm Bodies.)

Contrary to the popular story of the horror movie giant, Shelley’s Frankenstein monster has a completely different outlook on life. Born into hatred and destruction, this novel commentates on society’s focus on appearances. Through the monster’s journey in understanding his place in the world, he is betrayed and cast-aside by society, allowing the reader to sympathize with him and see that he is truly a misunderstood creature. Shelley brings to life something we can constantly learn from today: humanity.

Even though our classics have a date that sets them back in time, they are timeless. The values and lessons that these books teach their readers are even relatable in the 21st century. Not only do they educate us on the value of life, independence, and the human spirit, they are some of the most entertaining reads ever written. So when the buzz for the newest series dies down, pick up one of these novels. You’ll be surprised how able they are to satisfy your reading cravings.

Courtney is a passionate blogger who loves sharing her views and thoughts with the world. You can read more from her on her blog,


Mickey B Makes History in Northern Ireland

Press photo for Mickey B

Ruth Fleming is a marketing intern at the Educational Shakespeare Company.


Belfast-based film charity, the Educational Shakespeare Company (ESC) have produced the first ever feature film to be made by and with prisoners in a maximum-security prison anywhere in the world.


Over the course of two years they worked alongside non-conforming life-sentenced prisoners in Northern Ireland’s Maghaberry Prison to produce the film Mickey B, a ground-breaking and award-winning modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.


Prisoners and prison staff were involved at practically every level – from writing, staging and acting through to the production of the film. The sheer magnitude of this project is not to be underestimated, for as Sam, who played Duncan in the film, said “what was being proposed was to make a feature film with murderers playing murderers in a maximum security, category A jail.”


In Mickey B, the storyline of Macbeth has been cleverly reworked and adapted to resonate with contemporary society and with the culture of imprisonment in particular. The central themes of Shakespeare’s bleak tragedy – of greed and violence, betrayal and revenge, guilt and madness – have all been preserved and brought vividly to life in Burnam jail, a fictional private prison, where the prisoners control the wings and violence and drug-dealing are the order of the day.


The film has been controversial since the get go. People raised the issue of victims’ rights, believing that allowing these men to participate in a feature film was being unfair to their victims. A tabloid national paper ran the story under the heading “Cons Make Sicko Movie.” Even the prison authorities believed it would be impossible to make a film with the ‘baddest boys in the jail.’


However, taking part in the production of Mickey B has had a major positive impact on the participants. As well as gaining, for many, their first ever qualification in Active Citizenship , prisoners’ regime status improved for the better, their security classifications dropped, less prisoners committed chargeable offences (during filming) and the number of prisoners attending education for the first time increased.


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The Reading Habit

by Frankie Y. Bailey


bookshelfWe humans are creatures of habit. Change, real change, does not come easily for most of us. We prefer to get into our comfortable groove and stay there. Change often requires an epiphany, a life-altering insight, that most of us rarely, if ever, experience. Perhaps this is why the more cynical among us would doubt that simply picking up a book could change a life.


Like many avid readers, I have had the experience of falling in love with a book. But, I confess here, I have not been faithful to my loves. After the first delight of discovery, I have strayed in search of other books that would engage, challenge, tantalize, take my breath away and leave me wanting more. My affairs with books have been passionate and many. And I am the better for my unfaithfulness to a singe book or any one author.

This is why when I am asked to name my favorite book I find myself embarrassed by my inability to name the one book that I would take with me to a desert island or even the five books or ten. I know that my favorite writer (now deceased) was a man named Richard Martin Stern. Mr. Stern was my favorite author because when I wrote to him as a teenager to tell him how much I loved his mystery series (featuring an African American, or actually biracial, female anthropologist), he wrote back to thank me for my letter. By doing so, he helped to set me on my own path toward becoming a writer. But this does not mean Mr. Stern’s Johnny Ortiz mysteries would be among my five books for a desert island. I think I would be more likely to take along books about how to stay alive.

But I’m rambling. . .the point I wanted to make about books and how they change lives is that it is more likely I think to be a cumulative effect. Change occurs in the process of developing the reading habit, learning to sit down with a book and open one’s mind to its contents.


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Shakespeare’s Words Resonate with Juvenile Offenders

by Ron Jenkins

shakespeare“He’s a thug,” said the boy’s teacher, nodding toward a lanky teenager who had just finished performing a 17th-century monologue from The Tempest. “I never thought he would take this Shakespeare stuff so seriously.” She marveled at the improvement in the young man’s speaking skills since he had begun wrestling with Elizabethan prose.

The teacher cared deeply for him and the other students in the Walter G. Cady School at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, but she put their progress in perspective when he and his classmates left the room. “We have to be honest and admit that a lot of these kids will spend the rest of their lives in jail, and some of them will die young.”

That stark prognosis silenced the 12 other young people who remained in the room when the Cady school students were gone. This more fortunate group consisted of students from Wesleyan University who had signed up to spend a semester with me teaching Shakespeare to incarcerated teenagers at the state correctional facility near the campus in Middletown.

They were prepared to explain the meaning of the Bard’s words to the Cady School students, and they did that job admirably, but they didn’t expect their incarcerated students to teach them more about the inner lives of Shakespeare’s characters than could ever be learned in a university classroom.


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