What’s a Bildungsroman?


The bildungsroman (bill-DUNGZ-ro-men, German for “formation novel”) is a genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood.  The driving force behind the plot (and the major impact of the work) is the main character’s search for self, so change is thus extremely important.

The birth of the bildungsroman is normally dated to the publication of Goethe’s The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister in 1796.  Although the bildungsroman originated in Germany, it has had extensive influence first in Europe and later throughout the world.  Thomas Carlyle translated Goethe’s novel into English, and after its publication in 1824, many British authors wrote novels inspired by it (e.g. Dickens’ Great Expectations).

A bildungsroman tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience.  The genre evolved from folklore tales of an idiot or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune.  Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on his or her journey.  In a bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty.  The genre often features an underlying conflict between the main character and society.  Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist, and he or she is ultimately accepted into society – the protagonist’s mistakes and disappointments are over.  In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.

Literature Improves Empathy

Have you ever felt that reading a good book makes you better able to connect with your fellow human beings? If so, the results of a new scientific study back you up, but only if your reading material is literary fiction – pulp fiction or non-fiction will not do.

Great Expectations from great literature … empathy occurs in the spaces between characters, such as Joe and Pip, pictured here in the 2012 film adaptation. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex Features

Empathy occurs in the spaces between characters, such as Joe and Pip in Great Expectations, pictured here in the 2012 film adaptation. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex Features

Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.

Continue reading

14 Words You Need to Know

Below is a table containing the words that make all the difference in a competent user of English, because according to James I. Brown, Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Minnesota, in his book Programmed Vocabulary, they contain the twenty most useful prefixes and the fourteen most important roots in our language. These constituent parts make up over 14,000 words in a collegiate dictionary size or close to an estimated 100,000 words in an unabridged dictionary. In other words, you should know these words and understand why they mean what they mean since doing so will grant you a superior vocabulary.  Click it for a slightly larger view.


Literature Improves Thinking



Are you uncomfortable with ambiguity? It’s a common condition, but a highly problematic one. The compulsion to quell that unease can inspire snap judgments, rigid thinking, and bad decision-making.

Fortunately, new research suggests a simple antidote for this affliction: Read more literary fiction.

A trio of University of Toronto scholars, led by psychologist Maja Djikic, report that people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.” Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

“Exposure to literature,” the researchers write in the Creativity Research Journal, “may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds.”

Djikic and her colleagues describe an experiment featuring 100 University of Toronto students. After arriving at the lab and providing some personal information, the students read either one of eight short stories or one of eight essays. The fictional stories were by authors including Wallace Stegner, Jean Stafford, and Paul Bowles; the non-fiction essays were by equally illustrious writers such as George Bernard Shaw and Stephen Jay Gould.

Afterwards, each participant filled out a survey measuring their emotional need for certainty and stability. They expressed their agreement or disagreement with such statements as “I don’t like situations that are uncertain” and “I dislike questions that can be answered in many different ways.” Continue reading

100 Books Worth Reading

If you’re looking for a book to challenge yourself with this summer (on top of summer reading), peruse this list.  Each of these works is very meaty, deep in meaning, ambiguous enough for interpretation, yet forceful enough to have had a lasting impression on Western culture.  Some are old; some are new.  There are writers of all nationalities included here, and the books’ years of publication range from the 16th century to today.  They have nothing in common other than the fact that they’re all legit literature.  Look a few up on Wikipedia; read the first chapter/scene: get a feel for the work.  If you find one that grabs you, read it in a scholarly way.  You’ll enjoy it more anyway if you grab onto some big theme early on.  Plus, you’ll remember it all the better.  I’ve intentionally avoided listing books that are already a part of SPHS’s assigned reading, so this is a deeper cut of works.  (A note of caution to sensitive minds: Some of these stories do include some sketchy content, so read at your own peril.)

  1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (not the sci-fi story by H. G. Wells)
  2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevski
  4. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. King Lear by William Shakespeare
  7. Billy Budd by Herman Melville
  8. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  9. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  10. The Awakening by Kate Chopin Continue reading

SPHS Summer Reading

Summer has arrived!  All of the major south-county bookstores have a copy of the SPHS Summer Reading List, and you should be able to procure a copy there. If you’re unsure which class you’re registered for, contact Guidance. If you have any questions about your summer assignment, attempt to email the course’s teacher (see below) or contact Mr. Benton, at bentonro@pcsb.org.

English 1 Honors

Middle school is over; rejoice!  There is no assigned summer reading. The texts for this coming year are Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Burton Raffel, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Here is a link to an Amazon list created for this class, and if you’re interesting in the standards being covered in this class, please visit this link.  Email Mr. Benton at bentonro@pcsb.org with any questions.

English 2 Honors

The required summer reading text is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.  The English 2 Honors summer packet is due on the first day of school, August 10th. The texts for the year may include works such as The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Color of Water by James McBride, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

English 3 Honors

The required summer reading text is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; the English 3 Honors summer assignments (a double-entry journal and study questions) are due during the first week of school. The other works of literature that students will be reading throughout the school year may include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. If you have any questions, please email Mrs. Patterson at pattersons@pcsb.org.

AP English Language

The two required summer reading texts are 1984 by George Orwell and A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The latest edition of the Barron AP English Language and Composition Study Guide is also a required text. Within the first two weeks of school, you will be required to turn in the AP English Language summer packet and demonstrate that you have completed all of the assigned work.  If you have any questions, e-mail Ms. Wise at wisep@pcsb.org.

English 4 Honors

The required summer reading is Grendel by John Gardner; the English 4 Honors summer packet is due on August 10th. Texts for the year may include works such as Beowulf, The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Composition (Dual Enrollment)

Although there is no required summer reading for a college course, students entering ENC 1101 are responsible for being proficient in the areas of grammar, mechanics, and parts of speech and must possess an advanced vocabulary. Within the first week of class you will be given a test covering the information from several websites  available in this Composition summer packet of links to several websites.

AP English Literature

The three summer texts are Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. (If you didn’t sign out a summer packet from me before the end of school, please email me at bentonro@pcsb.org and then download the AP Literature summer packet and print it.)  All three parts of the summer packet (the Mythology questions and the two theme logs) are due in class on the first day of class; you should write your work directly on the packet unless you feel you need more room. There will be a quotation quiz on Jane Eyre and an in-class essay on Siddhartha on the first day of class, August 10th or 11th (depending on block-scheduling possibilities).  Once you have the Mythology questions completed, I don’t expect you to spend any more time in the summer studying Mythology; that quizzie won’t happen for a few weeks. The suggested reading order is as follows: Mythology, Siddhartha, Jane Eyre: you’ll want the two novels to be freshest in your mind for the Day-One assessments.summerreadingTexts for the year may include William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  Here is a link to an Amazon list created for this class.