Friday, July 20, 2007

Free New Prestwick House Products to Bloggers!

Alright folks, here's the deal. We've got a lot of new programs that we'll be releasing with our new Fall Update Catalogue, which will hit the mail in the middle of August.

I'd like to get some of you influential bloggers out there a free copy of any of our new series or books so that you can review them and let the world know what you think, so if you'd like to get a free copy of any of these books and you're willing to review them on your blog, just drop me an E-mail at keith [at] with your address. I'll package up whatever book or program interests you and send it off. All you need to do is share your opinion with the world. It's that easy.

So, here's a first glance at the new products we'll be premiering this fall.

Literary Black Belt Certification Program
SAT Words from Literature
Grammar for Writing
PowerPoint for the Classroom
Standards of Excellence: Excelling on the CAHSEE
Use Rhetoric for Reading and Writing
Writing Rules of the Road


I'm only releasing the titles for now, but over the next few weeks keep your eyes open for more info. This is the first place we'll announce further details. If any of these titles catch your eye, drop me an E-mail and we'll send a free copy to the first three requesters who promise to share their opinions.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Animal Farm: The CIA and the Communist Pigs

In light of the CIA's "Family Jewels" document coming to light, this might be of interest to a few of you out there. I don't think it's necessarily insidious, but it's certainly interesting.

There are two versions of George Orwell's classic available on DVD, the 1954 animated version, and the 1999 computer animated/live action version. The 1954 animated version has the winning vote for interest and accuracy here at Prestwick House, although the newer one is visually quite interesting and packs a fair amount of star-power into the voices.

This article from the London Review of Books taught me something new about the movie though, that will make me go back to it with a little bit different eye.

In 1954, the CIA was in the midst of a battle with Communism for the hearts and minds of the world, so in light of that they sponsored the creation of a film version of George Orwell's classic, Animal Farm.

While Animal Farm has a decidedly Anti-Communist (or at least anti-Soviet) bent, according to this article the CIA wanted it a bit more cut and dry.

They used their influence on the film's ending. Instead of the book's ending where the pig rulers begin to work with the neighbors to oppress the farm animals, this cartoon changed it so that the neighbors came to the aid of the oppressed farm animals to overthrow the pigs. A subtle change, sure but an interesting view. In addition, apparently the CIA consultants suggested that Snowball is too likable a character, so they may have made him a little less appealing.

This is a fantastic opportunity to work with your colleagues in the history department to tie together the cold war, and it provides a new angle for a research report for your students. I love opportunities to discuss with students why decisions were made to vary from the source text. It's a way to get students to think critically about what they're reading (and it makes sure that students don't use the video as a replacement for the text).

Incidentally, the 1999 film also varies the ending of the film to show the eventual decline and fall of communism. Today's students will probably feel that this ending was inevitable and understood even in the day the book was written.

Link to video.
Link to article.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Shakespeare Question

Until recently, I never gave much thought to the Shakespeare Authorship question (and it looks like I'm not alone from this survey by the New York Times). [UPDATE: Looks like the NYT has put it behind their registration wall. In any case, not many college professors spend much time on "the question."]

On a lark, I picked up the Audio Book Shakespeare by Another Name by Mark Anderson, an account of the life of Edward De Vere, the Duke of Oxford in which De Vere is put forth as the true author of Shakespeare's plays. I can't say that I'm 100% convinced, but his argument was fairly persuasive. At some times, however, it really seemed like he was grasping at straws (the hidden coded images in the first folio's pictures sound like they came from the Da Vinci Code, not real life), and the connection between William Shakespeare the Actor and De Vere seems a little weak.

What's interesting is I also recently read Greenblatt's highly-readable biography of William Shakespeare as the author of the plays, and there are a number of points that seemed a bit odd and forced in that story too, although using Shakespeare's text, Greenblatt draws an interesting characterization of the Bard of Avon's life and mind.

I didn't realize the amount of rancor behind the battle between the Oxfordians, Stratfordians, et al., but it seems to come down to a deeper question than a simple historical question. In some ways, it comes down to a discussion of the nature of the genius behind these works and the nature vs. nurture argument.

Can the genius of Shakespeare come from the mind of a simple glove maker's son, or does it need to develop from a rigorous education? Each theory holds a certain appeal to me. The poor boy makes good through his own powers is the classic American story in some ways, but it smacks of a certain predestination in which Shakespeare is almost super human. This is the Shakespeare that barely ever needed to blot his paper because what was written once was perfect. On the other hand we have De Vere's approach in which a man struggles, writing multiple drafts of his plays over many years, basing them on an education steeped in a wide variety of subject areas. Suddenly, Shakespeare's less of a god and more of a man, and he's certainly much more approachable. This theory leaves me with a bit of hope that anyone can, through hard work, achieve brilliance.

In either case, it's the works of Shakespeare that are important now, rather than the life of he who created it. Still, it's fun to have multiple lenses from which to view the plays.