A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Success Stories: Life Skills Through Literature, January 1997

Appendix A:
Readings Matrix


Text and Author




by Russell Banks

Family afflicted with alcoholism and violence. Good for discussing (1) meaning of fatherhood; (2) family violence and chemical dependency; (3) growing up and living in small town New England; (4) violence, hunting, and manhood.

Somewhat difficult, but very rewarding reading experience; compelling drama and characters.

The Bean Trees

by Barbara Kingsolver

A young woman accidentally becomes the mother of a young Native American child and raises her in the Southwest. Themes of intimacy and independence in women, Native-American values, and parenting as a learned skill.

Students love this book, which leads to good conversations about parenting.

The Bluest Eye

by Toni Morrison

A sad African-American girl who desperately wants blue eyes to fit into a white world is raped by her father; the community grows and learns from her tragedy. Good for discussing (1) conventional values of white America internalized; (2) issues of racism and color lines; (3) complexity of growing up black, poor and female in America; (4) issues of family violence and manhood; (5) values passed from generation to generation.

Somewhat difficult, very rich language, provocative scenes.


by James Dickey

Four buddies take a white water canoe trip down a raging river. Good for discussing (1) journey down the river as journey to discover self in unknown territory; (2) dependency vs. self-confidence; (3) who survives best in contemporary world; (4) restlessness of comfortable life in suburbia vs. energetic rage of primal nature.

Good adventure, especially once they hit the rapids; provocative scenes.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

by Anne Tyler

A terrific novel set around a family's longing for communion and their inability to finish a family dinner. Themes of family as wounder and healer, longing for home, the lonesomeness of place.

A great starting point for a discussion on family dynamics; opens students to diverse points of view.

House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

A poetic novel about the lives of Chicana girls growing up in Chicago. Themes of growing up in a new culture, the questions of leaving or not leaving the neighborhood, women as guides for each other.

Much imagery worth discussing.


by Elie Wiesel

A moving memoir of a father and son in a Holocaust concentration camp. Good for discussion of (1) journey into darkness and "night"; (2) ethical responsibilities in extreme situation; (3) a world turned upside down; (4) father-son relationships. Invites a look at prejudice, genocide, politics.

A harrowing story; easily accessible language.

Of Mice and Men

by John Steinbeck

Two pals seek the American Dream during the Depression. Good for discussing (1) meaning of friendship and responsibility; (2) self-interest vs. sense of community; (3) meaningful dreams vs. illusions; (4) women in a male environment; (5) loneliness and individual isolation.

An accessible story with interesting characters.

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

An old man in Cuba goes after the "big fish". Good for discussing (1) heroism of perseverance and endurance; (2) need to follow your own destiny and discover fullness of self through continuous testing; (3) values of internal strength and self-knowledge vs. marketplace and external goods; (4) journey into deep ocean equals journey into depths of the sea.

A compelling story, accessible, moves quickly.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One man's daily life in gulag prison under Stalin. Good for discussing (1) the value of the simple things in life; (2) surviving as happiness; (3) the honesty and importance of manual labor; (4) the meaning of everyday life.

Somewhat difficult because of names, etc.; short and straightforward story.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

Characters in an insane asylum try to discover freedom and sanity. Good for discussing (1) the establishment vs. rebellion; (2) meaning of individual freedom; (3) security of conformity; (4) repression of passion and desire for mechanical behavior of daily life.

Moderately difficult; larger-than-life characters.

The Sea Wolf

by Jack London

Men on a sailing boat with monomaniac as captain. Good for discussing (1) survival of the fittest and might makes right; (2) need for more than physical brutality and energy; (3) idealism (soul) vs. realism (body); (4) the need for feminine presence (love).

Good adventure and compelling characters.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

Early 20th century novel about a woman who holds onto dreams in spite of disappointment and finds love.

The dialect is challenging, but the theme of what makes a loving relationship becomes food for thought.

[Why Literature? The Dramatic Text] [Table of Contents] [Appendix A: Short Stories]