Literature, Mass Media, and Pop Culture


Be prepared to give a five-minute presentation to the class on Thursday, April 29, on the fairy tale, folk tale, or myth of your choice. A visual element is required.

April 29

Great job on presentations today! Y’all are officially *done* with this class OTHER THAN showing up next week to finish watching Shrek 🙂


April 22

Today I read to you the original Ballad of Mulan, which dates back to sometime between the 4th and 6th centuries, during the height of the Northern Wei Dynasty. Like the epic poem Beowulf, we don’t know who authored the original poem, nor do we even know if Mulan was a real person. But, the folktale of the woman who posed as a man to fight in a war for her family’s honor has been passed down for generations. The story always changed a little, as they often do, to fit whatever political or social climate was prominent at the time.

This is an 18th Century depiction of Mulan on silk:

As soon as film was developed, the story was sent to the big screen. Of course, like so many stories, it was Disney who made Mulan popular with its 1992 animated film.

I also read to you a story from Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights – a story about a woman who tricked a man into not killing her on their wedding night. It’s from that collection (One Thousand and One Nights) that we get the story of “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp”. This 14th century collection of Arabic folktales began as oral storytelling, lacks authorship, and has been adapted dozen of times. You are familiar with Aladdin because – again – Disney took the story, reworked it, and made it into an animated film.

I won’t be testing you on these things, but I presented these two characters and stories to you so you could get an idea about what I expect from you next week. Next Thursday, you will present the history, evolution, and adaptation of a storybook character or fairy tale, or some other related topic, and talk about it for five minutes (or so). Please make sure you have some visual element, whether it’s images or video clips. (Please don’t talk for one minute and then show a four-minute video. You need to do the bulk of the talking!)

Once everyone has given his/her presentation, we’ll end the year by watching Shrek.

Please reach out if you have questions! I will be out of town Sunday through Wednesday, but I should still be accessible by email. Some of you have my cell phone number, so you can text me as well.

Also, if you ordered a yearbook, you’ll get it in class next week. If you didn’t order one but want to purchase a yearbook, please bring a check for $40 written to Thursday Connection. 🙂

April 15

Today we talked about Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the German brothers who took folklore and ancestral stories, reworked them, and turned them into fairy tales that have endured for generations. They lived and worked during the literary era of Romanticism, a time period that readily embraced vivid imagery and emotion.

They were more than writers, however. As philologists, they loved the German language, studied it in college, and went on to start a dictionary. Despite dying before it was finished, they are still given the credit for getting it started. (They died while working on F, so only A-E were published before they died.)

Here’s the video we watched in class about them:

We also listened to the Grimm Brother’s version of Cinderella, called Ashputtel. You can listen to it here. (Lit2Go is an excellent resource for listening to literature online.)


Read “Hansel and Gretel” and “Rumpelstiltskin“. Then take the reading quiz. If you’d rather listen to the stories, Lit2Go has a library of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Click here to see the list.

Keep working on your presentations!

April 8

Today I told you about Hans Christian Andersen and a few of his fairy tales. I’ll link the videos below for those of you who still need to watch them (or want to watch them again). If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.


Read “The Little Mermaid” and take the reading quiz. (If you didn’t do last week’s homework, please do it!)

Also, start researching your topic for your presentation. Remember the guidelines: 5 minute minimum with a visual aid. Make sure you incorporate the history of the character or story, making note of its earliest origins. Consider how the story has morphed over time, and research where similar stories/characters exist in other cultures. Look into all the ways your character or story has infiltrated pop culture and all the various mediums through which it’s been expressed. Finally, tell us how your character/story exists today – why has the story endured?

Let me know if you have questions!

April 1

We talked about fables today – specifically Aesop’s Fables, which you should be mostly familiar with. (If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.)

If you haven’t already picked your person/princess/fable/fairy tale/etc for your presentation, hopefully can help. You’ll need that website for your homework.


Read these two African Tales linked here. Then go to and find three fables or fairy tales from a culture you’re not familiar with. When you’re finished, take the reading quiz.

March 25

We got started with Folk Tales and Fairy Tales today, which I hope you find interesting in some way. Disney has spoiled us, so it’s good to go back to their source material. (If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.)

Also, here is the video we watched in class on the history of Beauty and the Beast, in case you need to watch it again. (You can also go to Jen Campbell’s main YouTube page and find a playlist with other videos on fairy tale history.)


Read “Beauty and the Beast”, and then take a short reading quiz. Then, start doing a little research on the fairy tale, folk tale, myth, or fable you may want to study more. 🙂

March 11

You are officially on spring break from English. Enjoy these wonderful days off! When we return on March 25, be ready to enter the world of fairytales, myths, and folklore. 🙂

March 4

We are soooo close to spring break, y’all. SO CLOSE. Now that we’ve finished A Long Way Home, it’s time to take the midterm. The first part of it comes in essay form, and the questions are posted below. You’ll take the written part of the test in class next Thursday, so make sure your notes are in order!


These questions account for half of your midterm grade, so please answer them substantively AND using excerpts and examples from the book to support your answers. (If you omit this step, you will not pass the essay portion of the midterm.) Each answer should be between 250-400 words, a good mixture of both your original thoughts and citations from the book. Please use proper spelling and grammar, and include page numbers (per MLA format) with your excerpts. Of course, type your work in Times New Roman, 12 pt, etc. Feel free to copy/paste the questions into a document and answer them directly. 

1. Eventually Saroo’s search for his birth family consumed him. How did his search change from an on-again-off-again project? Why would he have been considered to be obsessed with his search after a while? Use excerpts and examples from the book to support your answer.

2. Part of the reason why Saroo’s journey happened in the first place was on account of a language barrier. Revisit the several ways in which language – misinterpretation, misinformation – either created a roadblock or made his return home a challenge. Use excerpts and examples from the book to support your answer.

3. Mood is an element that authors use to evoke feelings in readers through the use of descriptive language. (They set the tone, and we feel the mood.) What are some of the feelings readers may have when they read Saroo’s story? How does the mood change in various sections of the book? Use excerpts and examples from the book to support your answer.

4. Compare and contrast Saroo’s childhood memories and impression of his home country with his perceptions of it when he returns as an adult. Explain how what we see through a child’s lens can differ from what we see through an adult’s. Use excerpts and examples from the book to support your answer.

5. Choose one theme – family, identity, poverty, survival, or technology – and give ample explanation with examples as to why it’s a primary theme in A Long Way Home. Use excerpts and examples from the book to support your answer.


February 25

Today I briefly recapped how the major themes of Saroo’s memoir are spotlighted in the first six chapters, and then we were able to see how those themes played out in the first half of the film. When we talk about how different forms of media, sometimes you really need to experience the visual medium of a story like Saroo’s. We’ll finish the latter half of the film next week.

If you need to listen to the recap in lecture form, click here.


Finish reading A Long Way Home. After you finish the book, watch the 60 Minutes Australia segment below on Saroo and his journey. (This is the same piece mentioned in the epilogue of the book.)

Finally, answer the following questions substantively in your Google Document by Wednesday night: 

1 – Saroo talks about being “westernized” as he recaps his teen years. What does this word mean to you? Give me examples of what Saroo’s life was like as a teenger in Australia, and consider, perhaps, what his teen years would’ve been like had he not been adopted internationally. Don’t answer this question too quickly or carelessly. And do read this article about Calcutta going back to Kolkata

2 – What are your thoughts on Saroo’s adoptive parents’ reaction to him wanting to find his birth family? Summarize how both his mom and dad reacted, then share your thoughts.

3 – Once Saroo’s plans to return to India were underway, he had reservations about it. Explain why his emotions were all over the place. Connect your ideas to the themes of the book. 

4 – There is a Hindu saying that reads, “Everything is written,” a belief that destiny prevails. Consider everything Saroo has gone through in his life and explain why he believes destiny was in his favor.

5 – What did you think about A Long Way Home – not just Saroo’s individual story but also the other themes and topics discussed in the book? 

6 – What were your thoughts and feelings on seeing Saroo and both of his mothers all together in that final part of the news piece?

February 18

Good morning! Everything you need for class today is posted here.

First, listen to the lecture. I recap the second half of And Then There Were None, and then I briefly introduce our next book, A Long Way Home, which you’ll start reading this week.

We would’ve started watching an Agatha Christie documentary in class, so now you’ll watch the entire thing at home. Plus, I’m linking the 1945 film version of And Then There Were None so you can see how they changed the ending. You are welcome to watch the entire film if you want, but for our purposes, I’m only asking that you watch the end.

If you aren’t interested in watching the entire film, skip forward to 1:26 or so – just before Lombard and Vera walk out to the beach. Then watch the remaining part of the movie.


After watching the documentary and ending of the film, read the Prologue plus Ch. 1-6 in A Long Way Home. Then answer the following response questions in a new Google Document and share them with me by Wednesday.

1- From the documentary: What do you think happened to Agatha Christie during the ten days she went missing? 

2 – From the alternate film ending: What’s your opinion of the alternate ending? Does it make the story better or worse? Why do you think screenwriters changed the ending?

From A Long Way Home

3 – What are your thoughts on international adoption? This isn’t meant to be a loaded question, and I welcome everyone’s point of view. (Some consider international adoption a crucial arm of extending help to those in need, particularly from a humanitarian perspective, while others believe that taking a child away from his or her natural-born culture harms the child’s future identity. This is just one debatable aspect of international adoption.) 

4 – One of the first things we learn about Saroo is how he struggles to remember his early life in India. Explain how early childhood shapes a person. 

5 – Saroo arrives in Australia in 1987 at age six. To help comfort him, his adoptive mom puts a map of India on his wall. He ends up staring at that map off and on for years. If he had been adopted in 2021, consider the technological avenues he would have to explore his birth country. Compare and contrast this technological disparity. 

6 – Compare and contrast Saroo’s and Mantosh’s initial adoption experiences. 

February 11

We talked about more literary elements related to suspense today, so if you need to listen to the lecture, be sure to take notes. I also showed two video clips related to Alfred Hitchcock and the Macguffin, which you can watch below:


Finish reading And Then There Were None. Then answer the following response questions in your Google Doc by Wednesday.

1. Put yourself on Soldier Island. What would you do if you were among a group of supposed killers and you couldn’t leave? What survival skills do you have? 

2. In Ch. 9, part III begins: The five people sitting round the table seemed to find conversation difficult. Outside, sudden gusts of wind came up and died away. Vera shivered a little and said: “There is a storm coming.” Unpact all the literary stuff going on here. 

3. Dreams are a recurring theme in the novel, which Agatha Christie is using as a literary device to create suspense. Do you think dreams are meaningful in any way? Are they connected to something deeper in our psyche, or are they random firings of brain sparks? Provide a personal experience if you can to support your answer. (Answer substantively.) 

4. Compare and contrast Vera Claythorne and Emily Brent. 

5. Agatha works a little supernatural suspense into Ch. 14 – the sounds of something on the other side of the door, a noise, a feeling… Does this type of suspense bother you? Does it spook you? Give me an example from a book you’ve read or a film you’ve watched when the tension of something unknown gave you pause. 

6. What/who did you perceive as the red herrings in And Then There Were None

7. Did you like the novel? Why or why not?  

February 4

I’m so glad we got to sit in on the short Macbeth-inspired play. It was meant to be. Thanks for the idea, Christian 🙂

We shifted gears today and moved onto Agatha Christie – the Queen of Crime, the Queen of Mystery, the Queen of the Whodunnit. We didn’t get to finish everything on my to-do list today, but we’ll finish those things up next week. No biggie.

For now, the stage has been set for you to read about the journey of strangers to Soldier Island. We know there’s going to be tons of murder (good times!), but since we’re reading a COZY mystery, it won’t be nearly as bloody as Macbeth.

Remember – that first chapter might be dizzying, but the main ten characters will start to gel pretty quickly. PLEASE RESIST THE URGE TO READ AHEAD 🙂


Read Ch. 1-7 in And Then There Were None and answer the following response questions in a new Google Document by Wednesday night.

1. Define suspense as you perceive it. (Don’t look it up in the dictionary. I’m asking for a personal definition.) Give me an example of a book, film, or TV show that you found suspenseful, along with the reasons why you found it suspenseful. 

2. Give three examples from Ch. 1-7 to show how Christie builds suspense.

3. Examine and describe the atmosphere in Ch. 4, leading up to the first murder. What scenes/dialogue lets the reader know that tension is rising? 

4. Some characters feel more guilty than others about their past behaviors/decisions. Why is guilt a good motive in a crime novel?

5. There are two main types of crimes going on among the visitors to Soldier Island: Crimes of Commission (the person chooses to act offensively to cause a problem) and Crimes of Omission (the person may not do anything overtly but withholds help or intervention to prevent a crime). Choose three characters, explain their crime, and explain whether it’s a Crime of Commission or Omission.

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here. Be sure to take notes!

January 28

We finished talking about Macbeth today and watched a few clips (from various sources) to see specific scenes acted out. There was… a lot of blood. Apologies for that! Macbeth is a tragedy, after all.

If you need to listen to the lecture, which recaps Acts III, IV, and V, click here. It is tempting to glaze over Macbeth and not hang onto details, but a good chunk of your midterm will be about Shakespeare and this play.

Below are clips to each of the scenes I played in class. The first is from Act II, Scene II, after Macbeth kills King Duncan and comes back to his wife for help. This is when the madness begins.

This next clip is from the feast scene (Act III, Scene IV) after Banquo has been murdered. It’s a modern take on Macbeth, so the costumes and set design are more contemporary. In this scene, Macbeth thinks he sees Banquo’s ghost and Lady Macbeth tries to laugh it off and distract their guests. Her husband is not playing along the way she wants him to!

The next video is the entire second half of the play, which you are welcome to watch if you want. If not, you can forward to 26:00 to see Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and going nuts. She keeps trying to clean her hands to wash off the blood, but she has lost her marbles entirely. Then, you can push forward to 45:00 and watch the final battle scene between Macduff and Macbeth. That one is also bloody!

*You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of notes on both Shakespeare (from that first week of class) and Macbeth. These things will come back around at the midterm.


Listen to this podcast about Orson Welles and his influence on bringing Shakespeare back to life in America. Remember – this class is ALL ABOUT the circle of influence – how one idea leads to the next. You should be familiar with Orson Welles by now since we talked about him prior to reading HG Wells’ book The Time Machine. (It was Orson Welles who performed War of the Worlds on a radio program and it was so believable that many Americans thought we were actually being invaded by aliens.)

The podcast is only about 30 minutes. Here is a link to the podcast page, which has a transcript if you prefer to read along while you listen. When you’re finished, write about 300 words that summarizes what you learned. Be sure to include your understanding of how the cycle of influence is at work here. Email your short summary by Wednesday night.

Also, finish your one-pager. Please resist the urge to take shortcuts with this assignment. It is 10% of your semester grade! If it looks like you spent ten minutes on it, your grade will reflect that. Reach out to me if you need help coming up with an idea. Email it to me as a PDF by Wednesday, February 3, OR bring it to me in person on Thursday, February 4.

January 21

It was a super slim class today with folks absent, so I glazed over the timeline of the real Macbeth and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Everything you need to know, including a quick overview of Acts I and II, are in the lecture. Click here to listen to it. Take notes 🙂

We also watched the first part of a documentary and saved the remaining for homework. If you were absent, please watch the whole thing. I do want you to know about the real King Macbeth from the 11th Century. A big part of our class is connecting ideas – how one idea leads to the next, how one writer influences another. It’s important you know how William Shakespeare came to write about King Macbeth and why he made certain choices about his characters.


Finish reading Macbeth. Watch the documentary linked below, then answer the response questions by Wednesday night.

1. In your own words, explain how William Shakespeare flattered King James I with his version of Macbeth.

2. There is a noticeable shift in Lady Macbeth’s mood in Act III. Why do you think she is suddenly so miserable? 

3. Why do you think Macbeth returns to the witches for counsel when he’s feeling insecure? 

4. In Act II, Scene II, after King Duncan has been murdered by Macbeth, Lady Macbeth makes sure they clean up thoroughly and act like nothing happened. However, in Act V, Scene 1, cleaning up the blood isn’t so easy. What is happening in this scene? What’s happening with Lady Macbeth? 

5. What did you think about the play? Share your thoughts. 

Also, keep brainstorming and working on your one-pagers! 🙂

January 14

Today I gave you a ton of information about William Shakespeare and England in the middle ages. I may not ask you the exact dates Henry VIII was King of England, but you do need to understand why England was perfectly ripe for a renaissance. The Protestant Reformation left England in despair, so when Queen Elizabeth took the throne, she gave the people what they craved.

Click here to listen to the lecture. If you want to rewatch the video I showed in class, here you go:


Read the character summaries in Macbeth, then read Acts I and II. If you struggle to get into the play, consider streaming it through Lit2Go. Hearing the play while following along in the book might help you keep track of what’s going on. You may also find additional information at the Folger Library.

You are also welcome to find a play to watch online. We’ll watch some clips next week, so just do the best you can!

To help you along, here’s a character map to help keep people straight:

Answer the following questions in a new Google Document and share it with me by Wednesday night:

1. Describe the setting at the start of the play. What is the atmosphere like? What is Shakespeare doing to set the mood?

2. Compare and contrast Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth.

3. Fear is a prominent theme in Macbeth. Where do you see fear already playing a role in the characters’ decision-making?

December 10

Today I played a few videos that covered the film adaptation of “Story of Your Life”. If there was any confusion plot-wise, this should’ve cleared it up. 🙂

If you haven’t turned in your homework from this week, please do so by Wednesday, Dec. 16.

To prepare for the test next week, I highly recommend you develop a timeline where you can track the history of sound recordings and visual media. I’m not assigning homework this week, but if you struggled on the mid-term, then your homework should be reading through your notes and drawing a new timeline (vertical or horizontal, or even in list-form) in whatever way makes sense to you. One of the points I want to drive home in this class is spotlighting the moments in our history when something became a mass medium. Remember, it didn’t matter if the wealthy people had servants to manually crank their gramophones. That was a privilege outside of the masses. What inventions did we need to make sound a mass medium? Electricity in our homes and affordable devices on which to play sounds. Only then could music and radio become a mass medium that influenced pop culture.

See you next week!

December 3

Good morning from my home office! I’m sure you’re all grateful we aren’t Zooming this morning. I didn’t think it was necessary to make all of us miserable first thing in the morning. Instead, you can listen to a short lecture and get on with your day. Be sure to take notes though. This is the last day you’ll need to jot some things down in preparation for the final test.

Click here to listen to the lecture.

This week you’re reading “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang and watching the 2016 film Arrival. Some of you may have seen Arrival already, and that’s fine. It may help give you some context for reading the story from which it was adapted. My preference is that you read the story first and then watch the film, but do whatever makes sense to you.

Click here to access “Story of Your Life”.

As I explain in the lecture, it’s a hefty short story content-wise. It’s a work of science fiction, and despite it being well-written and fascinating enough to be made into a movie, it might take some time to work through. If you’re able to print it out and read it away from the computer screen, please do so. The PDF is 39 pages long (so print on the front and back, if you can).

You can rent Arrival from Amazon Prime or YouTube for a few dollars. I’m sure you could also borrow the DVD for free from your local library.


Listen to the lecture first, then read “Story of Your Life” and watch Arrival. When you’re finished, write a short essay (500 words or so) comparing the story to the film. It will be easy to note the differences between the two, but go deeper than that. Consider how reading/watching both mediums helped you understand the story. If you have to do some Googling to understand what you’ve read and watched, that’s fine. Just be sure you cite your sources if you pull information from somewhere else.

Be sure to include your opinions. I’m always interested to know what you think.

Share your essay with me by Wednesday, Dec. 9.

November 19

Today we talked more about the history of visual media becoming a mass medium. Be sure you understand the vertical integration of Production, Distribution, and Exhibition throughout the 1920s and 30s, and why 1927 was such an important year for both film and television. Remember, if I write it on the board, it’s something you’ll want to hang onto.

Here are the videos we watched in class, just in case you want/need to watch them again:

I also quickly recapped the end of The Time Machine, but it’s not necessarily the plot points I want you to remember. Instead, anchor in your mind how influential HG Wells was for storytelling in radio, film, and television, not to mention what he did for Science Fiction. I mentioned a handful of shows and movies that were inspired by his work, and that only scratched the surface.

To listen to the lecture, click here.

There is no homework this week, but if you’re concerned about your grade and want to do some extra credit, here you go: Watch the 1985 classic film Back to the Future and write a 400-500 word short essay comparing the film to The Time Machine. Writer/Director Robert Zemeckis is on record saying how influential that story was for the creation of the Back to the Future trilogy. If you’re unfamiliar with Back to the Future, then you are missing out! 🙂 Turn in the short essay by Dec. 2.

Happy Thanksgiving and stay well!

November 12

I threw a lot of terms, names, and dates at you today as we started talking about the history of visual media, so here the ones you should make sure you have written down (and know what/who they are): Thaumatrope, Zoetrope, Eadweard Muybridge and his first film through sequenced photos, Louis LePrince’s “Roundhay Garden Scene” as the first film, Hannibal Goodwin’s use of celluloid, and Thomas Edison’s creations – the kinetoscope and vitascope. All of the videos are linked to those terms, so if you need/want to watch them again, please do. It’s important you understand how these concepts came together and ultimately led to the creation of the nickelodeon in 1907. The ability to project a film is what turned film into a mass medium.

Also be sure you know who Georges Méliès is – the first to storyboard a film and tell a story. You watched The Vanishing Lady in class.

I also showed you the trailer for the 1960 version of The Time Machine, which is a hoot.

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.


Finish reading The Time Machine and answer the response questions below. Also, take a few minutes to watch these two short films: A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès and The Great Train Robbery by Edwin Porter.

  1. Compare and contrast the Eloi and Morlocks. Can you track how evolution led to these two species? 
  2. What does the Time Traveler see and experience as he approaches his original time period?
  3. What finally convinces the narrator himself of the truth of the Time Traveler’s story at the end of the novel?
  4. What did you think of The Time Machine? How do you think H.G. Wells influenced future works of science fiction? Give me some examples. 
  5. What did you think about the silent films you watched? 

November 5

Many apologies for being absent today. Double apologies for doing the weird “recorded lecture in class” thing.

What I hope you took away from today is how influential H.G. Wells has been for Science Fiction, particularly for his contributions to the Golden Age of Science Fiction in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. (We’ll talk a little more about that next week.)

This week you’re starting The Time Machine. It’s a short novel (some call it a novella), but H.G. Wells had a dense writing writing style. He also grew up in Victorian England, so his language reflects that. If you can’t get into the text, opt for the audiobook. No big deal there.

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.


Read Ch. 1-8 (I-VIII) in The Time Machine. Then start a new Google Document and answer the following response questions substantively by Wednesday night:

  1. What do you consider to be some of the most important human innovations of all time, and why? 
  2. Describe the Eloi. What can you tell about their way of life? How do they look and act? What does this futuristic society look like? 
  3. What is the relationship between The Time Traveller and Weena? 
  4. Describe the Morlocks. What is your impression of them? 
  5. As I mentioned, Inequality and Social Class is a big theme in the novel. Give me a couple of examples from the text that spotlight that theme. 

October 29

I hope you all enjoyed seeing the film clips of how Frankenstein and his monster have been depicted on film. There is so much more to show you, but you are all capable of Googling those things. I am actually restraining myself! That’s how much I love this story.

Be sure you you wrote down the three reasons why the Frankenstein story is still relevant today – our conversation on genre, ethics, and the human condition.

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.

Here are the clips I showed you in class, in case you want to rewatch them:


Finish the graphic novel. Then, listen to the “Frankenstein: Our Dark Mirror” podcast. This one should be more entertaining to you than the British academic podcast from last week. Do pay attention to each of the five chapters within the podcast.

Then, answer the following questions in your same Google Document by Sunday night:

  1. Summarize the second half of the graphic novel for me. How does the story of Frankenstein and his monster end? Don’t be vague.
  2. There are five “chapters” within the Our Dark Mirror podcast. Share something that stuck with you from at least three of them. (Chapter One– Standing On the Shoulders of Giants, Chapter Two– I Bid My Hideous Progeny Go Forth and Prosper, Chapter Three– Monsters Always Come Back, Chapter Four– confronting our monsters, Chapter Five– Frankenstein In the 21st century).
  3. What is your take on the story of Frankenstein? Tell me what you’ve learned. 

October 22

Today we started the second half of the semester talking about graphic novels and Frankenstein. The key takeaways that you’ll need to hang onto are the names and dates related to the start of mass-produced comics – “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck” by Rodolph Topffer in 1842, “The Yellow Kid” by Richard Outcault in 1895, and then the surge of comic books in the 1920s and 30s, and beyond. Definitely remember Maus by Art Spiegelman, since he was the first and only creator to win a Pulitzer Prize for a graphic novel. As I said in class, the history of graphic novels is connected to comic books, but as its own thing, they are really only part of our recent history.

You will also need to remember the pop culture history of how Frankenstein’s Monster was changed and shaped, starting with that 1823 play “Presumption!”. All of the info I gave you about the films was intentional.

One of the ways graphic novels are being enjoyed today is by using the medium to adapt classic works, which is exactly what we’ll be doing. I tried to give you enough context for Frankenstein so the graphic novel makes sense, but don’t hesitate to do your own research on the novel if you get confused. To fully understand how Frankenstein was changed through pop culture, you have to understand the original story.

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.


Read the first half of your graphic novel. If you’re unsure where to stop, then stop reading after the DeLacey family walks in on the monster talking with the blind man. It’s pg. 77 in my copy, but it might be different in yours. If you end up reading further, or if you finish it altogether, that’s not a big deal.

Then, listen to “In Our Time: Frankenstein”, which is an academic-based recap of the story that also addresses some of the bigger themes within the text. Pay close attention to the middle part of the podcast when they start talking about the Adam analogy.

Finally, start a new Google Doc and answer the following response questions by Wednesday night.

  1. Describe the artistic style of the graphic novel you chose. What do you like about it? Have you read graphic novels before? How does this compare with others you’ve read or seen?
  2. In class, I told you about my first experience with Frankenstein being a character in the 1987 film The Monster Squad. What is your personal experience with Frankenstein as you’ve heard/seen the story represented in popular culture? 
  3. Retell the first half of the story as you understand it through the graphic novel. Do not be vague, but also there’s no need to give a page-by-page summary. (I want to make sure you understand what’s going on.) 
  4. After listening to the “In Our Time: Frankenstein” podcast, tell me what you think about the analogy they make connecting the Monster to Adam from the Creation story. Make a case for Victor Frankenstein and the Monster as the Creator and Adam.
  5. Following the previous question, do you think monsters are born or made? Defend your answer.

October 8

Thanks for working hard on your mid-terms today. As you can tell, the weekly work is pretty lax as long as you’re keeping up and doing the work I’ve assigned. You’ve likely discovered that most of the homework revolves around, “What do you think about that?” I know that can be a tough question, but this whole class is designed around how you receive and interpret messages – your own semiotics, in a way. I’ll be asking you that question for the rest of the year.

That being said, I do expect you to connect ideas and keep up with note-taking because the things I talk about in class will come back around on the test. If you struggled today, maybe you need to readjust your efforts for the rest of the semester. If you breezed through it, then you’re doing just fine.

There is no homework over fall break, but do get your copy of Frankenstein – the graphic novel of your choice. Be sure to bring it with you to class when we meet on October 22.

October 1

Today we went through the history of sound recordings, which isn’t the same as the history of music. Music has existed as long as people have existed, but we weren’t able to share our music with the masses until we had the technology to do so. Remember our cycle of Mass Media and Pop Culture: one feeds the other which feeds the other, and so on.

Make sure you catch these things from the lecture today: The three main structures of literary writing (drama, prose, and poetry), French printer Eduoard-Leon Scott de Martinville in the 1950s with his hog’s hair bristle, Thomas Edison’s creation of the phonograph in 1877, Bell and Tainter’s invention of the graphophone in 1886, and Emile Berliner’s flat-disk gramophone creation in 1887. You need to know what inventions really prompted the sharing of music – electricity and vinyl – as well as how we came to have 78s, 45s, LPs, cassettes, CDs, and mp3s.

I also talked a lot about folk music and how it traditionally speaks to the current culture in which it’s created. I played “T.V.A” by the Everybodyfields, which is a folk song written by a Tennessean about the counter-culture opinion of farmers who lost their land in the 1930s and 40s after FDR signed the TVA Act.

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.

Side note: When I created this class, I envisioned us having much more conversation than we do. I know the masks make it hard, and I also know it takes courage to speak up among your peers. But – I *really* hate listening to my own voice for 45+ minutes every Thursday morning. As the semester goes on, please endeavor to contribute. I’d rather have a conversation than give a boring lecture. When I ask you questions, be brave enough to speak up.


Listen to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel and “Everybody is Free to Wear Sunscreen” by Baz Luhrmann. You’ll likely need to look up the lyrics or do some extra research for more context on these songs. Listen to them more than once if you need to. Both of these songs have a message – one has a big message and the other has lots of little messages. Take them in and consider them.

Then, write a 600-word short essay on what you’ve learned. Tell me what you think. In fact, THINK about what you really think before writing. Then, at the end of the essay, tell me about a song that is meaningful to you. Share a link to the song with me so I can listen to it. Tell my WHY you love it or why it speaks to you.

Share the link to your essay by Wednesday night, and get your notes in order for the test on Thursday.

If you are behind on previous work, please catch up!

September 24

“Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production … and that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.”

– Emma Rodero

Today we talked more about the history of podcasts. The biggest take-aways are that Apple really owns this podcast history. No other technology made it this easy to listen on the go. Also, podcasts have grown exponentially in the last ten years, not just in programming but also in audience. Serial was a break-out show that I highly recommend (with parents’ permission, since it has explicit content). Sarah Koenig, the host, is one of my favorite journalists and voices to listen to. 

Also, make sure you’re connecting the concepts of creative nonfiction and Freytag’s Pyramid. Storytelling is storytelling, whether the story is true or fabricated. No one wants to be bored. 

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here. (It’s really short since we listened to Shannon Cason’s story on The Moth.)


Read “This is Your Brain on Podcasts” in The Atlantic. Then, choose a story from The Moth and listen to it. (You can peruse stories on the website or just scroll through the Podcast app on your iPhone.) You may start one, get bored, and find another. That’s all fine. Whenever you find a story that you enjoyed, listen to it carefully and write a paragraph or two that summarizes it. Share that on a new Google Document. 

Finally, YOU record a story for me. I know that sounds terrifying at first, but I won’t be sharing these with anyone and I’ll delete them as soon as I’m finished. It may help to write a draft of the story first and then read it to me. That’s fine! Or, just press record and tell me a story off the cuff. It doesn’t have to be some sort of confessional. Just share a favorite memory or family story that is special to you. It might be how your parents met or what your earliest memory is. It could be something that happened to you last year that’s funny, memorable, or special. No need to make it long, but do aim for 2-5 minutes. You can use the Voice Memo app on your iPhone and email it to me directly. (If you can’t figure out the Voice Memo app, click here.)

Try to get your work to me sooner than later. I’d like to listen to your stories before we meet again next week.

September 17

Today we quickly reviewed the last bit of Into the Wild and talked about how the Circle of Influence between Mass Media and Pop Culture really took off with Chris’s story – from him being inspired by Thoreau’s and London’s works, to others being inspired by Krakauer’s magazine article and book – I hope you can see how these elements work in tandem.

I also spent a good chunk of time going over the history of radio. I hope you wrote down all those names and dates. You’ll see some of them again.

Historical names to catch from the 1840s to 1906: Samuel Morse, James Maxwell, Henrich Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi, Reginald Fessenden, and Lee De Forest.

Terms to catch: telegraph, Morse Code, wireless telegraphy, format radio, and Podcast


Listen to the two podcasts linked below and answer the response questions in a new Google Document by Wednesday night. You don’t have to stream them through the computer, unless you just want to. Let me know if you have trouble accessing them.

  1. Describe your listening experience. What did you do while listening to the shows? Did you need to keep busy or were you able to sit still and listen? 
  2. If you listen to podcasts, tell me the shows you enjoy listening to (and why). If you don’t listen to podcasts, are you interested in giving them a try? What might be the benefits to listening to podcasts? 
  3. Briefly summarize both episodes and tell me what you learned from them. Are you left with more questions? Were you bored? Entertained? Intrigued? (This block of response questions should have a substantive answer. Resist the urge to be brief.)

*If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.

September 10

*I’m updating this page on Wednesday, Sept. 9 since I won’t be in class on Thursday, Sept. 10*

The substitute will play a recorded lecture for you, but I’m also linking it here in case you need to listen to it again. (Click here for the lecture.)


Finish reading Into the Wild. Then, read this article and interview with Carine McCandless for a deeper understanding of Chris’s life.

When you’re finished reading, write a minimum 600-word essay that reflects what you think about Chris McCandless, his journey, Jon Krakauer’s work as a journalist, and how the article you read from Carine shifted your perspective. You do not need to worry about citing from the book or the article. Please spend more time thinking about how this story impacted you and what it made you think about. Avoid vague writing here. You are in an upper-level English class. If you write something like, “I liked the story. It was interesting,” you won’t receive a strong grade. Dig deeper than that. Your grade in this class will be based on your ability to express yourself.

Share the essay with me by Wednesday, Sept. 16, in a new Google Document. Use the proper MLA format for font, spacing, etc. 

September 3

Today we went over the first five chapters of Into the Wild and highlighted a few key things I want you to hang onto:

  • Is Chris a rebel or an adventurer, or both? Both characteristics involve leaving society behind and taking risks.
  • Despite Chris being intellectually sharp, he seems to lack what we’d call “street smarts.” Why burn cash? You can’t trace it! As Wayne Westerberg said, perhaps Chris was TOO smart for his own good.
  • The Stampede Trail was made famous by that abandoned bus and Chris taking his photo in front of it. People made pilgrimages to see it. The link I’m posting below will tell you more about that.
  • The paragraph on pg. 44 about Chris’s obsession with Jack London is telling. London wrote FICTION after one winter season in the Yukon. He died at 40 years old on his estate in California, hardly living the hard life in the wild west. This really speaks to how we romanticize the things we see, read, and hear in media. Do we really believe influencers live such great lives? Or are we buying into the story they project the same way Chris bought into London’s works of fiction?


Read Ch. 6-13 in Into the Wild and answer the following response questions substantively:

  • One of the primary themes in Into the Wild is the combination of Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance. In your own words, describe how Chris McCandless fits these descriptors. Then, explain how they work together and against each other. 
  • Mrs. Westerberg says on pg. 67, “He was hungry to learn about things. Unlike most of us, he was the sort of person who insisted on living out his beliefs.” In what ways do you live out your beliefs? 
  • On pg. 85 in my book, Krakauer writes: “McCandless didn’t conform…well to the bush-casualty stereotype. Although he was rash, untutored in the ways of the backcountry, and incautious to the point of foolhardiness, he wasn’t incompetent—he wouldn’t have lasted 113 days if he were. And he wasn’t a nutcase, he wasn’t a sociopath, he wasn’t an outcast. McCandless was something else…. A pilgrim, perhaps.” Explain why you think Krakauer refers to Chris as a pilgrim. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Read this webpage from Jamie Campos from (click here). It is lengthy, but it’s not a hard read. You can probably skim some of it because it includes hiking tips for the Stampede Trail. Anyway, things have come full circle for both the messengers and the receivers in the world of mass media and pop culture when it comes to the Magic Bus. Explain what you think I mean by that. (Hint: The fact that this page exists at all should tell you something.)
  • Finally, watch the video and listen to the song “Society” by Eddie Vedder, who wrote the entire score for the soundtrack of Into the Wild. Analyze the lyrics and select a few lines that have the most impact on you. What do they mean? Do you think they represent what Chris was experiencing? Try to view the lyrics through Chris’s lens.

Share your Google Doc with me by Wednesday night.

Click here to listen to a recording of the lecture from today.

August 27

There are a few terms I hope you wrote down today. They are: Interpersonal Communication, Mass Communication, Media Literacy and the five questions you ask to develop media literacy, and the Six Mass Media Structures (print, audio, visual, interactive, social, and advertising).

Also be sure you caught the main facts about Henry David Thoreau and Jack London, as they were hugely influential in Chris McCandless’s life. Do your best to understand transcendentalism too! 🙂

If you need to re-listen to the lecture this morning, click here.


Read this excerpt from Walden. You might recognize some of the sentences here, as Thoreau is one of the most quoted American writers of our time. The excerpt isn’t long. Try to imagine being on a remote piece of property, secluded from the world, in the sort of headspace where you’re trying to solve all of life’s problems. Some of Thoreau’s work is pretty profound if you can get into it.

Then read Ch. 1-5 in Into the Wild. Likewise, try to imagine Chris’s point of view – the desire to live off the land, separated from society. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts next week.

Finally, answer the following response questions in a Google Doc and send them to me by next Wednesday night:

  • One of the most commonly quoted passages in Walden is: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Does this sentence resonate with you at all? How and why? If not, what other passage from Walden speaks to you? 
  • Why do you think Chris changes his name, telling people his name is Alex?
  • This quote comes from Ch. 3: “The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything. [McCandless] had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and onerous duty: to graduate from college. At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.” Put this concept into your own words. Try to connect with the idea of external forces (authority figures) pushing you into a box that doesn’t fit your own ideas and plans. Elaborate on the idea if you connect with it personally.
  • What do you think about Chris ignoring what seems like basic common sense rules – that he might need some money, that it might be nice to give his parents some peace of mind that he was alive, that a simple fix could’ve meant his car lasting longer… How do you view his frame of mind? Why is he so resistant to accept help?

August 20

I know today didn’t feel like an English class, but bear with me. We’ll get there. Your main takeaway from class should be what semiotics is and how our own interpretations of signs influence the feeding cycle between mass media and pop culture. Your engagement with books, film, music, TV, social media, and advertising (which infiltrates all other media) not only reflects your personal identity but it also contributes to the culture at large. Like I said in class, Starbucks is popular because we helped make it popular. We made it popular because we wanted our own Central Perk. (This is a loose explanation, but it’s a thread we can follow when we look at the relationship between pop culture and mass media.)

But what about books and literature? We’ll get there, I promise. You’ll be reading Thoreau and starting Into the Wild next week. For now, I want to anchor these new concepts into your brain. If you need to do some extra Googling on Semiotics, feel free. Just know that it’s a deep well of philosophy, anthropology, and sociology – maybe deeper than you’re interested in. We are keeping it simple this year.


  1. Read Mass Communication: A Critical Approach. I’ve underlined some key things in the text, so it may help to print out the pages. This is an upper level English class, so I’m pushing you to engage with some bigger ideas and topics. You can do this!
  2. Then, create a Google Doc and answer the following questions based on your reading:
    – Explain the interrelationship between mass communication and mass media.
    – In your own words, explain The Linear Model, the Cultural Model, and the Social Scientific Model as approaches to strengthen media literacy. (For what it’s worth, we will focus more on the Cultural Model in our class.)
    – Briefly explain your takeaway from our first day of class. What stuck with you? Refer to your notes if you need to. 
  3. Finally, write a short 350-400 words on a cultural fixture that resonates with you. Take some time to think about this. Don’t rush. Choose a band or genre of music, a TV show or film, an app, a book, a celebrity or public figure, a store or fashion style, or some other thing that has helped shape your identity. Don’t just give me the what. Explain the why. It might be helpful to go through the same brainstorming process as we did with the Starbucks exercise.

Share your Google Doc with me by Wednesday night. (Both assignments can be on the same document.) Let me know if you have questions.


These three elements of communication – literature, mass media, and pop culture – intersect in unique and specific ways. As our ways of sharing information expand, so do our ideas, perceptions, and interpretations. This class is designed to connect the dots between what we read, hear, and see across a handful of mediums. This class counts as a high school English credit. It is recommended for 11th and 12th grades.

We’ll read books and articles, listen to podcasts and watch videos, and students will create their own projects through various mediums. We’ll examine media literacy and the power of advertising. We’ll discuss ethics, digital citizenship, and how pop culture is created and shaped. Students will read contemporary works, classics, fiction, and nonfiction.

Fall Book List
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (978-0385486804)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (graphic novel) *see below
The Time Machine by HG Wells (978-1949982909)

Spring Book List
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (978-0062073471)
A Long Way Home: A Memoir by Saroo Brierley (978-0425276198)

Short stories, fairy tales, and excerpts of other works will be provided.

Students will also need access to a podcast platform (Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Stitcher, etc.) and a way to access several films and documentaries. I’ll be sure to give adequate warning so you can grab those from your local library or find them online.

* I will be using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a graphic novel illustrated by Pete Katz, but that does not mean you’re required to find that exact graphic novel. Instead, I encourage your student to select the graphic novel that looks the most interesting to him/her. There are MANY to choose from, all with different artistic styles and aesthetics. Just be sure you’re not buying/borrowing a graphic novel that has modified the original story. You want the real story. But the art? Let your student pick.

Finally, as this is an upper level English class, please note that some works may have profanity and cover more mature ideas and themes. As always, I encourage parents to read the books I assign alongside their students. For what it’s worth, the parents who do this usually enjoy it!