Hey there and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast – the weekly English show where we speak about everything under the sun. The major goal of this show is to help you improve your English and of course learn something new. My name’s Katya, I’m your host and today with me…
See, we have a new guest today. Toodoodoo! Carol, can you please tell us something about yourself to our guests. A little bit – who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?
Sure. I’m from Brazil from a city called Manaus, not many people know about it. It’s in the Amazon, people know about the Amazon. I’ve been here in Russia for about 5 years.
Yes. I came here because I wanted to learn…
How did you end up in Russia?
I knew someone here and I was looking into another place to, another country to move into. And this friend said hey why don’t you come check it out.
Yes. And I came here as a tourist first, to really just check it out and I liked it and I stayed. That’s my story.
How do you feel about the weather?
Frist year was very difficult to get adjusted, but now I’m fine with it.
Great! Oh fantastic. You know, I have… Well I used to have a classmate and he was an exchange student and at that time I lived in Yakutia, which is literally the coldest place on Earth. And my classmate was from Brazil. He’s from a little town named Sao Gotardo. So he says that nobody knows about it cause apparently it’s like a small village or a very little town.
Yeah I don’t think I know about it.
That’s what he says! That nobody does!
So and we were so, you know, worried about him cause it was -50 most of the winter. He fell in love with it and later he moved to Alaska.
He fell in love with the snow, so wow.
That’s amazing. Not that I’m used to the cold weather, when it gets hot, I can’t handle it.
Oh. Because of humidity, well, we have dry air, so we have dry heat. So what about your free time? What do you like doing in your free time?
I like watching films, I’m on Netflix a lot. I like learning new things, could be languages or just any new skill.
Do you happen to like reading books?
I do, but the books that I read are usually about businesses and technology.
Oh wow. That’s not gonna help a lot during the podcast then.
I do know about other types of literature as well. It’s just not what I presently read about much.
Okay. Well, ladies, we are here today to talk about literature, but before we jump into the topic, I, as always, want to ask our listeners to tell us what you think about our show. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe to our page on Apple, Yandex, Google or, well, any platform where you listen to our podcast and let us know what you think.
You can rate and review our show, leave us strs, give comments. You can even send your ideas about our next episodes. We have already had several episodes that were inspired by our listeners’ ideas, so tadam!
Feel free to send whatever you need to say to us. It won’t take much time or effort, right, but it will indeed help us a lot to become even better. So and now we can actually start talking about books. So and I wanna ask you – what actually is your relationship with books and reading? Do you read? What do you typically read? So what’s the situation like?
Well when I was a little girl, I was thinking about how I first learned how to read. And I learned how to read by Dr Seuss. I don’t know if you know.
He was popular back then. Cat in the Hat and One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.
And my mother would go to the library and get out a stack of books for me to read. I had a speech impediment where I couldn’t say the Rs. And so I had to learn how to say Rs to read my books.
I think it’s a common problem for Russian kids as well who can’t say P. Very common thing. Oh wow. Wait, what… At what age did you learn how to read?
Yeah it was more like 5 or 6. I was more of a late reader. I know some kids tart early but I wasn’t.
I think it’s more of an exception when they start reading at like 3 or something. So wait, since you’ve mentioned childhood, so was that the time then when your… When you had this love for reading?
The love for reading came when my sister would pull us into her bedroom and read to us. So she read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn. She read some risky books as well. And she read…
Yes. She had all these books in her library and so I became a lover of literature from just hearing the words. Even when you don’t understand, you don’t understand everything, just this musical tone, the intonation and just the way words sound.
Maria? What about you? What’s your relationship with literature like?
Well I think that I started to love books in my early childhood and I was always surrounded by people who love reading – my grandfather and my father. I mean they used to read all the time when they didn’t work. Especially at meals, that’s what I still love to do – eat and read at the same time.
And well I also was happy enough to work in a bookstore when I was a student, which were very happy 4 years or 3 years because I could read all the newest books.
Oh so were you allowed to actually read the books?
It’s like, you know, have these…
I mean, we just needed to be very very accurate with them and yeah.
It’s like having access to secrets, to treasures.
But what about reading at the table, so your father and your grandfather would just chomp on their food and have a book in their hand and read?
And no one talked, but they just read?
So is that unusual? To me it sounds unusual.
Well of course for example when my grandfather used to read at the table, my grandmother was annoyed and she asked him to stop, but she never could because, well, he was obsessed with reading.
And we have lots of books. My grandparents had a very big home library, I mean, literally, a whole room full of book cases and like from floor to like to the..
Yeah, to the ceiling. And the same in my parent’s’ house, but maybe not the same, but…
Well both your parents and grandparents.
Well my grandparents are not alive unfortunately, that’ why, well, we have these books, but we keep them in the garage and in the boxes.
And they get moldy too, right? You’ve gotten moldy boxes and moldy books.
Might happen. Depending on the conditions I guess.
We try to keep them in the dry place and you know, just in the Soviet union time it was… Books were precious because it was very difficult to find the books and my grandmother was very proud when she could get some books. And well, they had pretty nice, not collection, but pretty nice…
I would still say, you know, a collection. Cause at that time remember how most of the books of let’s say one author had one style of the cover? So you would try to get them all, you know, so you would have a whole shelf of one style, one color.
Well, but I wouldn’t call it a collection because a collection, to me it’s something useless. But the books that they had, they read actually. My grandfather read all the books he had.
Oh so you’re talking about some people who collect books but don’t read them.
Cause we just love looking at them and smelling them.
Yeah, there are people like that, yeah.
They match with our wallpaper.
You know that now for people like that you can even have ,so you know you have shelves and you can have series of books but they aren’t books actually, it’s like colored pieces of wood, but look like books.
Yeah it’s like pretend books.
Yeah and you can hide something behind them.
That’s what some people do I think.
After that I would know where to look for a safe.
We like the idea of reading, we like this notion of looking at the strange symbols and how do these symbols from the past come to our eyes and brain. And how do these authors speak to us, I mean, it’s this weird concept, right.
Yeah so basically what you do you just stare at ink on dead trees and that creates world in your head basically. So, okay, both you Barbara and Maria, you got to love reading when you were children. What about you Carol?
Well in my situation my mom was an educator, she’s now retired, and she liked reading a lot. I cannot speak for the entire of Brazil, but at least in my city it’s not common for parents to read to their kids. So it’s not something that my family ever did, but my mom did always try to buy some books according to my age at the beginning. And some books in her collection I was not allowed to read until later in life.
But yeah, I.. There is this encyclopedia collection meant for children that I would read and I would devour those books, I really liked them and I read each of these books several times.
Oh that’s so great. I wish I ever had something like that, you know like encyclopedia for children. We only had those encyclopedias with no pictures, you know, you open it and it’s like 3 or 5 columns of just words in very little font. Which obviously was never interesting to kids, you know.
Yeah, mine, there is like each encyclopedia has one theme, one was fairy tales, so it had pictures and texts. Another one taught you how things were made. Okay, how do you make the door open and close, restaurants and things like that. And another was about medical stuff. Another one was about art, it was really a little bit of everything.
So you really got to learn a lot about the world.
Oh that’s so great, so great. Oh I wish I had something like that. You know, it’s interesting cause I never liked reading much when I was a kid. You know, of course we had some books, we had some children’s books, I liked the pictures in there. I was like oh, you know, bright pictures, great.
Sometimes when I had to visit a dentist, my mom, to calm me down afterwards, you know, would give me some reward and we would go to a bookshop and I would buy, you know, you know, those very-very little books, but mostly pictures again. So I was reading, you know, some books here and there, but not, you know, not a huge fan of it.
Like, okay. It kinda looks interesting, let me read it. Until in my 8th grade, so I was 13 at the time, so I got to a new school and I was sitting at one desk with a classmate of mine and she was a bookaholic, really, she was reading all the time. You know, even secretly. She would put the book under the desk, you know, and just secretly read.
Forget about school. Biology, physics, let me read a book, yeah.
But at the same time she was an excellent student, you know, she was really smart. And she was the one who introduced me to this world of books. She told me about Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, you know, all those marvelous people who later, you know, had a huge influence on my life.
And up to this day I’m really thankful for her for that, cause if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know, maybe I wouldn’t be as, you know, well-read. I do not know. So I’m really really grateful.
That’s great that you had someone like that.
So what about now? Do you often read now? So what’s it like?
Yeah I haven’t read a book in a log time, I hate to admit it. But I don’t, I just don’t have the concentration anymore. Cause when you read a book, you wanna spend a weekend reading, you wanna spend all night reading, you wanna get in there. And if you can only read here and there, you can’t keep the story together. So it’s always articles, news articles, current events, that’s what I read.
That would be a good thing, but how am I gonna just sit there and listen to this?
But you don’t have to sit and listen, what about, you know…
Then you lose concentration, which is pointless.
Yeah yeah yeah, if you’re driving and listening, you know, you have to sit there, that’s one thing. I agree.
I mean I absolutely understand what Barbara is talking about, because reading is a process, it’s a serious process and you should be devoted to it. That’s why maybe I don’t read as much as I used to anymore. Well and I feel sorry for that.
What about short stores then? Cause you know some people love reading short stories, you know, they might read one short story a day. Cause it’s usually it’s like what? From 3 to 20 pages, or sometimes it’s like a little bit more, but still.
Yeah it was just a couple months ago and I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but one of my favorite authors is Edgar Allan Poe, American writer. And so I decided to look up one of his short stories, cause these were short stories that my sister would read to me. But how would it sound?
How would it feel for me to read it as an adult? And so I did look it up on the Internet. The Pit and the Pendulum and the House of… And they’re just torture stories. And so yeah, it was digestible, the short.
Digestible. Cause I know that there are so many great authors who mostly wrote short stories, let’s say Ray Bradbury, fantastic writer. Mostly wrote short stories. And I love him a lot, but I don’t like short stories. But this is an exception. The only exception I would say.
Have you read O. Henry? Because he was a master of short stories.
I think I only like a couple of short stories, but only because I had to at the university. Would you recommend?
I loved him so much when I was a teenager. I mean a lot. When I was a teenager, a lot, like, well, O. Henry, then Mark Twain, and maybe Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. I mean, teenager like 12, 13, something like this. And O. Henry I really appreciate him, I think he’s great.
Because his… Well, his short stories are filed with humor and irony and at the same time a bit of sadness and serious…
That makes the death stories with the combination.
I love revisiting, you know, some of the books when I become older, you know, cause when you read something as a teenager, you see one side of it, but when you, you know, reread it after 10 years, 15 years, you see a totally different side of the story.
I get this feeling a lot. And I think part of it is the things you learn as you age. As you age, like old or something, but I mean you get a different understanding of it and it’s not… Almost like a revelation.
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
Well yeah sometimes you get to another layer. Or sometimes you can get disappointed.
Not disappointed, but.. Well for example, you can think oh, those books are a bit primitive maybe and you realize if you first read them at this age, at your current age, you wouldn’t love them. But what you loved when you were a kid or a teenager, I think it still influenced your life a lot. And it formed you, it shaped you as a person, that’s why I appreciate the authors I loved when I was a kid.
Carol what about you by the way? So what about you reading now? How often do you read? Do you read at all?
As I mentioned before, right now everything I read is related, when it comes to books, is related to things that I want to learn. I save stories of any kind to what I can find on the Internet and I think that seems interesting enough. Yeah when it comes to books it’s just basically that.
Non-fiction. I like reading biographies a lot.
I love biographies. I love biographies because it kinda teaches you how to be a human, like how do they do it? Maybe I can do it the same way. Why do you like biographies?
I like… For the same reason as yours, I really like, I see these people, I see the people they have become and I like learning their history and kind of like comparing myself, just like okay, see like I was in a better situation or worse situation and this is what this person did about it and something that maybe I can do too.
Or something that I don’t specifically believe in that I can do. Based on what I read about this other person’s life to say oh actually I can. You know, so I get quite inspired by reading these biographies.
I think I’ve never read a biography. Like you know, reading something about a person on the Internet is one thing, I don’t consider that, you know, as a full size biography. But I’ve realized I’ve never read, you know, a book or an autobiography.
It’s like a certain curiosity you have about this person. Where did this person come from? How did they become who they are? What challenges did they face? How did they overcome them? It’s just so interesting.
Would you say that we need to read biographies or do you read biographies of people you know? I mean of some, let’s say famous people you have heard about? Or is it worth reading about people you have never heard of?
I would say it’s also worth reading about someone you never heard about, that was one of my first experiences reading a biography. I was living with this couple in the United States and they had this one that they bought about Carol Burnett and she was American comedian, right.
And I had no idea who she was, I didn’t know about her existence, but I read. She’s actually a really funny person. From the time she was little she did really funny things like pretending she had a twin sister.
This and little things like that. And because I like her story so much, I decided to look her up and found her shows that she was in and I liked her and before I even knew her, just by reading the biography and even more after.
And you remember her with the Gone with the wind, curtain rod.
I didn’t know about that.
Oh okay, you have to look it up, gone with the wind, a curtain rod.
I saw some shows, some skits she used to do on television.
Yeah it was based on of course Gone with the wind where Scarlett had to make some dress our of a curtains. So she decided to make a dress and so it had the curtain rod, she didn’t take the curtain rod out.
You gotta look that up, it’s so funny.
But the way I read biographies or autobiographies when I used to read would be in like a topic. So I had a whole bunch of movie stars, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Manson, Vivian Lei, everyone in the Hollywood, in the like in the 30s and 40s I especially loved. And then musicians, country musicians. Then politicians. Different topics.
Oh wow. Okay. Cause I’m very tempted sometimes to read a biography, but I am lost. Cause there are so many, you know, people, so many books in the biography section and very often I don’t even know who these people are. Like how do I choose? Panic. I know that now I think one of the most popular autobiography I think it is, it’s Becoming by Michelle Obama.
I’ve heard of it. I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard of it.
It has been like a bestseller in every single bookstore you go to. Yeah. I’m not sure about now, but still.
I like the one about Tina Fey.
Yeah she’s also another woman who made it to this genre which is a difficult place for women to be accepted in. It’s usually a male industry, so.
Definitely. Back in the day you only saw men being funny.
She was one of the pioneers being a woman and writing tv show for a comedy show in the Untied States. So it’s a good read too.
So and what if we talk about English vs American literature. In general which one do you think is more known maybe? And have you read much of English literature? Have you read much of American literature? So…
Well. For some reason I think that maybe British literature is more well known because when I tired to remember to remember all the British authors and all the American authors I know, more British come to my mind. But at the same time I’m a big fan of science fiction and then, when it comes to science fiction, American authors are bigger and greater. And I know more names.
Yeah with the children I grew up with Winnie the Pooh, so that was A.A. Miln, who was British.
And back in the day those were original books and he actually read the books on a record. And so I had the record, so that’s the real Winnie the Pooh, not Disney.
None of that. And then The Wind in the Willows, that’s also British. Grahame I think wrote it. Did you ever read Wind in the Willows? It was actually.. When you read it, it’s really for adults, I mean it’s very complicated. It’s about these animals, like Mr Toad who had a roadster.
I remember it was a cartoon series.
Yeah. But before that, before that.
I don’t think I’ve read a book, but I know.
Yeah Wind in the Willows is a wonderful for children and adults.
And Lewis Carol again, if we speak about books for children – British again.
Rudyard Kipling was also British, right?
My mother was a great fan of P.G. Wodehouse.
Do you think it’s so funny?
Yes, my mother would just cackle, she would sit there and read and read and laugh. And I never really got the British humor, I tried reading it. But then she’s read it to me and when she’d read it to me, it was much more funny. But yeah. Wodehouse.
Books are great and the tv series with Doctor House.
He’s also great. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, yeah.
Oh Stephen Fry is another man I admire, yeah.
Speaking of Wodehouse – once I was very happy to come across a second hand bookstore and I found about like 4 or 5 books of Wodehouse, brand new and they cost about like 30 rubles each and I bought several.
Now that’s what you call a bargain.
Wow. But yeah. I wonder why, I wonder why there are I think in general more English authors than there are American authors. Well maybe not now, cause now, you know, it’s easier to get to write. But why? Maybe that’s because of the history, because of the amount of universities back in the day. I don’t know.
I don’t know, we have a lot of American writers like in the turn of the century when we were hashing out the new government, the Wild Wild west. We wanted to really break from the British and become our own people. And so we had our certain American literature and this was to depict us as independent and…
I have a feeling that the boom of this American literature started I the 20th century.
Like in the 1900s you’re saying? Yeah. I think so. I do think so. But this new… We’re more straightforward and simple and we have different kind of sense of humor. I guess if you wanna look at Mark Twain. Authors that I grew up with, with my sister reading to me was J.D. Salinger.
I would recommend these books to any English learner. Cause they are simple and straightforward. He wrote Franny and Zooey and the Lord of the Flies.
Oh I remember reading that, it was mind-blowing. It makes you think…
Yeah and these books have been banned by some religious groups that say oh our children cannot read such trash and so there would be sometimes heated debates between different groups about banning these books.
And the other one is John Steinbeck, he comes off as being very simple, straight-forward, easy to read. Compared to Russian writers.
Oh well, compared to Russian, oh well, you know… Russian literature is nothing but misery and suffering, you know.
Okay so if you want some suffering, read The Grapes of Wrath that’s by John Steinbeck, and Of Mice and Men. Very interesting but as I say…
But I would never call it easy, I wouldn’t say it’s easy.
Okay, for me. That’s why I… Okay. English learners who are… They don’t want to read something flowery and complicated, of course there’s complication on a psychological level. But the writing is just so straightforward, it’s not fancy, it’s not fancy pantsy.
It’s not like one sentenced will last for 15 lines.
Which is Russian literature in a nutshell. You know that’s actually…
You know that’s funny cause…
That it’s very straightforward. Sorry.
No no no, that’s okay. So that’s actually how they know, the professors at American universities, that’s how they spot a Russian. Cause a friend of mine, she was getting her master’s degree and you know, her advisor just asked her once like are you Russian?
She’s like yeah, why. And she just showed her a page and she highlighted one sentence and it was like 7 lines. And she’s like that’s how. Like only Russians do that. So we laughed at maybe the genes, of you know, Tolstoy, running in our blood and our love for long long long sentences.
But I also read the same about Lord of the Rings. I heard it’s quite descriptive.
I look at Masha cause I think you must’ve read this. You haven’t?
I mean that’s the reason I haven’t heard it yet, I heard it’s extremely descriptive.
And like full of fantasy and very colorful, right, as I understand it.
But he was a professor of linguistics.
He dedicates just one page to describe a guy’s armor. You know, that’s a lot of description.
But I would expect, you know, that to be written in a really beautiful way, cause as Masha has just said, Tolkien was a professor of linguistics, so… He knew his way with words.
And It’s musical to the ear. I love hearing that flowery language, that’s very beautiful.
So do you think that you in general have read more of English literature or more of American literature?
I would say maybe American. Well, it’s strange. I know more of British authors, but I think I have read more of American authors.
I think I’ve read more of British, but that’s also because of university where we had to read British literature whether you wanted it or not, you had to. So that’s how I read…
Well of course in American schools we are to read American literature.
But I feel so sad that for some reason we don’t know… Well for example I as a former student of faculty of foreign languages, I was very sad that we were not taught about American literature. We were told so much about British literature and you know we spent a whole year on, you know, this English literature.
Shakespeare and whatever. But why wouldn’t you divide, one semester, you know, devote one semester to English literature and one semester to American literature. Cause I wanna know more about both worlds basically. So now I have to catch up myself and actually read…
Well it’s interesting that you say that and you clump it up all in American literature, because when we were talking about the regions of the United States, and I got my education in the South, I went to the University in Georgia.
It was all about Southern literature which is different. You are not going to get from, you know, Grapes of Wrath or John Steinbeck, so you have the southern literature. So we were kinda divided in that way.
Can you remember any of the names?
No, because I didn’t really want to read any of this. So I didn’t take the courses. It wasn’t interesting to me.
But it’s perfect to get to know American history, right? Through these books.
Oh yeah, yeah. Because well through literature you can see prejudices, you can see a certain kind of mentality. You can see things of how people thought. Well okay, so one literature is Gone with the Wind. Of course, that’s Margaret Mitchell, she’s a southern writer.
Oh yeah. And what about… The book about Uncle Tom.
Right, yeah. And that would be considered… Let’s see, Beecher Stowe, so that I guess was southern. I don’t know, she lived in the North as well. So yeah, maybe that would be considered that same kind of pre-Civil war history. Well it would be like history, yeah, history novel.
Cause I remember we had that book at home when I was a kid. And I was always, you know, thinking that it would be something, you know, very light. You know, cause Uncle Tom, it sounds so great. And I was a kid, so I’m like one day I’m gonna read it! And then I started to and I was like oh this is nothing what I expected it to be.
Closed the book, put it back, cause I was like 11-12, you know.
That book was one of the books that really got people to see what slavery was about and to get kind of I guess politicized with it. And it was one thing that kinda led to the Civil war, because people understood what was it about.
Help me. What is another book that… Singing in the… No.
To kill a mockingbird! Thank you!
How did you even understand what I was talking about? But thank you!
Because I had been thinking about this book and I was about to ask is Harper Lee a southern or northern author.
Yeah. I think she’s southern as well.
Cause the action takes place somewhere in the south.
Well yeah, definitely, yeah.
We analyzed the Atticus Finch’s speech at university. Like from the point of view of stylistics.
I actually like reading a lot about that time in American history when like pre-Civil war and other books that happened around the time. I’m a big fan.
Yeah. So let’s then… Since we’ve touched upon it, let’s focus more on American literature then. So we’ve mentioned some of the brightest representatives, so Barbara you’ve mentioned Mark Twain and Salinger. Tennessee Williams, Hemingway.
Oh Tennessee Williams. Oh talking about misery!
Oh my goodness, those are plays.
They are the class menagerie. Oh poor little Gippy had little… A girl who’s lame, an alcoholic father. But if you want misery, read Tennessee Williams. Yeah.
If you are fed up with Dostoevsky, yeah.
Yes yes yes. If you read all of his translations.
But that’s true, they are plays, that’s true. Then Hemingway.
Hemingway. He’s another direct straightforward kind of writer. He loved cats.
Have you ever been to his house in Key West?
Oh god, you have to go, you have to go. So the thing is that he used to have more than 50 cats and up to this day there are 54 cats in this house. But the thing is that… So of course these are not the exact cats but descendants of those. But the thing is that a lot of them have this… Well I do not know whether I can call it a genetic mutation, but they have…
Right, they’re polydactyl.
Yes! They are so adorable. I’ve been there – they are so cute. And that’s, you know, coming from a not a cat person. You know, I’m more or less indifferent about cats, but even I took pictures of all of them I think. All of them that I could see. Yeah. Who else?
So what are we doing? Are we making a list of American authors?
Yeah I was just trying to think of the brightest representatives.
Like for example lost generation, Fitzgerald.
What does that mean? So lost generation. How would you…
So like post first world war writers.
Yeah. Great depression. And people who were lost after the first world war and who didn’t know how to get by, what to do and what the life brings to them. Well, like Hemingway, Fitzgerald.
So what would be the common or, you know, the, well the common topics in the books of that time? Well I mean in general…
Was it like wealth and class and poor gap or what was it?
I guess how to live a life after the war, how to find your place in the society, how to… How not to get drunk every day maybe. Because that’s what helped them.
How not to get drunk every day?
Oh how to get drunk and still…
Well, suicidal ideas. But at the same time friendship because they appreciated friendship and this, like, comrade sense.
Cause I have… To be honest, I’m very bad with these dates, so whenever I hear the name, I can’t, you know, match it with a date. So let’s say Hemingway - what were the years? Like, 1930s? 40s?
So that’s why very often I’m like what was the time frame.
Maybe you need to have a list of dates. All I know are some of these books but yeah, I don’t know, we should’ve made a timeline.
We should have, we should have. Damn it!
Should’ve done it scholarly.
I’ve recently seen, you know, a meme on the Internet. Let’s say Tolstoy’s books in a nutshell so it’s like everyone is miserable. Hemingway’s books in a nutshell everyone is drunk and miserable. Like, okay. Oh, drunk and cynical! That was it. So everyone is drunk and cynical. I’m like okay.
Yeah, because when you become miserable, you need to commit suicide. According to Hemingway I mean.
So you don’t need to read the books then, just read the memes and then you understand.
Memes. No, well I mean, you have to read the books, to see what led people, you know, to creating such memes. Actually I posted this meme on our Wellesley Russian account, so the account of Russian Department at Wellesley. And my professor’s like well students who have taken my course on Tolstoy’s works know that this is nonsense.
His books are not about misery. You should join my course and check this out yourself. I’m like nice ad Professor Hodge, nice ad. Yeah. Alright, and what about English literature? So who are the brightest representatives?
Well what about… Shall we go along the time line or… Because I’m very bad at timelines. Well Charles Dickens I guess. Jane Austin. Charles Dickens like the middle, mid-19th century. Well maybe Lewis Carol.
Yeah yeah, sisters, yeah.
Poor girl, can you imagine being…
I’m the other one. I’m not Charlotte, I’m not Emily, I’m the other one.
So who else? John Galsworthy.
And can we speak about how much Shakespeare has influenced our language? The things that we say. You’ve seen all the memes of things that he said. I can’t remember any one of them. But it’s incredible to read about things are in his plays that we say now. I can’t think of any of them.
To be or not to be. Life is a play, no, life is a stage.
All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players.
A round of applause, wow.
Wow. But would you say are the common topics in these works? In English literature? Cause I sometimes have a feeling that most of it, cause, you know, whatever comes to my head is usually like the Brontë’s, Jane Austin, and I always have this association of English literature being about love and, well, maybe not misery, but, you know, suffering.
Yeah, maybe distant love, you know those love letters back and forth. I yearn for you, I love you, I love you forever. And that kind of… What we call Victorian kind of thing where we don’t have… They didn’t have the internet, so they could just…
So they had write a long flowery letter and send it by Pony Express or…
Or the ship that’ll take 2 or 3 weeks or months to arrive.
Yeah, so you send, you know, a pigeon to go… To get to the ship.
And it keeps your love alive cause you’re always yearning.
Yeah, for all the half a year that you’re waiting for the letter. Okay, so what were other topics apart from this?
Well I guess it depends on the period and the genre because there were like representatives of romanticism, realism, modern, post-modern, whatever.
I think there is a certain thing about forbidden love cause you see a lot of like the romance is usually between people from different casts and society that cannot be together.
That is true. Not only distant, but also forbidden.
So much drama. I think it all started with Shakespeare actually. He set the trend. People were like oh, that is getting popular, now I know what to write about.
Well but if we speak about Rudyard Kipling, it was absolutely different. Like it was about heroes and about patriotic things and like British colonialism and so on.
It also feels to me sometimes that in some of this literature you have this like the women in a way trying to recover of this mold of what they can and cannot do. Like, usually the characters are these women that are trying to, you know, I can do this, I can… I do not have to live by these rules that society imposes on me. Something like that.
Well that shows how dependent they are on men. And they have to wait for the men to give them their money or their board or maybe through marriage they can have finally some kinda of security. And this sense of wanting to be free from that, this dependence, economic.
You know, it gives me like a lot of mixed feelings when I read something like that now. Cause I think how dare he say something like that. You know. But of course at that time it was a norm. Since we’re still on the topic of classics, I have a question to Masha.
Cause every person who studies at the faculty of foreign languages in Russia has to go through one of the subjects which is foreign literature. So and I have a question to you Masha – what was it like? This subject at university?
While preparing for the podcast I really tried to remember if it was something, but I don’t remember that we had a course on literature.
I remember that we had a course on foreign literature at school because it was a class with a focus on linguistics and such type of subjects. So we had, when I was in 11th grade, it was a course, so that’s what I remember. I’m so not sure about university. I remember linguistics, theoretical linguistics, theoretical grammar, phonetics. But I don’t remember a course of literature. I remember even the history of the language.
Yes. Wow. Cause usually, you know, that’s some kind of a..
Maybe we don’t have a professor who could teach us. Well I really don’t know why.
Wow. Cause usually yeah, along with, you know, this practical, theoretical grammar, phonetics, history of the language, it’s usually one of the subjects that is taught at every single university I know, I mean.
It should have been, but obviously I don’t remember… I mean I must have remembered it cause well, it’s something remarkable, it’s something to be remembered.
Maybe there was indeed no professor then. I am very very surprised.
But still, I didn’t feel miserable or bad about it, because…
Yeah, because by that time I had already read lots of books, so I had known about their literature, maybe even more than I do now.
So when you’re talking about reading literature in school, I think it’s a really good idea because a lot of times if you’re reading literature, you don’t really understand the layers of it. And you don’t…
And you’d like to discuss it with someone, but you’re by yourself, and there’s no one who cares about the book you’re reading. So I think it’s so good to study literature in school. And unfortunately I didn’t really have that.
I think that’s one of the reasons why books clubs are becoming popular now, cause people want to talk about things now. Yeah, and it becomes more and more widespread. But I had this course…
Yeah, can you maybe tell us about your course and maybe I will remember something.
Sure, sure. Well, at least I can tell you what it was like at my university. Cause first of all, at the first year, when we were freshmen we were given a list of books we have to read by our third year. So and it was 40, at least 40 books in English literature and 40 books in American literature.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t read that much, you know, 40 books. 80 books in total. So and of course, you know, we kinda ignored the list. I read only like some of them. And then in the third year we, you know, since we had been given these lists, we thought that we would have one semester of English literature, one semester of American literature.
No, we had one year devoted only to English literature, so we kinda analyzed it from every point possible, from every side. And I had to go through these, you know, Bronte sisters, Jane Austin, Shakespeare. We had to memorize and learn by heart and then recite some of the Shakespeare sonnets.
And god I even had to read John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, and just so you understand, it’s 4 books. And 4 books full of will he come back for me? Oh god I love him, oh no, I got married to the wrong man.
I remember, now I am remembering – we didn’t have a course on it, but we had this literature classes incorporated in our general English course, that’s how it worked. Yeah, cause I remember we read let’s say Somerset Maugham, the Moon and the Sixpence.
Oh we read that one, yeah.
And of course lots of Shakespeare’s sonnets, because I still remember some of them by heart, and that’s what we did at university.
And we analyzed some pieces of work, yeah, I remember, but it wasn’t a separate course.
I am so impressed with that. You’re lucky that you had that education. Cause I did not have any of that.
Yeah, well I think it’s because, you know, it’s mandatory. Cause you know, in our educational system you don’t get to choose the subjects, you just have to go through them.
Well to be able to recite Shakespeare’s sonnets and to be able to understand what he’s talking about. You can start reading it by yourself and who understands Shakespeare? I mean, I don’t.
Yeah, you would have to have some kind of background maybe. But what annoyed me is that at the end of the year, at the end of the 6th semester of our study, we usually had exams in June. So in April we were given about a 100 pages of lectures on American literature and we were told to learn them by heart, you know, to read through them, to learn them, to read the books of American literature.
And then we had the exam on it. Lovely! We had never had a chance to discuss that in class. What if I misunderstand something? You want me just to learn the theory, so but then… I still remember that exam, cause it was very awkward. So the way you usually have exams is that you have these exam cards, you pick one of them randomly, it has two questions. So in our case we had to.. First, we had to…
I don’t know how to call it, we had different cards on the desk, so we had to pick up 10 cards of English literature and put them in the timeline. So who followed whom. Then do the same with American literature. Okay, I somehow did that, I have no idea how. Then I had this card, it was two questions. One of English literature that I answered.
The second one was on American literature, it was the role of youth in American literature in 1920s. So I was like okay, the brightest example is the Catcher in the Rye. And the thing is that I had never read it. I only had read the description of it. And my professor just looked at me and said okay, what was the name of the main character? I knew that.
She’s like who wrote it? And without thinking I just said Fitzgerald. She just looked at me like why did you say? I’m like Salinger, Salinger, it was Salinger. She’s like fail, come again tomorrow. I’m like damn it! So up to this day I will never forget that it was Salinger because of that mistake. And her look, she was so angry, you know!
How dare you say such a thing! And the next day I only had to answer one question on American literature. You know, whatever random question I get to pick. And it was about Edgar Allan Poe and I knew a lot about him. And my professor asked me if I had read anything and I said oh yes.
And then, you know, she just gave me a chance and I was telling her about the stories and how this, you know, was the start of these topics. I even mentioned the modern tv shows that were inspired. She was like okay okay okay, go go go. You have…
Yes. It’s never a written test, so we usually tend to have oral tests. So well, I think it’s for the better, cause if you forget something, a professor can always ask you a question to see if you don’t know it or if you don’t… So that exam, you know, it’s been what?
It’s been in 2013, so yeah, 8 years, I still remember that. But I really want to catch up on what I haven’t read from American classic. Like Tennessee Williams, like, Tennessee Williams.
So have you read anything from Tennessee Williams?
I have, but it was, you know, very fast. So I don’t think I got to understand any of it.
So that was the other thing in my family – we would do our plays. So my sister would assign us different roles and we would act them out. And even though I didn’t understand anything, I’d still, you know, little girl, doing my role and I remember one time saying you didn’t get me a big enough part.
So she did a psychology thing on me and she gave me a lot of parts. So all I did was read and read and read and read and read.
Oh I’m reading too much. But yeah being assigned a part and kinda acting out. And with different voices of course. Accents or something,
That’s amazing. You guys had like amazing education. I mean I Heard about students here having oral exams and that’s not something that people really do in Brazil. Usually your tests are multiple choice. Only like maths you have to solve. So I think that’s a much better way of maintain…
Oh yeah definitely. Being able to articulate and discuss.
And I think it’s also, you know… Well, I personally find oral tests better because if you have a written test, sometimes you know this thing, but you just forget. Or you stress out and then you might fail. But with oral exam your professor can ask you questions to, you know, just help you. And then you might say ah, yes, so, you know, they see that you actually know this. Maybe you were just too stressed to remember it in the first place. Yeah.
That’s amazing. Cause in Brazil for example we would read what in America they call the cliff notes, right? To really… Because you know it’s gonna be a multiple question, you have to write very little, so you just have to remember like little facts. I didn’t’ really get to learn that way, at least not long term. So I get quite impressed with education here.
So you just read notes, do the multiple choice test then forget about it.
We weren’t allowed to read the cliff notes, we would be completely discouraged to do that. You had to read the book. But unfortunately, like I said before, you could read the book by yourself and just not understand it.
Interesting. Cause I mean I took a class on…. How could I… Nabokov at Wellesley. And we had to read a lot and not just, you know, parts of it, but all of the books. So, one course covered 3 books and it was tough and it involved a lot of reading and a very detailed analysis and discussion. So yeah. But it was a Ukrainian professor.
I think my daughter had a very good education. She went to private college. It was called Oglethorpe University. And she got her degree in English, and I remember she had this dog-eared rag-tailed book that she had to read. It’s actually Russian literature. And she had to highlight and use tabs. And I thought oh I’m so impressed with her, oh wow, she’s really learning. Something I didn’t have.
So and what about modern literature? Do you know much about modern writers? Like who is popular at the moment?
All I know is like Stephen King and that’s just through my daughter and I don’t really know anything.
Actually he is the number 1 popular American author and considered to be the most popular American authors of all time. Have you ever read anything by him?
I’ve read a couple of things like… Well, I want to read IT, but that one is like…
Oh yeah it’s a good book.
They’re all huge, aren’t they? They’re all thick.
He also writes short stories sometimes.
Yeah. I remember when I was at university I got hold of this book of short stories. And Stephen King is the master of horror stories. So I was like it’s a short story, I read just two of them. I had the worst nightmares that night. Really I’m like I’m never going to read his short stories, they really get you. So, no.
I just so happen to like those kinds of stories.
I don’t like those kind of stories.
He also writes stories that are not horror stories, like Shawshank Redemption.
Hearts in Atlantis, it’s also his one. Apt Pupil.
I actually read that last year, it was fantastic, yeah. I remember going to Maine and you know, to go to Maine from Massachusetts, you have to cross the bridge between New Hampshire and Maine. And you know, it was very sunny and lovely weather. The moment we crossed the bridge, so we got into Maine, it was so foggy, you know, and spooky. I’m like okay, I understand why Stephen King has written so many horror stories, you know, living in a place like that.
I actually got a chance to go to where he lives, Bangor Maine, and I actually have a photograph his house.
He has this fence with like…
Yeah, yeah. They’re not quite bats, cause you’re supposed to be more demonic looking, you know, on the fence.
You love gargoyles, don’t you, Barbara? I remember that.
And this is a red house, there is a darker shade, almost like maroon. But…
Somehow it sounds right, you know.
Yeah. So it really suits him.
It does, it does. Okay. Any other modern writers? Actually, okay, by modern, what do we mean by modern? Like from..
Okay, J… Oh yeah, oh yeah. She is.
Where is he from by the way?
Is he an American writer?
I guess, he is American, yeah.
The one who wrote the Secret, right?
The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons.
Oh the Secret was somebody else, pardon me, I get him mixed up sometimes. But yeah.
I don’t know who that is.
The Game of Thrones? The Song of Ice and Fire? I really hope that he lives as long as he needs to write and finish writing the sixth book. George, we’ve been waiting for too long! I’m pretty sure he’s gonna die before he does that, cause he’s an obese man in his 70s, you know.
Who seems to be doing everything but not writing the last book of the Song of Ice and Fire. Which makes all of the fans very sad. Very! We are waiting.
Maybe he has a plan. Maybe he has already finished it.
I would not be surprised even if he, you know, had this plan which would be to die and then in his will to have something like ha ha ha. He can do that.
And maybe he has already written it and he won’t publish it until after his death. But don’t you find those books so complicated? I cannot keep track of like things like the Matrix, Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones, it took me one year to read the first book. Just because you know I had to go through the dictionary so many times when it came to different types of armor, parts of armor, parts of axes, types of, you know, all these weapons. But after that I couldn’t stop.
I read all of the books that had come out by the moment, so but that time. I don’t know. It’s sometimes hard to follow because there are just too many characters sometimes. But I don’t know, the story, the plot, just oh, so gripping!
I just remembered one, but I can’t remember the… Oh yeah, Diana… I’m sorry, I don’t know how to pronounce her last name very well. Gabaldon. She is the writer of the Outlander. They now made a series on Netflix based on her books, so she’s, I would say…
It rings the bell. Outlander.
It’s a quite interesting story actually, about travelling in time. About some woman who was a nurse in the world war and somehow she travels back in time when…
Sounds like something I might like.
When there was a conflict between England and Scotland. So you get to learn a lot of the history around that time in England.
Are there any modern writers you really like? Whose books you really like? I can only think of… I mean again, depends on how we define modern, cause let’s say I love Terry Pratchett, and I’ve said that in a lot of episodes already, but I just love him. But he was writing, you know, until 2000s.
Maybe 2010. So is he considered modern? He started writing in like 1990s. So I don’t know. Neil Gaiman is fantastic. It’s also fantasy. But he’s British. I think he’s British. He’s British. Yeah.
There is that guy who is a lawyer, he’s written a lot of books that have been adapted into films as wells. Pelican Brief, the Client.
Oh god, no, I really don’t know much about modern…
And he’s American writer.
There’s someone named Tom Clancy who’s written a lot of books, very thick books. Have you ever heard of Tom Clancy?
I might have, but I’ve never read anything. You know, it’s like… It’s one of those names which you remember because you see this name every single time you go into a bookstore but have no clue who that is.
I have to say, he wrote in 1990s.
John Grisham, oh yeah, okay, that’s true.
But it’s not like very modern modern, not…
Yeah, not.. The century’s modern but…
Yeah. Because then John Fowles for example, he’s not like the latest books for example, but the Collector is… For me it’s still modern literature.
You know, if we speak about like very modern, something that has come out within the last, let’s say, decade. I don’t think I can name anything form English literature or American literature, you know, on the go. Cause usually it’s one book, maybe two books of an author, I can’t remember the name. I read and I’m like okay, that’s a nice one, fine. But then I forget about it. And I don’t know about you…
They are not classics yet.
There are still too many books we haven’t read I guess.
So and what would you recommend to our listeners and our, well, who are very often learners of English? Would you recommend them to read the classics? Cause I heard some opinions that if you learn English, you should never read the classics cause it’s outdated language. It’s not, you know, it’s not gonna be useful. So, what do you think?
Well maybe depends on the level first of all. Because if you are an advanced student, why not, why not read Shakespeare just for a change? And to see how the language had been developing through the years. So I think it depends on the level.
Okay. So and I don’t know about you, I get asked a lot by my students, Katya, can you recommend something to read? So what would you recommend?
Well as I said before, J.D Salinger, I would recommend. I would recommend Steinbeck.
By the way, am I right to say that he wrote plays? Like Of Mice and Men? Is it a play?
Yes, Of Mice and Men, I’ve read… I remember reading it and it was a book, I don’t remember it being a play.
Okay, maybe. Cause I saw it on stage. I saw it in the theater and I remember reading it. Well when we speak about… Sorry did I interrupt?
Speaking of recommendations, do you mean for just pleasure or for studying English? Because that’s so different.
I guess for studying English.
Then I couldn’t recommend anything.
I know that there is that collection, Penguin books where they rewrite some stories.
Yeah, they’re adapted, yeah.
Adapted literature, yeah. Any adapted literature.
Then they have a choice to pick whatever they like to read.
Okay. Barbara, do you have any recommendations?
Not any more than I’ve said.
Okay. I usually… I might recommend, you know, some books by… God, the Shopaholic series.
Sophie Kinsella or Cecilia Ahern cause they are writing very simple stories and the stories themselves are like meh, okay.
They are so… Like, when you read one, then you know what happens in the next ones.
Yeah, they’re all the same, nothing, you know… You are not going to have this wow effect, no. But they have very simple language and the language that you will need, you know. The names of clothes, all these, you know, the typical actions at home like paying the bills, discussing, you know, the debts, work, relationship.
Maybe there is a similar one to that called The Girl Boss.
Oh yeah, I think it’s all from the same…
Yeah, so that reminds me – we had a student here who just loves Sex and the City.
The same kinda thing, yeah, loke shopaholic, the Girl Boss.
The story is meh, but the vocab you can get is really useful.
Yeah, really simple kinda life.
Exactly, exactly. So you will not see, you know, those complicated phrases, you know, inversion or something like that.
Yeah, Bridget Jones’ Diary.
That’s language that you will use. This is real life language, yeah. Actually, I have one last question to you – not connected with recommendations, but have you ever had a book that you never finished reading?
Some of them. Well, you know, I try to… If I started a book, I usually try to read it up to the end because I just feel, I just feel bad if I don’t finish a book. But there were some. Well, for example a book by Chuck Palahniuk, one of his books. Not the Fight Club, I read the Fight Club, I enjoyed it. Then I picked up another one and I just couldn’t. I couldn’t.
High five. Yeah I can totally relate. There were a couple of them that I couldn’t finish.
Because they are too, like…
I couldn’t finish the Borne Identity.
I’ve never read it. There is a movie.
Yeah. I found out that there was a book because of the movie, I was in library and I was like oh, it’s based on a book. Let me buy it. And I started reading and I was like it’s not that exciting.
That’s my situation with Julie and Julia. It’s a lovely movie, you know, about cooking, about Julia Child who was a chef. And while I was watching I was just in love with this movie. And then I saw a book and I was like oh, I need to read it. It was the most boring book I have ever read. It’s not written by a professional writer, but rather by a journalist, and you could see that. It’s just so boring.
What happened first? The book or the film?
I think the book. It might be the book. Wait, now…
Cause I mean if the book was the first, it should have been than the film.
Usually the book is better…
Maybe a director saw an opportunity of a sellable movie.
But yeah, it was just written in such… Too simple, you know, when you read and you get no pleasure. Like, reading a blog, a very, you know, not a great one. An average blog. Alright. I actually have a question, as I usually do, to our listeners. So, what about your preferences? Do you know much about English or American literature?
And I would really appreciate it, as somebody who’s constantly looking for new books to read, to write down your top 3 books. So what would you recommend us to read? B us I mean me mostly.
I don’t know about you, but please. Yeah. It can be any genre, anything. Just, yeah. Please, write so in the comment section, I’ll really appreciate it. So and I wanna thank you, thank you thank you thank you ladies for talking about literature.
And I wanna thank you, listeners, for listening to this episode. And I want to remind you that if you struggle to understand our conversation, you can always go to our website, which is BigAppleSchool.com/podcast and you can find full scripts of each episode there. Just make sure to play the episode first and then click on the show script button.
And if you want to get even more content which will help you learn English, you can always follow us on the social media, such as Instagram, Telegram, Youtube. We are everywhere, literally, everywhere. Just search our name, which is BigAppleSchool. So that was Katya and my guests for today were…
Stay tuned and we’ll see you around.