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Summer Reading/Journal Assignment for Dual Enrollment English III DE FALL 101/SPRING 102



You need to read the following books and be prepared to take a quiz on these books the first week of class:

                The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

                Old School by Tobias Woolf

You also need to complete a 1000-1200 word reading journal on these books which will be due on August 30, 2013. These will be worth 100 points each when you return to school.


Journal Assignment

You need to write 500-600 words on each book (for a total of 1000-1200 words).  You need to write on at least two of the questions for each book, but no more than five.  On your journal, simply write the number of the question you did, but not the question itself.  You should have your name, my name (Mrs. Mullis), class name and class period, and due date in the upper left-hand corner.  You should number your pages according to MLA style (with your last name and the page number in the upper right hand corner of each page).  You should use Times New Roman 12 point font and double space your entire responses.  Please visit the following website to see how to properly format your paper using MLA style:




Although this is a journal and not a formal essay, you still need to remove contractions, slang, and the use of “you” from your writing.  The following are your journal questions:


 The Last Lecture:


1.  Why do you think this book has struck a chord with so many people?

2.  Randy chose “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” as the topic for his lecture.  In what ways does this allow him to tell the story of his life, and to enable the dreams of others?

3.  Randy said he realized many of his dreams because he had terrific parents.  What details from his childhood do you think led to the successes he had later in life?  Are there lessons in Randy’s story for people who’ve had less-fulfilling childhoods, or absentee parents?  What advice might you give to those who didn’t win “the parent lottery”?

4.  What would you paint on your bedroom walls if you were given permission to do so?  What other creative outlet would you like to pursue, if your parents gave the OK?

5.  Randy believed our critics are often the ones saying they still care about us.  How in your own life has a critic helped you become a better person?

6.  Throughout the book, Randy says: “Brick walls are there for a reason.  They’re not there to keep us out.  The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”  What are the brick walls you’ve faced in your own life?  How did you get over them?

7.  How has Randy’s journey made you consider how you’ll approach your own mortality?

8.  What was it about Dr. van Dam’s delivery and message that resonated with Randy (as seen in Chapter 14)?  Who in your own life has told you things about yourself that made you reconsider your actions or behavior?

9.  Throughout the book, Randy makes a distinction between “people” and “things.”  What did you think of his decision to empty that can of soda in the backseat of his car?

10.  Randy missed the 1969 moonwalk because he was sent to bed by camp counselors.  Have you ever wished adults in your life were less rigid?  What advice would you give to adults about helping kids to dream big?

11.  Do you agree with Randy that earnest is better than hip?  Is fashion truly masquerading as hip?  Or can fashion be a way in which people express themselves?

12.  Randy admired Sandy Blatt and Jackie Robinson because they didn’t complain.  As Randy put it:  “Complaining is not a strategy.”  Do you agree?

13.  Have you ever had trouble working in groups?  How might Randy’s tips in Chapter 35 help you get along better with others in the future?

14.  Are you a Tigger or an Eyeore?  Why?  If you’d like to be more of a Tigger, how might you go about that?

15.  In Chapter 47, Randy describes two “classic bad apologies.”  Have you ever given someone such an apology?  How did it turn out?






Old School:


16.  What is the effect of the first-person narrative style Wolff has chosen for this novel? What kinds of information --- or perspectives --- does the reader have access to? On the other hand, what kinds of information does first-person narration deny the reader? What terms might describe the narrator's voice? Why is this narrative style so appropriate for this story?

17.  About his desire to win the competition that would give him an audience with Robert Frost, the narrator says, "My aspirations were mystical. I wanted to receive the laying on of hands that had written living stories and poems, hands that had touched the hands of other writers. I wanted to be anointed" [p. 7]. Is his aspiration admirable? What does the boy not understand about how one becomes a writer? How seriously does he work at acquiring the skills of his craft?

18.  In social interactions between boys at the school, much is left unsaid. Why is this? Consider the relationship between the narrator and his roommate Bill White [pp. 11-13, 139-40]. What problems of interpretation arise when so little talking is done? Why is this relationship so problematic?

19.  Very early on, the narrator tells us that the school adhered informally "to a system of honors that valued nothing you hadn't done for yourself." He goes on to say "Dean Makepeace had been a friend of Hemingway's during World War I and was said to have served as the model for Jake's fishing buddy Bill in The Sun Also Rises" [p. 4]. What seems here like casual exposition is seen later to be foreshadowing, linking the acts of deception committed by the boy and the headmaster. What other examples do you find of Wolff's careful attention to the structure of the novel?

20.  Having related his experience of Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking," the headmaster tells the boys, "Make no mistake . . . a true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life" [p. 47]. Why is writing dangerous in this novel, and for whom?

21.  Reading The Fountainhead, the narrator says, "I was discovering the force of my will. . . . I understood that nothing stood between me and my greatest desires --- nothing between me and greatness itself --- but the temptation to doubt my will and bow to counsels of moderation, expedience, and conventional morality, and shrink into the long, slow death of respectability" [p. 68]. Why does Ayn Rand's writing have such a powerful effect on him, and why does his initial excitement fade upon actually meeting the author? The boy also learns an important lesson when he rereads the stories of Hemingway, whom Ayn Rand has attacked as a creator of "weak, defeated people" [p. 84]. What does he realize, and how is this lesson important for what happens later [pp. 95-99]?

22.  As he looks toward graduation, the narrator says it was a "dream that produced the school, not merely English-envy but the yearning for a chivalric world apart from the din of scandal and cheap dispute, the hustles and schemes of modernity itself. As I recognized this dream I also sensed its futility, but so what? . . . With still a month to graduation,  I was already damp with nostalgia" [p. 134]. If literature plays a critical role in both the school's chivalric ideal and in the nostalgia the narrator feels, is literature an alternate world in which the narrator would prefer to exist? What is ironic about the above passage?

23.  Old School is in large part an examination of the process by which a boy tries to become the person he most desires to be. What does Wolff seem to suggest about the process of self-formation and the fragility of the ego?

24.  The competitors for literary awards are all indebted to other writers: "All of us owed someone, Hemingway or Cummings or Kerouac --- or all of them, and more. We wouldn't have admitted to it but the knowledge was surely there, because imitation was the only charge we never brought against the submissions we mocked so cruelly" [p. 14]. Can it sometimes be difficult to draw a line between healthy imitation and plagiarism? Is the school's harsh response to the boy's use of another writer's story unfair?

25.  Speaking of Old School in an interview, Tobias Wolff said, "For this novel to work, the reader has to believe in these boys becoming so madly passionate and competitive about this writing business. That can only happen when there is a complete failure of perspective, which requires a very enclosed world, like an army or a priesthood. Great mistakes can be made because the view becomes so narrow." How does Wolff create this narrowed perspective? How do his choices of what to describe and what not to describe shape the reader's perspective on the novel's events? To what degree does the reader's perspective merge with the narrator's?

26.  Tobias Wolff gives his readers an intimate view of his main character's faults. How does your response to the boy change as the novel proceeds? What is the effect, particularly, of the last few chapters?

27.  In his review of the novel, Chris Bohjalian noted, "Virtually every chapter in the novel could stand alone as a short story" (The Boston Globe, 4 Jan 2004, C7). Discuss Wolff's attention to the dramatic tension and the formal structure of each chapter, and decide whether you agree with Bohjalian's assessment that the novel is informed by Wolff's experience as a master of the short story.

28.  The novel's epigraph, from a poem by Mark Strand, end with "the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth." How does the epigraph relate to the narrator's confusion and his conflicts with himself?

29.  How does the narrator's meeting with Susan Friedman emphasize the difference between their characters and their approaches to the meaning and purposes of writing? Who is the more mature person? Each of them embodies certain ideals. What are they and what is their essential difference?

30.  In what ways is humor expressed in this novel, and what kind of humor is it? What situations and descriptions are comical?