A broad debut survey of a century’s worth of Golden State writing.
These short, manageable chapters examine specific eras or identities of California-centric fiction via well-selected quotations and brief discussions of various themes. From there, students can pursue original source material on their own. Significantly, Breiger, a longtime high school English teacher, addresses not just ethnic and gender diversity, but also class considerations and, to a lesser extent, sexuality. Of particular note are occasional moments when the author inserts personal asides into his analysis, as when he identifies with Charles Bukowski’s portrayal of postal workers based on his own experiences as an employee at the USPS main office in Oakland. Regarding Of Mice and Men, he writes: “Why do I honor John Steinbeck’s memory? Because I know he would have felt for my sister, understood her struggle with a seizure disorder, identified with her bravery and pain.” Similarly, Breiger isn’t afraid to share opinions that may be unpopular in certain circles—criticizing, for example, Huey Newton or defending Richard Rodriguez. This work nicely embodies the tension between recognizing literature’s so-called universal themes and erasing differences. Indeed, Breiger argues, disagreements between writers—even those often grouped together—should be welcomed: “The argument between Frank Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston does not need to have a winner or loser. Literature is not about winning or losing but about the attempt to find our individual truth that is, yet, about more than ourselves.” Some of the references (Phil Donahue, Peter Jennings, Maury Povich) may seem outdated for younger readers, though probably not for teachers of a certain age. Still, it’s easy to envision this handy reference as the first stop for students researching independent or group projects. Breiger’s humanist approach to literary criticism and appreciation supports the notion that literature must be accessible to all students as they engage with ideas that, with varying degrees of success, represent them and their communities.
Essential for the development and reassessment of language-arts curricula in California schools.