An English Teacher’s Reading Life: Spring, 2017

I’m taking a little time off from blogging this summer because I’m tired of writing. Actually, I’m just tired in general. And I have some other projects I am trying to devote time to this summer one being making sure the teens employed at the local pool have someone to attend to. Basically, I’m helping the local economy by going to the pool; I like to do my part like that. I am not, however, taking time off from reading and am popping in quickly to share what I read this spring. Below my thoughts is a quote from the book, and the book title clicks through to the book’s Amazon page. 


Hope Heals ★★★★★ (Wolfe, 2016, Memoir)

51ZnXzzGF2L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_I had the privilege of hearing Jay and Katherine Wolfe share their story at Passion City Church earlier this year and knew immediately that I would read their book. This account of Katherine’s brain aneurysm and her beating the odds to live is an honest detailing of living with hope in the worst of circumstances.  The subtitle A True Story of Overcoming Loss and an Overcoming Love describes the book perfectly; this book is gold.

“What has happened to me is extreme; however, it is not that different from what everyone deals with. I am a sort of microcosm for what we all feel. I can barely walk, even with a cane, but who feels free even if they can? My face is paralyzed, but who feels beautiful even when they look normal? I have no coordination in my right hand, so I can’t hold things, even my child, but who feels like a competent parent even if all their faculties are intact? For months I could not eat, and even today I have difficulty swallowing, but who feels fully satisfied even if they can enjoy every delectable treat they desire? I am tired almost all the time now, but who always feels energized to engage fully in their life? My voice is messed up, but who feels understood even if they can speak plainly? I have double vision, but who sees everything clearly even if they can see normally? My future is uncertain, but whose isn’t?”

Everything, Everything ★★★★☆ (Noon, 2015, Young Adult)

61blZ2UjXML._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_This book has been on my Kindle for over a year, but when a student took the time to tell me how much she loved the book, I moved it to my spring break reading list because I have a personal commitment to read any book recommended by a student. This book is the quintessential YA but has an amazing twist at the end that really makes the reading worthwhile. Students tend to love this book, and I can see why. 

“Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

The Circle Maker ★★★★★ (Batterson, 2011, Christian)

2c55b4ab-06a6-4e30-83ef-0f52a8f367f3_1.234af5dcca3800291007211283e57c6aI put off reading this book for a long time because I’m skeptical of books (or people) who say if you do x, God will do y. However, with the backing of my friend John Orr, I knew this book would not be like that, and it wasn’t. This book paired perfectly with Hope Heals as it speaks about not limiting God in our prayers.

“We pray as if God’s chief objective is our personal comfort. It’s not. God’s chief objective is His glory.”

Hillbilly Elegy ★★★★★ (Vance, 2016, Memoir)

51idSm4KvzL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This was my book club’s pick for April, and it did not disappoint. J.D. Vance recounts growing up poor, what life for the white working class is like, and how hard breaking the cycle can be. The last third of the book addresses the complexity of politics and policy in today’s society. In all of my reading, I have never encountered a “character” like Mawmaw who sacrifices and holds her family together and does not worry about being proper. 

“I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”

A Doll’s House ★★★★★ (Ibsen, 1879, Play)

dhThis was my panic read after spring break when I wondered if I should do a short work with my AP students before the exam. I didn’t but thoroughly enjoyed this play which was extremely controversial at the time of its writing as it explored feminism and the evolving role of women. This play can easily be read in a couple of hours but don’t let the brevity trick you as it packs a punch.

“Our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls.”


Counting Descent ★★★★★ (Smith, 2016, Poetry)

41L-aBEnNcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_One of my goals this year was to read more poetry by living poets, so when this collection was chosen for a Twitter book club (you laugh, but it’s true) that I am in, I was beyond excited. Smith explores growing up and being black in today’s society through verse, and the result is a beautiful yet thought-provoking collection of poems. I knew immediately after reading the first time, that I would assign this for my AP class next year and reached out to Clint Smith to see if he would Skype with my classes after they finished reading the book. He agreed, and I am so eager to expose my students to this contemporary poet and discuss relevant issues in today’s society. I truly have the best job ever (other than the essay grading).

The Zookeeper’s Wife ★★★☆☆ (Ackerman, 2008, Nonfiction)

zkI did not know much about this book going in and honestly thought it was fiction until about halfway through when I realized it was a true story. (Don’t judge unless you have taught school during the month of May; it’s pure madness). I think had it not been May, I would have enjoyed this book more but had a hard time keeping names and people straight. The story, however, is amazing and reminded me that in hard times, people do hard things to survive.

“I don’t understand all the fuss. If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal.”

Shakespeare Saved My Life ★★★☆☆ (Bates, 2013, Nonfiction)

shakespeareI read this book for work as it was a potential addition to our AP Lang program. Laura Bates, a Ph.D. student studying Shakespeare, starts a Shakespeare program with prisoners and is absolutely amazed at their insight into Willie’s plays when many of them not even high school graduates. They connect to so many of the tragic heroes because they understand the mind of a criminal. I enjoyed this book but did find it repetitive which kept it at three stars.

“Why do we assume that educating a criminal is merely helping him commit more sophisticated crimes? Why can’t we assume that an education can give this person the tools to make more acceptable choices?”


All the Bright Places ★★★★☆ (Niven, 2015, Young Adult)

51MnHH84OPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Mixed feelings on this one. Niven portrays teens and their relationships perfectly and is not afraid to tackle issues of mental illness and suicide. I don’t need for every book to have a happy ending, but this one left me feeling unsatisfied with the treatment of one of the characters who struggled. Still, the book provides an unusual plot line and is beautifully written, so I was swept in and thoroughly enjoyed it.

“The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”


The Underground Railroad ★★★★★ (Whitehead, 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner, Fiction)

61pQeNijzJL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_This book has been on my list since it won the Pulitzer, so I was thrilled when it was chosen as the Talks with Teachers Book Club choice for June. First, this book is not for the weak of heart. Whitehead graphically details the treatment of slaves during the 1800s, and I had to put the book down a couple of times to give myself an emotional break before continuing. Second, the amount of research that went into this book is amazing; Whitehead definitely treats the subject as an academic pursuit yet tells the story narratively. Third, this book is about race but it’s about so much more – it’s about the will to survive, the cost of helping others survive, and an ugly part of American history. This book gets my highest recommendation.

“The world may be mean, but people don’t have to be, not if they refuse.”

Gods in Alabama ★★★☆☆  (Jackson, 2005, Fiction)

51TWDPTRT4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I picked this up at Goodwill a while ago just because of the title, and it’s been on my shelf waiting for the perfect time to read. The perfect time happened to be after this year’s AP reading because I needed something mindless yes entertaining, and this book delivered. This book won’t win any awards and can’t even be considered a book of literary merit but is a perfect poolside read for any southern gal.

“There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, and also Jesus.” Roll Tide! (This just seems like the appropriate thing to insert here). 


Homegoing ★★★★★★★★★★ (Gyasi, 2016, Fiction)

hgHomegoing may be the best book I have read in the past five years. My local book club (noted: I have a book club problem and this particular meeting ended with the cops at my house but that’s another post) read this book for June, and we all loved it. Gyasi traces the bloodlines of two half-sisters through several generations causing the book to read more like a collection of short stories as opposed to a novel. The stories are captivating and offer well-researched glimpses into different time periods, but what makes this book so amazing is the writing. Gyasi has a way of putting words together that makes this book a work of art. If you only choose one book from this list to read, Homegoing should be the book.

“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

In Order to Live ★★★★☆ (Park, 2015, Memoir)

51IqtHu+BtL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_This is a work-related read as this book is in the approval process for AP Lang. Park tells the story of escaping living in North Korea and escaping through China and eventually to South Korea where she becomes free. Her story is heartbreaking yet inspiring. The writing style definitely reflects an ELL (English Language Learner) which after Homegoing left a little to be desired. I am excited, however, to add this to our curriculum.

“It amazed me how quickly a lie loses its power in the face of truth.”

Black Movie ★★★★☆ (Smith, 2015, Poetry)

51-JIaE-3EL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_My poetry goddess friend Melissa Smith gave me this book, so I knew it would be good. Smith explores racism through a cinematic lens making the poems seem almost experimental to me. I need to reread this collection because I know there’s far more to glean from them. I loved the creativity and passion Smith brings to both the topic and poetry.

“alternate names for black boys” – Danez Smith


Additional Reading:

I read the New Testament during Lent (finished in April which is why it’s included here)s. I am currently copying books of the New Testament allowing me to really focus in on small parts of it at one time with great attention to detail. I also read New Morning Mercies (Tripp) each day.

Oh – and I read 1,450 essays on Peregrine Pickle at the AP reading.


I read far more nonfiction than I normally read and am unsure as to why. I’m sure it will balance out over the year. Also, only one work on this list is pre-20th century which is unusual for me; I would like to add more classics to my list during the second half of the year.

Additionally, I think I am reading too much and not writing enough. Some of this may be due to the months of April and June both included in the post so my spring break and summer reading are included here. In the second half of the year, I hope to read less and write more. Reading seems like far less work than writing to me. 

We’re half way through the year, so it’s a great time for you to evaluate your reading habits. Are you meeting your reading goals? If not, why? Too ambitious or not disciplined enough? What author/genre/series are you stuck on? And now my favorite questions –

What are you reading and what should I add to my reading list? 

Other reading posts:

Winter, 2017

2016 Reading

3 responses to “An English Teacher’s Reading Life: Spring, 2017

  1. I enjoyed this glimpse into your reading life, Susan. I took a 2.5 month blogging break for the same reasons you did–exhaustion. For the same reason, I scheduled as little PD as possible and am only attending those I am required to as an adjunct college instructor.

    I concur w/ your assessment of “Homegoing,” although I have not yet finished the book. I am also reading lots of nonfiction. I need to model your post and write blurbs about my reading since I haven’t written many reviews.

    I also love “Counting Descent” and gave it as a prize to one of my AP students this past year. Then I bought another copy. I had not considered assigning the entire book, but now I’m thinking about it.

    I like teaching “A Doll’s House” at the beginning of the year as it’s easy to read but deep in its ideas. We do a readers theater production, and the kids really like that. It serves as a good community building assignment.

    • I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who takes time off! And I love the idea of reading “A Doll’s House” as a readers theater! I may incorporate that into my plans this fall.

      Happy summer!

  2. Pingback: My Literary Year – 2018 | Teach with Class·

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