An English Teacher’s Reading Life: Winter/Spring 2019

 

Summer reading is definitely one of the things I most look forward to when I’m out of school. Poolside with a book in hand, cool breeze in the air (I can dream at least), and beverage in hand – ahhhh – sweet summertime. While this picture doesn’t include a couple of ebooks and devotional material, this is what I’ll be “working” through this summer, but summer reading is hardly work compared to grading essays. Disregard the fact that I’ll be scoring approximately 1,500 AP essays next week; that week is actually one of the most fun weeks of the year which speaks to my sanity. But I digress.

While getting my list of top twenty-five contemporary novels together for AP Lit students to choose from for their summer reading, I realized I have not shared my 2019 reading. My apologies. This whole teaching thing takes up a lot of time, but better late than never. My goal is always a book a week, and I’ve read 26 books this year and am on track. I also started keeping the number of pages I read because one of my friends does this, and I find that interesting. I’ve read a little over 7,000 pages; if you add essays, that’s probably 50,000+ . Not really, but it seems that way. So here’s what I’ve been reading . .

January 

Where the Crawdads Sing ★★★★★ (Owens, 2018, Contemporary fiction, Southern, 379 pages)

What a great way to start a new year of reading. I absolutely loved this book! Owens style is so lovely and natural pulling me immediately into the setting and the story. And while I’m not usually a mystery fan, this “mystery” was less plot driven and more of a mystery of human nature and character. Beautiful story, beautiful setting, amazing fiction debut by Owens!

 

There, There ★★★★★ (Orange, 2018, contemporary fiction, Native American, 292 pages)

Tommy Orange is an amazing storyteller weaving together stories of Native Americans across multiple cities and generations in a unique debut novel. This novel digs deep into the lives of Native Americans and how the past affects their present. The ending is sadly realistic. And the writing is simply beautiful.

 

The Obesity Factor ★★★★☆ (Fung, 2016, nonfiction, 308 pages)

So I’m not obese (yet) but daggonnit I cannot lose that last 10 lbs. (Hang on while I go grab a bag of chips). This was a free audible for me, and I honestly loved it. I gave it a four because it was so scientific, and you know me – not scientific. But I actually enjoyed the science behind losing weight. This book specifically speaks about fasting which is very interesting. Here’s to the last 10 lbs. being gone in 2019.

 

 

We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be ★★★★★ (Minor, 2018, nonfiction, 164 pages)

First – I LOVE Cornelius Minor. Second – this book is beautiful – why can’t all education books have artistic qualities as well as solid content? What I love about this book is that Minor doesn’t simply draw attention to equity issues but offers practical classroom solutions. For me this is where the breakdown occurs – there’s lots of talk about the problem and theoretical solutions but these solutions fail to offer practical steps of how this plays out in classrooms. This would be a perfect book for departments to read and discuss.

February

The Female Persuasion ★★★★★ (Wolitzer, 2018, contemporary fiction, 454 pages)

I LOVE this book so much and highly recommend. I listened to this as an Audiobook on my commute and was immediately pulled into Greer’s story which spintered into the stories of others. I have read reviews that some people don’t like how the book goes into other stories, but I personally like exploring how people’s lives fit together. The characters are real and plausable. I also enjoyed seeing how the different characters dealt with adversity – especially Cory – love him. And the cover – YES!

 

 

Light in August ★★★★☆ (Faulkner, 1932, fiction, Southern, 511 pages)

Ahhhh – Faulkner. I’m going to Oxford, MS later this month to visit Faulkner’s home, so I’m reading what I can before I go. Not gonna lie – 500+ pages of Faulkner makes me feel like an elite reader. I LOVE As I Lay Dying – one of my most favorite books to introduce students to. And I love “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning” but I still have a lot of Faulkner to read. Light in August was good – classic Faulker with stream of conciousness and multiple story lines – but I didn’t LOVE it. But I recognize its greatness.

 

American Gods   ★★★☆☆ (Gaiman, 2001, fantasy, 731 pages)

I know – I’m giving Neil Gaiman three stars. Do I dare disturbe the literary universe like this? This is my second Gaiman book, and I don’t know. They’re well-written for sure but just not my genre. I listentened to this book on my commute, and it took forever. The initial story drew me in, and then I just lost interest – too long, too detailed, too boring – but I was pulled back in at the end. If you are a Gaiman fan, don’t hate me.

 

Sold ★★★★★ (McCormick, 2010, nonfiction, young adult, 278 pages)

Since February is a focus month for End It Movement, I decided to read this book as a way of further educating myself about modern day slavery – specifically human trafficking and sex slavery. This is a story of a young girl from Nepal sold into slavery and forced into prostition. Her story is heartbreaking because I read this knowing that her fictional world is reality for so many today. This book will now make itself to my classroom library where I think students will like its short chapters written in verse.

 

March

The Nightengale ★★★★★ (Hannah, 2015, historical fiction, 293 pages)

I am late to this party, but this book, y’all! The realities of war balanced with the triumph of the human spirit to survive and love is perfect. Hannah gets better and better emerging as a leading storyteller in today’s society. I put this book off because I had read so many WWII books and just didn’t know how this story could be retold again and remain fresh; I was wrong to wait so long on reading it. This book – alone with her The Great Alone – gets my highest recommendation.

 

 

On the Come Up ★★★★★(Thomas, 2019, young adult, 464 pages)

It’s no secret that I’m an Angie Thomas fan, and this book definitely keeps me as a fangirl. The story of Bri and her struggle to find herself and be herself is one I see students struggling with daily. This book could have easily been set at my school which makes it relatable on so many levels. I can’t wait to add this to my classroom library and know this book will be a popular one.

 

The Fire Next Time ★★★★★ (Baldwin, 1963, nonfiction, 130 pages)

Honestly, I need to go back through this book slowly and really think thoroughly through the ideas laid out here. What he wrote about decades ago in terms of race relations sadly still holds true today. This book offers and honest and hopeful look at the life of African Americans and whites. So much to think on. I’m going to continue to read and think and push myself to work to make America a place for all to be equal and celebrated, and this book has helped me do this.


Children of the Blood and Bone ★★★★☆ (Adeyemi, 2018, young adult fantasy, 544)

For those who know me, it’s no surprise that this only receives four stars because fantasy is not my genre; I have no doubt that this would be a five if I could love fantasy like my smart friends. But this book is VERY good – even for the non-fantasy types. This was an Audible read for me, and I think listening to fantasy is a little easier for me than reading fantasy. Classic story of of good vs. evil with magic and supernatural elements. Zelie is a great female protaganist. Girl power!

Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five Pagaraph Essay and Other Necessities ★★★★☆ (Warner, 2018, nonfiction, 288 pages)

I agree with so much in this book but was really hoping for my solutions. Yes – we are doing our students a disservice on they way we teach writing. One of my biggest pet peeves in education is we assign writing but never teach it. So I totally agree with everything Warner says – I was just hoping for more solutions as opposed to a place to begin the conversation. In reality this is probaby a 3.5 star book, but since that is not an option on Goodreads, I always round up because I am going to want y’all to round up when I write my book. Having said that, I am ready to talk about this if anyone else is.

Less ★★★★☆ (Greer, 2017, contemporary fiction, LGBQT, Pulitzer Prize, 2018, 273 pages)

First – this is probably a 3.7 in actuality. Second – this was one of those books that was read over months which isn’t the way to read a book. The hubs and I started as an audible; he didn’t like it. I got the Kindle version a couple of months later to finish. Started that – started other books – didn’t give this my best reading effort. What I liked – the book was cleverly written and somewhat funny, but I basically found Less uninteresting. Like Eleanor Oliphant – people loved her and that book but I was ehhhh. I do, however, like sharing with my students in particular that I don’t care for every book that I read because they naturally assume I LOVE everything with words. But we all like different foods, different vacations, and different books. So congrats to Greer for winning the Pulitzer for this, and if you like quirky, introspective, character driven pieces, give Less a try.

The Secret History ★★★★★(Tartt, 2011, contemporary fiction, 524 pages)

I liked The Goldfinch; I LOVED The Secret History. Scandal, college kids, character-driven plot – this novel has all of the makings of the best stories. I listened to it on audile and think I would have liked the book even more. I was just lost in this story. This would make for perfect beach reading – it’s a page turner.

 

 

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg ★★★★★ (Carmon and Kzinhnik, 2015, biography, 240 pages)

I loved this book so much and read most of it in one sitting on a cross country flight. The book really captures the spirit of RGB and helped me recognize her role in equality for the sexes (both women AND men). Highly recommend regardless of political preferences.

 

 

April 

Let the Great World Spin ★★★★☆ (McCann, 2009, contemporary fiction, National Book Award, 351 pages)

The only thing I knew about this novel before reading it was it as a 9/11 novel, but not at all like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. McCann’s weaving of stories together of people from all walks of life in New York City and using a tightrope walker’s quest to bind them is truly genius. This book is beautifully written, sadly honest, and thoughtprovoking.

 

 

Rust Belt Love Song ★★★★★ (Neville, 2019, poetry, 32 pages)

WOW – what an amazing debut collection of poetry from Megan Neville. I am acquainted with her through professional circles and had a feeling her collection would be good, but it was so much better than good! Such an interesting collection blending the old with the new and amazingly well written. This collection is a true tribute to home. 

 

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row ★★★★★ (Hinton, 2017, nonfiction, 273 pages)

This book, like Just Mercy, made me sad and angry about the injustices that happen in the court system and inparticular my home state of Alabama. But the triumph of Anthony Ray Hinton’s spirit is what drives this book. This book is different than Just Mercy in that it is less legal talk and more narrative about life on death row. Citizens need to know more about what goes on in our prisons, and this book is an excellent way to be educated on that. Once you pick it up, you will not be able to put it down. “We need to understand the dangers posed by the politics of fear and anger that create systems like our capital punishment system and the political dynamics that have made some courts and officials act so irresponsibly. We also need to learn about human dignity, about human worth and value. We need to think about the fact that we are all more than the worst thing we have done.”

Good Bones ★★★★★ (Smith, 2017, poetry, 117 pages)

She had me at “Good Bones” but this collection as a whole touches my heart in only a way that another mother can. I have taught “Good Bones” for a couple of years and am happy to add this collection to my classroom library. If you are a non-poetry person, this is a beautiful book to dip yours toes in and see how the water feels. Beautifully written and all the feels!

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night ★★★★★ (Haddon, 2004, young adult, 240 pages)

Probably a 4.5 but Goodreads doesn’t allow that option. I really loved this book probably for a couple of reasons. 1 – it put me inside the mind of an autistic kid and really helps me know what their thought life is like. While I had empathy before, I now have empathy with more understanding. 2 – I was home sick today and even with several naps throughout the day I was able to read this book in a day, so the story was always fresh. This book had several elements that make a book a winner for me – unexpected twists and turns, short chapters, young adult genre – if it had only been set in Alabama . . . . . This has set on my classroom library shelves for a long time, and I’m glad today was the day to add it to the read list. Classic YA book.

May

The Leavers ★★★★★ (Ko, 2017, contemporary fiction, National Book Award finalist, 352 pages)

Loved everything about this book – especially the author’s ability to explore adoption and parenting through characters who each have a story to tell. There’s no “right” side but rather a mix of adults doing their best and a kid trying to figure out how to find his place in the world.

 

Circe   ★★★★★(Miller, 2018, ancient historical fiction, 353 pages)

Let me begin by saying I’m one of those weird English teachers who doesn’t love mythology; however, Cicre is such an amazing narrative that one does not have to be fully up on the Greek and Roman gods to fully appreciate this book. I bonded instantly with the characters and was pulled into another world where gods and goddesses weilded powers and weapons yet feel emotions and conflicts like mortals. This is an AMAZING book, and if you are one of the “mythology” people, move this to the top of your list today.

The Orphan Master’s Son ★★★★☆ (Johnson, 2012, contemporary fiction, Pulitzer Prize 2013, 443 pages)

This is one of those books that the more I step away after finishing it, the more I think I enjoyed it. Reading it felt tedious as points, but this may have to do more with it being the end of the school year than the book. This story is told in two sections – an early life of the main character followed by a section constructing the later part of his life through interrogation. The reality of living in North Korea directly contrast love, relationships, and sacrifice. This book is truly a work of art from the narrative style to the character development, and I can totally see why it won the Pulitzer.

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe ★★★★☆ (Saenz, 2012, young adult, LGBQT, 368 pages)

So many young adult novels explore the friendships of young women, but this book is a coming-of-age story about two boys who are struggling to figure out who they are. I love the realness of these characters and the awkwardness of their relationship because this is real teenage life.

 

 

Portrait of an Alcoholic ★★★★☆(Akbar, 2017, poetry, 48 pages)

If you’re looking for real feelings, real questions, real expression, this is your collection. Akbar asks the questions and expresses the feelings that others are afraid to voice aloud. I love the unknown places of the soul he explores and the questions this exploration raises. Thank you, Akbar, for putting voice to our thoughts.

 

 

Most importantly, what are you reading this summer? What should I add to my list? And if you need recommendations, feel free to ask, and I’ll be glad to help. Happy reading!

Are you on GoodReads? If so, I’d love to conntect. Here’s my profile which I update regularly.

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One response to “An English Teacher’s Reading Life: Winter/Spring 2019

  1. Hi! My I am an 8th grade ELAR teacher that is being challenged by my administrator on utilizing 15 min. Of class time for student-choice self sustained reading on the premise that “15 min.of missed instruction every day is something we can’t afford” Following Donalyn Miller’s Book Whisperer and others’ philosophies I have become passionate about this model for the ELAR classroom. My new admin does not have a background in ELAR (and neither does C&I) . Any advice , pointers, or encouragements as to how and what present or defend this model? I’ve listed much research and have been to many Professional Development sessions on the matter and feel that I have enough materials but am more worried about the execution. Thanks!
    Kera Diller
    Fort Worth, TX ( we’re not Common Core but VERY close)

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