An English Teacher’s Reading Life: June to December 2019


I did a terrible job posting to my personal blog this year, so here’s my reading from June until today. Here’s a link to what I read from January through May. I plan to do better on updating my reading on my blog next year, but I am regular with my GoodReads account.


The Pacific Alone: The Untold Story of Kayaking's Boldest Voyage Pacific Alone: The Untold Story of Kayaking’s Boldest Voyage ★★★★★ Dave Shively, Non-Fiction, 2018

Ed Gillet is a friend of mine, and I was so excited to read this account of his kayak trip from California to Hawaii. First, I have to say that Ed is one of the most fascinating people I know. I love the way that he lives life to the fullest and much like the book charts his own course as opposed to letting the waves carry him where they may. This story is one of pushing yourself to physical and emotional limits and moving forward out of sheer will. If you love adventure, mind over matter, or stories of man vs. nature, this is for you. (FYI – Ed and his wife have sold 90% of their possessions and are sailing around the world. I love this but know your students miss you!)

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Dryer’s English: An Utteraly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style ★★★★★ Benjamin Dreyer, Non-Fiction, 2019

When NPR categorizes a book as comedy and nonfiction AND it’s a style guide, count me in. Actually, if I were ever to write a book, it would be a writing book or style guide (or satiric Southern essays since I have plenty of material for that). Dryer has practical and sage advice for writers, and he’s HILARIOUS. And I agree with him which makes his guide correct. English majors, writers, and grammar nerds who are looking for a style guide, look no more.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again ★★★★★ Rachel Held Evans, Non-Fiction (Faith-based), 2018, Book

YES, YES, YES to everything about this book. It’s not secret that Rachel Evans thinking and writing has affirmed the direction my faith journey as taken, and this book continues to clarify my thinking. Growing up Southern Baptist and being a pastor’s wife until recently in a conservative area left little room for me to publicly explore my questions and more progressive ideas concerning faith, but books like this show me I am not alone in my thinking. I am a person of faith but refuse to be boxed into narrow beliefs. While I don’t agree with all of RHE’s beliefs, I love the space and freedom to question and think for myself on issues. Someday I will share my faith story but until then I will continue to read and be encouraged by books like this. Sadly, RHE passed away last month; the world was truly a better place because of her.

The NamesakeThe Namesake ★★★★☆ Jumpa Lahiri, Fiction, 2003, Book

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”

“You are still young, free.. Do yourself a favor. Before it’s too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late.”
I really loved this story but gave it four stars because it felt slow at times and I also wished the protagonist would have embraced more of his heritage at the end. I did enjoy reading about his struggle to find himself, and this book will be added to my AP reading list.
Tell Me Three Things
Tell Me Three Things ★★★★☆ Julie Buxbaum, Young Adult, 2016, Kindle
I kept seeing this title show up on TBR lists and decided to start it before a long flight when I was in the middle of a book that I couldn’t connect with. I’m glad I did. This novel features teenagers struggling through difficult life issues, maturing both emotionally and physically, and navigating the world of high school. While this book has the classic YA feel to it, the characters kept pushing me forward to the end, and I can see my students in them. (This book also features a cool English teacher so props on that choice). If you’re a YA fan, consider this the perfect summer (or anytime) read.

Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, Midnight ★★★☆☆ Lily Brooks-Dalton, Fiction (Post-Apocalyptic), 2016, Kindle

After hearing this book was a cross between The Martian and Station Eleven, I had high hopes for this book – HIGH hopes. I am all about some good post-apocalyptic fiction – that and dystopian are my genres. For whatever reason, though, this book was a slow start for me, and I didn’t buy in until the end. This book is a beautiful character study, but I need more action to satisfy my likes. I gave this three stars, but it’s really 3.5 (I just couldn’t round up to a 4). Don’t let my review sway you from trying if you find the description enticing.


The Only Girl in the World

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir ★★★★☆ Maude Julien, Memoir, 2014, Audible

I never cease to be amazed at the triumph of the human spirit, and this book is a testimony to a strong girl who rose above an unthinkable childhood. This book fits into the category of Educated and The Glass Castle even though more horrific, and while not an easy read due to the trauma inflicted on Maude, it’s an amazing story. I would probably give this a 4.5 but always round up, and Maude Julien deserves five stars.This has been on my list for a while, and after a student recommended it at the end of the year (and wrote on it for the AP exam), I moved it up on my list. This book was ehhh – I couldn’t get into the characters nor the plot, and while I didn’t dislike it enough to give up on it, it didn’t capture my attention the way I like to be held by books.

A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres ★★★★★ Jane Smiley, Fiction (Contemporary), 2003, Book

(4.5 but not half star option) – I loved this retelling of King Lear which is basically a character study of three sisters and their father. The plot and all other characters are woven together through these four primary characters and the tangled web of their relationships becomes deeper and darker as the novel progresses. Smiley is a master of figurative language; this book is worth reading just for that. This book did not disappoint.



The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life

The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice — How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life ★★★★☆ Michael Yankoski, Non-Fiction (Faith-based), 2014, Kindle

I love the way Yankoski divides his book into Depth with Self, Depth with God, and Depth with Others and explores the spiritual practices within each category. Pulling from ancient and liturgical practices, Yankoski ponders the how faith is not only meant to be lived out but experienced. The four page reading list at the end is an amazing resource!!

Haiti Glass


Haiti Glass ★★★★★ Lenelle Moise, Poetry, 2014, Book

This is a beautifully written book which contains verse and prose, good and bad, feeling and fact. If you’re looking for an entry to poetry, this is a good place to start.




Workshopping the Canon by Mary E. StyslingerWorkshopping the Canon ★★★★☆ Mary Styslinger, Non-Fiction (Education), 2017

This book is very practical with tons of ideas about how to bring canonical works into today’s society. The chapters are broken down by topics such as read alouds, assessment, writing, discussion, etc. so finding information and activities is really easy. Styslinger does a great job of balancing research, theory, and pedagogy with classroom reality. I already operate in a reading workshop mindset so this doesn’t change what I do drastically, but I do have several pages bookmarked for ideas and activities. If you’re unfamiliar with the workshop model, I highly recommend this book.


The NestThe Nest  ★★★★☆ Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, Fiction (Contemporary), 2016, Book

This has been on my list for a while, and after a student recommended it at the end of the year (and wrote on it for the AP exam), I moved it up on my list. This book was ehhh – I couldn’t get into the characters nor the plot, and while I didn’t dislike it enough to give up on it, it didn’t capture my attention the way I like to be held by books.




Far from the Tree

Far From the Tree ★★★★★ Robin Benway, Young Adult, 2017, Book

The older she got, the more human her parents seemed, and that was one of the scariest things in the world. She missed being little, when they were the all-knowing gods of her world, but at the same time, seeing them as human made it easier to see herself that way, too.”

This was my favorite YA novel of the year. The characters are believable, the plot is plausible, and the storytelling feels easy and not forced. This will be one of those books that I will recommend frequently.




Othello (Folger edition) ★★★★★ William Shakespeare, Drama, 1603, Book

So I had never read Othello before attending the Folger Shakespeare Institute this summer. Can you believe it? I LOVE this play and can’t wait to teach it in 2020. All of the makings of a great tragedy!





The Tradition


The Tradition ★★★★★ Jericho Brown, Poetry, 2019, Book

Shout out to a local poet! This book of poems matches the cover and is just simply beautiful! I especially enjoyed The Tradition, Water Lilies, Hero, Deliverance, Dear Whiteness, and The Crossing.






We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle ★★★★★ Shirley Jackson, Fiction (Gothic), 1962, Kindle

Creepy. Dark. Gothic. Shirley Jackson. Need I say more? This short book is wrong in all of the right ways! (And the Netflix movie is pretty darn good also).






This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is ★★★★☆ Laurie Frankel, Young Adult, 2017, Audible


This book about a transgender child is told through the mother’s point of view and effectively portrays the conflicting feelings of supporting your child even though the path they are choosing is one that will be difficult. I have never considered how difficult a parent’s struggle would be. Sweet story.

The Nickel Boys


The Nickel Boys ★★★★★ Colson Whitehead, Fiction (Historical), 2019, Book

 “It was not enough to survive, you have to live . . .”

Hard but necessary read – this is the best fiction I have read in 2019. 



Rush: A Novel ★★★★☆ Lisa Patton, Fiction (Southern Lit), 2018, Kindle

I have purposely been saving this book for the beginning of August for two reasons: 1 – I need something “light” to read and the beginning of school, and 2 – my daughter (a college sophomore) is particiating in rush at as SEC school starting today. This book totally surprised me. It’s much like The Help set on sorority row. And while some of the characters were stereotypical, I loved this story about how hard but necessary change is in the South, and old sorority row has its lines clearly drawn. If you’re a Southern lit lover, an SEC person, and/or a Greek (which I am not), you’ll enjoy this book.

When I Walk Through That Door, I Am: An Immigrant Mother's Quest

When I Walk Through That Door, I Am: An Immigrant Mother’s Quest ★★★★★ Jimmy Santiago Baca, Poetry, 2019, Book

This heart-wrenching narrative poem details an immigrant mother’s struggle to survive. The harshness of her circumstances are contrasted with the beautiful writing forcing readers to think of immigration as a personal issue rather than a political one.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead


Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead ★★★★★ Brene Brown, Non-Fiction, 2012, Book

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Basically if Brene Brown wrote the phone book (does anyone even know what this is anymore?), I would be inspired by it. This book is full of logic and common sense – two things desperately missing in today’s world – when it comes to right living and right thinking. If you are going to read one personal growth book this year, this is the book!




Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life


Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life ★★★★★ Makoto Fujimura, Non-Fiction (Faith-basedish), 2014, Kindle

“I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. i want Christ to be my whole being. Vincent van Gogh was not a Christ artist either, but in Christ he painted the heaven declaring the glory of God. Emily Dickinson was not a Christian poet, and yet through her honest wrestling, given wings in words, her works – like Vincent’s, like Harper Lee’s, like Mahalia Jacksons’ – speak to all the world as integrated visions of beauty again injustice. It is time for followers of Christ to let Christ be the noun in our lives, to let our whole being ooze out like a painter’s colors with the splendor and the mystery of Christ, the inexhaustible beauty that draws people in. It is time to follow the Spirit into the margins and outside the doors of the church.”

I’ve been reading this book slowly throughout the year after my nephew (thanks, Hudson) recommended it. The basic premise is that people of faith have often viewed culture as territory to be won or conquered. Fujimura, however, proposes that culture is not a war but rather a garden to be tended and cared for. The first half of this book is more philosophical while the second half is more practical. Lots of depth!


The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart


The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart ★★★★★ M. Glenn Taylor, Fiction, 2013, Kindle

This my kind of book – local color (Appalachian, West Virginia), character driven, spans a lifetime, and a captivating story. Highly recommend for if you want to lose yourself in another person’s life for a few days. Love, love, love!



Queenie  ★★★☆☆ Candice Carty-Williams, Fiction (Contemporary), 2019, Audible

Just not the book for me . . . . way too much reckless sex which I get is part of her character and search for meaning but just not for me.






Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter


Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter ★★★☆☆ Tom Franklin, Fiction (Southern Lit), 2009, Kindle

This is a murder mystery set in Mississippi, and while I loved the local color, I wasn’t crazy about the plot. The characters were somewhat stereotypical as was the region. Still, a good mystery that doesn’t require too much effort.






But What If We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past“But What If We’re Wrong” ★★★★☆ Chuck Klosterman, Nonfiction, 2016, Book (Student Recommendation)

“We must start from the premise that—in all likelihood—we are already wrong. And not ‘wrong’ in the sense that we are examining questions and coming to incorrect conclusions, because most of our conclusions are reasoned and coherent. The problem is with the questions themselves.”

Enjoyed entertaining the thought of thinking about the present through the lens of the future – especially the section on books and how the canon is changing. My interested began to wane the during second half but overall still enjoyed!




The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way ★★★★★ Amanda Ripley, Non-Fiction, 2013, Book

“Most Korean parents saw themselves as coaches, while American parents tended to act more like cheerleaders.” 

Not surprising, but the main difference in countries who students do well – teachers. The quality of teachers matter more than almost any other factor. Yet, the US continues to spend large amounts of money on programs that in no way benefit teachers. Teacher training programs and professional development in the US are nowhere close to where they need to be to make an impact on teachers and students in the classroom. If you’re an educator, this is worth your reading time.

Dare to Lead


Dare to Lead ★★★★★ Brene Brown, Non-Fiction, 2018, Book

“I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”
“At the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of my life, I want to say I contributed more than I criticized.”

Everyone who is a leader – whether by position or by natural gifting – should read this book. We need more logical leadership in our country, in our schools, and in our homes. Brene Brown offers so much wisdom and practical living advice here, and I learned and applied so much as I slowly read and digested this over the past few months. Highly recommend!

The Road to CharacterThe Road to Character ★★★★☆ David Brooks, Non-Fiction, 2015, Audible

““You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.”

It’s no secret that I’m a big David Brooks fan. This is a collection of great stories about people who display unbelievable character -some of the stories are a little too lengthy which is my only criticism.

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide


White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide ★★★★★ Carol Anderson, Non-Fiction, 2016, Book

“Full voting rights for American citizens, funding and additional resources for quality schools, and policing and court systems in which racial bias is not sanctioned by law—all these are well within our grasp. Visionaries, activists, judges, and politicians before us saw what America could be and fought hard for that kind of nation. This is the moment now when all of us—black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian American—must step out of the shadow of white rage, deny its power, understand its unseemly goals, and refuse to be seduced by its buzzwords, dog whistles, and sophistry. This is when we choose a different future.”

The depth of research in this book helps frame today’s reality. I spent a long time on this book slowly making my way through trying to digest it slowly. It’s a must read if you’re trying to understand racism in America.


White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism


White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism ★★★★★ Robin DiAngelo, Non-Fiction, 2018, Book

Highly recommend! This book has reframed my thinking about racism and biases and has given me so much to think about in my personal life as well as society as a whole. First and foremost, I need to be far less defensive when confronted with personal biases and welcome discomfort – instead of avoiding it – in order to grow. 

Normal People


Normal People ★★★★☆ Sally Rooney, Fiction, 2019, Kindle

Hailed as a true millennial novel, this novel has such an interesting narrative perspective. I equate it somewhat to 500 Days of Summer (if you’ve ever seen that movie). This book started slow for me with too much sex for no reason, and I thought I would give it three stars. The characters did seem real to life, and I liked where they landed which bumped this a little higher. If you’re younger (which I’m not), you probably will love this.

The Testaments


The Testaments ★★★★★  Margaret Atwood, Fiction (Dystopian), 2019, Book

I‘m generally pretty tough on sequels but this book far surpassed all of my expectations and left me fully satisfied. I would go as far to say this is Atwood at her best.


Ordinary Grace ★★★★★ William Ken Krueger, Fiction (Mystery, Coming of Age), 2013, AudibleOrdinary Grace


I’ve been listening to this for the last month while I worked out and really enjoyed it. This book is a great character study in biases and difficult life circumstances. The young narrator takes the reader on a heartbreaking yet hopeful coming of age story.

Beyond Blood: Hope and Humanity in the Forgotten Fight Against AIDS

Beyond Blood ★★★★★  Duncan Kamau, Justin Miller, Cornel Nyaywera, Non-Fiction, 2019, Book

 “Through it all, their hearts were bigger than their fear.”

I love this story of how two men from opposing tribes in Kenya and an undergraduate American college student lives are woven together to bring hope to those living with AIDS. My husband has worked part-time for this non-profit for a couple of years now, and I have witnessed their integrity and compassion first-hand. This book was a good reminder to me as I’m setting goals for next year about how important it is to let God orchestrate my life.

Deaf Republic


Def Republic ★★★★☆ Ilya Kaminsky, Poetry, 2011

“The deaf don’t believe in silence. Silence is the invention of the hearing.”

Beautifully told sad story through verse

The Light of the World: A Memoir

The Light of the World ★★★★☆ Elizabeth Alexander, Memoir, 2015, Audible, Pulitzer Prize finalist

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

This was my final audiobook of the year. What a testament to love, marriage, sudden loss, and grief. There’s always a way forward and Elizabeth Alexander reminds us of that.

With the Fire on High


With the Fire on High ★★★★★ Elizabeth Acevedo, Young Adult, 2019, Book

I loved this story of a teen mom navigating her way through high school and beyond. Acevedo breaks down stereotypes and gives teens (and adults) a story offering dreams, reality, and hope. Beautiful cover!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links to books. This basically allows me to make a little money so I can buy more books and give more recommendations. Thanks for clicking through and buying!

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