An English Teacher’s Reading Life: February 2020

Leap year!! That means an extra day of reading in 2020. February was a good reading month primarily because I had a few work trips which gave me some extra travel time for audible. February offered a lot of variety and just good all-around reading.

Nothing to See Here ★★★★★ Wilson, Contemporary Fiction,  2019, 272 pages

“I started to care less about the future. I cared more about making the present tolerable.”

I listened to this book (a short 6.5 hour book) in less than a week. The story had me from the beginning, and I just couldn’t stop. I love Madison, how she found love, and the political angle is especially interesting in today’s culture. It’s a quick, fun read with believable characters (even the kids catching on fire become believable). Perfect beach or summer read.

The Water Dancer ★★★★ Coates, Historical Fiction, 2019, 403 pages

“They knew our names and they knew our parents. But they did not know us, because not knowing was essential to their power. To sell a child right from under his mother, you must know that mother only in the thinnest way possible. To strip a man down, condemn him to be beaten, flayed alive, then anointed with salt water, you cannot feel him the way you feel your own. You cannot see yourself in him, lest your hand be stayed, and your hand must never be stayed, because the moment it is, the Tasked will see that you see them, and thus see yourself. In that moment of profound understanding, you are all done, because you cannot rule as is needed. You can no longer ensure that the tobacco hillocks are raised.”

I listened to this book on Audible and had trouble following part one. I’m sure this would have been different if I were reading the book and could go back for clarification at times- but this sense of feeling lost at times during Part 1 is the reason for the 4 stars. The second half moves faster and was much clearer for me. It’s a story that needs to be told and read.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know ★★★★ Gladwell, Non-Fiction, 2019, 388 pages

“To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society. Those occasions when our trusting nature gets violated are tragic. But the alternative – to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception – is worse.”

Great book which forces us to rethink how we interact with others. I think this would be very valuable for people who do job interviews regularly or come in contact with strangers in their daily jobs on a regular basis. Gladwell does what he does best – take the obvious and flip it leaving the reader to go “hmmmmmmmm . . . “

I listened to this on Audible where he reads it. I recommend this version.

Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People ★★★★ Goff, Non-Fiction, Faith-based 2018, 278 pages 

“Jesus talked to His friends a lot about how we should identify ourselves. He said it wouldn’t be what we said we believed or all the good we hoped to do someday. Nope, He said we would identify ourselves simply by how we loved people. It’s tempting to think there is more to it, but there’s not. Love isn’t something we fall into; love is someone we become.”

The mark of being a disciple of Jesus is love (John 13:35) – not works, the opinions we hold, high moral character, the things we value – but love. But the reason the Christian community gets it wrong so often is it’s easier to focus on the aforementioned things is loving others is hard. I’ve heard most of these stories by Goff before, but they’re worth hearing again and again and resetting our minds and hearts to love.

What We See When We Read ★★★★★ Mendelsund, NonFiction, 2014, 423 pages

“If books were roads, some would be made for driving quickly – details are scant, and what details there are appear drab – but the velocity and torque of the narrative is exhilarating. Some books, if seen as roads, would be make for walking – the trajectory of the road mattering far less than the vistas these roads might afford. The best book for me: I drive through it quickly but am forced to stop on occasion, to pull over and marvel.”

I really, really enjoyed this book for several reasons. First – I’m a reader and always have been. When I try to talk to people about reading, some people nod their heads and are with me in conversation but for others, reading is more work. This book helped me think about the act of reading and what’s happening (or not happening) when we read. Second, there’s so much of this book I can take to my classroom for mini-lessons or use this language for explanation. It’s very practical from a teaching perspective. Finally, I just loved the experimental nature of the book – extremely image driven and as a visual learner, I love the way the images drove my thinking.

Girl in Translation ★★★★ Kwok, Fiction, 2010, 290 pages, ALA Alex Award Winner, multiple award nominations

“Sometimes our fate is different from the one we imagined for ourselves.”

I loved this story about a young girl and her mother who are immigrants from Hong Kong to the United States. This book follows Kimberly Chang as she grows up in NYC. She has a brilliant mind but navigates public school knowing little English but excels and moves on up through the education system. She and her mother work in a clothing sweatshop (Kimberly after school each day) and live in a roach and rat infested apartment with no heat in NYC for over a decade. They see the Statue of Liberty for the first time after living in the city for years as they cling to the dream. Highly recommend this book!

Oryx and Crake  ★★★★ Atwood, Dystopian Fiction, 2004, 389 pages

“We understand more than we know.”

I liked this book but didn’t love it. My score is 3.5 stars, but since Goodreads doesn’t do half stars, this rounds up to a 4. Shifting between the present and past don’t usually both me, dystopian is my genre of choice, so I’m not sure what didn’t line up with this for me. Maybe it was because I just read The Testaments and LOVED it. Maybe it’s because it’s February – the eternal month of school. I just found the story line dull.

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