summer reading

Once in a great while, a teacher gets to read something for herself. And that once in a while generally occurs in the summer. You guys, it’s important for a teacher of reading to also be a reader herself but it’s also hard. I try to at least do the independent reading assignment I give to my students myself as well and write them a letter about the book I read the way I make them write me a letter about the book they read. I also usually mean to post about it online…but sometimes I don’t. The way my students react when I do though (like the time I told them I was crying in the car dealership while I was having my oil changed because of the first thirty pages of And The Mountains Echoed and at least ten of them put it on their “want-to-read” list in GoodReads) proves to me that they really do want to know who I am as a reader too. So I try to use summer to catch up.

I was going to write this piece really artfully and make it sound like a recipe, but I kind of have too much to say about each book and I kind of don’t have much of a creative writer in me today. So, it’s more of an ingredient list. Here you go!

1. A Sort-of Trashy Book: I don’t actually have any idea if this book is going to be trashy and indulgent or not, but I do expect Judy Blume to be a lighter, beachier read than my usual fare. Disclaimer: I did read her other adult book, Summer Sisters long ago, and it WAS trashy. I’ve had In the Unlikely Event on my list for a while now and just haven’t gotten around to reading it. I suppose this is a little nostalgic for me – one of my favorite childhood authors writing an adult book. I guess maybe this is how Harry Potter fans (well, people who were kids when Harry Potter first came out twenty years ago) felt when J. K. Rowling started writing some adult books.

2. An Author I’ve Always Wanted To Try: This is how On Beauty got on my list. I’ve heard so many amazing things about Zadie Smith and I’m pretty ashamed to say I haven’t ever read any of her books. Maybe this isn’t her most famous or her best, but it is the one I found at a thrift shop for twenty-five cents, so here goes!

3. A Book Club Book (at least one): It might be true that our book club does more catching up on each other’s lives and drinking than we do discussing great literature, but we at least pick a book every time and I at least check it out from the library. A House in the Sky is a memoir of a traveler-turned-freelance-photographer’s experience of being kidnapped. I’m about halfway through it as we speak, and it is definitely interesting so far. I often find memoirs of extraordinary experiences to be a little too much for me. The authors are so entrenched in their memories that they can’t seem to see the big picture, and that’s also sort of true here. This lady doesn’t even feel bad that she roped her lover-turned-friend-turned-colleague into a war zone that resulted in their capture, which is the start of my annoyance with her. However, it is a captivating read that I think I’ll recommend to some of my students next year.

4. A Parenting Book: After some tough relational-aggression issues over the last few years with Tess, and occasionally Elsa, in school, I ordered a copy of Little Girls Can Be Mean. So far it’s been pretty transformative in terms of the way I see the situations they come home talking about (namely – you can’t shelter your kid from bullying/aggression, so you have to teach them to deal with it) and I’m asking Joe to read it too. If you are a parent or a teacher, you definitely should read this book. P.S.: Boys experience relational aggression too. I’ve watched it happen with my students, so I think it’s a bit of a miss that the authors talk exclusively about girls in this book.

5. A Book For School: In an effort to further align the experiences of students in standard and AP classes, the other Senior English Teacher and I are considering our curriculum maps each year to think about how we can do this and still meet the needs of all of our students. There hasn’t been Shakespeare in Senior Year across the board…ever…at my school, and WHOOPS…the standards said there should be. After months of tossing titles across the lunch table at each other and rejecting many, we landed on King Lear. Lots of scandal and excitement, plus tons of other interpretations that students can analyze, another standard we’re not as strong at as we should be.

6. Non-Fiction I Really Should Read: I am a reluctant non-fiction reader. I really am. Unless it’s about gardening or food or education, I just struggle to get into it. I’m also a reluctant mathematician, which is tough when you’re married to a math teacher. Joe has tried to get me to stop saying things like “I’m just bad at math” or “Reading is better than math” even though I’m joking because of the impact those phrases will have on our kids (which they will, he’s totally right), so this summer’s non-fiction pick is Hidden Figures. I think the social justice fighting-for-what’s-theirs aspect of this book will make the math and the non-fiction more palatable. These women really were incredible, so it’s time I finally read this book.

7. A Book Everyone But Me Has Read: Maybe not. But sometimes it seems that way. I finally read The Martian this year and loved it, so I’m adding another book I bought at the same time to this list (obviously because the movies came out in the same year, no shame there): The Revenant. We’ll see how it goes!!!!

8. One of Joe’s Books: If you take a look at our bookshelves, you will immediately notice that Joe and I have REALLY different taste in books. Michael Chabon is one of his favorite authors (and also a Pulitzer Prize winner, which makes him literary for me), so I picked the skinniest Michael Chabon title on the shelf (most of his books are super long, and summer is short) so I can give him a try. I guess it’s some kind of book about a parrot who knows all these spy codes from World War II…definitely out of my comfort zone.

9. The Current Pulitzer Prize Winner: I’m not going to lie. I put this one on my list every summer and sometimes I really HATE the book that won the prize that year. For example: I still have not finished 2016’s prize winner The Sympathizer (it’s just convoluted and hard to get through) and I could not understand why 2011’s A Visit From the Goon Squad even was nominated. Anyway, I just teach high school English so I’m sure the Pulitzer Prize selection committee does not give a hoot about what I think. They do, however, pick some titles that are LIFE-CHANGING for me: Beloved, All The Light We Cannot See, The Goldfinch, The Underground Railroad, The Road, Olive Kitteridge, and March to name a few. This year’s winner is Less by Andrew Sean Greer, which is about “A generous book, musical in its prose and expansive in its structure and range, about growing older and the essential nature of love” according to the Pulitzer Prize website. I can’t wait to see if I agree with this year’s decision!!!

10. A Book I Never Would Have Picked Up Myself: Thanks to my afore-mentioned teaching partner, I’m reading Fool by Christopher Moore this summer. He told me that this is the story of King Lear told from the jester’s point of view. I do love a reimagined Shakespeare – several years ago I gobbled up A Thousand Acres which was also a reimagined King Lear. We traded titles this summer so we could hunt for excerpts that could be analyzed in conjunction with the original text. I am, however, somewhat concerned about using a book in class by an author who also wrote something entitled Bite Me. I guess we’ll see.

TO BE DETERMINED, BUT HAPPENS EVERY SUMMER…

11. A Young Adult Novel: I read less YA fiction now that I am teaching older kids, but my intervention class is always looking for new titles, and some of my faves are getting stale. On to something new! Maybe some of John Greene’s newer titles? A graphic novel? This The Hate U Give book everyone is talking about? Maybe all three and more! I can often read a YA book in just a couple of afternoons.

12. A Bookstore Impulse Buy: I try to avoid these places because of how they can whollop my budget in just thirty minutes, but every year I’m suckered in by one of those “staff picks” tables and how cute and appealing they are set up. Let’s hope this year I get out of there without a new tote bag as well.

13. A Teaching Book: I am so out of the loop here, and I feel poorly about it. After a while, all the teaching books start to sound the same. What recommendations do you have?

Well, that’s it for this summer! Probably not, but it’s a good start. What should I add to my list? Suggestions for my TBD titles? Anything I’m missing? Don’t tell me if you hated one of the books on this pile – I blogged about them, so now I’m committed!!!!