Category Archives: Favorites

Lucy of Green Gables

I had a lovely book-loving mother moment Tuesday after the girls’ softball practice. Lucy had gotten a really solid hit on the first pitch and was feeling really satisfied and proud about it, and I said, “Yeah, the feeling you get when you know the bat has gotten a big piece of the ball is such a great feeling, right?”

She said, “Yeah, my bat hit that ball with a big thwack! just like Anne’s slate on Gilbert’s head.”

Then it was my turn to feel satisfied and proud.

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Filed under Children's and YA Literature, Favorites, The Family That Reads

Summer Reading Thoughts

Tolstoy death mask from the author's private c...

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I make a summer reading list for myself every year, and while other books always sneak their way in, I find it really helpful to make plans for what I think will be nourishing or enriching during the summer, a time that is just as much about recharging as it is about taking time away.

So I try to mix in a few teaching books, but also books I read just for myself, not with a thought towards teaching, but just because I want to read them. This summer I’m rethinking how I teach grammar and vocabulary with my ninth graders, so I’ve got a vocabulary workbook on my list.  We usually end up reading more bedtime books with the girls over the summer too, since I’m not exhausted at the end of the day and we don’t need to worry about morning wake-up times. This year, I’ve already designated some of my challenge titles to be summer books, not for content, but because I’d like to be able to fully immerse myself in them. I’m thinking of shifting Vanity Fair to the summer for that reason; I’ve started, but am having trouble making headway just reading before bed.

So far, here are the titles I’m considering:

War and Peace , Tolstoy
Mendocino and Other Stories, Ann Packer
Teaching with Intention, Debbie Miller
Glencoe Language Arts Vocabulary Power Workbook Grade 9
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

I’m sure I’ll update this list closer to actual summertime, shuffling some titles on and off the list, but when it’s been raining off and on for weeks, and it seems like summer will never come, it’s reassuring to make lists and dream of sunshine and heat.

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Filed under Favorites, Pensees on Reading, The Family That Reads, Uncategorized

You’d Love This Book (?!)

Sophie's Choice (novel)

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Once you’ve got a reputation for being a reader, inevitably, people will start asking you for recommendations. To me, this is a fair amount of pressure, but when it’s a student asking? Then the pressure is really on: how many times have we heard those stories of a teacher handing a student the book, the book that rocks her world, the book that changes his life? Yikes!

Recently, a student appeared in my doorway with a copy of Sophie’s Choice clutched in her hand, a copy that I had lent her a few months before. This is a very bright and creative student, and when I brought her the book, I was inwardly holding my breath, hoping that I hadn’t fumbled the ball, hoping that at least, she wouldn’t hate it. Her favorite book was Fight Club: A Novel, after all–what had possessed me to think she would like this book?

“I love it!” she said, and I let out the breath that somehow, I’d been holding since December. She came in, and we chatted about the ending, the characters, the impossibility of anyone casting Nathan correctly, the amount of rich detail in the book that all comes to a shattering halt.

I’m not saying I changed her life, but what a relief to know that at least this time, I’d gotten it right.

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Why I Love Maeve Binchy

Cover of "Scarlet Feather"

Cover of Scarlet Feather

Along with more celebrated authors like Walt Whitman and Edith Wharton, I have to say that one of my favorite go-to authors is Maeve Binchy, who writes Irish women’s fiction that gets carried in supermarkets and airports and featured on Oprah. She’s the kind of writer it’s easy to be snobby about, I think, but in spite, or because of, that, I love her work, whole-heartedly.

I love Binchy’s work because she makes me feel like I understand modern Ireland, though I’ve never been there. I love her because she deliberately writes about class-consciousness in a candid, clear-eyed way accessible to any audience. I love her because I sat up late one night this week, sobbing and wiping away tears as I read her newest book, Minding Frankie, which introduces new characters while also continuing some from my favorite book of hers, Scarlet Feather. I love her because she sees human nature with all its faults and flaws and still decides to see the heart inside each of us, making her characters fully realized and deeply authentic. I love her because she writes about friendship and food and love and the frailty of our most important relationships, and the courage it takes to live in a world where we are so defenseless. I love her because she’s not afraid to write a happy ending, and because she knows exactly who her audience is, but isn’t afraid to challenge them too.  I love her because her books are often described as “cozy” or “heartwarming” or “comfort reading,” and sometimes, that’s exactly what I need.

 

And no, this isn’t an April Fool’s post, in case you were wondering!

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Great Loves, Great Wars (A Pair of Reviews)

Cover of "The Surrendered"

Cover of The Surrendered

You know how sometimes, you think you’re randomly choosing books, but then you realize you’ve read three books in a row about Australia, or mourning the loss of a spouse, or keeping your own chickens?

Lately, I read three books in a row dealing with the experience and aftermath of cataclysmic wars, and it left me feeling a little shell-shocked. First, I read Between Shades of Gray (read my review at that link), and then I read a pair of truly stunning books, books that break your heart and take your breath and leave you feeling haunted and amazed. The Invisible Bridge , by Julie Orringer, and The Surrendered, by Chang-Rae Lee, are books that span decades and epic battles while also being masterpieces of character development, showing indelible moments that sum up an entire personality in a small sketch.

Of the two, The Invisible Bridge was my favorite, and even beyond that, one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and sure to be come one of my top-ten best books ever (after I’ve read it at least one more time). I was a little wary, because the book is both blurbed by and compared to Michael Chabon in several reviews, which is quite a high bar to set for a reader like me. I had read Orringer’s book of short stories, How to Breathe Underwater, before and enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite prepare me for the wonder that is The Invisible Bridge. Parts of it made me cry, others made me laugh, and still more left me staring at the page, shaking my head in terror and amazement. The love story of Andras and Klara, set in Paris and Hungary during the approach of the second World War, is a legendary one, ready to join those famous couples of literature that help define the limits and wonders of love. This is a book I will cherish for years to come; I can’t recommend it any higher than that.

The Surrendered is a bleaker book for sure, and you’re much less likely to finish it and feel uplifted or even hopeful about the bonds of love between individuals, or between humankind, the way it’s possible to feel at the end of The Invisible Bridge. However, Lee’s novel does have its own power, mainly in the way he creates the three characters at the heart of the story and shows us their hearts and minds as they travel on their inevitable and destructive paths. Lee’s tale is also a little lighter on romance than Orringer’s, and is rather more insistent on including the appalling brutality of war. For this reason, I’m not sure how often I’ll reread this one, but I would definitely highly recommend it.

Last week was my spring break, and while I had many goals ranging from a massage to spring cleaning (accomplished, all), I also wanted to read some wonderful books, when I had more time to become absorbed in them. Luckily, these two absolutely fit the bill, and while both had their share of heartbreak, it was lovely to immerse myself in some great literature again, to get me recharged to try and ignite that love in my students.

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Review: The Commitment and The Kid

Cover of "The Kid: What Happened After My...

Cover via Amazon

One of the great discoveries I made upon moving to Baltimore and picking up the local alternative weekly was the wonderfully hilarious Savage Love, which quickly became my favorite column. Over the years since, Savage has continued to be funny and thought-provoking, sometimes fiercely and wickedly (NSFW) political, even before his recent founding of and success with the It Gets Better project.

In that project’s inaugural video, viewers meet Dan and Terry, Savage’s husband, but readers of Savage’s books already know Terry, especially if you’ve read The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family or The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, where Savage recounts their initial romance and its evolution into their long-standing partnership, including adopting their son, DJ.

If you are a fan of the columns, I would definitely recommend the books, but I also think they would be highly accessibly even if you’re unfamiliar with Savage’s work. I found both memoirs to alternate between moments of poignant honesty and vivid portraits of the unconventional family they have built together. And sure, The Commitment also includes some talk of threeways and a young man with a birthday-cake-related fetish, but this coexists alongside moments like the one towards the end of The Kid where Savage’s amazing and hilarious mother presents the matching “I heart my daddy” bibs she’s bought for their baby, which is when I tear up every time.

I almost wrote here that most importantly, the books offer authentic portraits of gay men parenting, loving and living together, which is such a brave and explicitly political act in a world where people often see queer stereotypes more than queer friends or neighbors. But then I realized that Savage would probably mock me mercilessly for writing something so overly sincere and then tell a witty anecdote that expressed the point much more clearly anyway, so I’ll insist that you go buy the books instead.

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Books Into Films, 2011 Edition

Leonardo DiCaprio

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Like many bibliophiles, the idea of a book-to-film adaptation can cause me both joy and great distress. Will it be like The Godfather, where the film is clearly superior to the book, or will it be the opposite, miscast and unfairly butchered? Modern version of The House of Mirth, I’m looking at you here.

NPR just did a great round-up of film adaptations that will be coming out this year. I’m most interested in seeing Jane Eyre, Water for Elephants, and The Help, though this also reminds me to bump We Need to Talk About Kevin up higher on my wishlist.

For me, it’s easier to take a chance on a film version when it’s of a book I’m not entirely that in love with in the first place. I keep hearing rumors of a film adaptation of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, one of my favorite books of all time, and the possibilities for tragedy make me shiver. I’m equally wary about the new remake of The Great Gatsby, another of my favorites, shot in 3-D in Australia with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. Will it be an entertaining trainwreck, or does it actually have a shot at doing the film justice?

Only time will tell.

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