Summer came and went, and I was able to read again with more diligence and less exhaustion. I absolutely relish the chance to get lost in a story, and I’m so grateful for a season that slows down enough for me to read more.
I went to an amazing conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan in June with Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher and they inspired a format that makes sense to me. They ask their students to categorize the books they read into three groups: vacation, just right, and challenge. I love this approach because it gives us permission to spend time simply reading for pleasure and also asks us to explore topics or stories that might require more critical thinking. So, in addition to jotting some notes and thoughts about each book, I will also tell you which of the 3 categories I’m placing it in for me.
There wasn’t really a number in mind when I started reading in 2019, but now that I have finished 25 books and it’s almost November, I guess I’m hoping I can read at least 5-10 more. I guess I’ll let you know.
21. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: vacation.
Where do I even begin with this beautiful story? I devoured it at Johnson Lake in Lexington, Nebraska when I maybe *should* have been hanging out with family and in-laws, but I escaped into this book instead. I absolutely love that feeling of not wanting to put a book down or leaving my own reality for a bit through someone else’s narrative. My friend Lindsey let me borrow her copy because there are hundreds of people waiting for it at the library. It’s trendy, and I’m glad. It’s Owens’ first book (besides journals and more scholarly writing) which is very impressive. Things I love: strong female character, wonder of nature, power of literacy, vulnerability of love, concept of parenthood… the list goes on.
22. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown: just right.
I sort of nerded out with this one and actually read the book and listened to the audio version, which is narrated by the author. It felt like going to coffee with Brene for 6 hours and me just listening to every word. When I liked something, I would mark it on the actual page. If you don’t know much about Brene Brown, she is worth learning about. You can start here by watching her TED talks or by streaming her Netflix special called The Call to Courage. She speaks on a lot of the same insights from Daring Greatly. I studied it for a teacher book club, and I decided if I were a principal, I’d make it somewhat of a bible or manual to inform my leadership in the building. Since I am a classroom teacher, I can use it as a manual to inform my leadership in the classroom. It’s really a book for everyone though. One of my favorite quotes: “Vulnerability sounds like truth and looks like courage.”
23. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond: challenging.
So, I now carry this book around with me at my job. I am on leave from my classroom position this year to coach about 45 teachers throughout my district through the lens of racial equity. This is basically my educational Bible. I hope colleges are making Hammond’s work required reading. It’s a must read for anyone who works in schools. I first heard about the book maybe 4 years ago, but the brain part scared me off. It looked too textbook-y and scary to me. Ms. Hammond even came and facilitated professional development for my district a couple of years ago, and I loved it, but the book continued to sit on my nightstand. Finally this summer, I took an online course for graduate credits that studied this book. I’m disappointed with myself that I didn’t dig into it sooner. The book is completely accessible for people who don’t think science is a strength, and it has radically impacted my understanding of teaching. Game changing ideas for me that are worth learning about: amygdala hijacks, being a warm demander, and process goals in addition to content goals.
24. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: just right.
This is one of those texts that had to be put in my face nearly five times before I actually opened it up and read it. A friend had told me about it. I got a copy of it for my classroom library. I recommended it to several students. But still, I hadn’t actually read it. Then, at the middle school recently, I saw a copy in the lost and found. It stayed there for almost a week before I put it in my bag and brought it home to read. Despite its cartoonish drawings, the content of the story is really not a spectacular thing for middle school aged children to be contemplating at school… there are some pretty vivid illustrations of sex that I personally would not want a group of 7th grade kids to be reading together in my classroom. Needless to say, the story is so thoughtful. I love any book (Glass Castle, Educated) that can tell the truth about a parents’ flaws while still honoring them, and this story does that beautifully. If you are a literature person like me, you’ll love the Joyce and Fitzgerald references too. I definitely want to read more of her stuff.
25. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: vacation.
I’m not sure why, but it took me months to finish this book, and it’s actually very funny. I believe it deserved more of my undivided attention, but I listened to the audiobook (which I recommend because of her British accent), but always while multitasking. I would try and listen as I fell asleep, and I think I listened to some of the same chapters multiple times, over and over again trying to figure out where I had dozed off. Anyways, I love Eleanor Oliphant as a character, so earnest and pure and completely disregarding of social norms without really knowing or understanding why. It’s a delightful story with a surprising ending. But thank you to my sister Liz for recommending and sending this story to me.