Thursday, June 28, 2007

Summer Reading List: because for me, today is the first day of this glorious season of TIME.

Fact: Summer vacations are more for the teachers, than for hte students.
Fact: If summer vacation didn't exist, I would run out of all creative steam.
Fact: Without summer vacation, there's a chance I wouldn't love middle schoolers as much as I do.

Here's the summer reading list so far (and yes, I may have been compiling it since January). I am so excited to read without feeling guilty that I should be a) grading papers or b) getting more sleep.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. See #2 for explanation.

2. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. This has been the number one recommended book by all my reading friends. I just finished History of Love by his wife, Nicole Krauss and loved it. Apparently those who have read Foer didn't love Krauss as much. Also, those who read Everything is Illuminated didn't love Extremely Loud. My friend who has read Extremely Loud only loved it. Therefore, I am reading them in backwards order, with the hope of appreciating each one.

3. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. My other goal for the summer is writing. So. That makes sense. Also, this is the basis for how my department teaches writing. So it's fun+work at the same time. Yes!

4. Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosifal by JK Rowling. Harry Potter #1 en espanol. Trying to work on my understanding of my second favorite language.

5. HARRY POTTER 7! At first I was depressed about the series ending, but since I've been rereading them, I've realized how much I like them even more the second time through. Therefore, all is not lost, because I can transport myself to Hogwarts whenever I want and rereading is a beautiful thing!

6. Shadow Cities by Robert Neuwirth. Neuwirth lived in 4 of the biggest what we would call slums in the world and wrote about it.

7. Planet of Slums by Mike Davis. Thinking through the urbanization of the world, especially the developing world and what that means.

8. The Christian Imagination, edited by Leland Ryken. A collection of essays on the intersection of faith and creativity. This also goes along with writing goals for the summer.

9. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez. This is to be our read aloud for the fall about gang life. If I'm going to teach it, I'd beter read it.

That's it for now. Thoughts coming soon. Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"It is my belief... that the truth is generally preferable to lies."

~J.K. Rowling, "The Beginning," Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000, spoken by the character Albus Dumbledore

Devouring is probably the best verb to describe my current re-reading of the 5th book in the Harry Potter series, The Order of the Phoenix. Without fail, these books literally transport me from whatever else I am doing into the world of magic. This may be to a fault, though, because there's a chance that I may or may not, sometimes, use them as an escape mechanism or at least read well past what should be any teacher's bedtime.

A friend of mine recently said that what she likes the best about book 5 is the community that is within it. I haven't stopped thinking about it since (see above and my tendency to be dragged in). However, rather than bordering on obsessive, it has reminded me of the importance of being surrounded by people who are fighting your fight with you. In the book, the adults who know the truth about Voldemort have banded together as The Order of the Phoenix to share that truth and to work against him. At Hogwarts, Harry is finally able to find comfort in the DA-a group designed to teach students to protect themselves against Voldemort. This is the only place where Harry does not feel like a crazy person; where he knows that there are people who believe him and who are rallying for truth. I've noticed this in my own life, as well. When I spend time with people who want to live life differently than how popular culture tells us to, I find myself more secure in my desire for that as well, and more energized to actually follow through.

I've also mentioned before my love of Albus Dumbledore. He is the headmaster of Hogwarts and the only wizard Voldemort is afraid of. As the series progresses, he does more and more things that seem outrageous and appear not to make any sense. But Hermione says it best: "If we can't trust Dumbledore, who can we trust?" Like Hermione, Harry and Ron, I have found that I love the feeling of being safe even when life is swirling and not making sense. I love knowing that someone True and Real is taking care of the bigger picture.

Sigh. It is 10:35 have been reading since about 7:30. (And yes, this is one of the most perfect ways to spend a Sunday night.) That being said, I'm going to end my ramblings here. I could carry on for quite a while, though. But seriously, I just needed to share my love of Harry with you.

Monday, June 11, 2007

In Remembrance of the Nineties.

Gen.u.ine. Adjective. Truly what something is said to be; authentic.
Au.then.tic. Adjective. Done in a way that faithfully resembles an original. (2) based on facts; accurate or reliable.

The past few weeks I have indulged in some greatnesses of my adolescent experience, including starting this post with the most basic strategy to start a paper, also reminiscent of sophomore Honors English circa 1996.


The Catcher in the Rye. Quite possibly the book that made me start thinking about what I was reading. Haven’t read it since. What that says about me, I’m not sure.

My So-Called Life. I really think Angela Chase’s voiceovers are the most accurate picture of being 15. And although this will be mostly based on Holden, as I was thinking about what I wanted to say, Angela Chase (via Claire Danes) is in the midst of an identity crisis. If you don’t remember, she has recently made new best friends, moved on from her old one and to represent it all dyed her hair. Her neighbor has a particular problem with this and in his infinite sophomoric wisdom (speaking of, weren’t you insulted when that showed up on SAT vocabulary lists, but see it’s brilliant value as an adjective now?) tells her that it’s all an act. Angela responds that everyone is an act. Interesante.

Holden Caulfield feels the same way. We get inside his head in a way not all that different than Angela—on a higher literary note, yes, but his narration takes you inside the head of someone wrestling with the world. Holden’s biggest complaint is that everywhere he goes, people are just a bunch of phonies:

“Lawyers are alright, I guess…I mean they’re alright if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot shot. And besides. Even if you did go around savings guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddamn trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn’t.”

The great irony is that, to me, Holden is a phony himself; wanting to do noble, true acts, but finding himself completely unable.

So I guess what I’m thinking about is what does it mean to be genuine? (Note the definitions now…the one for genuine is rather circular.) Authentic? Here’s what I love. The idea of resembling an original…who I was created to be by my Creator, rather than who the world wants or tells me to be. Even more so, being based on facts. And to me, the facts are that I am human. I mess up. A lot. I want to be transparent about that. I don’t want to try to cover that up and pretend to be something I’m not. I don’t want people to think that I’ve got my act together because I don’t. But the other fact of that matter is that I am loved. Jesus looks right at my messiness and loves me anyway. I am amazed at the beauty of grace. Because isn’t that our fear, anyway? That people won’t love us if they see our true selves? What a lie. The other fact is that I am blessed. There are so many hearts who mean so much to me, from Kentucky to Kenya, that I am literally overwhelmed…that my cup does indeed runneth over, which was the only feeling that rattled in me last weekend. (see last post...sigh)

So yeah. I just want to be free.

My Cup Runneth Over.

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19.
That basically sums up everything I would want to say.

Sigh. Old friends. Dear hearts. Sweet Ohio. Doesn't get much better.