Saturday, May 29, 2010

Yes! Time to start planning summer reading!!

Though it's Memorial Day, summer officially doesn't start for me until Monday, June 28th at 3 pm. Until then, I will still have papers to grade and lessons to plan, therefore unable to completely devote my time to the greatness that is summer, obviously including summer reading.  And even though I will be avidly reading up until then, there is something I love about planning my summer reading. Each year, though, I seem to make big plans and then books fall in my lap and the plans change--which is probably good for me, even though I have this grand vision that my summer can look like a literature class. I found an old post about my summer reading self--and it was interesting to get a glimpse into myself as a reader from a few years ago...I may have to re-imagine it at the end of this summer and see how I've changed.

This is random, but did you used to do the summer reading programs with your local library? I just had a major flashback to the Candy Land-style boards that the Centerville Library used to provide for children and we'd get a stamp for each book we read, winding our way down the paper path and filled with a sense of accomplishment. My mom would take my brother and I to the library once a week to update our reading piles and our stamps.  I forgot all about that. I think i would like a poster with a stamp per book.

Anyway. Here's my brainstorming session of the books I'm thinking about adding to my list this summer:

The New Literary History of America. This anthology takes the reader through American history via literature.  I am so fascinated by history and the way that it is portrayed through books, that I have been thinking about this book ever since I first stumbled across it in the winter. $50 at most stores, it is an investment, but has such potential.  I could probably carry this one book around with me all summer. Well, I mean that this could be my daytime reading book and then I could read fiction before I go to sleep each night. Downside=I'm travelling for the entire summer, so do I really want to carry around this brick? Should I relegate it to fall reading?

Mystery.  I seriously love mystery stories. Much like R&B, I forgot my love in high school and college.  My love of crime procedurals like The Closer was what motivated me to pick up the literary genre, which was limited to Nancy Drew in elementary and Mary Higgins Clark in middle school. Mystery books might be the most engaging genre, and then when they are well written? Swoon. Recent loves: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.  Summer picks: Continuing with Steign Larsson's trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Also, in true Brooklyn style, one of my neighbors had books for free in our lobby, one of which was The Likeness, the follow up to In The Woods by Tana French, which has been on my list for quite a while.

Other options:

Nonfiction: Sloane Crosby's newest book of essays, How Did You Get This Number.  I laughed out loud so much in her first book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, and this one has come highly recommended as well.  Also, last summer The Shock Doctrine completely rocked my world.  I have another book by Naomi Klein, No Logo, sitting on my night stand (which is really a radiator. whatever.).

Rereads: Sometimes books just call to me and I need to pick them back up.  These two couldn't be more different: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (though I may cave and read this pre-summer) and The Waves by Virginia Woolf.  I read 8 of Woolf's books in a class in college and haven't picked her up since. The Waves completely floored me at the time and I am curious to see what I think of it now.

Fiction. I am pretty obsessed with Roberto Bolano (I fell in love with Amulet a few years ago and my book club read The Savage Detectives last summer).  A lot of his books have been recently translated and I've been looking at a few for months, The Skating Rink and The Last Evenings on Earth, especially.
Randoms include The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and Suite Francaise by Irene Namirovsky, along with 3 different books every time I walk into a bookshop.

So. I'm game for recommendations. I'll keep you posted on how it all goes.

Previous summer reading posts (for those of you who are extremely bored or just looking for ideas) can be found here and here and here.  And also here and here and here. It's interesting to see the books that have shown up multiple times because I want to reread them and the books that show up as perpetual sitters on my stack of books to read next.

3 Books. 1 Train of Thought.

I am reading All the Broken Pieces, set in the United States just after the Vietnam War, to my seventh graders.  For context, I've been teaching lessons on the Vietnam War and its causes, the atmosphere in the United States afterwards and asking students to think about war in general. The main character is a Vietnamese boy, Matt Ping, who has been adopted by an American family. The book is in verse and one of the metaphors that Matt uses is that freedom is the color of his toddler brother's red shoes on the swing.  When I asked my students what they thought that meant, I was blown away by their understanding that demonstrated a (newfound) awareness of the world outside the safety of childhood. In response to the metaphor, a student said that freedom is the ability to live without the burden and weight of the knowledge of things like war.

This came after I realized that my reading life has been inundated lately with the question of how we are meant to live in light of what we know to be true and good. This question is never far from my mind, but I've found easy to hide from.

I am finally reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, which is the story of Chris McCandless: his disdain for modern American culture and his journey across the country and eventually to his death in the Alaskan wilderness, a place where he sought out true existence off of land, inspired by the trancendentalists and Tolstoy and Jack London, completely away from all that society has become and all the ways it burdened him.

Krakauer writes of Chris' love of London: "He was so enthralled by these tales, however, that he seemed to forget they were works of fiction, constructions of the imagination that had more to do with London’s romantic sensibilities than with the actualities of life in the subarctic wilderness."  I guess this is the struggle that exists between idealism and realism, which is incredibly frustrating.  The question always becomes how are we supposed to live in a world that is so broken and seems to worship all the things that don't have true value?

Krakauer includes the following quote before a chapter describing Chris' reasons for deserting the lifestyle he was raised in: "To the desert go prophets and hermits; through deserts go pilgrims and rxiles. Here the leaders of the great religious have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality." (Paul Shepard) McCandless was seeking the same kind of exile.  A fiction character who embarked on a completely different kind of exile is John Andrew Corrigan of Let the Great World Spin: 

"Corrigan told me once that Christ was quite easy to understand. He went where he was supposed to go. He stayed where he was needed. He took little or nothing along. He never rejected the world. If He had rejected it, He would have been rejecting mystery...What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday. The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth--the filth, the poverty--was that life could be capable of small beauties."  Corrigan was a secret man of faith--who left Ireland to live in the Bronx, bought coffee for the prostitutes he befriended and owned next to nothing. Like McCandless, he gave away almost everything he acquired. But unlike McCandless, he sought out beauty in the people the world forgets rather than in solitude and nature.

So. What all this translates into in my mind is how are we choosing to live?  It is far too easy to slip into patterns that try mimic glossy advertisements and mistake things for reasons for being.  When I read of people like McCandless and Corrigan (though fictional) I always wonder how they live out of such unselfish ideals.  Though, my favorite part of the book is how Corrigan poetically and painfullly grapples with his and humanity's fallenness...and I suppose that it will always be just that: each day making choices for the things that really matter.  Stepping out of the conditioned false securities that we cling to.  Having the courage to be a bit unconventional. 

All that said, I highly recommend all of these books.  

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

on finding kindred books and getting lost in them.

"I couldn't help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot." 

For this post, I opted not to go into coming of age, falling in love, the making of villains or a well developed mystery.  I opted not to study characters. Rather, this post is more of a space to catalogue some of my favorite parts of a recent favorite book. 

For quite a few months, I looked at The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon every time I went into a bookstore. The back blurb promises a historical setting and a mystery (a literary genre I have recently remembered that I love, though my ability to log incredible hours with CSI, The Closer, Law and Order, Lie to Me and Bones should have been the first clue) among other things you'll read about below.   But since I currently have no less than 20 in my apartment that I haven't read, I obviously have no business buying new books.  My lucky day occurred when two of my high level readers actually requested that I buy it for my classroom library. Done. And read it immediately.  Sorry kiddos.

Some books are a commitment: you go into reading knowing it's going to be work, but worth it.
Other books are entertaining. Others offer new perspectives. And some are kindred. 

Usually I reserve the work kindred who the few souls in the world who love the same things I love, whose hearts break over the same things in the world, who derive joy from the same pastimes. But while reading The Shadow of the Wind, I realized that books can be kindred, too: stories that hold so many loves of my life within its pages that it is impossible to put down and tragic when it ends.  

Why this book is kindred:

1. It takes places in Barcelona.  Sigh. That city stole my heart last August and I loved that I could picture all of the streets, that I understood references to Las Ramblas, Els Quatre Gats and Tibidabo (sigh).  I love that the characters lived in the neighborhood where I stayed.  ("This city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it," page 480.)

2. This is the first line: "I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time."

3. It is a book about people who love books: "Bea says that the art of reading slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day." 

"Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens."

4. It is a book about a book that changes people: "Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return."

So. I hope that you find a book so worthy of getting lost in.  And if your name is Alison Covey, you should probably visit your local library right away and borrow this particular book right away.