Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Years Reading Resolution

Are you a resolution maker? I often consider my "New Years" to be September, since I've never left the school year schedule, so to me it feels strange  to make new habits at the near-end of the first semester.  Every December, though, I reread all my blog posts of the year and make a year-in-review post and it's pretty interesting to think of the year in terms of January-December--and to consider my identity outside that as an educator.  It is fitting for me, then, that my resolution will be about books (and about starting to drink green smoothies for breakfast!).

My book club of two took a bit of a break the last six months, but we are back with a new plan for 2013.  We decided that rather than read the same books together, we should set a goal to read the books in our apartments that we have been meaning to read, but haven't for whatever reason and when we meet, we will talk about the books we've been reading separately.  We won't buy new books until we make it through our piles (though I did pick up a few titles in the last couple weeks--it is still 2012--and I got a few for Christmas).  I get easily distracted by the newest recommendations and from browsing at everything from Greenlight Books and Book Court, so this really will be a bit of a challenge for me!  

My "unread" stack has remained virtually unchanged since I moved in to this apartment two years ago. As I looked through it, I realized there were some that I didn't even want to read, so rather than have anxiety about needing to finish all of them, I decided to pick the ones I wanted to read and donate the rest--I'm all about getting rid of unnecessary clutter!  So, I intend to look at this list as a syllabus to remind me of the old English major days and get started as soon as I finish Cloud Atlas.

 Here's my list in full.  My best to you and yours in 2013!


1984 by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Animal Farm by George Orwell


A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
City of Thieves by David Benioff
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hossain

Non Fiction

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
No Logo by Naomi Klein

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Year In Review and Top Ten Books of 2012

This year, my reading life seemed to be anchored in studying history and looking for wonder.   It is easy to get caught up with trivialities and the day to day, and for me, that is when I begin to feel the least like myself.  Thank goodness for the books that keep my eyes open and my brain thinking--and, more importantly, for the people in my life this year who were such good reminders of truth and beauty.  

I started this blog in January 2007, so each December since I've read through all my posts of the year and done a reading "year in review" that includes my top ten.  What's different about this list and most book lists out there is that I get to maybe one newly published book a year (too expensive for this teacher and too heavy for this car-less commuter), so my choices never reflect the newly published.   Here are lists past if you feel so inclined:  20112010200920082007.  If you want a closer look at what they're about, click on the title for my original posting. 

A laugh-out-loud/don't take yourself too seriously read:  

1. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy  Kaling.  I read this book on the train home from my New Years gathering and finished it the first morning of 2012 and laughing was the best possible way to start a new year.

The best vacation reads: 

2. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Crosse.  This is a read for book lovers that I curled up with during this year's February break.  It was thought provoking, but for me, mid-winter, it was more of an enjoyable escape during a week off work: a quest to make the perfect book store with a mystery tucked in.

3. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy.  I read about this book in New York Magazine and started it during one of the first few days of my summer break.  One morning I took a roll and a coffee to Prospect Park, thinking I would spend 30 minutes or so reading.  Two hours later I got up, completely moved by the poetic characters and language.  Absolutely beautiful. 

I got pulled in by World War Two this year: 

4. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand.  The true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner, Air Force Bomber and POW in the Pacific during World War Two, this book was an incredible story of the endurance of a man as well as a heart wrenching glimpse into the life of a POW both during and after imprisonment.

5. Night by Elie Wiesel.  Wiesel's memoir of his time spent in a concentration camp, I re-read this book with students in an incredibly powerful club in the spring.  I would put this book on humanity's must-read list--it is dark and difficult to swallow, but so important.

6. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen.  This is the story of William Dodd, America's ambassador to Germany in the thirties, when things with Hitler were beginning to heat up.  It was a fascinating read and a great introduction to the politics leading up to World War Two.

7.  Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas.  This book is a commitment: it is over 600 pages of very small type. However, I was completely enthralled by this biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian theologian from the 1930s and early 40s who was a key part of the resistance to Hitler and the Valkyrie plot to assassinate him.  It was such an inspiring read of someone who refused to sit back in safety when something felt gut-wrong to him no matter what others were saying--and for that, he is a hero in my eyes.

A book that will keep you guessing long after you finish it: 

8.  Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.  This was probably the most challenging, unique read of my year and the kind of book that as soon as I finished it left me wishing I could immediately start over and then head into a literature course to discuss it.

A classic worth re-reading: 

9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I loved reading this book in high school (my honors English teacher even helped us organize a mock-tail party in full dress attire a la Gatsby at the end of the year).  I'm reading this book in a club with students later this year, so I reread it for the first time since graduate school and it gave me lots to think about.

My favorite book turned movie of the year: 

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  I read this years ago and enjoyed it and decided to re-read it before the movie came out.  Chbosky captures the mind and coming of age of wallflower Charlie through a series of letters.   I went to see the movie at BAM after an amazing brunch and it really turned into a perfect afternoon, because the movie version is incredible--the kind that restores one's faith in humanity incredible.  I highly recommend both, but the book first, obviously!

I'm always looking for recommendations and I love hearing about people's best reading experiences of the year! Stay tuned for my New Year's Reading Resolution and my reading plan for the early months of 2013.  

The New York Times wrote earlier this year about stories AND science: "The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters." So, that is your motivation for finding a new book or two to explore in the new year.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Still Alice.

I often use my mom's shelves as a library and picked up a book over the summer to read before Thanksgiving (the Janet Robbins library has longer borrowing periods than your neighborhood library). Her book club read Still Alice by Lisa Genova last year, a story of a Harvard psychology professor in her early 50s who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.   I almost missed my return date, though, because I couldn't bring myself to read it, knowing that it would be a heavy and emotional read.

I didn't find the book especially well written, but I did find it to be the kind of book that gave me insight into a disease that I would never get reading an article about it.  The story is told from Alice's point of view and her frustrations become my own.

I've been thinking a lot lately about identity--and how we define ourselves and how that changes over time--but mostly in the context of the identities that we can choose for ourselves.  New ways of thinking we embrace, career moves, family life, cities we attach ourselves to.  Of course, some of the new identities are thrust upon us from life experiences we didn't plan or ask for, but over time learn to tuck into how we see ourselves and relate to the world around us.

The layer this book added to my thought life was when all the ways that Alice had defined herself began to fade--ever more intensely--as her disease progressed.  She pondered the question herself in a "last lecture" sort of scene towards the end of the book:

"I often fear tomorrow.  What if I wake up and don't know who my husband it? What if I don't know where I am or recognize myself in the mirrow? When will I no longer be me? Is the part of my brain that's responsible for my unique 'me-ness' vulnerable to this disease? Or is my identity something that transcends neurons, proteins, and defective molecules of DNA? Is my soul and spirit immune to the ravages of Alzheimer's? I believe it is."

I guess that reading this book reaffirmed my belief that identity comes from something deeper than a profession or a pastime.  I had a fleeting second of the fear of sounding trite writing that.  But it is also beautifully simple, so.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

portrait of a reader.

Winner of the National Book Award was an impulse purchase at a local bookstore a few weeks ago.  I have books in my apartment I haven't read and yet, with Thanksgiving-weekend-layover travel in my future, I decided that I needed something new and entertaining.  This was on the shelf of books recommended by book store employees and described as clever and hilarious.  So.

It takes place in Rhode Island, on a single day where the state is bracing itself for a hurricane and local librarian Dorcas Mather, who has by choice lived a life of the mind, has gone in to work to prepare the building and to batten down the hatches from there.  Abigail, her spiritual opposite-best friend-twin sister, has lived a passionate life of the flesh in every way imaginable and has recently co-written a biography about the murder of her husband--which she committed.  Each chapter is structured around Dorcas hesitantly reading an excerpt of Abigail's book (actually written by their friend Hilda, whose style reminds me of Rita Skeeter, for any Harry Potter fans out there, which in turn critiques the publishing industry a bit) and then telling her version of what happened.  I was kept laughing out loud throughout my LaGuardia and Reagan National Airport adventures.  It did get me thinking about a few things, though. 

The story's structure was about Abigail and her escapades, but the book was truly about Dorcas--as a person and as a reader.  Dorcas' story asks the reader of the book if it is enough to have a life of the mind, as she honestly paints her own portrait of the Mather family's life alongside Hilda's version. There are a few moments in the story that Dorcas herself wonders if her life choices have been enough and it is fascinating to watch her wade through her reflections, especially as a voracious reader and sometimes-homebody. 

"C.S. Lewis assured me I wasn't neurotic.  It was possible to lives an imagined life, and to live it fully.  To dwell within one's own mind and, through books, the mind of others." 

"I escape, when I feel the need, into what all you bullies insist is reality.  I study birds, library patrons, local politicians.  Sometimes I garden.  Sometimes I watch the Sox. Sometimes I drink.  I keep a neat house and I pay my taxes, all in the real world. But I don't live there." 

"I am simply an omnivorous reader, and like all good omnivores I take my pleasures where I can find them.  In my real life, my inner life, I am as great a sensualist as my sister."


I am getting ready to make my 6th Annual Year in Review, a list of my top ten books of the year which I compile while sitting at my parents' house each Christmas break, rereading each blog post I wrote during that calendar year.  It never fails to strike me that the moments I choose to write about from each book paint a picture of my own inner life throughout the year.  In Winner of the National Book Award, Dorcas kept secret records as a librarian, written in code, of the books her regulars checked out.  She didn't feel guilty about it because she knew her motives were pure--and "the privacy of my patrons' reading history is sacred."  But she realized that her index cards were "concise historical records of a perculiar sort, outlining the spiritual and intellectual course of a citizen's adult life."   

So, my challenge to you is to think about the story that your year of reading tells.  What kinds of stories were you drawn to? What kinds of things were your eyes apt to notice this year--that perhaps at another time you might have passed right by? I would love to know your best reading experiences of 2012--I am always looking for good recommendations.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How reading short stories is reminding me to live more reflectively and intentionally.

I recently read a novel that could be described as a collection of somewhat interwoven short stories called Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell. I was drawn to this book because it seeks to explore the moment's that shape women's identity as women.  In hindsight, I wish I had read it slowly, as there wasn't an overall character arc for each character, but a few snapshots of their lives. 

This summer I read Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy and fell in love with his rich, poetic style of prose.  While on a walk through the West Village I found a collection of his short stories called The Secret Lives of People in Love and began making my way through them.  What I've learned, though, is that for me, short stories for me are best read slowly and sporadically.  If I read them as a novel, I don't take the time to stop and think about what the author is trying to say in each one or mull over the small details that speak into human existence.

One thing I've been thinking about recently is that I am more grounded as a person when I'm letting my reading wash over my mind and impact the way I'm looking at the world.  I read through the first 13 of Van Booy's 19 stories so quickly that my brain didn't have time to consider the weight of lines like: "Without memory, he thought, man would be invincible." One of the reason's I bought Schappell's book was because I wanted to think about how the female identity is formed--especially as I am teaching girls at such a critical developmental stage and stocking my library with books that they will be reading and thinking about.

This is not to say that all of my reading is deep and reflective.  The other book I'm in the middle of is The Snowman, a thriller by Jo Nesbo, which has been a distractive force and an escape from life this week.  Sometimes I need reading for that just as much as the kind that makes me stop and look at life differently.  But, for now it is time to slow down.  It is time to breathe deeply and reflect, especially in the midst of the devastation of my city and surrounding ones post-hurricane.  The roots that my reading deepens can then be taken out into the world, to be on the look out for small moments of poetry and to develop an eye that is sensitive to the human story happening all around me.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Great Gatsby and how the city seen from the Queensboro Bridge changed everything

Every year I have students join a book club with me (I've written about World War Two and Harry Potter) and this year I added The Great Gatsby to the list of choices for students who are ready to jump into some more classic, adult literature.  I studied The Great Gatsby in high school, college and graduate school, but those lenses into the story don't seem to quite fit for 8th grade.  Luckily I still have time to think about that, but I also got stuck figuring out how to write about it here: this is not a book review or a literary essay blog, so I went back to my roots and thought about how the story speaks into life at this moment, and at this moment I am thinking about the city.  My city.  New York.

Most New Yorkers with a literary slant in their lives know all the classic lines about where we live, and Fitzgerald's description is one of the best: "The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and all the beauty in the world," (73).

This is the New York I like to think about the most: the one that still feels magical 9 years later, the one that offers up perfect autumn dinners eaten at the counter and walks into bookstores on the corner and cafe tables on the sidewalk and life swirling around.  The one that has perfect theaters for rainy Sunday matinees that follow a long brunch at a South African restaurant.

And yet. There is also "...a valley of ashes--a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air," (27).

This is the New York that I also think about.  I can be literal and think about the insane amount of trash that we proffer to the sidewalks or the hours lost waiting on a train that has been rerouted for the weekend.  I can calculate the money I have spent in rent over the years or figure out how many pounds of groceries I have carried over x amount of miles.  I weigh these things often these days. Or, more heavily, I can think about the students who walk into city schools coming from families who don't value education and don't see their own worth and a system that doesn't know how to help.  I can think about the men and women who sleep on the streets and the paralyzing feeling of not being able to help as I walk by with my smart phone in hand.

I dream a lot about a little house with a fire place on a little piece of land, where life could be quiet and where I could see the sunset every day.  And that may happen still.  But.  Living in a place filled with both beauty and ashes has changed the way I read the world around me--and I don't think I could ever be the same, or shake the feeling that no matter how cozy my life is, whether that is reading my book while homemade tomato sauce is simmering on my stove in my studio apartment or some future multi-room home in my future, there are ashes scattered around me--and that I should never stop looking for ways to help beauty and life to grow among and out of them.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

the art and psychology of mixed tapes and belonging.

I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower at the end of college.  It is written as a series of letters to an unknown recipient from a Charlie, a sophomore in high school.  He is the "wallflower" mentioned in the title, whose new friend claims "You see things.  You keeps quiet about them. And you understand." Charlie's earnest voice gives names and narrative to the essence of late adolescence. 

I loved it, but didn't connect with the characters the way high school readers did because I felt like I was a life-stage ahead of them...the characters were in the act of figuring out who they were and I felt like I was already there.  Of course, those are the kinds of cringe-inducing, arrogant things that 22 year olds think.  Reading it now, ten years later, I found myself relating to Charlie's desire to be connected to the world around him and belong to something greater.  

He collects songs and makes mixed tapes.  He collects books.  He collects moments with his writing.  And he curates them in an attempt to make sense of existence.

"I hope it's the kind of second side that he can listen to whenever he drives alone and feel like he belongs to something whenever he's sad.  I hope it can be that for him." 

"I had an amazing feeling when I finally held up the tape in my hand.  I just thought to myself that in the palm of my hand, there was this one tape that had all of these memories and feelings and great joy and sadness.  Right there in my hand. And I thought about how many people have loved these songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs.  And how much those songs really mean." 

“And all the books you've read have been read by other people. And all the songs you've loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that's pretty to you is pretty to other people. and that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing 'unity.” 

"And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."

I've been thinking about what my current mixed tape would be (and what would I call it, and how would I design the cover) and which books I would pull off my shelf and hand to the world in an attempt to explain who I am? What stories do I need to write down? 

Because I think there is still, beyond the angst of the teenage years, the collecting and gathering of things that are beautiful and throwing them out into the world.  There is still the hope that someone will catch them and understand the way life's vignettes of beauty and pain have woven together an existence.  I have come to realize that my 22 year old self was the sophomoric one: the searching and desire to be known and to belong never really goes away.  And though as I've gotten older and have some truths to stand on, the mysteries seem to just get wider and taller--and that is when I need my songs and books and stories for some hope along the way.  And, perhaps, a fall adventure to frolic and feel infinite.  At almost 32. And maybe these imagined tapes and anthologies are as much for understanding myself as asking the world to understand me.    

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Summer Reading late September.

It seems like every year I have a month where my blog gets away from me.  This year it lasted for two.
August was spent working on another writing project, spending time with some favorites in North Carolina and East Hampton. My family drove in to celebrate my grandpa's 85th birthday and we got to go to the beach and wander the city.  I got to catch up with some favorite former students who just left for college, five years after I knew them as 7th and 8th graders. September was school starting celebrating the shower and nuptials of a kindred spirit for a few weekends and attempting to get some normal rhythms back in my life.  Now it's almost October.  Happy fall reading, y'all. May you have many afternoons spent with a hot beverage and a good book.

A few of these books I wrote about in July and I'm hoping I'll write about all of them someday.  I feel like I'm not giving these books their due, but for now, here is this year's list (and here are the ones from summers past):

A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Stone's Fall by Iain Pears: a fascinating historical fiction mystery with the backdrop of the beginning of world financial markets

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson: a coming of age in the straight edge culture of the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1980s

Broken Colors by Michele Zackheim: the fictional account of an artist dealing with her brokenness across the two world wars into near-present in England, Italy, Paris and the American southwest

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (as always)

Love and Death by Max Wallace and Ian Halperin: two journalists look into the death of Kurt Cobain. A great read for anyone who misses the 90s or is looking for a reason to revisit Nirvana and Hole.

Broken Harbor by Tana French: her 4th book based on the Dublin Murder Squad. I loved her other books, but this one was a bit disappointing

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'll always love you, New York, and other thoughts from a family book club.

I've mentioned before that I have a reading family: my mom and brother devour novels, my dad reads an insane amount of news, my aunts and cousins frequently provide me with book recommendations and have kindred shelves in their homes.  My Aunt Patty recommended a book to my mom called Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, which my mom also really enjoyed.  Knowing that my cousin Carolyn was coming out to visit and is also a reader, she thought it would be fun to have a mini book club while she was in Kentucky.  She bought two more copies, mailed them to Carolyn and I and included a letter about her plan.  (Well, she wrote Carolyn a letter about the plan.  I already knew.  My note said, "Kristen, here's the book." Ha.)
{my mom is awesome. also, props to my dad who mixed the drinks and took the picture for us.}

The story follows the narrator Katey through one year of her life--as a 25 year old in 1938 in New York City.  It is bookended with the narrator speaking from middle age, though still in New York, thinking about how there are certain decisions in life that end up shaping the rest of one's years.  We talked about this for a few minutes at our screened-in porch book club meeting, and it has been the topic that has lingered with me since and settled into the forefront of my mind last night when I was organizing a few boxes of pictures and a trunk that holds old photo albums and journals.  When my mom asked the question if there were decisions we had made that had shaped the outcome of our lives, my obvious answer was moving to New York.  I ran across this picture last night which was taken a month or two after I moved to Manhattan:

{Central Park, fall 2003}

 I made albums documenting each of the first two years, certain that I'd only be in the city for a couple years before I moved back to "regular life" in Ohio.  I wanted to make sure I documented the adventure.  Ha. But somewhere in that third year I decided to stay, and I think it was that decision, more than the one to move to New York for graduate school, that has had the biggest impact on my life since.  That is when I began to count this city as home and stopped thinking about what I was going to do the next year.  I settled in and invested in the people and places around me.  I'm sure there will be decisions in the future that change my life and carry weightier meaning, but my 9 year relationship with New York has been one of the greatest influences on my life and who I've become.  Looking at this picture, I remember what it was like trying to find my bearings here--simple things like traveling by foot and subway and more complex ones like trying to concoct a blend of urbanity and midwesterness.  That feels so far away, especially when I realize that I'm about to enter my 10th fall in the city, my 9th year at my school and my 6th year of walking ten minutes to get there.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Off-the-list summer reading

Best book to stretch out over each morning's coffee while on vacation: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

I've read this book every summer at my parent's house since I discovered it in 2008, and I've written about it almost every year and it has landed on my Top Ten books of the year a few times.  I've always found it to be a book about safety: not the bike helmet or seatbelt kind of safety, but the kind where everything in life feels like it is in the perfect place: that all things good are protected for a few moments.  This time around, I started the book on our porch in Louisville while my mom was making breakfast, my dad was reading the paper and my brother was on his way down.  We kept door open to let the air in, everything was in the right place and I wanted to freeze it.

Best book to read when your hour and a half direct flight becomes a 9 hour traveling day:
Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

My cousin has been raving about this book every time I've seen her the past few months, saying that it was funnier than Tina Fey's Bossypants and Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?. I was doubtful, but since those two books were so great, I was pretty excited to read it.  Luckily, the last person she lent it to gave it back just in time for her to hop a plane to visit my family in Louisville.  I've been reading a book that is much more dense than I anticipated, so I didn't think I'd be able to get to this one for about a week.

Then, on the way to the airport to head back to New York, we got emails and at least 3 automated phone calls that our flight had been cancelled.  So, because air travel is frustrating and we were now looking at a layover in Atlanta (which we barely made), I decided I needed something to keep me entertained and laughing.  It worked.  I had 40 pages to go the next morning, so I took it to the back garden at Park Slope's Starbucks.  Interestingly, it wasn't quite the same vibe as the outdoor space at my parents' house.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

a kindred article on reading from the NYT.

{Julia Kuo for the NYT, 7/30/11}
In my morning internet reading, I ran across a link to an opinion piece from last summer in the New York Times called Reading and its Rewards.  The author, Maile Meloy, writes about the summer she was ten and her dad decided that before she could have a ten speed bicycle she needed to read ten novels more serious than her diet of Trixie Belden and Archie comics and write about each one.  She did it, returned for a while to the stellar books written for kids like Narnia and The Westing Game and Madeleine L'Engle and then moved on, on her own accord, back to more challenging titles.

I completely related to the idea of reading toward a goal.  My childhood summers were spent picking out books at the library, carting home a big bag and then getting my summer reading map stamped by the librarian upon return, working towards the small prizes that the Centerville Public Library had cooked up for us right before school started.  As the type A person that I was, watching my card fill up with stamps was incredibly gratifying. Ha. My hometown library still sponsors this program, which I love.

Meloy's piece also got me reminiscing about other reading traditions I had growing up: it was household rule for my brother and I to read for at least a half an hour before we went to bed.  This requirement soon became a part of our daily rhythms and we both still read every night to this day.  And, especially in line with my thoughts about the book A Short History of Women, I love that my best book recommendations come from family members: cousins, aunts, my mom, my brother.  Reading is one of the best ways to bring people together.  

And, of course I loved her descriptions of the bicycle that eventually accompanied her adventures.  Her article was not just about reading, but about growing up.  It is worth reading, if you, too grew up as a reader.  All that to say, I would love to hear about other people's reading habits: do you have a summer reading list each year? What kinds of books did you read when you were younger? Did your library have a similar summer reading program? These are the kinds of rhythms I can only hope my students either keep or eventually rediscover.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On beauty and rebuilding from brokenness.

This has been a summer of devouring books.  All I want to do is sit and read.  The other morning I walked to get some breakfast and a coffee and took it up to Prospect Park with about half of Simon Van Booy's Everything Beautiful Began After.  I thought that I would stay for a half hour or so, but I got so lost that I remained on my shady bench for almost two hours and finished the book.  It left me a bit speechless and heartbroken, so I was glad to have been in the park and have a walk home to begin to process.

I did some research, as I usually do, on Van Booy when I finished the book and learned that he has dealt with tremendous loss in his life prior to publishing this story, which made what the characters went through feel more weighty to me.  This interview also provided some sweet insight into Van Booy as a person and I was able to understand his style of writing a bit more.  

The story begins with a prologue from the voice of a ten year old girl, simple and poetic; she is a newcomer to thinking about life.  She hopes to hear her parents' love story at dinner and the prologue ends with: "All she knows is that someone fell, and that everything beautiful began after," (7).  Then the story begins and the reader is left not knowing which characters are the parents to this child.

The book is set in Athens and the three main characters all went there in an attempt to escape not necessarily their lives, but the pain they have long carried with them.  Rebecca has left her job as a flight attendant to pursue painting.  George is there to study ancient languages.  Henry is there as a archaeologist.  The friendship and love that follows is beautiful and unexpected.  Then the story is wrought with tragedy, in the city of ancient Greek tragedy.  It is clear that this is a story not just about these characters, but about the coping and living with brokenness that people have done for all of time.  The second half follows how the characters try to pick up the pieces:

"A man on an upside-down bucket is selling small tubes of glue from a folding table.  On the table are things glued together.  He doesn't know where the museum is but asks if anything you have is broken.  'Everything,' you say in Greek.  He puts a tube of glue in your hands.  You hold out a few coins, but he pushes them away," (293).  

Slowly, the characters, like the city they find themselves in, begin to rebuild.  None of them is able to forget and each of them is forever changed and they attempt to find the balance of remembering the beauty of what was and continuing to look for beauty in a world that is capable of crumbling.  This always resonates with me and I've written about it quite a bit.  Every conversation I have with friends in the midst of heartbreak, or even just in talking about what the definition of good living, is grounded in paying attention to the small, simple pieces of beauty in the world, past or present, which is why I loved the metaphor of what Henry became: "He is a curator. He reconstructs scenes from the past to illustrate their beauty and significance."  He didn't try to completely forget the moments of beauty from his past, but rather recognize their worth. "He is enchanted by the beauty of small things: hot coffee, wind through an open window, the tapping of rain, a passing bicycle, the desolation of snow on a winter's day," (401). That is how I want to live. 

The end of the book comes back to the girl from the prologue and I found myself thinking about how in her story, everything beautiful began after people born before her experienced great pain.  That switch in perspective is beautiful in and of itself.

Monday, July 9, 2012

a short history of women.

The title of Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women tells just that, depending on how you read the title.  The story is told non-linearly through narrators of 5 different generations of the Townsend family, beginning in England in 1898 and ending in New York in 2007.  As Walbert writes the story, the reader gets not only the family history, but also a window into some of the unique struggles of women over the last 110 years--which doesn't seem so long at first glance, but really is, especially considering that there weren't more than three generations alive at once in the story.  It was fascinating to see as the reader the connections these women shared 100 years apart and at the same time a bit heartbreaking that the characters weren't able to see them the way a reader could.

I have a huge extended family on both sides, and for almost two decades we were able to see four generations of my dad's family in the same room and on my mom's side we are going on 12 or so.  When my grandma passed away last summer, my dad and one of my uncles were reminiscing and I heard so many stories that I had never heard before, which was surprising because I hail from a story telling family.  It was a bit surreal at her burial because we were also standing here in Brooklyn amidst Robbins headstones dating back to the 1800s.  Like usual, I felt a part of something bigger, but there was also a twinge of sadness that there are some stories that passed with my grandma.

The same thing happens when I hear the handful of stories I know about my great grandmother on my mom's side.  Because I am the story lover nostalgic that I am, I often find myself wishing that I could go back and visit with her about when she moved to New York from Ireland.  I always wish I knew more about the threads of similarities that I share with the women in my family tree or that my aunts and cousins share.  While talking with one of my aunts this spring who is a retired teacher, I learned that she used to dedicate a day to celebrate the Super Bowl in her classroom, just like I do with the Ohio State/Michigan game.  My family is so big that sometimes it is easy to miss those kinds of connections.

All that to say, reading about the Townsend women in this book was really thought provoking, especially when some of the stories are placed side by side: the 1914 suffragette in England and the granddaughter she never met garnering strength from her memory, the mom in post 9/11 New York dealing with her panic and her own mother embarking on a new life at the end of it.  It makes me wish I could have a collection of the narratives of the women in my family.

{four generations of robbins: my grandma, one of my aunts, 2 of her daughters, another cousin and her daughter and I.  Oh, and FNL and The OC.}

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tree of Codes: an exercise in interpretation

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer was on my radar for a long time.  It was published in late 2010, but I knew that I wanted to read it with other people because it's die-cut structure, taken from Bruno Schultz's The Street of Crocodiles, is so unique (see picture.  He removed text and his story is what remains).  What he has left his readers with is like a heightened, poetic literary experience that feels almost universal because they barely know the narrator.  Its publishing house, Visual Editions, says that "books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell." Luckily I have some kindred readers in my life, so we finally got to it after purchasing it at least six months ago.   We had our book discussion last week and realized that we wanted to nerd out, reread it, and reconvene in August for further conversation.   This interview from the New York Times further explains how this book is unique.

One of the most significant parts of our conversation came from looking at the book as a whole and the gaps in between the words: that perhaps they were a metaphor for what we know of people's stories.  If we only get a small part of the text, what do we do with that information? Do we try to fill in the gaps? Accept that they are there? It made us think about whether we can we ever know the entire story of anything be it a historical event, a person's life, or anything in between.

What pulled this together, though, was a statement in the middle of the story: "We find ourselves in the tree of codes."  I am still thinking through what the "tree of codes" actually is, but I keep connecting it to the narrative of life: that there are stories and moments that we are left to interpret and seek out some kind of meaning.  A few pages later it says, "the last secret of the tree of codes is that nothing can ever reach a definite conclusion."  This, of course, reminded me of reading--how one can read between the lines and take things away from the story, but how in art, and in turn life, interpretations may vary.

The biggest question from the text came on the third page from the end: "what was there to save us?" Having read The Street of Crocodiles after I initially read Tree of Codes, I know the deeper story of the original narrative; that there was a named conflict and that this question was practical.  In Foer's version, when the conflict and story is more general and open, the question feels even more weighty.  It leads me to think about the different things that people need to be saved from in this life.  It makes me think about hope.  It makes me think about what matters and where beauty and truth and words fall into the picture. It also conjures up feelings of sadness that can surround beauty, as well, and nostalgia, and the wondering if it will all ever fit together.

So, if you want to, find a copy of this book.  It will take you no longer than an hour to read and will provide you with seemingly endless fodder for mid summer thinking if you have been left in a haze of humidity and discussions revolving solely around the weather.  I'll be back with some continued thoughts in August.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

I don't usually use this blog as a venue for traditional "reviews" and recommendations, but this post will be just that. 

At the end of this year we ordered a lot of non fiction to be used in the classroom and I've been trying to make my way through some of it in preparation for book clubs in the fall.  I just finished Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon's graphic adaptation of the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which shared the commissioner's answers and recommendations in response to the 9/11 attacks.

As someone who would probably not ever read the full text version of the report, I found this book to be incredibly educational and thorough.  In its 133 pages, I was given a general comprehension of what led up to the attacks, how they happened, the government's response that day and moving forward and the recommendations for how our country can be better prepared for the future.  I highly recommend reading it. 

The most jarring point for me as a citizen was the lack of communication that existed between officials and departments on the city government level as well as the national level.  It is overwhelming to think about how better communication, just like in almost every area of life, might have been able to help prevent the attacks or better assist in the aftermath.

One of the most interesting recommendations that the commission mentioned was for the government to have a greater imagination when thinking through policy.  My question is always about where that starts.  If students aren't given the opportunity to think bigger and wider and deeper, how will they acquire the kinds of skill sets that are already in short supply in both the government and private sector today?

Hand them books.  Engage them in conversations.  Invite them into ideas bigger than themselves. Teach them history in an engaging way and connect it to the future. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

one year later or, more reasons why i love my job.

One of the post labels on this blog is "why 8th graders aren't jaded." So many people have negative conceptions of middle school age students and teenagers in general, but part of my job as a teacher and a person, I believe, is to counter that claim.  I love when former students stop by to tell me about their lives beyond 8th grade.  These two are no exception.  For both 7th and 8th grade, they amazed me with their writing pieces and reading lives and the life they brought into my classroom.  Somehow I was able to take this picture in between an afternoon of non-stop laughing on the last day of school last June, before they left my classroom after two years for different, impressive high schools in Manhattan.

They came to visit me yesterday and somehow we managed, albeit with some difficulty, to recreate the shot a year later.  It was incredible to hear about where life has taken them in the past year and the plans on their horizons--writing, traveling, reading, learning, playing sports and of course laughing.  These pictures crack me up because of their assumed seriousness is the opposite of their personalities.

All that to say, I am so proud of the people they--and my other visitors--are becoming.  It makes me love my job so much.

Weights and Glasses: Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

I have read some of Flannery O'Connor's short stories before and was anxious to read her first novel, Wise Blood, originally published in 1949.  It is a story of spiritual searching without lyricism.  Her style feels sparse, dark, sometimes comedic and deeply symbolic.  It follows Hazel Motes, who felt he was destined to be a preacher his entire life.   He returns from World War Two disillusioned and haunted by his faith, ultimately preaching on the street and founding The Church of God Without Christ.  Each of the characters he encounters are wrestling with their own demons, either pressing in to find answers like Enoch Emery who claims claims to have innate wise blood to lead him toward his destiny or a father/daughter pair of religious con artists, where the father pretends to be blind.  

O'Connor' s story left me reading an incredible amount of commentary and  I was amazed that every possible religious world view could have a different interpretation on the religious imagery and symbolism and the characters' fates.  This made it difficult to process through in a coherent manner, which I think is part of the point.   In her author's note, published with the second edition, she writes,  "Freedom cannot be conceived simply. It is a mystery and one which a novel, even a comic novel, can only be asked to deepen."  I tried to read this story through this lens, as freedom can be an incredibly nuanced word, especially when applied to one's personal journey.  

What has stuck with me the most in this vein of thought is the fact that ever since Hazel Motes left for the war, and even upon his return, he carried around an old bible and his deceased mother's old glasses.   Part of the beauty of these two objects is the wealth of things they can symbolize, and in turn how those symbols can cause a reader to think about his or her own life.  Does the bible represent a burden that he is carrying or where he can find freedom? Can it be both? How is that played out in one's life? Are the glasses representative of him looking at life through his family's past? Or just the fact that he is seeking something? Or is he blind to certain parts of life?   He returned from the war a different person--and it is interesting to think about how facing that particular reality colored his worldview and his ultimate fate.

Through the lens of seeking freedom, these objects magnify the complexity of it and whether it is possible to completely be free from one's past and the questions haunting one's mind and whether it is possible to rest and simply be when there are so many things  to process through around us.  What I'm appreciating more and more about this book is life's complexity that O'Connor, who was a practicing Catholic, didn't shy away from.  The pat answers I've encountered along the way feel weightless and empty--and perhaps it is the carrying of the weight while intentionally looking and seeking that brings answers and eventual peace. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

summer reading is almost here! or, an abundance of links and recommendations to help you craft your own summer reading list.

Officially summer starts June 20 though people have been in summer mode since Memorial Day, but mine starts June 28th.  Mt first day off school.  I love my job for a lot of reasons, but especially for the glorious time to get lost in a crazy amount of books for 8 weeks every year.  Last year my book club committed to a tiny type 1,000+ page book which was great, but consumed my summer reading life, so this year I'm looking forward to more freedom. The end of the school year is also always so hectic, so I am looking forward to thinking a bit more deeply in the coming months, which was an upside to last summer.  Here's the list so far, but I'm still soliciting recommendations and leaving some room for spontaneous decisions, obviously.

From my ongoing book list
{summer reading start}
I have been compiling a list on my phone of book titles I come across browsing in my favorite bookstores, in magazines and on blogs that sound compelling.  On Sunday I walked over to my favorite bookstore in Brooklyn, Greenlight, and went through the list and picked out the four that made me the most excited to get started with the reading plan:

1. A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert: this has been on my mental list for years and chronicles the story of five generations of women and studies the relationship of mothers and daughters.

2. Broken Colors by Michele Zackheim: from one of my favorite imprints, Europa (see The Elegance of the Hedgehog and A Novel Bookstore), this story is written up as lyrically beautiful and historically set, two of my favorite kinds of books.  It follows a woman's life through her artistic passions.

3. Stone's Fall by Iain Pears: a highly recommended mystery set in London, Paris and Venice, told backward in time from 1909 to 1867.

4. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy:  three characters' paths cross one summer in Athens

Young Adult

{young adult non fiction}

Of course, I have a few titles I want to read for the youth.  This summer, I'm trying to focus on some of the new non fiction I have in my classroom that I'm hoping to use in book clubs in the fall.  These titles range from a graphic novel version of the 9/11 report to one about Charles Darwin and his wife.  Sometimes I get a little leery of reading too much young adult fiction in the summertime, but I'm excited for what these titles could do for kids as readers.  Initially I hoped to be done with all of them by the end of June, but I think that's a bit lofty of a goal. Ha.

Recommendations and Rereads

Geek Love and Ender's Game from Nikki
reread Danny, the Champion of the World from Jenna
I always reread The Summer Book  

So, I'll be writing along the way from Brooklyn, Louisville and the Hamptons this year, with an overview in September.  If you want to read along, let me know, because I am always up for book talks:) 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The inanimate protagonists among us.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman is a novel in which each chapter focuses around a different protagonist, all of whom work for an English language newspaper in Rome.  In between each chapter is a short section in italics about the history of the paper.

The title made me think about who the imperfectionists are.  Each chapter's protagonist envelopes perfectionism in a different way, while simultaneously embracing--sometimes unknowingly--the imperfections in other areas of their lives.  It actually brought me back to my sophomore year English class discussing Stradlater, the secret slob in The Catcher in the Rye.  Since there are so many characters, each chapter really felt like I was peering through a window into the messy details of their lives that their newspaper coworkers had no idea existed. And, all the while, these imperfect beings--who still have incredible strengths--create a daily paper, which is the true protagonist of the story. It is no more perfect than those putting it together, but it breathes and ignites a certain passion, making it a most interesting character.

In response, I've been thinking about the inanimate protagonists of my own life--places and objects that could command their own story within mine and perhaps thousands or millions of others' lives, connecting us with some giant spool of thread.  Through time some are delegated to mere supporting characters in my past as others step up to help define my current era of life.

I loved thinking about all of the stories that the paper had witnessed throughout the years--and the way that people feel an attachment to it throughout.  I think about places like my high school's football stadium and the innumerable Friday nights I spent there from age 10 or so through high school, and then everyone else who has done the same, past and present.  Or walking through academic quad on Miami's campus in the fall.  Or making peace with the city on the Hudson River with tea in hand.

For better or worse, I know that I can kind of be a sentimentalist, but these are what create community across generations--the kinds of things that anchor people and make them feel at home.  And, as a lover of fiction, thinking of them provides me with endless fodder for imagining all the stories that have unfolded before them--and a little sad that most will not be written down.

And I think, just to flip this idea for just a second, that if we all stopped to think about what our mutual antagonists were--the visible or invisible forces that also connect us with spools of thread--if it would deepen the sense of community and understanding and empathy?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

to run or not to run.

The Marriage Plot is Jeffrey Eugenides' third novel (after The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex) which was released last fall. It follows the college and post graduation life and experiences of three characters: Leonard, with a brilliant mind for both science and philosophy, symptoms of manic depression and a heartbreaker reputation; Mitchell, who has been studying religion and mysticism and is the story's moral center of sorts; and Madeleine, an English major who has situated her life between these two men, most often romantically allying herself with Leonard.  The title refers not just to their own stories, but to the literary sub genre of the marriage plot, which Hanna studies in earnest.  The ending of the book reveals Eugenides' take on it, which I enjoyed, but I wasn't super engaged with the overall plot of the story.

What was interesting to me, though, was when Mitchell was traveling in India for part of the year following graduation.  While volunteering with Mother Theresa's Missions of Charity in Calcutta, he comes across a man there who was a beekeeper from Arizona, with his wife he was still passionately in love with and their children.  "And out of this perfect life had come the need to break out of it, to bring it into real difficulty, even hardship, in order to relieve the suffering of others."  Mitchell was fascinated by this intentional choice and watched as the beekeeper and the other volunteers served the people of the home as a bit of an outsider.  He had an opportunity to step out of the relatively clean space he had carved out for himself in the home to help a man who needed a bed pan and attempted, but when the mess came and he wasn't sure how to handle it, he literally ran out of the home and left Calcutta.

Of course, Mitchell is 22 years old and yet to glean the kind of wisdom that the beekeeper had, so I can't despise him for his act of cowardice.  But it makes me think about how easy it is to talk a good game on the importance of alleviating suffering and walking with people through their pain, but following through is another story.  When it encroaches on one's freedom--time, thought life, expenses both literal and metaphorical--bolting feels like a valid option, especially if you can at least feel good about having tried.  I guess this is all to say that I'm trying to reconfigure my definition of what a good life actually entails--and not merely in word and thought, but in action--not leading a life that is guided solely by comfort and ease, but a willingness to have deeper roots, which will bring both deeper sorrows but also joys.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Best nonfiction read, ever.

When I finished reading Maus and Night it was impossible to not feel the cruelty that is possible in humanity deep in my gut. While reading In the Garden of Beasts, I only became more disengaged with politics and their inability to create the kind of change that the world desperately needs.  I'm a micro-thinker by nature, meaning that I'm a believer and participant in small change on a small nature when it comes to making a difference.  I'm thankful for people who have the brains and enthusiasm for policy and law, but am generally overwhelmed when looking at the world's brokenness at such a vast level.  And so, I sit in my classroom and teach my students to be critical thinkers and to hopefully see some magic through reading and writing.  I knew that I needed to read something that would reveal hope to me on a micro level--to remember that amidst the ugly there were people who loved and people who fought for what was right.  Then I remembered a friend had recommended Eric Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to me over a year ago and realized there would never be a better time to read it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Christian who was a part of the German resistance to Hitler and became involved with multiple assassination attempts, ultimately hanged at a concentration camp two weeks before the end of the war.  It's just over 600 pages and it overtook my reading and thinking life, which partially explains my month long absence from writing about reading on here.  I've never been more engaged in nonfiction and I have never been so captured by the integrity of a single person.  There isn't a way that I can begin to describe all that I took away from reading it, except to say that I can only hope to strive for justice and love the way that he did.  His life is a story of doing what is right, period, and not hiding under the illusion of safety in rules and regulations and inaction.

Streets with names from the Middle Ages and other thoughts on roots.

Tana French is a phenomenal, literary mystery writer and my mom, brother and I have enjoyed all of her books.  I read her third, Faithful Place, earlier this year and for some reason never wrote about it, but still find myself thinking about these words from the final page:

"All that night...I went looking for the parts of my city that have lasted.  I walked down streets that got their names in the middle ages...I looked for cobblestones worn smooth and iron railings gone thin with rust.  I paid no attention to the shoddy new apartment blocks and the neon signs, the sick illusions ready to fall ...In a hundred years they'll be gone, replaced, forgotten."

  I'm in the middle of our last unit of the year, Reading and Writing Through the Literary Genre of Coming of Age.  We are obviously focusing on the adolescent coming of age, but I have found that life continues to spiral me through many comings-of-age. We read 8 short texts of a variety of genres together and they are all reading a coming of age novel of their choosing.  We are having two class-wide discussions, dividing the books in half.  This means that this week discussion revolved around struggle and we have watched all of our characters wrestle with the fact that growing up is equated with pain and finding ways to cope and survive when the safety and blissful ignorance of childhood is pulled away.

This is what brought me back to these words from the protagonist of Faithful Place, because I think to survive well means to have a life rooted in things that last.  The imagery that French employs is so poignant to me--especially the "sick illusions" that  call me to temporary, shallow wellness, which is what we are seeing in class from our adolescent protagonists on their way to finding something deeper and real.   I cannot wait to talk about hope next week and the kinds of things that bring resolution from life's messes. It never ceases to amaze me the way that talking about literature with 13 year olds on a regular basis always brings me back to truth.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

the "added value" of literature: an amazing op-ed in response to the state ELA test

This was a crazy week.  I watched my students spend 9 class periods in silence over the course of 3 days while taking the state ELA test (and they have 9 more this week for math).  Then I listened to them talk non stop about "The Pineapple and the Hare" (that's a link to the google search if you haven't read about it yet), the most controversial reading passage we've seen yet on the state test.  My colleagues and I mulled over two of the six questions for our 45 minute weekly meeting, which happened to be later that day.  Our thoughts at the end were that literature and multiple choice just don't go together.

The New York Times published this op-ed today by Clare Needell Hollander, a New York City middle school English teacher that encapsulates everything I've been thinking about this week, rooted in her experiences running literary book clubs with her students.  It brought my thoughts back to the book club meetings that took place in my classroom this week on Monday and Friday that had been clouded in my mind amidst the state test nonsense.  We finally got to talk about Night by Elie Wiesel, and the ways in which my students read this book were incredible, and trying to summarize the conversations I had would rob them of their beauty and depth.

All I know is that if you put solid books in the hands of teenagers, lives and brains and hearts can change and that you should read this article right now.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

silence and fear.

Some context: I love learning about history when it isn't connected to memorizing names and dates, but rather when it encompasses understanding culture and incorporates what was going on in the world of the arts simultaneously.  There are so many complexities and nuances in our collective history as humans that I love digging into. I finished UnbrokenMaus I and II and Night earlier this year and then spent the last week reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen (who wrote Devil in the White City), and ordered the biography Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas before I was even finished, which is about the Christian theologian who was a part of a plot to assassinate Hitler.  I'm enmeshed in World War Two and non-fiction (albeit mostly narrative), which is rare for me, but I am loving it.

In the Garden of Beasts is the story of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, and his family in Berlin in the mid 1930s, when Hitler is rising to power.  Dodd was an unconventional choice for this position, and far from top of the list in potential candidates.  He was a history professor and a self professed "true Jeffersonian" in his manner and politics.  Larsen does an incredible job documenting Dodd's ambassadorship and the politics of the time.  Though I was familiar with the U.S. isolationist stance before World War Two, it was fascinating and frightening to learn about the politics surrounding the way we interacted with Germany during this time.

In 1934, the American Jewish Congress with support from the American Federation of Labor planned a mock trial of Hitler at Madison Square Garden.  When Germany caught wind of this, Hitler ordered Foreign Minister Neurath to demand that it be stopped.  The American government communicated that because of our belief in free speech, there was nothing they could do to cancel the event, though they did not make, at that time, any kind of statement against Hitler.  Larsen makes an excellent point about this:

"One result was a sequence of official protests, replies and memoranda that revealed both Germany's sensitivity to outside opinion and the lengths U.S. officials felt compelled to go to avoid direct criticism of Hitler and his party.  The degree of restraint would have been comincal if the stakes had not been so high and raised a question: why were the State Department and President Roosevelt so hesitant to express in frank terms how they really felt about Hitler at a time when such expressions clearly could have had a powerful effect on his prestige in the world?" (231).

It was easier to hide behind the guise of politics? It was easier to turn a head than to get involved with what seemed to be someone else's mess? People pleasing seems like a good temporary answer?

A few pages later Larsen asks, "What was everyone afraid of?" (241).  This is one of the overriding questions of the entire book, and one that speaks into not just politics at the international or governmental level, but a personal level.  Quietly ignoring things that are wrong offers temporary safety only.

The title of this book is a reference to the Tiergarten, a park in Berlin that was one of the only places in the city where people felt safe to have private conversations.  As I think about its symbolism, I can see two sides: hiding one's true thoughts in a garden, rather than bringing them out into the open, or the concept that we all need to have spaces in which we can be alone and be heard away from whatever metaphorical beasts are in our lives: that maybe we need space in order to stop listening to the fear and actually consider what is right?

It is uncomfortable to think about this because speaking out at this time in history could mean death of oneself or family, and when there are people to protect all of a sudden everything becomes gray.  So, on that note, all I can say is that I cannot wait to finish reading Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the length that he went for what he believed to be true. More on that later.

Ambassador Dodd was asked to resign in 1938 because he seemed to be taking too bold a stance against the Nazis, even though his actions could be described as silent protest.  He spent the remainder of his career traveling and speaking against the regime until his death in 1940.  Gah.