Sunday, August 14, 2016

july: 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39 & 40

i promise i do have a life, people, but somehow this july i've surpassed (with 40 books total so far this year) my totals for all 12 months of even my best year.  a couple of these books were really excellent, and i knocked out another 5 categories in my book challenge.  this month i read:

half of a yellow sun, by chimamanda ngozi adichie (this is my "book with a protagonist who has your occupation," as one main character is a professor and another becomes a teacher partway through the novel.  i really really liked the book, despite not really knowing where it was going for the first half of the book.  i also didn't know anything about biafra, whose flag had half of a yellow sun on it (hence the title), so it was really interesting to read this book about nigeria post-independence.  adichie is a beautiful writer, and this is worth a read.)

lila, by marilynne robinson (this, plus gilead, is going to fulfill my "book and its prequel." loved this book, even more so after going to my nerdy seminar in santa fe to spend the week talking about gilead and lila with other smart and interesting people.  marilynne robinson is a brilliant writer whose books are so rich.  highly recommend!)

the worst hard time, by timothy egan (this is my "book that takes place during summer." i listened to the audiobook of this one, about the dust bowl, told through the stories of a few people who lived through it.  i learned a ton about what caused the dust bowl and how truly horrible it was in parts of the west.  tons of rich details.  history nerds: add this to your list.)

attachments, by rainbow rowell (this is my "book that's guaranteed to bring you joy," because i love rainbow rowell and this was the only one of her books i hadn't read.  i'll repeat myself: if you haven't read any rainbow rowell, you must, and you're welcome to start with this one.)

the handmaid's tale, by margaret atwood (this is my "classic from the 20th century" because i get to define "classic" however i want.  i remember reading this in college, probably, but it had been so long that i didn't remember much of the plot.  from the queen of dystopian literature, this is a must read if you missed it along the way.  parts were totally creepy.)

excellent sheep, by william deresiewicz (this was one i had to read for work; the author's premise is that the quest for the ivy leagues leads kids to become sheep - fitting into a cookie cutter model of a college applicant - and the ones who make it to the ivy leagues are just the most excellent of the sheep.  he has a lot of suggestions of how to change the college admissions game and how that might affect what students are able to do in college.  if you have a kid in middle school or high school, you might find this a useful read.)

the serpent king, by jeff zentner (oh, i love a YA novel.  this author is the new john green - great characters, compelling storyline, and i got a little teary in the middle.  i really liked this book, set in rural tennessee and now i have 9 months or so to wait until his second novel is scheduled to come out.)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
—Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

june: 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 & 33

i read 8 books this month (absurd!  this is what quasi-vacation and lots of travel and then real vacation will do for you! oh, and audiobooks.  audiobooks help), but only three books fulfilled categories in the reading challenge.  must recommit myself to reading books outside my normal comfort zone!

the unlikely pilgrimage of harold fry, by rachel joyce (this is my "book about a road trip" and it was recommended by a friend who is also doing the reading challenge.  this was okay, but not transformative.  an easy read.  if i was from england i think i would have enjoyed the details of all the small towns he travels through on his "pilgrimage," but as i'm not those were a little lost on me.)

missoula: rape and the justice system in a college town, by jon krakauer (this is such. an. important. book. and everyone should read it.  particularly as i think about my role in helping young men and women get ready for college, the importance of this topic is huge and the book is quite well done.  i have so much to say on this topic - how in the past 50 years we have evolved from "she may say no, but she doesn't mean it" to "no means no," which is what i was taught and was revolutionary at the time, to affirmative consent, a phrase that i hadn't even heard two years ago and now we talk about with our students.  what i liked about this book was that some of the examples that krakauer gives are so black and white that right and wrong is clear to everyone, i would think.  there is a lot of gray in sexual assaults - and he does dwell in that gray for parts of the books - but he also talks about the horrible black and white cases.  this is a must read.)

gathering blue, by lois lowry (i've moved some things around on my list to maximize the number of categories i can fill, and this is now my "book about a culture you're unfamiliar with." this is a dystopian young adult novel that i listened to - i don't normally listen to fiction, but young adult fiction is pretty easy to follow - and very much enjoyed.  if you liked the giver, you should read this.)

fallen land, by taylor brown (this is my "book set in your home state" - though it takes place in virginia and georgia, too - and is a civil war tragedy that totally captivated me.  if you like historical fiction, this is worth picking up.)

beautiful ruins, by jess walter (i read this while traveling, and it is the perfect summer read (a quick read that has some substance)! amazon describes it as "the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962...and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later," which is a lot better than whatever the back cover gave as the description - which almost made me not want to read it. it has vivid characters and was a totally enjoyable read.)

the lone ranger and tonto fistfight in heaven, by sherman alexie (i like sherman alexie, but i do not like short stories - no time to get to know the characters before you have to move on to new ones - so this book was fine and all, but i wasn't hurrying to pick it up and read more.  read the absolutely true diary of a part-time indian instead.)

whiteout, by ken follett (read this is in the winter - it was an odd book to read in the summer.  it's christmas eve!  a virus has escaped a lab!  then a huge snowstorm hits!  characters converge on a remote estate!  it's that kind of book and i enjoy that kind of book.  different from the other ken follett books i'd read, but i'd recommend it if you like an action-packed plot that is ready-made for the big screen.)

the versions of us, by laura barnett (this was our book club's pick for this month, and it's a sliding doors-type book with three versions in the life of a woman and her husband (in one version)/the guy who got away (in a second version)/a man she meets occasionally but has no relationship with (in a third version).  it was a little confusing, keeping the versions separate as i read, and while short chapters kept the plot moving along, i wasn't rushing to finish this one.)

(25 of 40 categories in the challenge filled thus far!)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"but aren't all great quests folly?  el dorado and the fountain of youth and the search for intelligent life in the cosmos - we know what's out there.  it's what isn't that truly compels us.  technology may have shrunk the epic journey to a couple of short car rides and regional jet lags - four states and twelve hundred miles traversed in an afternoon - but true quests aren't measure in time or distance anyway, so much as in hope.  there are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant - sail for asia and stumble on america - and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along."
--from pg. 284 of  beautiful ruins, by jess walter

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

“I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
—Diane Ackerman

Sunday, June 5, 2016

thoughts on visiting prison for the third time

the third time around, they've made some improvements.  there is now a permanent shelter in the parking lot, to protect people who are waiting from the rain or the heat.  there is a metal box in the shelter that contains the form you have to fill out, so you can do that before you get inside the security building.  i wonder if someone had to pass out in the waiting line before they installed this shelter.  maybe not.

the line was short yesterday.  as i arrived they were letting the first 10 people in, and i found myself in a line with only 7 people (and 1 baby) in line in front of me, so i would be in the next group.  we waited 30 minutes, during which time i made friends with sadie the baby and tried to befriend the freckle-faced third grader in front of me (he had no interest).  it doesn't rain on us.  small victories.

inside, i got to see my friend before count, which i hadn't gotten inside early enough to do the previous two times. at 10am, the guards do a count of all the prisoners, which can apparently take half an hour or even 45 minutes.  during that time, no one can change locations within the prison, which means that no visitors can enter during count and if you're already in the visiting room but your prisoner hasn't come in yet, you have to wait out that time before they are allowed to come in.  so after arriving and getting in the line at 8:40, my friend entered the visiting room at 9:45.  this is lightening quick in prison terms.

over the next four hours i filled him up as best i could, with my $22 in quarters: two sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits.  one kit kat bar.  one bacon cheeseburger.  two juices, a root beer, and a coke.  we laughed and talked and people-watched.  sadie is the great niece of his former cellmate, so we marveled at the small-world aspect of me meeting them in line and then getting to see his friend meet the new baby in the visiting room.  on this day i marveled at the fact that there were probably 40 prisoners who got a visitor, out of a prison population at this facility of 1300.  1260 men did not get visited, and my friend on any given weekend is more likely to be one of those people than to be the one getting the visitor.  he has 23 months to go.

i wonder about who he will be when he leaves, about what our relationship will be like.

when i leave he says "i love you," and i say "i love you, too."  this is how we end every phone call (five or six of them a year), every email, and every visit.  we didn't say it before, but it seems imperative to say it now.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

may: 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 & 25

may is a super crazy month for me - i am the AP coordinator at my school, so two weeks are spent pulling those exams off, often with nights where i am at work until 6pm.  then it's all the senior events culminating in graduation.  then it's getting the underclassmen finished up.  i can't believe it, but on top of all of that i read 5 books and listened to 2 audiobooks.  when i gave up cable 18 months ago, i started reading more, and it's not uncommon for me to read for an hour at night these days.  it's much more fulfilling than tv most of the time (quality tv like game of thrones and bloodline isn't on all the time), and i fall asleep pretty quickly in front of tv, frankly.  oops.

this month i read:

behind the beautiful forevers, by katherine boo (this is my "new york times bestseller," and i listened to the audiobook.  this is nonfiction that reads (listens) like fiction and it frequently made me thankful for things like clean drinking water, free education through 12th grade, and a less corrupt government and legal system.  i can't begin to fathom the time and effort that went into the research to make this book, and you should absolutely read this book, which is set in a slum in mumbai.)

between the world and me, by ta-nehisi coates (i shifted some things around so i could make this my "national book award winner." he uses language beautifully to talk about things that are hard to talk about.  i think of myself as a progressive person who tries to understand and support the cause of people of color, and this opened up my eyes in a few important ways.  coates said things in a way that finally clicked for me.  mandatory reading for other white allies as we try to become better at that job.)

on such a full sea, by chang-rae lee (this is my "dystopian novel" and you can skip it; there are many better dystopian novels out there.)

ship breaker, by paolo bacigalupi (i listened to this one, too.  it was recommended to me by a student and it is young adult and dystopian and fits no categories in my challenge - we've reached that point where the "easy" categories are all filled up!  this is set on the gulf coast in a post-apocalyptic world and you don't need to run out and get this one, but i definitely enjoyed it.)

home, by marilynn robinson (the second in her series that began with gilead, and if anything i enjoyed this book more than the first one.  it takes place over the same time frame, telling the same story from gilead, but from a different character's perspective.  it was like the curtain was being drawn back and the world of the first book was made twice as vivid.  robinson is a masterful writer, and she's written a third book, again telling the story from now a third character's perspective.  it will be part of my june reading!  again, this book doesn't fill any of the book challenge categories.)

in a dark, dark wood, by ruth ware (this is my "murder mystery" and it got a little creepy in the middle and i had to stop reading so i wouldn't be too afraid to fall asleep.  and then i checked the locks on my doors.  but i am a weenie so you shouldn't be afraid of this book.  it reminded me a bit of the girl on the train so if you enjoyed that one, check this one out!)

a man called ove, by fredrik backman (this is my "book translated to english" (it was written in swedish) and OMG I WAS SO CHARMED BY THIS BOOK.  curmudgeonly old guy becomes less curmudgeonly.  i cried at the end.  there is a cat involved, though that didn't bring on the tears.  read this book!)

reading challenge count = 23 of 41 books complete!