Reading Territories

“Books are the mirrors of the soul.”
― Virginia WoolfBetween the Acts

Reading. It is literally like breathing; you NEED to do it to survive, to learn and grow, to become enriched, to move forward, to enjoy life… I wasn’t always a reader. It has been a learned pleasure for me, and now I can’t live w/ out it. I ask my students to make a list of theirReadingTerritories, the properties of the mind they own by having read a book that touched them. This act of collecting one’s territories is adopted by Nancy Atwell, an inspirational (albeit Utopian) educator who has changed the thinking of many (myself included). So I show my students my list, not complete, but the highlighted version, and I encourage them to keep their lists going well beyond my classroom — to make it complete like a map of their lives as readers. Some students, years after graduated, have told me their territories are alive and flourishing! According to the Woolf quote above, I do believe each and every one of these selections speaks, somehow, to my soul. Know what I read; know me.

MY Reading Territories

Books that make you THINK

Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood

The Reader, Bernhard Schlink

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

The Green Mile, Stephen King

Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

Davinci Code, Dan Brown

Ghostwalk, Rebecca Scott

Beach Reads

Summer Sisters, Judy Blume

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood

First Born & Rightfully Mine, Doris Mortman

Little Altars Everywhere, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya  Sisterhood, Ya Yas in Bloom, Rebecca Wells

One True Thing, Blessings, Black & Blue, Anna Quinlan

Cape Cod, Richard Russo

Lace, Lace II, Shirley Conran

Love Story & Oliver’s Story, Eric Segal

The Way We Were, Arthur Laurents

The Gift, Remembrance, Mixed Blessing, Family Album …Danielle Steele

The Rainmaker, The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill, The Firm… John Grisham

The Classics

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

David Copperfield, Great Expectation, A Tale ofTwoCities& A Christmas Carol,  Charles Dickens

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austin

Mrs. Dalloway & A Room of Her Own, Virginia Woolf

Gone with The Wind, Margaret Mitchell

The Catcher in theRye, J.D. Salinger

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

TheCanterburyTales, Geoffrey Chaucer

The Awakening, Kate Chopin

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

Huck Finn, Mark Twain

King Lear, Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Tempest, A Winter’s Tale, Taming of the Shrew (& probably more) William Shakespeare

Non-fiction/Memoir/Biography/Fictional Biography

Night, Elie Weisel

Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom

Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs

In the Middle, Nancy Atwell

Lives on the Boundary, Mike Rose

Everyone can Write, Peter Elbow

Unquiet Pedagogy, Eleanor Kutz & Hephzibah Roskell

Unschooled Mind, Howard Gardener

Composition Studies as a Creative Art, Lynn Z. Bloom

Dickens and the Dream of Cinema, Grahame Smith

Rainbow, Christopher Flinch

Goddess, Anthony Summers

Dianna, Andrew Morton

A Woman Named Jackie, C. David Heymann

DearAmerica, Letters Home fromVietnam, Ed. Bernard Edelman

Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell

Teacher Man, Frank McCourt

Composing Ourselves as Writer-Teacher Writers

(& anything else) by Wendy Bishop

Drive, Daniel Pink

Charlotte & Emily, Jude Morgan

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

The Virgin’s Lover, Philippa Gregory

The Bronte Project, Jennifer Vandever

Ghostwalk, Rebecca Scott

Children’s Books

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore

Love You Forever, Robert N. Munsch

Made by God, So I must be Special

The Jester Lost His Jingle, David Saltzman

The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss

Ship of Dreams,

The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg

The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Anderson

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznik

Teen/Young-Adult Books

A Separate Peace, John Knowles

Go AskAlice, Unknown

Pigman, Paul Zindal

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Brian’s Song, William Blinn

Pollyanna, Eleanor Porter

ASecretGarden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Girl Interupted, Susanna Kaysen

The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Mother, Daughter Book Club, Heather Vogel Frederick

Speak,  Laurie Halse Anderson

Girly Books

Summer Sisters, Judy Blume

Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

Little Children, Tom Perotta

Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perotta

One Day, David Nicholls

While I was Gone, Sue Miller

Lost in theForest, Sue Miller

Before Women Had Wings, Connie May Fowler

The Book of Ruth, Jane Hamilton

Are You there God, It’s me Margaret, Judy Blume

Endless Love, Scott Spencer

Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley

A Woman of Substance, Barbara Taylor Bradford

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Color Purple,  Alice Walker

All He Ever Wanted, Anita Shreve

A Wedding in December, Anita Shreve

Skylight Confessions, Alice Hoffman

Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver

Blessings, Anna Quinlan

Black & Blue, Anna Quinlan

Books I would save in a fire

The Bible

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Rainbow, Christopher Flinch

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Are you there God, It’s me Margaret, Judy Blume

Pollyanna, Eleanor Porter


WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom

Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells,

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Book-Club Books

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

London, Edward Rutherford

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer

Novels that inspire me to write

Little Altars Everywhere, Rebecca Wells

ImaginedLondon, Anna Quinlan

The Bronte Project, Jennifer Vandever

The Morgesons, Elizabeth Stoddard

Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman

All-time Faves

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Favorite Authors

Emily Bronte

Charles Dickens

William Shakespeare

Virginia Woolf

Tom Perotta

Anna Quinlan

Doris Mortman

Rebecca Wells

Sue Miller

Barbara Kingsolver

John Grisham

Danielle Steel

Judy Blume

… And once students are done w/ their Territory list, I ask them to write a narrative about themselves as readers, sharing my own as a model.

Although my mother swears that I learned how to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by the time I was two, I would not have classified myself as a reader when I was young. It wasn’t until I saw the movie Love Story on television that I went out and bought the book so I could read it. I found when I fell in love with characters or the plotline of a film that I didn’t want to end, I’d buy the book to make them come alive again. Now, I am exactly the opposite. I refuse to see a film until after I’ve read the book because, in my experience, the book is always better than the movie. This is much how I would classify myself as a reader: one evolving through stages.

In elementary school, my reading skills were not strong. In fact, I’ll never forget a read aloud we had with our weekly reader in second grade. It was my turn. I began relatively fluent, but then I came upon a word I had not seen. Nearby. I pronounced it ”ner-bee” and the class roared with laughter. I learned from that experience that I didn’t like reading aloud very much. Instead, I read silently and in solitude whenever possible. At about the age of 10, one of my friends referred me to the book, Are you there God, It’s me Margaret. Margaret, the same age as me, was going through some very similar experiences as I was. Somehow reading that book on the cusp of puberty made me not feel so alone. It also prompted me to seek out other books that I could relate to.

During my teenage years, I was more concerned with social activities than I was with school and reading. I didn’t hate reading, but I didn’t love it, either and the only time I made time for reading was during the summer or over school vacations when I was bored. But it was at this time that I discovered romance (appropriately so) and I also discovered that I enjoyed reading the same books by one author; her name was Danielle Steele. I think I bought every book she wrote for a couple of years. Her books were part escape/part fantasy for me and they all had happy endings.

In school, I always attempted the begin the assigned readings, but I found myself intolerant of books I didn’t understand or those I was bored by, so I’d quit & simply pay extra attention to the teacher who inevitably reviewed the previous night’s reading in monotonous detail. My appreciation for classic literature was born when I took a Women’s Lit class taught by a teacher who had a reputation for teaching at the college level instead of the high school level. It was after reading The Awakening in her class that my awakening to literature began. Out of that experience also grew the desire to learn more about the context of culture & history during which a particular book was written.

When I first decided to major in English at college, I was primarily interested in making a career in writing. Literature wasn’t even a consideration, but it was an interest. That interest grew into a passion that was ignited by several college professors whose knowledge for and appreciation of literature was infectious. My first course was called Literature of the New Testament, a course taught by a blind, Yale graduate. There was no end to his knowledge and I learned more about religion and my own beliefs in that course than I had during 6 years of Bible school. Another professor taught Shakespeare, a playwright I didn’t understand or appreciate in high school, none-the-less it was a requirement, so I had to get through it. On the first day of class, the professor announced we’d be reading a play a week and writing papers bi-weekly. I learned not only to love reading Shakespeare in that course, but I learned how to become a faster, more efficient reader, too. In fact, British Literature is where I found my niche. There was not a piece of British Literature that I was bored by; some pieces I liked more than others, but I found myself comparing it to American Literature, which for me, for the most part was dry and didn’t hold my attention. It was then that I learned to analyze a piece of writing against another and begin to distinguish the nuances I appreciated from those I could not tolerate.

Aside from reading magazines, non-fiction had not much been on my radar until I entered grad school. I was, by this time, a skilled enough reader that I could read material that I didn’t necessarily like and still understand it, but I would have never chosen to do so without it being assigned. I came to realize that I enjoyed reading about theory because it helped me to define where I stood. For instance, I had always been good teacher of writing, not because I was taught to but because it came instinctively. It was only after reading a host of books on composition and creative writing that I learned how closely the two were connected; as a result, I began to identify myself as a teacher and my teaching strategies from the words on the pages.

Moreover, the teaching of literature, allows me to revisit old friends in the characters of David Copperfield, Catherine & Heathcliff, Holden Caulfield and Gatsby, to name a few. I learn more about them every time I read about their journeys, and even more so through discussion in class. Not only do I enjoy reading literature aloud to my students (particularly my favorite passages), but I love to share my passion for it. When literature and socialization collide, only good things come of it. Take for example, the Harry Potter phenomenon and books clubs; these were virtually non-existent in my youth.

My own children are responsible for re-awakening my love & appreciation for children’s literature. When I was young, I remember loving the lyrical rhythm, the pretty colors on the pages and the characters who were a lot like me.  Yet reading children’s literature at this different stage in my life helps me to realize that children’s books are not just for children, their messages dig deep into the core of humanity.

I have certainly evolved as a reader.Readinghas been a different kind of vehicle through different stages in my life. I have learned that reading allows me to see through the eyes of others, but more importantly, it allows me to see myself more clearly. It is also an escape that takes me to places and time periods I could not otherwise visit. I have not only fully developed my reading skills, but I have developed an appreciation for many kinds of texts. Finally, it is the basis of not only my education but the education I share with others. My intent is not only to enjoy reading and learn from it, but also to pay it forward.

I urge you to THINK about yourself as reader. Define yourself. Make a list of books. KNOW yourself. Allow reading to reflect your soul.


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