Ah! It’s summer. I can read. It’s sounds awful to say (and hear) but I don’t read much for pleasure during the school year. It’s difficult enough juggling reading for school, teaching, writing curriculum, planning, grading, writing for me, house stuff, family stuff– life. Every once in awhile, I’ll indulge myself but only when I know I have a span of time to finish a book. There’s nothing more disappointing than getting into a book and running out of time.
So each year, after the school-year begins, I begin a collection, a treasure trove of books to read over the next summer. There is nothing more satisfying than piling the books I’ve accumulated throughout the year up on the first day of summer to look at what I have in store for me. Faraway lands, worlds unknown to me, people I want to meet and those I never want to see again, a range of emotion, surprising connections, seeds of inspiration, new journeys, insights that cause me to look within and grow. The possibilities can’t even be encapsulated in a single thought and that’s what I love about my first day of summer: what awaits me.
1984, George Orwell
I read this novel in high school. Now, mind you, it was 1983 and this book seemed completely irrelevant to me. I was “bored to death.” I’ve been teaching British Literature for sixteen years and never even gave it thought to add to my syllabus. Now, thirty-four years after I read it the first time, it skyrockets to the tops of charts. Bookstores are running out of it. I scarily begin to recall something of the details that had long ago been buried somewhere in my subconscious. Suddenly it’s relevance calls me to attention. This is a novel I want to teach. It’s I novel I must teach.
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
This is also a read again for me. I know I loved it the first time. But I’ve recently had a reawakening of sorts to Hemingway’s work. After reading The Paris Wife, Paula McLain (one I recommend highly), a couple of summers ago, then reading A Moveable Feast upon a colleague’s recommendation, I feel a pull toward Hemingway. His writing is so beautiful and crisp, which I’m sure I hadn’t consciously realized the first time I read A Farewell to Arms. I want to read this from a new lense.
The Circle, Dave Eggers
Well, because 1984. And because 2016. And because I lead a book group for students with a colleague each year. Because we both teach film, we choose a novel that is also being adapted. Once school begins we get together with our group to talk about the companion texts, comparing and contrasting the mediums. This novel also seems relevant with a very pop-culture twist.
Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
On a girls’ weekend at Cape Cod, my friend Diann pulls this book out and begins reading to Amy and I because she wants us to experience the humor of this novel, one her favorites. After all, this is what English teachers do during their crazy fun girl time. Later, Diann gave each of us a copy and inscribed “Enjoy my book– laugh out loud, a lot. Read it alone or to a friend.”
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste NG
This novel was recommended to me by two people in my writing group who thought I would love it based on hearing the summary of a book I’m writing. I have already begun it and can’t put it down. It’s about a dysfunctional family who suffers loss– something we all can relate to in one way or another. It’s real and beautifully written. Definitely a comp for my novel to aspire to.
Good Thinking, Eric Palmer
Always on the look for good articles about school and teaching, I came across Eric Palmer’s work on how to teach writing an argument. My students are so ingrained with being right that their “arguments” are cliche and virtually unarguable. I know this is something other teachers in my department struggle with too, so I passed the article on. Our department chair bought the book for everyone in our department to read over the summer. I do try to read something on theory or pedagogy to keep myself current. So, check.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling
For teaching British Literature, we assign summer reading and annotating, usually a common book with the teachers whom I collaborate (another Brit Lit teacher and the Euro history teacher). In the past, we’ve assigned David Copperfield, Mrs. Dalloway, portions of The Canterbury Tales and London by Edward Rutherfurd. This year we wanted to spice things up, make a change to keep the course current and fresh. We fixed on looking at polarities as a theme throughout the year, and since I’d already planned to teach 1984, we agreed on that paired with this play. Let me add, I have never read a Harry Potter book. The other two teachers have though neither has read this, yet. I’m curious to see how I read it differently than they do given my lack of HP background (I know, I”m definitely in the minority). Moreover, it’s slated to come to NYC/ Broadway in April 2019, so I thought a trip to see it would be a good way to cyclically end the year.
Hemingway in Love, E.A. Hotchner
This book takes me back to my obsession-light over Hadley and Ernest Hemingway since The Paris Wife/ A Moveable Feast quest. I love the way the two interplayed with each other. I’m hoping this will enhance that experience. Not to mention (well, I must) that I bought this at the Shakespeare Bookstore in Paris last year (yes, my book has the stamp to prove it). I had to buy something to make the bookstore/Hemingway connection a tangible part of the experience (p.s. I have a bookmark, too).
Macbeth, William Shakespeare
Yes, I do love the classics. Some of Shakespeare’s are among my favorites, but never Macbeth. I read it for the first time in high school. Well, the word “read” might be a stretch. I struggled through it understanding very little. The teacher I had, instead of teaching us HOW to read Shakespeare, assumed we knew, and she talked about it at length the next day so I learned that I didn’t have to learn to read Shakespeare. I only had to listen to her summarize it to get enough of the gist to get me by. It wasn’t until I became an English major that I had to take a Shakespeare course as a requirement, something I put off until almost the end of my college career. But the next teacher was very different. He assumed none of us knew how to read Shakespeare and that’s where my love of his works began. I took a course in the comedies at first, then continued with the tragedies. Now, I love teaching Shakespeare, but I have never taught this play probably because I felt scarred in some way. Given our decision to teach polarities in Brit Lit this year, there really is no reason not to teach this play. I’m going to re-read it. The plan is to make myself love it because if I don’t love what I teach neither will my students. As an aside, I do not believe Shakespeare is meant only to be read; I believe it’s meant to be performed, so that’s what we’ll be doing in class this coming year.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman
As a writer who is currently querying my work, I’m always looking for comps for the novels I’ve written. The first novel I ever wrote, and long ago put aside, was loosely based upon my grandmother. If you’re a follower of my blog, which I hope you are or will be, you’ll realize I write about my grandmother a lot in many different forms. She is part of who I am. So my immediate attraction to this book is my deep connection to her, but I’m hoping in some ways Backman’s novel will be a comp of mine because I’m hoping to pick up again one day, retool and publish: the truest form of an homage to the woman whom I revere so deeply.
Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher
Duh! This novel and television series has gotten so much hype this year, that I had to bite the bullet. It’s actually been on my to-read list for a long time, now. A former ex-girlfriend of my son recommended it a while back and said I have to read it. I put off watching the show until after I do. So many of my students have read and watched that I think it will also serve as a good talking-point with them especially since the series is going into production of a new season. I like to read at least one YA a summer so I have a basis of dialog about summer reading with the high schoolers I teach. I always want reading to be part of our conversation.
Victoria, Daisy Goodwin
As an anglophile, I love period pieces. It began when I read The Other Boleyn Girl and intensified when I read nearly every other book by Philippa Gregory. And suddenly PBS began airing The Tudors which led to Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge and Queen Elizabeth II and, most recently, Victoria. I think Victoria might be my favorite monarch of all. After the season ended, I felt the same way I did when the series of Downton Abbey ended. I wanted more. So I went in search for the perfect read to hold me over until a second season of Victoria. I’m very excited about this one!
What’s Your Presentation Persona? Scott Schwertly and Sunday Mancini
It started with a conversation with a teacher friend who also teaches Speech which I do as well. She told me about one of those internet quizzes she took to determine the kind of speaker she was, and as she was talking my mind started spinning. I love quizzes like this. Ones that connect dots for me that I hadn’t seen or realized. I started thinking how I could incorporate this into my speech class. And low and behold, there’s a book. I’m going into this one very open- minded as half-self and half-teacher. I’m looking to determine the kind of speaker I am and how to improve. Likewise, I’m looking to see what I can pull to enhance my course. Thus, the life of a teacher and a writer, looking to see what I could use and repurpose.
There you have it: my Summer 2017 Reading Treasure. It’s easy: make a promise to yourself. What will you be reading this summer?