Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reading Update

Book #32 of this year was a teacher book, How's it Going?: A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers, by Carl Anderson.  I don't have the book in front of me the way I like to when I post these reviews, because as soon as I was done with it I immediately passed it on, first to my co-teacher and then to the elementary administrator at our school, so that the elementary teachers could read it.  It was that good, that full of wonderfully helpful ideas for any age of students.  I picked up this book because I was very dissatisfied with the writing conferences I was doing with my students, and this book did not disappoint.  I recommend it for anyone who is teaching writing to kids.  Lucy Calkins did the foreword, and her quote underlies the whole text: "Teach the writer, not the writing."  Anderson tells you exactly how to do that.  As soon as I can get the book back, I want to read it again.

Book #33 was Barbara Kingsolver's latest, Flight Behavior.  I hadn't heard great things about this book, so I hadn't been in a hurry to read it, but this summer I heard someone whose judgement I respect talking about how good it was.  What was I thinking?  I would read Barbara Kingsolver's grocery lists.  (In fact, I guess I almost have, since I did read her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which was about what she and her family ate for a year.)  This book is fabulously written, and although the topic, climate change and the way it is destroying the planet, is hardly uplifting, Dellarobia and her friends and family are so well portrayed, and the story so beautifully drawn, that I couldn't stop reading until I was done.  The flight of the title refers mostly to butterflies, and specifically the Monarch butterflies, which this year have migrated to Tennessee instead of Mexico.  When Dellarobia first sees them, she isn't wearing her glasses, and thinks the mountainside is on fire.  Soon enough, the presence of the butterflies changes everything for Dellarobia, her family, and her depressed community, where going to college is practically unheard of, and climate change is dismissed as a ridiculous liberal story. The book explores Dellarobia's relationships, globalization, and scientific research and how the news media simplify and misrepresent it, but the narrative never flags. 

Book #34 was recommended by one of my seventh graders.  I loved Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, the story of ten-year-old August Pullman, who was born with a cranio-facial deformity and who is just about to start school for the first time after being homeschooled. One of my eighth graders was doing a book recommendation a couple of weeks ago, and she warned us that the book was sad and "You can cry." That's my warning for Wonder, too. You can cry; I did, a lot.  But this is a beautiful story, and ultimately a happy one.

Book #35 was recommended by my daughter; it was the sequel to a book she suggested over the summer, The Year of Secret Assignments.  This one, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was similar.  It consisted mostly of Bindy's notes, musings, and correspondence, but Bindy really came alive (haha, see what I did there?), and in spite of the somewhat improbable ending, I enjoyed reading this.

Book #36 was Brian McLaren's Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words.  I wanted to read this because I was listening to a series of podcasts from a church that is basing a year's worth of sermons on this book.  This was my first book by McLaren, and I found it well-written, thought-provoking, readable.  I appreciated the way he made abstract spiritual concepts approachable and put words to ideas that are difficult to express.  However, there were several points at which I felt that the book wasn't intended to be exclusively about Christianity.  It almost felt as if McLaren was out to annoy his evangelical readers by a paean to Buddhism, an exhortation to gather for worship, "whether it's in a glorious cathedral or temple, a spacious megachurch facility, or a small local chapel, synagogue or mosque," and a friendly aside: "Now here I am being transparently trinitarian, and some may not be able to go here with me."  That said, McLaren uses scripture (yes, the Bible) extensively all the way through, and his writing is clearly informed by his own experience with God.  I enjoyed this book and found it gave me helpful ways to think about faith.  You can find more about the book, and the twelve words, here.

Book #37 only came out two days ago, and my daughter and I have both already read it.  It's Addie Zierman's book When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over.  I have been reading Addie's blog for a while.  I started back when it was called "How to Speak Evangelical," and loved reading her beautifully written meditations on the cliches of the evangelical Christian world.  The book was no disappointment, but I didn't feel that we had parallel lives as much as I thought I might.  Many of the "growing up evangelical" details are similar, though I'm older than she is and grew up in another country, but the story, like all of our stories, was very much her own.  I wanted to hear more about her time in China with her husband; it seemed to me that coming back from that very difficult and life-changing experience must have had something to do with the development of her depression, and I would love it if she would explore that idea as deeply as she has mined some of her other experiences.   Although Addie's adult life is very different from mine, her writing started me thinking about many of the particulars of my own faith journey.  Here's a quote that will give you an idea of how fun her prose is to read: 
"These days, faith is a lot like Wisconsin: a series of repetitive ups and downs, the natural rise and fall of the road that stretches before you.  Boring.  Beautiful.  Ridiculous sometimes, as when the road eases into the Wisconsin Dells and there are suddenly giant plastic animals and water slides and a huge haunted mansion tilted along the road."

Addie's writing has encouraged many others to reflect on their journey, too, and you can read some of those reflections at the synchroblog she is hosting here.

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