Saturday, December 07, 2019

Reading Update

Book #101 of 2019 was Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane, the story of Peter and Kate, who grow up next to each other outside New York City with their cop fathers and their suburban families. There's trauma in this book, but it's ultimately uplifting, and I enjoyed the believable character development.

Book #102 was Soaring Earth, by Margarita Engle. This is a verse memoir by the current Young People's Poet Laureate, originally from Cuba. It covers her adolescence during the Vietnam War. Here's a taste from an early poem in the book, "Daydreamer."

After those childhood summers in Cuba,
when my two-winged freedom to travel
was lost on both sides of the ocean,
I learned to imagine wholeness
by settling
into the weight
of motionless

But the world isn't heavy, not really,
it flies
through the galaxy
orbiting around the sun, spinning
on an invisible axis and soaring far away
all at the same time, while floating people pretend
that we feel safely

Book #103 was a teaching book, Focus Lessons: How Photography Enhances the Teaching of Writing, by Ralph Fletcher. I was so excited when I first read about this book, because I have done a lot of thinking about the connections between photography and writing, and even written some posts here on the topic. Fletcher's book is gorgeous (filled with his photos) and helpful; he writes about some of the same things I had thought of, and also goes in directions my mind hadn't taken me yet. He's a way more accomplished photographer than I am, for one thing, as well as being a widely published writer. The book includes a wonderful collection of Craft Lessons, ready to use with kids. Highly recommended for teachers, no matter what age your students are.

Book #104 was Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt. This book has been in my classroom forever, and I am Gary Schmidt's #1 fan, so it's surprising I hadn't read this yet. I have had students read it at various times, and it's been well-received. It's so good, but also so sad. It's based on a true story, and set in 1912; the main characters, Turner Buckminster and Lizzie Bright Griffin, are compelling and memorable. I'm glad I finally read it.

Book #105 was Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, by Ruth Reichl, the story of Reichl's connection to Gourmet magazine, of which she was the editor in chief. This is beautifully written, and Reichl's narrative voice is irresistible, so even though it is about a world in which I'm frankly not that interested (glamorous food publishing from 1999 until Gourmet magazine's demise in 2009), I loved it. My favorite part is towards the end, when Reichl goes to Paris on a shoestring, though I strongly suspect her idea of a shoestring differs quite a bit from mine. And while I will never make any of the recipes, it's fun to read almost anything about which the writer is this enthusiastic.

Book #106 was the first draft of a novel by someone in my writing group. It was really good but I can't say more about it yet!

Book #107 was The Last Romantics, by Tara Conklin, a story about siblings navigating crisis together, and then the way the rest of their lives unfold.

Book #108 was Summer of '69, by Elin Hilderbrand. While this one was a less serious novel than the last (it even has a beach scene on the cover, as opposed to the twining plants of The Last Romantics), I actually enjoyed it more and found the characters more believable.

Book #109 was Turn My Mourning into Dancing, by Henri Nouwen. There was a quote from it posted on Facebook that caught my attention, and it turned out to be just what I needed to be reading right now. So much so that in addition to being the 109th book of the year, it was also book #114. And I'm reading it again.

Here's a quote from it: "For in our suffering, not apart from it, Jesus enters our sadness, takes us by the hand, pulls us gently up to stand, and invites us to dance. We find the way to pray, as the psalmist did, 'You have turned my mourning into dancing' (Ps. 30:11), because at the center of our grief we find the grace of God."

Book #110 was a re-read, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, by Brian D. McLaren. I wrote about it before here and here.

Book #111 was Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, by Michael Pollan. This book has a lot of fascinating thoughts in it, but since I'm not a gardener, I'm not sure I fully appreciated it as it should be appreciated. It was my first Michael Pollan book. Here's a quote I underlined: "Proust wrote somewhere that the reason beautiful places sometimes disappoint us in reality is that the imagination can only lay hold of that which is absent. It traffics not in the data of our senses, but in memories and dreams and desires." Hmm. I'll have to think about that one some more.

Book #112 was The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy. This was another book full of fascinating thoughts, in this case about how we are connected with other people by the past. I think I was too distracted while reading it to appreciate it fully, and I hope to reread it some day when I am in a more focused state of mind.

Book #113 was The Next Right Thing, by Emily P. Freeman. I listened to almost every minute of the podcast on which this book was based, so it wasn't new material to me, but I still found it helpful and beautiful and calming. Plus, I could hear it in my head in Emily P.'s soothing voice.

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