Saturday Reading – 2018 Wrap-up and a Review

Saturday Reading – 2018 Wrap-up and a Review

8 Incredible books I read this year:

  • The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez
  • Treeborne, by Caleb Johnson
  • Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor
  • News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
  • Brass, by Xhenet Aliu
  • Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
  • The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Reading is my Sport:

41 books
11,936 pages
20 books by women
10 books by people of color

Book I recommended most:

Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor.
This was a great, engrossing read both for its suspenseful plot and its intricately drawn characters. I loved Jess the same way I love my students; I wanted her to have an amazing and full life. Her self-discovery was just beginning and she was a truly interesting individual. What happens to Jess creates ripples throughout her town in sadly beautiful ways. The book this most reminded me of was The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh (also a great read).

I recommended this to a dear student with the requirement that she HATE Paul as much as I did. The cool thing is that she then recommended to a junior in my AP class, who chose it for her independent reading book. It’s like I’m a book grandma!!

Book that was recommended to me:

So Much Blue, by Percival Everett

My friend / former teacher, Trisha, sent this to me about a year ago, and I found it really cool. She and I both love art and artists, and I found it creepy, cool, confusing to spend time inside the mind of an artist for a while.

Review: The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez

CW: Suicide, loss

This is really a magnificent little book — like a diary of grief, filled with a curious writer’s encyclopedia entries of writers, suicides, dogs, and loves. The narrator is erudite, yet relatable in her little life that gets filled with outsize grief, and her little apartment that gets filled with an outsize dog. The story goes that her friend, a famous writer, commits suicide and unexpectedly leaves the care of his dog Apollo, a harlequin Great Dane, to her. She’s also a writer, and she starts to come undone, especially by the question of whether writing is a way of coping with grief or whether writing cannot possibly heal you and will in fact drive you to torture. I’m not sure she answers that question, but she does provide hope in a very real way for a grief that feels startlingly accurate to the actual experience of grief.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that the penultimate chapter, in which Nunez or the narrator (unclear which!) provides a belated purported narrative frame for the story she’s telling, astounded me. It was really, really well done. And it upgraded my rating from four stars to five. What a masterful turn of craft from Sigrid Nunez. I very much want to read more of her work.

 

9 Books I want to read in 2019

  • Fruit of the Drunken Tree, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
  • Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (for once in my life I think I’ll attempt to read a sequel immediately after I read the first book??)
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peele
  • Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
  • Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
  • The Steady Running of the Hour, by Justin Go
  • The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
  • Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger

 

What are some incredible books you read in 2018? What are your reading goals for this year? Anyone want to gush about these titles with me? Comment below!! 

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Friday Reading Rainbow

I’ve hardly been reading at all since the school year started. I think this is a fairly normal bump off the priorities list — as opposed to the doldrum depression of summer when it seems only books can save me from my despair, the school year brings new energy, movement, and a restructuring of time. There don’t seem to be long afternoons for cafes anymore, and at night I work out puzzles in my head: how to help that student, how to introduce a lesson I’m excited about, what to write next. My eyes are more tired now, and my brain is more manic.

I talk to my kids sometimes about stamina and volume in reading. I tell them that they need to work on their stamina and focus now so that they’ll be able to keep up with the huge volume of reading they’ll encounter in college. And I admit to them that I struggle with this sometimes. I remember when I was a kid, able to read for hours straight without moving, getting so focused on the story that I’d miss my dad calling me to dinner. Now, 20 minutes of focus on text is a lot to ask of myself. And I haven’t been asking for it much. Since the school year started I’ve started two books but not finished them, either disenchanted with the writing or unable to keep up with the story after picking up the book for too little time with too little frequency.

What fixed this was my best friend, Hammy. He visited this past weekend and suddenly my solitary little home and my normal quiet Friday night was full of another (wonderful) person. With the temporary death of my loneliness and the departure of my alone time, I found my brain keeping up this pattern of darting around without focus. We visited one of my perennial favorite places, a gorgeous local bookstore (check them out – Paper Nautilus) and after looking at stacks upon stacks of interesting used books, I felt the guilt of not reading twisting around a strong urge to read. So we went home, and we sat together on my couch, and we each read about 30 pages, companionably silent, chuckling and reading out good lines. And with that commitment of focus, my reading life has been restored.

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The book I picked up that day was Brass, by Xhenet Aliu. I’m really amused and delighted by the way this book is written. It feels so real and gritty, yet intimate and sensual in some moments. The story is a mirrored one of Elsie and her daughter Luljeta, both lost and struggling in their youth as working-class, immigrant-born women. Where I am in the story, the mood is one of dull despair, and I’m doubting that Luljeta or her mother will “make it out.” I’m interested to see how Aliu grants agency and power to her seemingly powerless characters. I highly recommend it: Find a copy at your local indie bookstore

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org I’m also continuing my reading of the posthumous collection of Marina Keegan’s writing, The Opposite of Loneliness.  I’m amazed by how much her work speaks for my specific generation. I feel like she’s heard me, given voice to me, and I want to reassure her that we are something and that she was someone. It’s so hard to feel the fact that a gorgeous voice is gone.

For my older or younger friends, if you’ve ever thought that millenials are annoying or spoiled or entitled or gutless, you might want to read this essay, “Song for the Special”. Feel how fundamentally human it is to want to be somebody and then try to judge us.

Now that I’ve officially turned the heat on in my little apartment, I think I’ll be able to find more quiet time. I love autumn rainstorms and chilly late nights and early mornings with blueberry muffins. Reading and writing (which I am attempting to practice daily) fit nicely into that niche.

What’s next? I have far too many books and very little inkling of which ones I’ll enjoy next. Anyone have recommendations?

Sunday Sentence

The best sentence I’ve read this week, presented without commentary. 

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From Brass, by Xhenet Aliu

“It was the kind of sports car that Franky and the rest of the auto-shop meatheads in my school used to drive, since it implied muscle and always needed to be worked on, but it apparently also appealed to Eastern Europeans who were pretending to be James Dean without ever having seen a James Dean movie.”

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