One Month Down–January’s Reading

One month into my new year, and I’m already a lighter reader than I was at any point in 2014.  I’ve read six books in January–not as many as some other people (and probably not even as many as I read last January, high from the adrenaline of my Goodreads challenge).  I can’t say that they were all lifechanging books (although some of them were), but they were certainly all enjoyable.  I enjoyed the process of reading: turning pages, snuggled on the couch, tea in hand; trying to fit in one more page before the day started (or ended).  Here’s a rundown of January’s crop, starting with my favorites.

Tied for Favorite:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


I don’t have a good reason for waiting this long to read Brown Girl Dreaming.  I wish I did.  I’d seen it touted on Twitter, seen people reverently sending each other their copies.  I read about the National Book Award controversy, and read Woodson’s powerful response.  But for some reason I resisted actually reading the book until our excellent librarian ordered several copies for a book club.  I like to read the book club books a little early so I can tout them to my students, so I grabbed a copy when it first came in.  Barely two poems in, I knew I’d be ordering my own.  Woodson’s memoir in poetry tells the story of her childhood in Ohio, South Carolina, and my beloved Brooklyn.  It was the kind of book I could immediately see using in the classroom (I’m using one of the poems as a mentor text on Friday).  But more than that, it was the kind of book I immediately loved.  Brown Girl Dreaming is equal parts Song of Solomon and The House on Mango Street, and at the same time unlike anything I’ve read recently.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


I also loved Anthony Doerr’s historical novel All the Light We Cannot See.  I actually started this book in December, but didn’t have the concentrated reading time to actually sit down and read it.  When we had no school last week because of the blizzard that wasn’t, I settled in and finished all 530 pages in two snowy days.  Doerr writes two narratives–that of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl caught in the town of Saint Malo on the French coast during the final days of German occupation, and of Werner, a German engineering prodigy who finds himself hunkered down in the same town.  I tend to like historical fiction, and I particularly tend to like historical fiction about World War II (I even participated in a short-lived but awesome World War II book club), so this novel, which has been on the top of many critics’ best of 2014 lists, seemed like a natural fit.  It was wonderful; Doerr immerses you in Marie-Laure’s world, painting her as a realist character and avoiding the treacly cliches that can come with having a handicapped character.  The glimpses into Nazi Germany through Werner’s story provided excellent counterpoint to Marie-Laure’s Parisian childhood. I loved the cast of supporting characters, including Etienne, Marie-Laure’s reclusive uncle.  The novel is loosely set around a jewel heist (for lack of a better term), involving a valuable gem Marie-Laure’s father is tasked with hiding from the Nazis as they invade France.  This spine provided just enough suspense to differentiate All the Light We Cannot See from other stories of war.  I loved it.

Honorable Mentions:

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst


My husband got me this one for Christmas because of my deep-seeded love of World War II and Paris (see above).  It tells the story of Cristian Ferrar, who is working against Franco during the Spanish Civil War.  I liked a lot about this book: it was well-paced, gave lots of historical background on things I didn’t really know, and painted a great picture of Europe on the cusp of war.  The characters were a little flat, but for a spy novel it was an enjoyable read.

Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern


I read this book for two reasons: I read about it in O Magazine (and if Oprah says it, I do it), and it was on sale on my Nook.  It’s definitely a light read, but I finished it in one day and it hit the spot.  Love, Rosie is an epistolary novel (another favorite genre) about Rosie and Alex, childhood best friends who obviously should be together but just can’t seem to get the timing right.   It was fluffy and sweet and a cute read.  Not life-changing, but definitely entertaining.

Just OK

The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear


It’s not that I didn’t like this book.  I did like it.  I just didn’t really like it.  I’ve read Winspear’s Masie Dobbs series and really enjoyed those, so I guess I just expected more out of this one.  Set during World War I, The Care and Management of Lies tells the story of Kezia and Thea, childhood best friends whose lives abruptly change when war breaks out.  Kezia is left on the home front while Thea, her best friend, and her husband (also Thea’s brother) both go to war.  I liked Winspear’s writing, but there were places where the story dragged–it almost felt like Winspear lost sight of why she was writing what she was writing.  I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that this was an audio listen.  I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d read it, but I listened to it in a mad-dash effort to reach my goal in 2014.  Lesson learned.

I didn’t review the last book I read this month, We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han.  It was a reread because some of my students were finishing up the wonderful Summer I Turned Pretty series and I got an itch to reread the last book.  It was a delightful experience.

So that was January, a pretty fruitful month!  What are your January reads?  Any plans for February?

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Why I’m Not Setting a Reading Goal This Year

On December 31st, 2013, I listened to the audio recording of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.  I downloaded it in the morning and by the end of the day I was done.  It was narrated by Colin Firth (swoon).  It was one of those books I’d picked up a thousand times thinking I should read but hadn’t gotten around to yet.  And I had an extra credit from December.  But none of these were the reasons I started listening that day.

I decided to listen to The End of the Affair on December 31st 2013 because it was short.  At six hours and 24 minutes, I knew I could listen to Green’s novel in just one day.  If I listened all day.  So I did.  I listened while I cleaned, while I ran, while I made dinner for my sister and my husband.  And by the time the ball fell, I had finished.

Why was it so important that I read/listen to that book that day?  Because I was one book short of my yearly goal of 60 books.  I needed to finish one more book before the end of the year, or I would have failed.

I have participated in some kind of reading challenge for the last four or five years.  Ever year I challenge myself to read five more books than I did last year.  This year my goal was 65 books.  I did not make it. I wasn’t even close.  I read 58 books.

I thought I could do it.  I had eight books left when we ended school for the year, and that should have given me plenty of time to finish some in progress nightstand books and start one or two more.  But I didn’t.

And initially I felt really bad about myself.  Why couldn’t I finish them?  Why couldn’t I meet my measly goal of 65 books when some of the teachers I follow on Twitter were reading 100 books, 150 books, 200 books?!  What was I doing wrong?

But here’s the thing about meeting or not meeting my goal: reading those 58 books didn’t really make me happy.  They didn’t fulfill me, they didn’t fill me up like the books I read usually do.  I realized this as I was creating my annual “Best of the Year” powerpoint.  I present it on the last day of school to my students with recommendations for their upcoming break and year.  Then they head to the stacks of our media center and stock up for the break.  Usually I have to limit the number of books I put in my powerpoint–I have so many great recommendations and not enough time to talk about them all.  This year I really struggled.  There were a few that I loved but as I looked over my year in reading I realized that it was unsatisfying.  I was picking books because I knew they would be fast, I knew I could finish them and “stay on track.”  I didn’t read because I wanted to, I read because I felt like I had to.

I know I could “pad” my numbers–I could “count” picture books or books of poetry I could read in one quick sitting.  And I thought about that as I left school on the 23rd.  But my husband made a really good point.  He told me I could read 8 books “crappily,” or I could spend my time recharging, reading what i wanted to and, God forbid, working on my dissertation.  He was right.  Since NCTE I have burned the candle at both ends.  I haven’t done something just because I want to in a long time.  More importantly, in the past few weeks I had put off working on my dissertation, and was not planning on picking it up again until after the new year, because the books I had to read for it were hard, and i knew they’d take valuable time away from finishing my 2014 reading.  Foucault and Homer aren’t exactly made for speed reading.

So this year, after a lot of consideration, I gave up my goal.  I’m really proud of my colleagues who can read 100 books in a year.  A lot of people I follow on Twitter have started #nerdlution15, and their goals are inspiring. I’m just not one of them. I’m going to set my own #nerdlution15 resolutions and try to stick to them, but they won’t be about the number of books I’m reading.  My reading goal, this year, is to read books I enjoy.  And books that challenge me.  And books I wouldn’t normally read.  It’s to read books I can recommend to  my students and books I can recommend to my friends.  And to read books that will help me finish my dissertation in 2015.  I did set a challenge for myself on Goodreads, but only because I like the way it tracks my books visually. I’m starting by finishing one of the books I started in 2014.  Each time I finish a book I’ll set a new goal for myself.  Maybe it will be to reread an old favorite or to read a book I’ve started a thousand times but never finished.  Or to start a new series.  But it won’t be a number.  This year, my reading will be more than that.

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Nerdlution Checkin! Week 1

Whew!  Less than a week ago I set myself some nerdlution goals.  It’s been a TOUGH week.  I had the beginning of grad school, a late night Sunday/early morning Monday, a tough situation at school.  But here’s how I’m doing so far:

1. Three Blog Posts a Week

Check!  This is my third blog post this week!  Have any of them been life changing?  No, not really.  But I’m really glad I’ve been true to my goal and posted.  I’ve also done some journaling about some personal stuff that’s happening this week, which has been really important.  So writing has definitely been happening.

2. Half Marathon Training

OK, I slacked on this this week.  I actually haven’t been to the gym at all.  I keep telling myself that this week is only one or two miles, and that should be easy.  I mean, I ran a marathon in October, after all.  But I haven’t really run since then, so I absolutely MUST get my butt in gear.  I can’t let this go.  Tomorrow I MUST run!  MUST!  Hold me to that, dear reader!

3. “Do” my hair

I did this!  I put my hair in the same ponytail braid I’ve been using since high school to cover up a late wake up on Tuesday, but I remembered my nerdlution and I turned that braid into a bun-updo-thing.  It wasn’t great, but it was a consciously chosen hairstyle, so I’ll take it!

4. Only two hours of Internet time

I’ve done this, too!  It wasn’t easy, because the Internet is my FAVORITE procrastination technique, but I’ve managed to do it.  It’s made me a lot more productive than usual.  This has been a crazy week because of after school/evening commitments (I haven’t really been home before 8:00 any night this week), and I’ve had a lot more work than usual because of the end of the marking period, but I think that the two hour limit is really helping me stay productive and present.

5. Keep a gratitude journal at school

OOOf, this was tough this week.  I’m having a real issue–a student HATES me for the first time in my eight years of teaching.  Not the course, not English, me.  And I don’t know why, and it’s hard.  But I’ve managed to keep thankful for SOMETHING every day anyway.  And I keep reminding myself (OK, my husband keeps reminding me) that for the one student that doen’t like me there are 130 others that do.  (Did I say doesn’t like?  I mean hate.  He hates me.  And I have NO idea why!  It just started!)


So a fairly successful week one!  I’m not beating myself up for my failure to go to the gym. I’m going to accept that that’s the way life works sometimes and move forward.  Less perfect.  More good.

How have your gone?

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Slice of Life–The Last First

slice of life

A short Slice of Life post tonight, since I’m only just getting home, but I wanted to record something!  Here goes nothing!

I love setting up my things in a classroom on the first day of school.  Not the first day of school as a teacher; even after eight years in the classroom I still get too nervous to really enjoy the first day of school.  But the first day of school when I’m a student.  I love finding my seat, trying to figure out who the least objectionable person to sit next to is.  I love spreading out my notebook, my planner, my water, my coffee, my journal (OK, so I’m a high maintenance student).  I love getting the syllabus, ordering my books, uncapping my highlighters and getting to work.

I’ve always been a student.  I’ve always loved to learn.  I always read more books than I needed to, finished more problems than I had to, wrote more pages than I was asked to.  Three years ago I went back to school for my doctorate.  Today, I had my last “first day.”  After this semester, I begin work on my dissertation.  No one will be there to give me a syllabus and deadlines. I’ll be completely on my own.  And that’s an exhilarating idea, but also a nauseating one.  No deadlines?  No gold stars? No A+s?  How can I learn?

I know how I’ll be able to learn.  I’ll sit at a desk or a table.  I’ll open my notebook, just like I did today.  I’ll start to write.  Just like I am now.


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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (Week 3)


A quick post today, because I’m only just getting home–a super long day!


Last week I only finished one book, Patrick Ness’s really really wonderful More Than This.  I really enjoyed it, and I’m going to write more about Ness and this book tomorrow.

This week, I’m reading:

Teaching Book: Falling in Love with Close Reading.


I’m about 30 pages away from finishing this, and I’m really glad I picked it up.  I’ve already implemented some of Lehman and Roberts’ ideas.  Super practical and really helpful.

Young Adult: The Impossible Knife of Memory


I’m really excited to start this one.  I’ve been waiting to read it for a while, and I’m really excited to tackle it this week.

Adult Book: Sharp Objects


OK, confession.  I haven’t started this one yet.  But I will.  This week.  I swear.

Bonus book: xo Orpheus


My dissertation is on two feminist retellings of myths, and when I saw this in Barnes and Noble today I couldn’t resist picking it up!  It’s lots of short reinterpretations, so I’m probably going to be reading it for a while, but it’s definitely got a place on my night stand.


Nerdlution Update:

1. Here’s one of my blog posts this week!  Two to go!

2. I haven’t started my training yet, but I don’t really have to until tomorrow.  I have grad school tomorrow night, so I’ll be bringing my gym stuff with me to school in case I don’t get there in the morning.

3. I didn’t do my hair today.  In fact I put it in a ponytail halfway through first period.  It wasn’t a great appearance day.

4. This one was actually harder than I thought it would be.  I found myself aimlessly checking email/twitter a lot today (partially because of the ALA award announcements and a slow internet connection).  I have twenty minutes left, though, which I’ll spend answering comments from the past few days on the blog.  I think I ended up with extra time today because I spent a few hours at my parents’ house, and I don’t tend to use the internet there.

Whew!  It’s been a LONG day, but I’m glad I completed…two…of my nerdlution goals!

What are YOU reading?


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#Nerdlution Take 2!–The Good, the Bad, and the Perfect


Nerdlution was a 50 day challenge that began just after Thanksgiving.  It started on Twitter, with lots of teachers and other nerdy folk vowing to do something.  I “participated,” and it was actually Nerdlution that got me blogging and writing again (so hooray for that!).  I posted my original resolutions here.  Like many early participants, I’m back for round 2!  I love the idea of challenging myself to do something, and I love the 50 day cap.  It breaks the year into manageable chunks, helping me to develop good habits throughout the year instead of resolving to do a million things and caving by March (OK, who are we kidding, February…January).

So, like many other nerdlution bloggers, I’m going to reflect on what I learned from the first round of nerdlution before revealing my Nerdlution 2 goals.  

What I learned:

When I set my original goal, I tried to take into account two things: my exceedingly busy schedule and my tendency to let perfection, not progress be my focus.  While most people who participated tried to do one or two things every day, I told myself I would be a success if I did one of three things daily: reading, writing, or exercise.  I know that when I make a goal to do something every day (or even every week) I shut down as soon as I miss a day or a week.  If I skip one day, if I’m not perfect, I might as well give up completely.  So in creating my nerdlution goal, I wanted to circumvent that element of my personality.  As long as I did ONE of those things, I’d consider myself a success.  I basically made it impossible for myself to fail.

And I did one of those things every day for 50 days.  Most days I read.  Some days I wrote–blogging, journaling, etc.  Occasionally I exercised.  But mostly I read.  And I was glad that I did.  I read 60 books last year, and really saw a push at the end of the year, right when I was participating in nerdlution.  The daily reading is something I’ve continued.  I’ve read 7 books so far this year–not as many as other nerdlution participants but a lot for me.  I’m making time for reading, which is great.  

But let’s face it: I would have read almost every day anyway.  Yes, I’ve been rededicated to reading (as opposed to internet surfing, let’s say), but I didn’t really have to change my life to add that into my routine.  I read every night before I go to bed.  I read during independent reading with students.  I listen to audiobooks in the car.  I didn’t have to rearrange my life to incorporate more reading.  So did I really challenge myself?

I’m not sure.  I certainly don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment I usually feel when I complete a task.  When I finished my reading goal for last year, for example (60 books!), I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  I had challenged myself to do something hard (for me) and I’d succeeded.  But when I finished nerdlution, I felt…nothing.  So I read every day for 50 days.  So what? 

For my first nerdlution I was too tolerant of my idiosyncratic need to be perfect.  I didn’t give myself an opportunity to fail, but I didn’t give myself an opportunity to succeed, either.

So where does that leave me for nerdlution 2?

I’ll still be reading every day.  I’m glad it’s a part of my every day life, and I’m going to continue my goal of reading one adult, one teaching, and one YA book at a time.  I really like that balance, and it helps me focus on all three areas of my reading life.  But I’ve got to challenge myself more this time around.  So, here’s what I’ll be hoping to accomplish, besides daily reading:

  • Three blog posts a week.  I’ve been participating in the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?, the Slice of LIfe, and the Celebrate This Week posts lately (well…not this week).  I’m also hoping to at least once a week blog about my nerdlution work and link it up with Colby’s blog and Michelle’s blog.  So that’s at least four.  But my goal will be three because I know that some weeks I won’t be able to get to all of that, especially as grad school starts up again this week. I’m taking into account my desire to be perfect and shooting a little under what I think I’m actually going to accomplish, but not so far under that it doesn’t mean anything.
  • Actually follow my half marathon training schedule.  I’ve run four half marathons and two marathons before.  I know that when you’re well trained, running a race of any distance can be an amazing, fun, inspiring experience.  If you’re not well trained, it can be a torturous death march.  I signed up for the Brooklyn Half on May 17th, and I want to be sure that I am actually trained for this one.  I’d love to include more working out, too, but four runs a week will be my minimum.  I’m not going to give myself any wiggle room on this one because I can’t quit it if I’m not doing it perfectly.  I’ve signed up, so I’m running.  And I’m hoping to be well-trained.  
  • “Do” my hair once a week for school.  OK, this seems vain, but hear me out.  I have crazy curly hair that I don’t even dry most days before going out the door.  I throw some product in and hope for the best. Halfway through the day, it ends up in a pony tail.  But I don’t really care what my hair looks like.  What I care about is feeling put together.  About getting up a little bit earlier.  About not being so “last minute” about everything.  This is going to be a manifestation of that.  I feel better when I “do” my hair, even if that just means putting it in a purposeful ponytail.  My One Word for the year was Purpose, and this nerdlution goal is all about that for me.
  • Only two hours of internet time a day.  This one’s a big one for me.  I very regularly find myself mindlessly trolling the internet instead of doing something I’m supposed to do.  I’ll read blogs, check facebook, scroll through twitter.  And while I get a lot from some of these internet interactions (hello, nerdlution!), I am more often than not just wasting time.  I want to devote myself more fully to the world around me, so I’m going to try to wean myself off of the internet.  That means no scrolling while I wait online, no checking tweets before I go to bed.  Two hours should be plenty of time to get what I need from the internet and move on.  This includes email time and weekly chats like #engchat.  Obviously if I’m working on something for school or grad school I will extend my time period if needed, but only if I’m really using it, and only if I really need the Internet for whatever it is I’m doing.  I’ll be tackling my dissertation this spring/summer/fall/spring/etc, and I really need to be able to focus.  That means wasting less time on the Internet and doing more of what really matters to me.
  • Keep a school gratitude journal.  I read about this somewhere on Twitter (I think?), and it’s such a powerful idea.  I have a really tough class this year that I’m just not connecting with the way I usually do.  But reminding myself of what’s going well and what I’m thankful for is going to be really helpful.  I even have a cute little Peter Pan notebook to do it in.

So that’s it.  My big, audacious nerdlution goals.  I’m giving myself permission to fail at them, but not to quit them.  One of my favorite sayings is, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”  I think there’s a lot of power in striving for perfection, but when that ideal gets in the way of progress we have to let it go.  This nerdlution I’m hoping to challenge myself, but I’m also hoping to continue to be kind to myself.

Here’s to a great 50 days!


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Slice of Life–Distraction

slice of life

I’m really beginning to look forward to the Slice of Life posts, so thanks to the ladies over at Two Writing Teachers for encouraging this kind of reflection!

We had an early dismissal today, like many schools in the tri-state area.  My husband and I got home just before 1:30, an hour before school would usually let out and at least 4 hours before I’d normally get home.  I allowed myself to relax for the first hour.  There’s something decadent about sitting on the couch, watching TV in the middle of the day.  I was watching How I Met Your Mother from last night when I glanced at my husband to make a comment about the show.  He was out.  Completely asleep.

What I really wanted to do was join him.  I wanted to curl up on the couch and let my eyes droop closed and sleep the afternoon away.  But I know that the early afternoon is my most productive time, so I gathered my grading and headed to the dining room.

I spent more time than I probably needed to organizing my grading.  Separating by assignment and class.  Alphabetizing.  You know the routine, because you probably do it to.  How much can I “do” before I actually have to do something?

Finally I was ready to read.  I had papers on Nickel and Dimed to read and reflections on our Macbeth Choose Your Own Adventure project to grade.  (Check out those projects here.  They are amazing!) But I made a fatal mistake.  I had faced myself facing the window.  This usually wouldn’t be a big deal.  Usually I would have the blinds closed and would be staring at the blank wall.  But our blinds broke about a week ago and we haven’t gotten around to replacing them (really because we think we want curtains but aren’t sure what kind…but that’s another story).  So instead of looking at the blinds,  was watching the snow come down.

I was mesmerized as I watched the snow pile up at the base of car wheels in our parking lot.  I watched as more and more of the lamp post was covered.  I watched my neighbors navigate the slippery path to their parking spots (and one near-miss accident!).  I watched the plow futilely drive back and forth, making no discernible difference in the condition of the parking lot.

I graded while I did this, of course, but in that sporadic way you grade when you haven’t found a rhythm or a groove.  Each paper felt like a new task.  What were the students doing again?  What scale was I grading this on again?  What chapter were they writing about again?  What subject do I teach again?  Every time I gained some traction, grading maybe three papers in a row, I’d look up and get lost in the weather again.

I finally finished one class of essays and admitted defeat for now.  Once it gets darker and I can no longer lose myself in the goings on of the parking lot, I’ll try again.  For now I’m giving myself permission to read a little bit, to write a little bit, to wind down a little bit.  After all, it’s a snow day.


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