Summer Break Reading
Thursday 22 June 2017
Summer is a great time to catch up on your reading. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere – and we realize not all of our subscribers are – you will most likely have an extended break coming up if you aren’t already on holiday.
That’s not to say you are bumming around the house doing nothing! Far from it. Although the larger stereotype of educators spending summers lazing about is a tough myth to break, I find that most teachers are busy over the summer doing everything from articulating curriculum to attending professional development workshops to taking university courses.
You might also find that you have more time to read as well. If that's the case, here are my top ten book recommendations from my own personal reading over the past six months. Feel free to share these recommendations with your students, mention them to your colleagues, or pass them on to a partner. Creating a culture of reading and readers means talking about books in our communities. Hopefully, someone you know will enjoy at least one of them as much as I did.
Tim’s Summer Reading Recommendations
1. The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns
The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown was my favorite book I read in the last six months. The Moth is a storytelling organization founded in New York City in 1997. Their aim is to get people to tell their stories, and these narratives will blow you away. There are fifty stories in this collection and each take about ten minutes to read. I still can't stop thinking about one story in particular. A chaplain in Maine tells this story about Nina - a 5-year-old girl - and how she deals with the loss of someone close to her. It's powerful, and the entire book is a powerful reminder about why stories are so important.
2. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I highly recommend Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction and was named on many "best of" lists. I'm seriously considering teaching it for Part 3 of the course and using it as my free choice: it's that good. The narrative follows Cora, a slave, as she escapes her plantation in Georgia in search of freedom in the North. Whitehead reimagines the Underground Railroad itself; it's an actual thing, not just a series of safe houses. It's a moving, but also harrowing account of slavery and the oppression, violence, and discrimination – both overt and covert – African Americans have faced over time.
3. All That Man Is by David Szalay
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016, All That Man Is by David Szalay is a wonderful collection of nine short stories, focusing on nine different men, all at a different stage in their life. Many deal with failure of some sort whether it is in a job or a relationship. And many have interesting conflicts surrounding desire: do I try to pursue this woman? Do I have that affair? If you are looking for short stories set all over Europe with male characters who often fall flat in their goals, this book is for you.
4. American War by Omar El Akkad
American War by Omar El Akkad is a fantastic read. It's a dystopian novel and a bleak one at that. The year is 2075 and the U.S. is in the midst of a second civil war. The Free Southern States - Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina (although S.C. is in quarantine and no one will go near it) - have broken away from the rest of the U.S. over the use of fossil fuels. Climate change has ravaged the east coast and wiped out D.C., Florida, and presumably, NYC and Boston. They don't tell you. All you know is that the new capitol is in Columbus, Ohio.
The novel follows the story of Sarat at she moves from Louisiana to a refugee camp to, well, you find out as the novel progresses. You follow her story, and in doing so, you follow the story of the history of the U.S. A lot of the novel reminded me of the "Historical Notes" section in The Handmaid's Tale. While the narrative perspective focuses on Sarat, it also uses historical documents and other government transcripts to tell the story of the 2nd Civil War. It's a relevant, gripping, and fast read, but asks big questions about war, terrorism, aid, climate change, and sovereignty.
5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A colleague recommended this book to me and it didn't disappoint! Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi follows the stories of two half sisters from Ghana and their very divergent paths in life in the 1800's. It begins there, but ends in the present day after following both half sisters and many of their decendents (eight generations worth). It's epic in scope, but it is also precise in detail. I enjoyed the structure and narrative perspective of the novel as well: each chapter follows a different character from a different half sister. I'd buy this in paperback as I think it's easier to flip back and forth to the family tree at the start of the novel.
6. Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, Evicted by Mattew Desmond is an eye-opening look at housing policies in the United States. Evicitons have soured, and Desmond makes a strong argument connecting this to the inablility to escape poverty. We can no longer talk about just jobs and education. If you don't have a stable home, one you know you can come back to every single day, it's difficult to build the stability needed to pull yourself out of poverty. Set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Desmond tells the stories of eight different families all struggling to lead their lives and put a roof over their head. It's also written in the most elegant of prose. This book reminded me of Behind the Beautiful Forevers in terms of the storytelling aspect found in nonfiction.
7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
If you are looking for a YA book that deals with more than romance, The Hate U Give is the perfect novel for you. Angie Thomas deftly explores contemporary issues about race in the United States in a way that will also appeal to teens. Starr, the protagonist as well as the narrator, is a 16 year old African American girl trying to make sense of the tragic killing of a close friend Khalil. She knows him as just Khalil, a lovable 16 year old who was kind, smart, and funny. The media presents him as a thug and drug dealer who the police had to shoot. The rest of the novel is about how Starr and the rest of the fictional neighborhood come to terms with the killing of young black teenager by the hands of the police. It's a complex and gritty novel. It doesn't shy away from tough issues and it explores race from so many different angles that are sensible and laudable. Do know that Thomas's language is explicit and raw.
8. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Before the Fall is a fantastic literary thriller. Written by Noah Hawley (he created and wrote the TV show Fargo among others), it's excellent in the plotting and pacing. A private plane crashes with eleven people on board. Two survive. What happened and why did the plane go down? Because of the people on board – a character that resembles a Fox New Executive, an alcoholic artist who paints disaster scenes, a body guard, a treasury department official, and others – you never know who to trust or what may have happened that fateful evening. A terrorist attack? A personal feud or vendetta? Something else? The best part of the book, I found, was the social criticism of our 24 hour cable news cycle. But, it's also a great commentary about wealth, art, power, and fame. It reads fast, but is written well.
9. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
If you want a beach read, a thriller that also incorporates physics and multiple dimensions, look no further than Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. The main character - Jason - has a wonderful life: a great wife, a great fifteen year old son, a great job at a university teaching physics, yet a lurking questions remain. What if he hadn't given up his studies and his work in the lab to start a family? What if he kept pushing his research about multiverses (multiple realities and universes existing at the same time)? How would his life been different if he focused more on his ambition and less on his family? As you can suspect, the novel deals with this is trippy ways - multiple Jasons exist at one point - and the climactic ending will have you racing through the pages to find out what happens next.
10. Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra is a strange, fun, and turbulent read. The author has set the structure of the novel to be like his 1993 Verbal Aptitude test in Chile. It's 90 multiple choice questions. You get to choose your answers. I've never read a novel like this before. Once you get used to the structure, you find yourself trying to pick the best answer to the question and in doing so - all that tension! - it heightens major ideas about Pinochet's regime, love, fathers, and existence to name a few. For the sheer experimental nature of the novel's form, it's worth reading!