What You Should Read While Lying By the Pool this Summer

Or, anywhere, for that matter. Just take a break and read something, got it?

Every year I come up with a list of suggestions of “beach” reads for those who are maybe a tad more literary-inclined, books with a little bit of bite but maybe not as much as normal. That way if you’ve had a poolside cocktail, are stuck on the tarmac while traveling to your destination, or are holed up in an office pissed at the world over not having a summer break you can still concentrate.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
226 pages
Mystery, international setting, family bonds
This tongue-in-cheek murder mystery set in Africa is written in quick little chapters that make it a perfect traveling companion (especially if you have small kids that CONSTANTLY want to show you something). Braithwaite’s descriptions and development of the sisterly relationship show she has writing chops beyond what your “typical” mystery writer might have, though, which I greatly appreciated.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
383 pages
Memoir, tech, family bonds
In a world consumed with Apple, who doesn’t want an inside peek into the Jobs family? I know there has been some criticism surrounding his daughter’s memoir, but I thought her perception was fascinating and struggled to find any real incentive to lie. The book read like a novel, for the most part, and I couldn’t put it down. 

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
368 pages
Music, interview format, drama
This book was read in anticipation of some serious book FOMO, since everyone read this when it came out. The interview format makes it feel like a Behind the Music episode and the characters were directly inspired by Fleetwood Mac, which classic rock lovers like myself will enjoy. It’s not a book that requires a great deal of concentration and is super easy to pick up and put down, so it’s totally idea for a busy summer schedule.

Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold
320 pages
Memoir, outdoor adventures, amazing accomplishments
Can’t get away? Want to partake in some outdoor adventures but can’t? Honnold’s account of free-soloing Half Dome won’t necessarily be a substitute, but will help take the edge off your wanderlust. He details his ultimate feat, but also describes many of his climbing expeditions from around the world beforehand.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
194 pages
Short stories, race, sci-fi-ish
I find short stories (and essays… see Sedaris below) to be a perfect solution when I know that I’m going to be on-the-go and may not be able to devote a ton of time to a lengthy novel. Enter Friday Black. These are definitely not ordinary short stories, though, there are messages relating to social justice, cultural issues, and humanity in general. The subtle sci-fi layers, and even horror, add a whole layer of complexity as well (and I’m not necessarily a fan of either of these genres; it totally worked for this collection, though).

Calypso by David Sedaris
272 pages
Humor, essays
This was my first dive into Sedaris, almost a year ago, and I found myself laughing aloud constantly! Many of essays center around the beach home he purchases, which totally jives with our summer reading theme. I remember really loving how he incorporates his loved ones into his work; he’s honest, pokes fun, but you can tell her really cherishes them. His astute descriptions and comical realizations are the perfect combination.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
421 pages
Literary fiction, AIDS epidemic, complex relationships
This is the book for those of you who don’t want something a little easier or slimmer this summer- you want the big book that maybe you wouldn’t normally make time for. This is the one, folks. Spanning over several decades, tackling a tough issue (the AIDS epidemic and intense relationships), and forcing you to engage with a variety of emotions, this your big kahuna.

Happy (almost) summer!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I am on a total Sophocles kick (an admission I never thought I’d utter). We are finishing up our study of Antigone, so I revisited Oedipus and then read Oedipus at Colonus for the first time. Who am I? I’m hoping to write more on this crazy turn of events soon.

I rarely watched movies, but my husband and I watched Wine Country on Netflix last weekend and I really wasn’t very amused….

I’ve written ad nauseam about whether or not I want to start an Etsy shop for my embroidery (“I don’t suck at it!” “But the market’s saturated” “It would be cool to make a few extra bucks” “What if I never sell anything?”). I’ve decided I’m going to do it (I even snagged my Instagram handle name for a shop), but what I really need is a hard deadline for the opening date (I want to have 10-15 hoops totally done and at the level of quality I would want for selling). I wouldn’t call myself a procrastinator by any means, but I do much better without flexibility. (follow me on Instagram @daily_floss_ )

I can’t believe that there are only two full weeks of school left before finals. I am never one to turn down time off, but, for the first time in my entire career, I’m not salivating for break. I love my students, I’m in a good place with grading, I enjoy being on campus every day with a few good friends, I like having time alone in my classroom during my prep period and before school, etc… I just feel like I’m in a good groove right now, which is basically unreal for being a teacher in May.

Every May I order a box of books for the summer, and this year I was extra good and HOARDED all my Amazon gift cards from holidays, so it cost me nothing. My box arrived and is waiting to be opened on June 7! I’m already starting to forget what I ordered…

The other day Sawyer and I were driving home and he was looking at his last Scholastic mailer of the year (sniff) and he started talking about a Panda book. I heard him sounding out words and, sure enough, he had sounded out “Zen,” all by himself, without being prompted. Proud mom moment!

This past weekend I basically had no plans, besides a quick proctoring session Saturday morning at work. Honestly? It was horrible. I need things out of the house to look forward to and obligations to help me focus my time. I got a lot done, but I didn’t end the two days feeling happy, fulfilled, or stimulated. I totally understand that this is probably an issue I need to work on, and I own it, but the fact that I’ve been struggling a little to stay as positive about life lately was not helped by laying low at home.

On that note, I’m crossing my fingers that this weekend goes as planned. Friday night one of my dearest friends and I are going to the Strumbellas concert, Saturday Sawyer and I are supposed to meet up with a friend and her new puppy, and then Sunday Sawyer and I are going to San Diego to the zoo with my brother and his wife, since we all have annual passes now.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. This week feels all out of whack; it's May and it's cold and stormy, I'm out of my classroom twice to proctor AP exams, and I last night I woke up at 2 am because some spammer from Morocco was calling me (my phone is connected to my Fitbit, so it vibrates). For awhile I thought tomorrow was Friday, alas here we are.

2. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother's Day- plenty of time to remind me how much how little the work I do is recognized [shrugs shoulders, rolls eyes, moves on]. 

3. I just started reading Dave Eggers' Heroes of the Frontier and I just have this feeling that it's not the right book for my current headspace. Does that ever happen to you? It's a good enough book but where you are psychologically isn't a good match? I will power on, but having this thought in the back of my mind isn't making me anywhere near obsessed with reading it.

4. Just in case anyone was wondering, cutting up string cheese doesn't work the same as using shredded mozzarella [shrugs shoulders, rolls eyes, moves on].

5.  The current diplomacy issues our country is having is disturbing. 

6. Also disturbing- listen to The Daily's last two podcasts on surveillance in China. Daaaaang. 

7. I think my five-year-old is attempting to be sarcastic at times- I'm not sure if I'm proud or worried.

8. I think the stars might align and I might get a few hours to myself, at home, on Saturday. This basically never happens, and while I love my family and all that, I CANNOT WAIT. 

Teacher Mom

One of my biggest challenges as a “teacher mom” (aka a mom who is a teacher) is trying not to be overbearing with my son at home. This has grown progressively tougher, since he’s older now and is truly capable of academic learning. He is finishing up his second year of full-time preschool (I initially only was going to do one year, but we had to make some childcare decisions when he was three) and will be in kindergarten at the same private facility in the fall (he will move to public school in first grade). His preschool has done a wonderful job of exposing him to the alphabet, sounds, numbers, and fine-motor activities (cutting, arts and crafts, etc…). I could not be happier with his educational experience so far and really think that his school has been hugely important in his academic and social development.

But still. He’s five now. I received Charlotte’s Web a month after my fifth birthday and read it to myself. In all fairness, I started kindergarten several months before my fifth birthday, but still. How are we ever going to have a mother-son Harry Potter Book Club if he doesn’t get going?

In all seriousness, I have been feeling conflicted about where to go from here. The mom in my wants to let the school handle things- he’s still in preschool, for Pete’s sake. The teacher in me wants to accelerate his progress, especially since he in really inquisitive and is able to sounds out CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words fairly well now. I also have to remember that my natural tendency is to go balls-to-the-wall when I take on a project and I don’t want to ruin what should be a magical experience (I can say that here and not feel ridiculous).

My approach so far has been pretty relaxed, but this summer I plan to integrate some sort of reading practice or activity most days. Here are some things that I’ll either do, or continue to do:
-       Institute a 100 book challenge; once we get to 100 books read aloud together he can go to the book store to pick out one or two new ones
-       Play our version of Bananagrams: We use the game to practice sounds and create words with the tiles
-       Use old magazines and junk mail to cut out letters and sort upper and lower case letters, as well as recognize different variations of the same letters (like a)
-       Work through the beginning reader books that we already have. I have gotten quite a few super cheap ones through Scholastic, so we need to start putting them to good use
-       Work on site words, but NOT with flash cards. I have really mixed feelings about how “drill and kill” some schools are on site words, and while I fully comprehend their importance, I don’t know if I love the strategy. We recently read a Knuffle Bunny book the other night and I made him in charge of reading every “the” we came across, spelling it out and looking at examples before we began. I am much more of a fan of practicing them in context.
-       Story creation- While learning the parts of a story don’t technically come until later, I want him to maintain an excitement for books and plots. He loves to make up stories, so recently he and I talked about him telling me his stories so I can write them down and he can illustrate them.

I am admittedly not as enthusiastic about number sense, which is something I need to think about. I also want to do some more small science projects with him, since we both had a really great time with our butterfly projects last year.

Clearly this yet another piece of evidence that teachers do not quit teaching when they leave school at the end of the day... 

April Reviews

I squeaked by this month with six books read, which, all in all was pretty good, considering how crazy life has been. I am right on track with my goal to read 72 books this year, although I am admittedly a little disappointed, since I like to be ahead. I guess that’s what summer is for!

I started off the month reading Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, which I wrote about here. I really, really enjoyed the book and is one I still think about wistfully, wishing I wasn’t done. In terms of fiction I also read Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer, about a woman named Korede’s experiences dealing with her seemingly narcissistic, sociopathic sister, who kills the men she dates. It was a sort of witty, sometimes profound, take on the normal mystery novel, and was also set in Africa. It was a super quick read and will definitely make my list of recs for the summer. I reread Sophocles’ Antigone, to teach to my students, and I have to admit that I really, truly like it now. It’s taken approximately five reads, but I’m on board.

Rounding out the fiction was Kevin Wilson’s collection of short stories, Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine. I have enjoyed his other books, especially Family Fang, so I had high hopes going into this. For the most part I found his stories quirky and an interesting take on family dynamics, although there were one or two that fell a bit flat. Also, an important warning: if you find child loss triggering, stay away. Since becoming a mom I find myself deeply affected by those sorts of stories and found myself doing that rapid “IwillnotcryIwillnotcry” blink on the bus yesterday while chaperoning.

I try to read at least one nonfiction book a month, and in April it was two. I loved Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, her account of the fire at the Central Branch of the LA Public Library System (read more of my thoughts here). I also read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, a look at living your best creative life. It was… fine. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I find her writing a tad annoying. There were some really good reminders in the book, though, and I appreciate her sentiment.

1,631 pages