August Reads

August was a particularly good month for reading, both in terms of getting through eight books despite starting my school year a few weeks ago, but also in terms of the quality of text. I don't ever find myself in reading slumps, but this is the type of month that would give someone who does so much positive momentum. 

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo and I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell were both runaway favorites for me. I wrote about the Lombardo book here, already, but must reiterate that it was like reading the show Parenthood, which made me happy. I Am I Am I Am is a memoir that discusses the author's "seventeen brushes with death," some of which are literal, some not quite as much. They are all wonderfully written and the collection reads more like fiction that anything. I don't want to put the cart before the horse, but I wouldn't be surprised if both of these make my end-of-year top-ten list.

In all, I read quite a bit of non-fiction this month, four others besides O'Farrell's above. Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss was a look at teen-fiction of the eighties and nineties, which I hope to devote an entire post to soon (I wrote it but accidentally deleted it... womp womp womp). If you were a fan of The Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High, RL Stine, or any of those from back in the day, you'll love this nostalgic exploration of common themes. Don't Feed the Monkey Mind by Jennifer Shannon was considerably less fun, a short book viewing anxiety from a sort of evolutionary-monkey sort of approach. It won't dramatically change my life, but it did serve as a good reminder of how to approach obsessive worrying. It definitely has caused me to slow down when I feel my mind start running and ask why I am feeling the way I'm feeling. I might do a post on this one, too, time-permitting. 

Alaxander Chee's How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, a collection of essays that focus loosely on the author's writing journey was solid. There were brighter spots than others, but I found his journey interesting and appreciated his humility. Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin retold Iftin's journey from Africa to America, showing the struggles of his homeland and also the ones he faced trying to immigrate. 

I finally read Sally Rooney's debut novel, Conversations with Friends, and, I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed. It was well-written, but I think a big part of the disconnect is probably with her target audience- younger millennials. I enjoyed her most recent one, Normal People, more. 

And finally, I reread Macbeth for the 32953592305 time, since I am teaching it again. Man, that Lady Macbeth. Such a bad bitch. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I am reading Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am I Am I Am and it is an absolute gem. Her memoir is divided into seventeen near death stories, some more dangerous than others, but all told exquisitely. I’ve read one of her other novels, a long time ago, but now I’m really looking forward to reading more. She’s incredibly talented.

Last week I slapped with a swift little head cold that resulted in an ear infection. I’ve had a hard time adapting to this school energy-wise, and this has not helped at all. I feel much better, but I just can’t shake this tiredness that feels so much more different and severe than previous years.

I’ve started listening to My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams, about a fake heiress and while I’m still adapting to the child-like voice of the narrator, it’s an interesting story.

Super undecided on the new Taylor Swift album. I feel like a few of her songs are pandering, but there are some that are really fun and pretty too.

I’ve seen a ton of old students during the past week or so, since a lot of them are still on summer break and like to swing by to say hi. It’s always so fun to see where life has taken them after they graduate and what they have to say about their preparation for the “real” world.

You guys. We have to start teaching kids to work harder and to grapple with things. Life is so easy for so many of them now, everything is so accessible and we are often over-sensitive of things that might make them even slightly uncomfortable. I’m not suggesting being hurtful or unfair or anything horrible, but we have to make kids more resilient. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

The other day I cleaned out a whole bunch of board books from Sawyer’s room and offered them to my students to give to younger siblings. I had a few take me up on the offer and they were so excited and so thankful. I am so happy that they’re off to good homes with people I know are good role models.

I listened to The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker and I wasn’t exactly enthralled. There were moments where I found things amusing, but the story arc was fairly predictable and the message, while important, was a bit too preachy, considering the people who consume this book are already on the women’s rights team.

You know how people question their mortality, worried about leaving their mark on the world and whatnot? The other day I truly started worrying about how many books I’d be able to squeeze in before I die. I’m estimating an average of 80 books (right now in the 70s, but eventually I won’t have a little child to run around and will also retire someday) for 50 more years (I actually plan to live until 100, but I want to play it safe… will I be reading a ton after 85? Maybe listening, which I don’t count? Maybe playing backgammon in the rec room with my fellow retirement home buddies? I just don’t know), so probably around 4,000 books. THAT IS NOTHING.

I wish sock buns would come back in style. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a messy-bun fan for life, but I really loved my big hair-donut perched on top of my head.

I really want a Little Free Library for my classroom and am considering commissioning some of the wood shop kids to make me one. I have books to loan out, but I think a lot of the kids in my class would participate with their own books. I suggested recently to a group that facilitates community service that they should pair with construction academy kids to do them for the campus, but who knows what will come of it. There are only so many hours and so much money in a semester!

These Salted Caramel Pretzel Blondies from Smitten Kitchen look incredible. I sometimes don’t have the best luck with homemade caramel; I used to be so much better at it, but I think I overthink it now. Nothing a jar of pre-made backup can’t fix!

Sawyer has two birthday parties (well, three, but we aren't going to one) to attend over the next few weeks and I’m going to be real: I’m dreading them. I hate social situations where I know very few people and don’ like feeling like I could be doing something more fun with my weekend time. Whining aside, I know it’s important my kid be included and have friends, so I’m sucking it up. Plus, if we have a party for his birthday I want other kids to go, so here we are.

Five Reasons Why You Should Read The Most Fun We Ever Had

1. Lombardo’s creation of characters was pretty much everything that I could have asked for. There was depth, variation*, and so many layers. I had sympathy for pretty much everyone in the novel, while still feeling permitted to disagree with their actions and choices. They aren’t all necessarily likable characters (here’s looking at you, Violet), but they have stories that make you feel for them.

2. I come from a family of four siblings, although there were three girls and one boy, so I appreciated the exploration of the dynamics that occur between siblings, and how they are constantly shifting. I’ve gone through times that I’m closer to one more so than the others, times where I don’t feel I have a good grasp on them at all, and then times when things are pretty steady (we never have fought like this family, though). The ways the parents play into their development is also interesting, as they sort of disprove this idea of “if your parents are kind and in love your kids will end up fine.”

3.There are several plot lines, but they’re handled with precisions and care, crossing over one another when necessary, resolving when appropriate, and paced perfectly. Time is also manipulated, the narrative moving over several decades during the course of the story.

4.There are flaws in the novels for sure; there are things that get a touch annoying, like the parents’ relationship (and the fact that we’re supposed to be annoyed almost makes it more so), there are events that are a bit predictable, and the writing is perfectly fine but not amazing. It didn’t really matter to me, though, because I just felt so invested in the family, so must curiosity as to what would happen, and so much concern that everyone would be okay. Lombardo wins me over, despite any missteps.

5. And what this all brings me to? The show Parenthood, which I absolutely adored. As I was reading the last hundred pages or so it dawned on me that there are so many similarities (but not in a rip-off kind of way).

*This is not a socially progressive book by any means, so when I say “variation” I just mean that the characters themselves are different in terms of lives and personalities. This is an incredibly white book that showcases many moments of privilege (like Jonah’s missteps with the law; he would have gotten in ten times as much trouble if he had been a person-of-color). The fact that none of the characters really have to worry about money, rely on men for stability, and are able to luxuriate in their turmoil is definitely important to note. This then brings me to this conundrum- how can I love a book so much that is perpetuating an issue that our country has right now?

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I am reading way too many books right now- five (one novel, one memoir, one collection of essays, on self-help book, and one play)! This never happens… two is my max.

My dad died when I was a freshman in high school, and it’s never really been a thing for me. I was reading a book the other day, though, and one of the girls who is struggling in similar ways that I am right now was able to go to her dad for guidance and I paused and thought, “wow, that must be nice.” The idea of going to someone older, wiser, non-judgmental, rational, who knows you, and has your best interest in mind must be so nice. My dad wouldn’t have been most of those things, so it’s not him exactly I miss, I’m just envious of the prospect of having someone like that as a possible sounding board.

Sawyer had his first day of kindergarten on Monday and is doing great! His preschool offers kinder, so we decided to stay there instead of move him to public school, since our home district only goes half day and that’s basically impossible for me to handle logistically, working full time and all. We had the meeting for his class tonight and I really like his teacher and feel confident he'll learn a lot. 

Do you ever notice your tone of voice change and there’s literally nothing you can do to change it? When I feel uncomfortable, put-on-the-spot, and pressured to be “on,” I get this sort of detached bitchy tone to my voice that I’m sure is 110% obvious to everyone but I cannot change it. It’s not like it’s happening every day, but it did recently and I was just left the situation going “ugh.”

I just saw a Groupon for whale watching for less than $22 for Sawyer and I! He was talking about wanting to go on a boat last night, so this is quite serendipitous. It’s good for several months, so I think we’ll wait to go until the weather cools down a tad, but I was pretty pleased with such a sweet deal.

Let me admit embarrassing: I was absolutely delighted when author of The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai, started following my embroidery Instagram account this morning (@daily_floss_). I have a “symbol per book” project going and I recently added a musical note for her short story collection at “atted” her in the caption when I was listing the author. So, now we’re basically best friends.

I finally bought  a reusable k-cup and I am embarrassed it took so long- so much better for the environment and so much cheaper. Since I feel less guilty now I will probably be consuming a great deal more coffee- hooray for everyone!

Fall Releases

Even though we’re back to school it doesn’t really feel like fall yet, but here I am, writing about some of the upcoming released over the next few months that I’m excited about. Sometimes I feel a little out of the loop, and that I don’t hear about books until they’re actually out and sometimes I actively seek out upcoming publication lists, which is where I’m at this year. Here’s what on my radar:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood- While I want to see her take on what happens to Offred, I’m a little nervous about the sequel (although she totally nails it for her Oryx and Crake trilogy, so maybe this will be good).

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett- I’ll be honest; neither the cover nor the synopsis has me overly thrilled, but I’ve never read a Patchett book I didn’t like, so I’m there (plus I think Julie and I might do another discussion post on it!).

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout- Another sequel by another respected author! Fine, fine, you got me.

Grand Union by Zadie Smith- A short story collection this time around.

Make it Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison- I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her other essay collections, but I’m starting to wonder if she can keep going on the same subjects at the same level.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado- I have her latest book on my shelf right now, and this memoir sounds fascinating.

Me: Elton John Official Autobiography by Elton John- I can’t wait to learn all about his crazy career and life.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine-The blurb begins “an enchanting, comic love letter to sibling rivalry and the English language”- two of my favorite things.

Akin by Emma Donogue- I really enjoyed her first novel Room, so I’m interested to see what she does here.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Let’s just begin by taking a moment for Toni Morrison- we lost a national treasure this week, that’s for sure. I’ve read three or four of her books, nowhere near her entire collection, but I have definitely developed a deep appreciation for her as a writer, woman, and social justice advocate.

I feel like I’m reading and listening to a million things right now. I’m about to begin Macbeth for work, since that’s the first text we read. I’ve read it probably six times before, but I refuse to ever teach a book I haven’t just reread, so it’s time to get my “double double toil and trouble” on. Can We All Be Feminists has been sitting on my work desk for months, a collection of essays examining issues of intersectional feminism. It’s fascinating, but it’s taking me ages to get through it since I leave it at work and just read a few pages here and there. I’m reading Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, which I feel a little old for, which is interesting since I didn’t feel that way about Normal People. I’m listening to Reese Witherspoon’s book club selection Whisper Network by Chandler Baker, which is fine but nothing amazing. Besides The Daily and The Armchair Expert, I’ve started the Room 20 podcast, which is about trying to learn the identity of a man in a vegetative state. I also spent nearly two hours yesterday skimming The Overstory by Richard Powers for book club, since I read it back in January and needed a refresher.

In the last week Sawyer has used the words “Netflix” and “Amazon” in sentences for the first time, which is equal parts amusing and disturbing.

Speaking of that little guy, he starts kindergarten on Monday! Everyone keeps making comments like, “where did the time go?” and whatnot, but, honestly, it hasn’t felt abnormally fast. It feels like he’s been in my life forever, so it’s about damn time he has some formal education. I am so proud of all the progress he has made this summer, though. He can basically read all simple CVC words, has been working on blends, and we’ve got several sight words down too. He has an alarm clock now and knows he has to make his bed and get dressed when it goes off, and he is going to start getting a $2 a week allowance for doing his “jobs.” We’re moving on up.

If you’re a long-time reader or know me in real life, you know that I tend to be quite the worrier, especially about things related to jobs, money, logistical matters, and home repairs (all things directly related to me childhood, haha). I was thinking lately about how many safeguards and strategies I’ve put in place over the years to help handle all of this, and how daunting it is sometimes. I envy people who just sort of drift through life happily and don’t get bogged down with details or the infamous “what ifs.”

I desperately want to be the type of person who gets up early to work out now that I’m back to work, since it’s so much cooler and would help my afternoon/evening time management. Unfortunately, it would mean setting my alarm for like 40 minutes earlier, entering the four am hour, and I just can’t get myself to do it. If I slept more soundly and was feeling more rested, it would work, but until then, I don’t how I could survive.

My first week on Etsy was a success- I had a few sales, am feeling more comfortable with the app, and have some new ideas for some bookish hoops!  

New (School) Year's Resolutions

In many ways the start of the school year feels like a fresher start than January 1st, so I often take a few minutes to jot down some goals for my upcoming school year (I go back tomorrow and the students Thursday). Last year my goals were to grade 10 essays a day (I sort of did this... last year I was more on top of my grading game than ever, so I'll call it a win), diligently use a grading calendar (this is a life saver- I assign myself assignments to grade each day, just to manage the piles), apply to be an IB scorer (I did this; I don't know if I will end up grading them, because of some curriculum changes, but I did do it), have my students journal four days a week (I have decided that's not the best use of our time), revamp my outside reading assignments (yup), and stop being concerned with what others think, since my kids do well (I ended up having bigger fish to fry, so this definitely wasn't relevant). 

This year there are some things I want to maintain and do differently:

1. Get more sleep- this is challenging, but my sleep dictates my mood and productivity, which then impacts how I teach. I will never get 8 hours a night, and usually not even 7, but I would like to see some increase on the Fitbit stats showing I'm catching more shut eye. A big way to do this is to simply give myself a bedtime, take melatonin, and NOT LOOK AT MY MOTHER EFFING PHONE AT NIGHT.

2. Keep using my grading calendar- Such a lifesaver. It's flexible, holds me accountable, and falls in line with my need check things off.

3. Familiarize myself with the curriculum changes for the 2020-2021 year- IB is making some changes, so I need to hopefully go to training. If not, I need to figure out what I'll need to change for my next group.

4. Be better about positive communication- For the most part, I don't have behavioral issues with my students, so sometimes I feel like I don't interact with my students' families much. When I taught elementary before I'd send home little notecards with positive comments a few times a month and the kids loved it. I have reason to believe teenagers would like the benefits happy notes would have for them at home.

5. Stop playing the "I'm more tired/busier/more stressed/more buried than you" game- It's never done maliciously, but teachers are really, really bad about this, especially women. 

I'll stop there! I will miss summer DEARLY, but there is something to be said for routine and being forced to do something with my hair everyday. 

July Reads

July is the only month of the year where I don't set foot into a classroom, so, naturally, it's when the magic happens. And by magic I mean I go places with my kid and I read as much as possible. This July I got through ten books, which I think is actually what I did last year, too. Here's what I read:

Four of the ten were of the nonfiction variety, two of which I've already written about. I fell in love with Samin Nosrat, so I ended up reading her cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat cover-to-cover and learned so much (read my more in-depth review here). I also anticipated potential book FOMO, so I started Three Women by Lisa Taddeo the day it came out and discussed in detail here. I definitely enjoyed Dr. Joshua Mezrich's When Death Becomes Life, a sort of part-memoir, part-historical account, of transplant surgery in the United States. It was incredibly accessible and I learned so much about this high-risk area of medicine while reading. And finally, I chuckled my way through David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls. I must note that I think I've enjoyed some of his other collections, like Calypso, more, but he's always a delight and offers an interesting perspective of the world. 

I read a play for the the first time in decades, not counting the ones I read because I teach them at work. I know other teachers at my school have taught Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, so I gave it a go and was so pleased that I did. I loved her take on racism and feminism, and, really, it's probably one of the early takes on intersectionality. On the non-novel fiction front I also read Rebecca Makkai's collection of short stories, Music for Wartime. Like The Great Believers, it's also beautifully written and just so meticulously crafted. I enjoyed her novel more, but this was still a pleasure.

And this brings up to the novels. The biggest letdown of the month was Susan Choi's Trust Exercise, which I know has gotten some mixed reviews. I thought the pacing was off, some of the descriptions unnecessarily long, and a tiny bit dull in some areas. I did appreciate her attempt to mix up the narrative structure, but I thought that wasn't executed as well as it could have been. Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger was a great poolside read- a little easier but still thoughtful and endearing, despite being a little predictable. 

The two that really stood out were Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men by Sally Rooney's Normal People, two books that are as different as they come. I love everything I read by McCarthy, and this one kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time (I need to watch the movie!). I wasn't sure if I was going to love Rooney's as much as everyone else, since I feel like it's aimed at "millenials" which, despite technically being one of, I don't feel like I am. Anyway, I thought it was great and picked up her other one at Vroman's. 

Now let's see how many I read in August, when I'm back at work and on the verge of losing my mind every ten minutes.