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June 03, 2022
And now we are watching schools ban books, especially those that address LBTQIA issues and feature LGBTQIA characters.
It is terrifying. And we must fight on several fronts, of course. But one way is to lift these voices, to read these books and share these books. The more books we have in our repertoire the more we can convince others that these books are not propaganda, but rather they are stories. About people. Who exist.
So here is our small contribution to the fight to lift all voices. Here are some books by LGBTQIA authors or those featuring stories of LGBTQIA characters that we love.
February 18, 2022
January 30, 2022
Full disclosure: As much as I enjoy seeing what other people are reading via social media, I hate the Bookstagram trend of monthly wrap ups that includes a not so humble brag regarding the number of books read that month or a self deprecating “I didn’t reach my reading goal” post.
Even as a kid who loved reading, the Pizza Hut reading challenge was not my thing. I never enjoyed competition in reading.
And yes, I know, I am saying this as we roll out our reading challenge making me sound like a sell out or hypocrite.
But hear me out.
Our challenge is not about racking up large numbers of books. It is about trying new things in reading and those things that enhance reading enjoyment, like abandoning a book you are not enjoying (see September’s challenge).
Reading can be about challenging yourself, but in my opinion, it is about challenging yourself to be more open minded, more adventurous, more creative, more introspective, more relaxed, more social (yes, reading can be social too!) and more of whatever you want.
Even as a reading teacher, I never wanted my students to read MORE books; I wanted them to read more. True, eventually that would turn into more books, but the goal was to make reading a part of life. I never focused on reading more books.
There is a good chance all these feelings come from my own reading struggles. As a child, I was pulled out of reading classes to get more direct instruction. As a middle school student, I never did well on comprehension tests even though I felt like I understood the book. And now as an adult, I read slower than most people I know and less than all of the women in my book club. But I love reading. It enriches my life in so many ways.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk (lol).
And here is the link to learn more about our reading challenge.
January 15, 2022
Kate and I got to read lots of books together in 2021! In addition to our Book Club reads, we also chose to read a few buddy reads. Kate and I have pretty similar opinions on books, with varying degrees of like and dislike.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Kate called this her favorite book of the year. It was a pretty close second for me. Bennett’s storytelling was slightly reminiscent of Toni Morrison. I always enjoy stories where paths cross in natural and realistic ways. Highly recommend this one.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
We picked this book because in years past we have explored the gothic genre with Rebecca by du Maurier and The Haunting of Hill House by Jackson. If you are not a fan of the gothic tradition, I do not recommend Mexican Gothic, but Moreno-Garcia did an amazing job paying homage to the genre while adding some contemporary elements and themes as well. It is creepy, but in the vein of the genre it is a slow build with an understated climax.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This was my favorite book of the year. Eugenides, the author of The Virgin Suicides, weaves a fascinating book whose genre is simply literary fiction even though you could call it: a family drama or a historical fiction or a coming-of-age story. The narration is funny and unique in the way that the narrator is telling the story of his grandparent’s childhood in the present tense, as if he was there.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
This was a fun read, but I think we were all hoping for a little more than fun. Even after our book club meeting, none of us could really tell you what this book was about. It has a unique story structure and it kept all of us guessing as to what was really going on, but the ending left us wanting. Wanting what? I am not sure. I would still recommend it because it is likely that you have never read anything like this.
Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Kate and I both really enjoyed this book. It was exciting and beautiful. It explores old customs, issues around colonization and class as well as family dynamics (always one of my favorite motifs).
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
I wrote an entire blog on this book. You can read it here. Basically, it was too long and not the caliber of book I expect to win the Booker Award. The more I talked and wrote about it the more I liked it, which is a sign of a good book in my opinion.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
While reading Frankenstein, we both thought the same thing while reading Dracula – WOW– I know so little about this book, and it is way better than I expected. Again though, if you do not like the gothic genre, a slow build with an understated climax, this may not be for you.
Get a copy here!
No One Goes Alone by Erik Larson
This book is unique for a few reasons. First, it is the first work of fiction by Erik Larson, famed for The Devil in White City and In the Garden of the Beasts. Second, it was available only in audiobook form. And keeping in our 2021 tradition that we were not aware of until we started writing this blog, it is a gothic tale. It is short; the plot is slow and you find yourself waiting and waiting for something crazy to happen, but it never really does or if it does, it all unravels very slowly. We both enjoyed it. It was filled with some historical facts (you know Larson couldn't resist).
Those were our book club reads.
Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
We started off very ambitious with this one. Meeting twice a week. We made charts and timelines and note cards. It is a heavy read especially if your history is not up to snuff. It was enlightening and a must read for your anti-racism journey.
Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Eh. Save it for the beach. It is a historical fiction novel, not super well written, but with interesting characters and plot, but nothing that you likely have not already read about World War II spies.
Matrix by Laura Groff
This is the fourth book by Groff we have read, and the first I did not finish it. Kate finished it, and basically told me when I was a little more than halfway through that there really was no reason to finish. Groff’s writing is amazing. She is so talented and creative. And I respect what she was trying to do–create a female-only world. And I thought the setting was wonderful, a 1400s abbey. But there was no plot and no character development. If you have not read Groff, try Arcadia, Fates and Furies, or Monsters of Templeton. All so different than the others which makes me respect her so much.
The Dutch House by Anne Patchett
I listened to this one. It was read by Tom Hanks. The story is amazing–again a family saga following the characters over generations, but Tom Hanks reading it is just the best thing ever, possibly.
Overall, 2021 was a good reading year. Leave us a comment if you read any!
July 23, 2021
It is unreasonable to expect a reader to answer the question: what's your favorite book?
Their response is likely, "in what genre? or for what age? a funny one or a serious one? by which author" and then they will just look at you with disgust.
Recently, I have decided to create my top tier of books. Before I add a book to that tier, I have to sit with it and roll it around in my head for a while.
Currently, the books in that tier are:
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Milkman by Anna Burns
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Our book club read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke last month, and after sitting with it for about a month, I have decided not to add it to my top tier. However, it is a great book, and a great book for a book club to read. Our book club had a rich discussion with some debate and each member enjoyed the book.
This is a fantasy novel. Fantasy is not one of my favorite genres, at all, but I do not think that is what kept me from proclaiming it to be one of the best books I have ever read.
In the novel, Piranesi is the main character and protagonist. The setting is the House, a place of innumerable halls and rooms, with statues, floods and fish. To Piranesi, this is the world and it is a kind world.
There is one other person there. Piranesi calls him The Other. He is wise, and he sends Piranesi on various excursions and academic adventures. Piranesi is fond of him.
During much of the book, Piranesi walks around the House and details what he sees and finds. He makes assumptions about his about this world and notes them as truths.
Eventually, Piranesi begins to question of beliefs he has held and searches for the answers. Slowly those truths are revealed to the reader.
Clarke's imagery, allusions and foreshadowing are beautiful entwined into the plot, and the reading experience is engaging and unique.
However, what I found missing was a point or a deeper look at the human experience. And maybe that is part of the fantasy genre (I really have never read anything fantasy, I do suppose). So that is why it did not make it to my top tier, but I have many tiers and this book is up there and I do suggest you read it.
Our Book Club is Cool
This is true for many reasons, but why I bring it up now is to share this. In preparation for each meeting, we each (well usually only a few each time) do a project. (yes, that is correct, there are more than a few teachers in this book club).
But I think we all agree the projects are really good and help the book club discussion along quite a bit.
Sometimes projects are research projects, or poems, or dioramas or games or food or painted pictures... you get the picture. We do whatever moves us and sometimes only one of us shows up with a project.
But whether we have 1 project or 7, they always help moved the discussion and add a ton of fun to our meeting.
For Piranesi, only one member created a project, and it was amazing, so we want to give her props here. Piranesi slowly reveals a little bit of the reality to the reader, and as does Cat's book she made. The pictures here are not related to the book. She was inspired by the slow reveal. We each got to look at it independently and it was so fun to watch everyone's face when they hit the last page. The title is pretty amazing too.
You can check out Cat's artwork on IG and Tik Tok @cateynell or on her website.
June 16, 2021
May 11, 2021
This May we are reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides...