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What I'm Reading...

Most Recent Favorites, March 2012
Here are the books I've read and especially admired in recent months, August 2011-February 2012.(See Previous Postings, for commentary and titles.)

  • Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, fiction
  • A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, memoir
  • The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, fiction
  • Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch, nonfiction
  • Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller, biography/memoir
  • The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's most Glorious—and Perplexing—City by David Lebovitz, biography/dessert recipes
  • Keeping the Feast: One Couple's Story of love, Food, and Healing by Paula Butturini, memoir
  • The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life by Piero Ferrucci, nonfiction/psychology
  • Goodbye Without Leaving by Laurie Colwin, fiction
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, nonfiction
  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCannn, rereading, memoir
  • Blue Nights by Joan Didion, memoir
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, fiction
  • A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, fiction
  • The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler, nonfiction
  • The Art of Slow Reading by Thomas Newkirk, professional
  • Essential Lessons for School Leaders by Joseph Murphy, professional
  • The Best of American Poetry: 2011, Kevin Young, Ed; David Lehman, Series Ed., poetry
  • The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E. L. Konigsburg, children's fiction
  • The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Trivers, psychology/nonfiction
  • What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers, "true" fiction
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell, fiction
  • Picasso: Master of the New Idea by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Paula Du Bouchet, illustrated biography
  • An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer, fiction
  • One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing, by Diane Ackerman, rereading, memoir

The book that most impacted me in 2011 was The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, an outstanding work of fiction, which won the Man Booker Prize. It was the enticing book review in The Times, Sunday, November 13, 2011, that caused me to run out and buy the book and to immediately begin reading it. The review concluded: "The Sense of an Ending is a short book, but not a slight one. In it Julian Barnes reveals crystalline truths that have taken a lifetime to harden. He has honed their edges, and polished them to a high gleam." I found the book to be beautifully written and incredibly thought provoking.

The main character and narrator is Tony Webster, a man in his sixties, who receives a confounding legacy that compels him to look back on his life and try to make sense of it. Main themes of the book include remorse, the impact of time on memory, the role of responsibility for others, accumulation and loss, and what constitutes a well lived life. Some favorite, powerful quotes for me include, "What you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you witnessed." (p. 1) and "Life isn't just addition and subtraction. There's also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure." (p.113)

I finished the book in one sitting, then promptly began reading it all over again as the ending of the book astonished me, and I wasn't certain what had just happened. I was full of questions I couldn't answer. A second, careful reading led to deeper insights, truths, and greater understanding. Still I only had a "sense" of what the author was trying to say about life and living and, like life itself, my conclusions were partly based on my own experiences and reality. The book did for me what great literature does. I couldn't stop thinking about it and reflecting upon it, especially how the passage of time can greatly impact the memory of past, life events. I felt a great need to talk about the book and its meaning with other readers. When I saw an announcement for a "book club" discussion of a Sense of an Ending at an independent bookstore that I frequent, I showed up. In preparation, I reread the book again, took notes, flagged pages and quotes for reference, and wrote down questions I still had. The book discussion led to different interpretations, more questions, and renewed appreciation for a powerful book. Months later, I am still full of gratitude and satisfaction for having read and thought deeply about The Sense of an Ending and my own life.

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Most Recent Favorites, August 2011
Here are the books I've read and especially admired in recent months, January-July 2011.

  • Just Kids by Patti Smith, memoir
  • Freedom by Jonathon Franzen, fiction
  • The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, fiction
  • Major Pettrigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, fiction
  • Focus by Mike Schmoker, professional
  • Essays by Wallace Shawn, essays
  • The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, biography
  • Paris Was Ours: Thirty-two Writers Reflect on the City of Light by Penelope Rowlands, editor, essays
  • I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Izzeldin Abuelaish, autobiography/memoir
  • One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing by Diane Ackerman, memoir
  • The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity by Russell Roberts, fiction
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, fiction
  • Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers, nonfiction
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, fiction
  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, nonfiction
  • The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heide Durrow, fiction
  • Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girls' Holocaust Memories by Fanya Gotesfeld Heller, memoir
  • Literacy Achievement and Diversity: Keys to Success for Students, Teachers, and Schools by Kathy Au, professional
  • The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede, nonfiction
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, nonfiction
  • Every Last One by Anna Quindlen, fiction
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, fiction
  • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, fiction

While all the books on the list are highly recommended, one stands out, in particular for me: Diane's Ackerman's memoir, One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing. Not only is it beautifully written, it's a compelling story of two gifted wordsmiths whose relationship is severely challenged when Diane Ackerman's husband, at the age of seventy-five, has a crippling stroke that debilitates him physically and mentally, and, most tragically, leaves him unable to speak or understand spoken language. Their daily, loving relationship and successful literary careers had been seamlessly interwoven and centered in language. With that communication gone, this is the inspiring story of how hope, defiant perseverance, and unwavering love defy ominous odds and how the brain can regenerate and adjust to learn language and much more, even at the age of eighty.

Also, two books not to miss, for their originality, superb writing, and thought provoking qualities are A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which won the won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, a remarkable biography that reads like fiction and is written by a science journalist who raises crucial and ethical issues about science and medicine.

Most Recent Favorites, January 2011
Here are the books I've read and especially admired in recent months, June - December 2010.

  • Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson, nonfiction
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, fiction
  • The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World's Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn, biography
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, fiction
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding, fiction
  • Motion Leadership: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy by Michael Fullan, professional
  • Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy, short stories
  • A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter, professional
  • You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr, fiction
  • Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools by Milton Chen, professional
  • Change Wars by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan, eds., professional
  • The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, fiction
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, fiction
  • Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell, memoir
  • Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
  • Half a Life by Darin Strauss, memoir
  • Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray, memoir
  • The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future by Linda Darling-Hammond, professional/nonfiction
  • Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, fiction
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, YA fiction
  • To the End of the Land by David Grossman, fiction
  • I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron, essays
  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave, fiction
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, fiction
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, YA fiction

There are two books I want to call out for being especially memorable in very different ways. Memoir has long been my favorite genre, and Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell is an extraordinary story of a remarkable friendship between two independent women. It may take the first thirty pages or so to really "get into" the book, but stick with it; it's a powerhouse for the magnificent writing, the depth of the bond between two very different women, their devotion to their dogs and their creative pursuits, and all the intricate, telling details which bring the reader as close as you can get into others' inner and outer lives. Be forewarned; as in real life, tragedy is mixed with joy in this life-affirming, and heart-wrenching memoir.

The second book, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande, was highly recommended by a friend who is a doctor. Gawande is a brilliant and humble surgeon who writes about what it takes for doctors to do better for curing specific diseases and for treating patients more successfully; basically, it's a relentless pursuit of excellence and a refusal to accept poor performance. The parallels to teaching and school change are striking. Gawande calls himself a "positive deviant," a term I have happily adopted for a person who strives to make a "worthy difference." Gawande writes,

    Arriving at meaningful solutions is an inevitably slow and difficult process. Nonetheless, what I saw was: better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try. (p. 246)

Commentary: Keeping a Reading Record
I have been keeping a handwritten record of the books I read for the past fifteen years. In a small, plain, spiral-bound notebook, I begin a new page at the start of each month by writing the month and year at the top of the blank page. For every book I complete, I immediately record the title, author, and genre. If the book is outstanding, I put an asterisk in front of the title. This reading record, which serves as my reading history, is a prized possession. Several years ago, I brought the most recent reading record (I am on my fourth spiral) to a literacy workshop where it was passed around to hundreds of educators. When I returned home and unpacked, I realized I'd forgotten to reclaim the notebook at the end of the day. Within a week, knowing how vital my reading record is to me, a teacher, who had inadvertently gathered it up with her materials, mailed it to me with a kind note. I was overjoyed to have the record of my reading life back; what I choose to read is an important part of who I am.

I began keeping a simple record of my reading many years ago when I realized that what I was asking kids to do with books they were reading was inauthentic and turning them off to reading. I would require students to record every book they started, list the number of pages and minutes they read each night, and write something about the book weekly. When they didn't read, I asked them, "Why not?" Reading became a pressured expectation rather than a joyous, voluntary pursuit. When I examined my own reading habits, I had no interest in recording minutes or number of pages read, especially as there were days and even weeks when I did no reading at all. Looking at myself as a reader guided me to change what I expected from students. When I work in classrooms today, demonstrating for teachers, I share my reading records and recommend that students and teachers set up their own to encourage and celebrate their own reading lives. Usually, the students and their teacher jointly determine the requirements, options, and procedures for their reading records. (See Reading Essentials for procedures and some examples for setting up reading records.)

The simple act of keeping a reading record has helped me to do more reading. If it's the middle of the month, and the page in my record book is still blank, I push myself to watch less television and do more reading. I aim for completing two books a month, at a minimum. I have, however, had a month or two in any given year when I've completed no books and other months where I've completed many books. That fact alone has prompted me to be more realistic and fair about my overall reading requirements for students. Keeping a reading record has also encouraged me to seek a better balance in the genres I read. I think about balancing reading genres I choose in much the same way I try to be conscious of my food choices. I strive for a healthy diet in both areas. Years ago I noticed I was mostly reading books on teaching and education and was in danger of becoming a very boring person. I now read mostly great fiction and nonfiction and am choosy about all the books I read. I rely on book reviews, recommendations from friends, award-winning books, and word of mouth "book buzz." Relying on book reviews helped me to quickly rely on reading and writing book reviews in classrooms. After all, the only place in the world you find a book report is in school.

On the inside cover of each of my reading records, I have a favorite, inspiring quote. In my present record, it's this one by Franz Kafka: "Literature is the act that breaks the frozen sea inside us."

Most Recent Favorites, June 2010
Here are the books I've read and especially admired in recent months, August - May 2010.

  • A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesia, autobiographical fiction
  • Who's Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success—And Won't Let You Fail by Keith Ferrazzi, self-help/business
  • The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller, professional/nonfiction
  • Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater by Frank Bruni, memoir
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, nonfiction narrative
  • Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness by Tracy Kidder, nonfiction narrative
  • The Brothers K by David James Duncan, fiction
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, autobiography, nonfiction narrative
  • The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future of Educational Change by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley, professional
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, fiction
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, fiction
  • Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization by Yong Zhao, professional
  • The Best American Short Stories: 2009 by Alice Sebold, ed. and Heidi Pitlor, series ed., short stories
  • Nothing Was the Same: A Memoir by Kay Redfield Jamison, memoir
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen, memoir
  • Push by Sapphire, fiction
  • Lit by Mary Karr, memoir
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett, fiction
  • True Compass: Edward M. Kennedy by Edward Kennedy, memoir
  • The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, nonfiction/history
  • The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss by George A. Bonanno, nonfiction
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, fiction
  • Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt, memoir
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, fiction
  • Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard, biography
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy, fiction
  • Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro, short stories
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, fiction
  • Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom, short stories
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, nonfiction
  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, fiction

There are a number of extraordinary and memorable books on this list, including Zeitoun by Dave Eggars, Lit by Mary Karr, and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. However, my favorite remains Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This incredible novel, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is a captivating, must-read for all who love great literature. Olive Kitteridge, a retired, seventh grade math teacher, is a complex, cantankerous woman who lives in a small town in Maine. Her complex character is vividly brought to life in thirteen chapters, each told by a different resident of the town—Olive's husband, her adult son, a former student, and many others. Through these disparate and sometimes, desperate, honest voices we come to know Olive, to suffer with her, to understand her, to criticize her many failings, and, ultimately, to empathize and forgive this deeply flawed, yet entirely human, character. This book made me feel privileged as a reader, both for the vivid portrait of an unforgettable character and the gorgeous writing.

Commentary: The Joy of Rereading Favorite Books
As soon as I finished Olive Kitteridge, I knew I had to reread it. It wasn't just that my book club would be discussing it and I wanted to be prepared. It was mostly that I wanted to know Olive better, to see if what I thought about her at first would hold up now that I'd finished the book. I wanted to see what clues the author gave into Olive's complex character, actions, and motivations that I missed but could now grasp because I had the whole story. But, mostly, I wanted to savor the language, writing, and characters of this superb book once again.

Over the years I have reread beloved classics such Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Gone With the Wind, and Jane Eyre, to name a few for sheer pleasure and for reading like a writer to notice "How did the author do that?" More recently, I've reread current titles such as Without a Map, Out Stealing Horses, and Team of Rivals. I find comfort and contentment in reconnecting with treasured characters, stories, incidents, and favorite authors. Likewise, we must not just allow but, also, encourage our students to reread for their own pleasure and information. Rereading increases fluency, engagement, enjoyment, and comprehension. Perhaps, just as important, rereading a favorite book can impart a feeling of well being and contentment, very much akin to being with a well-known and respected friend.

Most Recent Favorites, August 2009

  • The Good Parents by Joan London, fiction
  • What Really Matters in Response to Intervention by Richard L. Allington, professional
  • Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne. D. LeClaire, memoir
  • Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman, nutrition/eating
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova, fiction
  • Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry by Donald Hall
  • Leading Change in Your School by Douglas Reeves, professional
  • Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl, nonfiction
  • Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother by Barbara Graham (editor), short essays
  • When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen, fiction
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, fiction
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, fiction
  • Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher, nonfiction
  • A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, fiction
  • RTI From All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know by Mary Howard, professional
  • Reaching Out by Francisco Jimenez, memoir
  • How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins, nonfiction/business
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, fiction
  • What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen, memoir
  • House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, fiction

The most memorable book on the list is The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. If it weren't for it being a selection of my monthly book group, I probably would have passed this great title by. Even so, I had to work hard to sustain my interest through the first twenty-five pages because of the many historical footnotes. (Those footnotes provide the necessary historical context for the Dominican Republic setting under the brutal reign of Trujillo.) That said, once you get hooked—and you will—the book is mesmerizing. It's the most original and energetic writing style I've encountered in many years. The construction of the poetic prose—both English and Spanish, the intersection of truthfulness and fanciful imagination, the juxtaposition of excruciating heartbreak and amazing humor, and the lively voices of the narrators in this unforgettable story all make this book a joy to read and savor.

Commentary: The Winding Path Toward Reading Good Literature
I didn't become a reader, that is, someone who chose to read for pleasure and information, until I was a teenager. Looking back, I believe two major factors finally caused me to take the leap into voluntary reading of "good" literature. First of all, as a romance-crazed girl following the adventures of Archie and Veronica and the like, I was hooked on romance comics and I insatiably read those, every night, under the bed covers. Other than reading my way through the Nancy Drew series, I honestly don't remember reading many books. Reading comics to my heart's content eventually made me graduate to the finer fare my mother had been encouraging me to read for years. Secondly, my grandmother read aloud to me Gone With the Wind when I was fifteen. I was mesmerized by the language and couldn't get the characters and story out of my mind. Grandma's lilting, expressive voice and her obvious joy of literature was such a profound influence that I was driven to pick up the book on my own.

I think because I spent so many years reading "lesser fare," today I gravitate towards very well-written fiction and nonfiction. My own experience has led me to encourage teachers and parents to let kids choose to read any genre that interests them, whether it be old-fashioned comic books, graphic novels or magazines and, at the same time, to continue to read aloud great literature regardless of the child's age. Children who become great readers read voraciously. As teachers and parents, we need to be careful not to derail kids' curiosity and interests with early restrictions. Independent reading time means giving kids access and choice to a wide range of materials. With freedom of choice and our gentle guidance, our children and students do eventually move towards higher ground in reading.

Most Recent Favorites, March 2009
Here are the books I've read and especially admired in recent months, August - February 2009.

  • Away by Amy Bloom, fiction
  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, fiction
  • Here If You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup, nonfiction
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, fiction
  • Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Though His Son's Addiction by David Sheff, memoir
  • Run by Ann Patchett, fiction
  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, historical fiction
  • The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper, memoir
  • Leadership and Sustainability: System Thinkers in Action by Michael Fullan, professional
  • Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata, fiction
  • The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee, memoir
  • Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck, memoir
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, historical account, biography
  • The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer, fiction
  • Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy by Ian Kelly, biography
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, fiction
  • Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips, fiction
  • Leading Professional Learning Communities: Voices from Research and Practice by Shirley M. Hord and William A. Sommers, professional
  • Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir by Diana Athill, memoir

The most memorable book on the list is Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I bought the book over a year ago and it sat on my bookshelf because it seemed daunting, 700-pages plus an additional 200 pages of references. But what a book! When I heard President Barack Obama say (while he was still a candidate) that if he could only take two books with him into the White House, Team of Rivals would be one of them, I was spurred into action. When the book ended, I wanted to start reading it all over again. I learned so much about Lincoln's character, the Civil War, politics and life in Washington, D.C. and America in the 1860s, and so much more. In particular, I found Lincoln's essential character to be a model not just for national and world leaders but for us all. Lincoln's self-confidence, capacity to grow and evolve, respond to crisis, to listen with an open mind to new ideas and make changes when warranted, to stick to his principles and high moral standards, to clearly and eloquently communicate his ideas, and to tell a great story are all qualities I admire and aspire to.

Commentary: Buying Books
I buy a lot of books. I used to feel guilty about it but no longer. After reading The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, I believe I am doing my part for the economy by supporting our local, independent booksellers. I purchase all my books at the University of Washington Bookstore or at the Elliott Bay Book Company in downtown Seattle. Buzbee convincingly argues that the $25 you might spend on a dinner entree will have longer satisfaction if spent on a book. "Books are digested, Francis Bacon reminds us, but never consumed." (p. 132.) The author reminds us what a bargain books are, given the enormous satisfaction they give us readers. As if this bookaholic needed convincing. In fact, since reading The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, my book buying is up, way up.

Most Recent Favorites, August 2008
Here are the books I've read and especially admired in recent months, February-July 2008.

  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan, nonfiction
  • Why We Teach: Learning, Laughter, Love, and the Power to Transform Lives by Linda Alston, professional
  • The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama, nonfiction
  • Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama, nonfiction
  • Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott, nonfiction
  • The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson, nonfiction
  • The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin, nonfiction
  • Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era, and the Fight to Be the World's Fastest Human Being by Todd Balf, nonfiction
  • The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir by Isabel Allende, memoir
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, historical fiction
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, nonfiction
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jefffrey Zaslow, nonfiction
  • My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, nonfiction
  • The Six Secrets of Change: what the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive by Michael Fullan, nonfiction
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, fiction
  • When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, fiction
  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, short stories
  • The Mistress of Spices: A Novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, fiction
  • Say You're One of Them by Uwen Akpan, short stories
My favorite on this list is The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende. I found this exuberant memoir of an unconventional, loving family so compelling that I finished the book in two days. Afterwards, I just wanted to savor it and deliberately waited almost a week before beginning a new book.

Reading as Respite
These past six months and more, I have been immersed in writing a detailed professional development project. The work is the usual combination of demanding, exhausting, and fulfilling. At some point in the day, usually by late afternoon or after dinner, I pick up a book and disappear into the world the author has created. This call-to-read feels as great as my hunger for food, friendship, and love.

In fact, the many books I read continue to sustain me and give me a life beyond work. Beautifully crafted stories, both fiction and nonfiction, satisfy my need for total escape, peace, adventure, knowledge, and entry into a space where anything seems possible. Happily, I also observe reading-as-refuge in my husband Frank and our granddaughters Katie and Brooke. To see them so peacefully lost in a book, hunched over a desk or squished into a soft chair soaking up the rhythms of language and life, shows me that they, too, have captured the magic. I hope reading does the same for you.

Most Recent Favorites, February 2008
Here are the books I've read from September 2007 through January 2008.

  • The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar, fiction
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, nonfiction
  • Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda, nonfiction
  • Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, historical novel
  • The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman, nonfiction
  • The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them, Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen, eds., nonfiction
  • Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, nonfiction
  • The Philosopher's Dog: Friendships with Animals by Raimond Gaita, nonfiction/philosophy
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, nonfiction
My favorite on this list is The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. It takes place in India and shows the impact class divisions have on the lives of two families. The story, setting, and character development are so compelling and well crafted that the book has stayed with me even though I found the ending unrealistic.

Daily Reading
My day begins reading The New York Times. I grew up with that ritual. My dad read it with his morning coffee (just as I do) and during his daily commute by train to New York City. The editorials are my favorite part, and I often recommend that my husband, Frank, or a friend read one so we can talk about it.

Weekly Reading
I can hardly wait for Sunday mornings when I spend a couple of hours with The New York Times. I live for the Book Review. I pore through those reviews throughout the week and savor many of them. I get inspired to read by learning about newly published titles, up-and-coming authors, and profiles of fascinating people—the writers and the characters they create. Often, I fold down the pages related to books I intend to read (and purchase). I confess an addiction to having hard copies of well-written books on my bookshelves.

Next, I go to the News of the Week in Review and look for an editorial by Frank Rich, a terrific writer with a knack for distilling "the truth" from recent political happenings and hype. On Tuesdays, I seek out the Science Times. Perhaps, because I never liked science as a child and did a terrible job teaching it (I replicated the reading-of-the-science text my teachers had done with me) I now find it fascinating and am held spellbound by modern science stories and how they apply to our lives.

Many weekdays find me poring over recipes and thinking about what I might cook for dinner. As I pen this, it's a dreary winter day, and a recipe for a hearty Tuscan bean stew has caught my fancy. I've jotted down the ingredients I need and look forward to putting them all together tonight. I love the aroma and taste of homemade soup as well as the pleasure of cooking for my husband and knowing that we'll be enjoying that soup for days. Some of our most cherished recipes come from Gourmet and Sunset, two magazines I subscribe to, as well as from newspaper clippings that I have been filing by category for many years.

I also depend on Education Week to stay informed about national issues regarding policy, politics, and research. I especially like to read the Commentary on the final page.

Monthly Reading
I subscribe to a bunch of monthly and quarterly journals for staying current with research and practice in the teaching profession: The Reading Teacher, Language Arts, Educational Leadership, Kappan, Voices from the Middle, and Reading Research Quarterly. I browse through a journal when it arrives, tab the articles I want to read, and take the month to read all those that interest me. Recently, I've begun reading some articles online. That is, when I receive email notification (always before I receive the journal by mail), I print out an article that I "must read" right now.

Your Reading Life
What are you reading now? I encourage you to share your own short lists of favorites with friends and colleagues. If you're like me, I bet you always wish you had more time to read. Finding that time is hard, I know, but I encourage you to "steal" it from your schedule. I also encourage you not to feel guilty when you go through a period when you don't read a lot. Right now, I'm reading mostly short pieces—magazines, journals, favorite parts from recently completed books.

Most Recent Favorites, August 2007
Here are the books I've read from June through August 2007.

  • Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater, memoir
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver, nonfiction narrative
  • Everyman by Philip Roth, fiction
  • Dog Years by Mark Doty, memoir
  • Without a Map by Meredith Hall, memoir
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, fiction
  • Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee, biography
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, nonfiction
My favorite on this list is Without a Map by Meredith Hall, a haunting, beautifully written memoir and one of the best I've read in years. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

What I'm Reading for Pleasure
At the end of the day, I read. I love the quiet it brings. I relish getting lost in a marvelous story. I especially love to read memoir and fiction because I am fascinated with character, why people behave the way they do, how relationships flourish and flounder, and how people overcome adversity. Lately I have been reading more nonfiction and find I like nonfiction narratives best.

Because reading for enjoyment is one of the ways I enrich my life, I share recent favorite books with you in the hopes that you will love even one book as much as I did. Books are a way I unwind, connect with others, and learn what's going on in the world. Reading also feeds my writing; I couldn't write if I didn't read. Through reading I observe what authors do and marvel at how they do it.

How I Choose My Reading Titles
Most of the books I read come from trustworthy recommendations from book-loving friends and colleagues, The New York Times Book Review, which I pore over weekly, or from the handwritten reviews on the shelves in local bookstores. I almost always buy the books I plan to read and I enjoy looking at them on my bookshelf, waiting to be plucked when the moment seems right.

I do feel guilty about not using the public library more, but I love owning books, and I choose carefully. The books I plan to buy next are Circling My Mother, a memoir by Mary Gordon (it got a terrific review in the August 26, 2007 The New York Times Book Review) and Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer, which sounds fascinating from the description I read about the author in Science Times: The New York Times on August 28, 2007.

I also belong to a monthly book club, and in September we meet to select the books we will read for the next year. By talking with people I enjoy and who admire books I might not choose to read on my own, my reading horizons expand. One recent example is Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Typically, I am not a reader of fantasy, but I devoured and loved that book.

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