Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham
The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
Being Mortal by Awul Gawande
Revolution by Russell Brand
This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel
The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave
Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin
Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn by Mike Anderson
A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston
Total Number of Books: 22
E-books mostly work for nonfiction, short term, informational reading. My phone and my tablet hold so much more on them than books. They hold the business of life and an entire world of entertainments and distractions. I’m not so great at focusing in on books in those places. However, if a book is an extremely popular new release, I want to read it, my library doesn’t have the audio available for download, and it just can’t wait, I’ll buy it and read it on the e-reader. It will take me longer to read it there, but it will take less time than it would to come up on my library’s waiting list or await the release of the audiobook. But see all of the above qualifiers? That’s how good a novel must be to warrant an e-reader purchase. As for professional books, I like getting them on e-readers because I can pause to digitally annotate and then not worry about lending my copy to a friend and never getting it back. Technology helps to solve a problem in both of the cases I describe.
Hype isn’t always my type. Five of the books I read this marking period came recommended by readers whose opinions I value highly. But their endorsements weren’t enough to make me review any of the books at five stars. For example, I gave The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead four stars on Goodreads. One of my friends gave it five stars. Another gave it three stars. We’re all still friends.
“I want to be a part of it.” Six of my books have New York City as their setting or central focus. In particular, I noticed that The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi and The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner are both historical texts about September 11, 2001. Rinaldi’s journalistic narrative and Polisner’s use of both fictional narrative and verse explore the depths of the tragedy and the challenges of recovering from it.
Coming to America. Four of my books were about immigration and assimilation. They ranged in complexity and most definitely varied in style, but each had a distinct emotional impact. I don’t find it coincidental that three out of those four are at the very top of my ladder.
27. Nope, not my age, but the percent of books I read with my eyes and not my ears this marking period. Of the six books I read in this category, three were on the top half of my ladder.
And now, a story…
Little Failure was given to me by a parent of one of my students. At the end of Back to School Night this past fall, we were discussing Gary Shteyngart’s books, or I should say, this mom was praising Gary Shteyngart and I was nodding and smiling. I had abandoned Super Sad True Love Story about halfway through, as I wrote about in this post a few years ago, and I told this parent I hadn’t read that many of his books (which, technically, is not a lie).
A week later, her son came up to me after class with a copy of Little Failure. “This is from my mom,” he said, “She went to a book signing and got you a copy.” I thanked the student, closed my classroom door, and opened the cover. Here it is:
The book sat on my TBR pile at school for a while, and every time I looked at it, I felt both guilty and fraudulent. This was an author whose novel I had abandoned. Was I going to like his memoir? The answer turned out to be yes, but it took me a while to discover it. I justified waiting to read the book until my classes got to our memoir unit. As all of my students selected their memoirs, I told them that Little Failure would be mine. I would be reading right along with them, sticking to the same scheduled deadlines they had. I even passed out little sticky flags for all of us to mark our scheduled readings.
And guess what? I fell behind on my reading schedule. (Not by much, but I did, and I caught up over February vacation.) The book was slow starting for me, with a lot of historical and cultural references. Familiarizing myself with Shteyngart’s writing style took stamina and focus. Little Failure is at the top of my list this marking period, not because it was my personal favorite, but because it challenged me as a reader and taught me about the craft of writing. And now, having read Shteyngart’s memoir, knowing more about him, and considering Mary Karr’s praises of him in The Art of Memoir, which I read last year, I’m much more inclined to read his works of fiction. The lesson: I might abandon a book because I don’t have the context to appreciate it. When a situation like this happens in the future, it will give me pause, and I’m likely to take a different approach and second-guess myself when I abandon a book too quickly.
Closing Shameless Plug! Today at noon, I’ll be talking about my reading life and its influence on personalized PD in #TheEdCollabGathering, Session 2, Workshop 7: Innovative Approaches to Professional Development. Join Heather Rocco, Christopher Bronke, Emily Meixner and me if you’re able, or catch the archive later on YouTube.