Tuesday, January 9, 2018

My Top Ten Books...and Ten More

Recently I asked my friends on FaceBook to share their favorite read from 2017 – together we created a wonderful list. Judging by the number of the books I haven’t read, it’s obvious I already have a great reading list ready for 2018.

I participate in Goodreads reading challenge, and had set a goal of 150 books for 2017. The first year I retired, I was surprised and disappointed by the fact I actually read LESS in retirement than I did when I was able to teach Reading for Pleasure and read with my students. 150 seemed like a goal I could reach. I did, just barely…finishing the year with 158 books.
My 2017 books by 'shelf' 

I listen to books as I walk, and as I drive back and forth to the Capitol and my new teaching gig in Stillwater (1-1/2 hours one way), so I continue to read with my ears and my eyes.

Each year I struggle with my Top Ten…because I have trouble with following directions, even my own self-imposed directions: choose your top ten reads. And because I view my books like I do my own children and my students…they’re all my favorites.

I have compromised with myself this year by having a Top Ten, a second Five, and a third Five. Yes. That’s 20 books. In my Top Ten.

Top Ten, in alphabetical order:

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – you’ll see her again. Yes, I knew nothing about this until the publicity about the television miniseries. Told mostly in Grace’s voice, this is Atwood’s take on the  lengthy imprisonment of a young woman who may or may not have committed a double murder. The narrative’s theme is quilts and piecing them together…and Atwood has Grace piece her story together, one patch at a time, until we see the whole. But what is it we really see?

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. What if you were literally a crime? Noah was. His mother was Black and his father was White. And he was a crime. He had to be hidden if the authorities came. When he was with his mother, people assumed she was his nanny. This is the background of the clever host of The Daily Show. His mother, in an attempt to protect her son, taught him the lasting value of words and language as weapons.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Alexander Rostov, the epitome of cultured elegance was put under house arrest as a young man, and told if he ever left the hotel he lived in, he would be shot dead on the spot by the ruling Bolshevicks…and he didn’t step foot out of the hotel for nearly half his life…living, dining, visiting with friends…all done in the luxury hotel that was his prison. I listened to this one, and was a bit intimidated by its length. But I fell in love with Rostov and followed him through every corner of his home. This is a study in making the best of terrible situations.

Handmaid’s Tale also by Margaret Atwood. This was a reread—another book I listened to, only because Claire Danes was narrating. After the election of 2016, I felt the need to revisit Offred, to compare this world with the one we were entering. How did Atwood so closely predict so many wrong turns in our world? This continues to be a horrifying cautionary tale.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The Hate U Give: THUG. This is the story of another code-switching young person…living in two worlds, and not safe in either. Starr witnesses her friend’s murder at the hands of a police officer who loses control of a bad situation. She tries to navigate between her father’s deep gang involved life and the walls of her exclusive private school…attempting to keep herself safe.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. I’ve lived in Oklahoma since 1979, and had never heard of the Osage Reign of Terror until I read this book. The truth of what some Whites were willing to do, to acquire wealth that they had not earned curdled my stomach at times. I was horrified by the truths Grann pursued, and the truth of the cover-ups of these crimes. All for oil. After reading this book, I also read Linda Hogan’s Mean Spirit, a novel (see below); The Deaths of Sybil Bolton, by Dennis McAuliffe, a strange combination of  memoir and nonfiction narrative; and Dreamland Burning, by Jennifer Latham, a YAL contemporary/historical fiction. I spent the summer living and reliving this shameful story of greed and murder.

So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan. This book is Exhibit 1 to the truth of my being a nerdy English teacher. Maureen Corrigan has the pleasure of teaching The Great Gatsby every year to college students. Every year. That would be almost as good as all the years I got to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. I soaked up all her enthusiasms for Fitzgerald and Gatsby and wanted so much to return to the classroom. This was classic English teacher sharing her passion for a book.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. This was my ‘classic I should have read years ago’ summer read with my walking buddy. It nearly destroyed my reading challenge of 150 books – when I finished I allowed as how it should have counted for five books! I’m a character reader, and that is how I attacked this book…the characters. And Tolstoy did not disappoint me. I watched my characters grow, and lose, and love, and learn…The book at times bored me, but mostly, because I could hold onto Natasha and Pierre and Andrei, I powered through the boredom. I discovered the Broadway show, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and was amazing that anyone could take one tiny slice of this story and transform it.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I read books that have been nominated for our state’s children’s book award, the Sequoyah. This book is in the list this year. It’s a fantastic historical fiction about a young girl living in WWII London, who along with her brother, is sent to live in the English countryside. To keep them safe. But while they are ‘safe’ in Kent, they learn there’s no place safe from this war…I’m hoping young readers loved it as much as I did…I cared so much for Ada and her brother, and the people who tried to keep them safe.

You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie. When pushed to name ONE book that is my favorite, this is it. Alexie’s courageous memoir about his volatile relationship with his mother broke my heart. Another book I listened to, hearing Alexie’s voice break in tears as I felt my own tears drop from my face, brought the book so close. This book is an act of supreme personal bravery…Alexie does not, as many memorists do, paint himself as more perfect than he is. He spares himself…and his mother nothing to tell the story of their love and their struggles. I am overwhelmed still by this one.

My Second Five, in alphabetical order:

Ananzi Boys by Neil Gaiman. You had me at ‘Neil Gaiman.’

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I truly think I might read Karr if all she wrote were restaurant menus. Lucky for me she writes books.

Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan. A fictionalized version of the Osage Reign of Terror. Hogan took some fierce criticism by some Native academics for the license she took with the truth.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier. Another re-read, with the added benefit of an online book club discussion that was inspiring and insightful.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Coczy. No, I’d never read this before (another ‘classic I should have…’), but I thoroughly enjoyed this suspenseful romp through the French Revolution…romp-revolution. Probably an unfortunate combination of words

My Third Five

Finnished Leadership by Pasi Sahlberg. I keep returning to Sahlberg like you keep returning to a barely-healed wound…just to make myself suffer again. What if the US had used its own research in re-forming our schools? What if we listened to these lessons of leadership?

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton. Another children’s book. Another historical fiction. But this time the date is 1969, and I was there. So many issues. A great book for girls who want MORE.

In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher. Another re-read. Once an English teacher….

Successful Strategies for Pursuing National Board Certification by Bobbi Faulkner. (2 books. One for C 1 and 2; another for C3 and 4). I may have fan-girled when I found these two books. Faulkner has taken the new process and analyzed each Component for candidates and facilitators. Just what I needed.

Waltzing with the Ghost of Tom Joad by Robert Lee Maril. A study of poverty in Oklahoma…years after the Dust Bowl. Tom still haunts our state.

Are you on Goodreads? Are you my friend? Why not? Have you made YOUR 2018 Reading Challenge? Do you have a book to recommend? Let me know!

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