Shelf #18 Complete, On to Shelf #19

Babel was amazing, but it took forever to read. Have I mentioned that this school year has been extra chaotic? My brain is barely functioning, so I won’t be able to give Babel the review it deserves. I’m looking forward to summer, because I plan to give myself a break. No book clubs. No PD. I’m going to do whatever I feel like doing and try not to feel pressure to sign up for ALL THE THINGS. 

Now for shelf #19: 

It may be a while until I get to the next book on this adventure because I have a pile of books friends lent me and three for book clubs this month. When I have time, I’ll probably read either Lost Children Archive by Valeria Lusielli or Sinking Bell by Bojan Louis.

Books I’ve read:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

I read some of The Essential Tales of H. P. Lovecraft because a student was creating an activity for a presentation he was giving on Lovecraft. His game was called “Ms. Kraft or Lovecraft.” Apparently, I did too good of a job of emulating Lovecraft’s style because no one could tell any of the pairings apart. I win!

Shelf #17 Complete, On to Shelf #18

I wrote this on April 6th, but never published it. Go me!

This is probably not going to be a great year for reading. I’ve been in a funk, and it’s probably because I’m being pulled in too many directions. This has also been a very difficult school year, and burnout started much earlier than usual. I absolutely loved The City We Became and The World We Make, but it took me a long time to read them. I think I started The City We Became three times before I had time to keep going. Once I get the fourth marking period mapped out and organized, I will be able to focus on reading again. 

As for a review . . . I have to say that I was surprised at how different these books seemed from The Broken Earth trilogy. They weren’t what I expected, but that’s not a bad thing. The novels center around the avatars of New York City, which has just been awakened, and the battle that ensues with an entity trying to destroy it. I’d say more about the general plot, but I don’t want to spoil anything. The avatars are the embodiments of each of New York City’s boroughs, Jersey City (in an interesting twist), and the city as a whole. What I loved most was the character development of each avatar and the dynamics between them. I read the bulk of each novel in one sitting because I was so invested in the world building and the characters. I’m sad that it ended up being a duology instead of a trilogy because I’d love more (but I totally understand why the trilogy didn’t happen). Highly recommend these!

Now for shelf #18!

This decision is easy. I will be reading Babel by R. F. Kuang. 

Books I’ve read:

  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  • Lightning by Dean Koontz
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle 
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence

Shelf #16 Complete, On to Shelf #17

A Certain Justice was good, but I feel like I read it before even though my reading logs have it marked as unread. I even checked the last printed version and it’s not highlighted, so I either missed it or have read something extremely similar. I’m pretty sure I missed it somehow because the events and the ending seemed too familiar. Oh well! I liked it, and it satisfied a bunch of challenge categories, so I have no regrets.

Now for shelf #17!

No one will be surprised that I plan to read The City We Became and The World We Make by N. K. Jemisin. I may also read The Love Songs of W. E. B DuBois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers because I really want to read it, and while it’s nice to read a ton of books every month, I’ve noticed that focusing on that goal has caused me to avoid longer texts. The years I read fewer books overall are the years I read the most pages. It all evens out in the end.

Books I’ve Read:

  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
  • Corregidora by Gayl Jones
  • My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
  • Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor
  • Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

Shelf #15 Complete, On to Shelf #16

These took longer than usual to finish. When I started Smilla’s Sense of Snow, I couldn’t put it down, but the second half of the novel got really messy. It could have been because school was extremely stressful while I was trying to finish it (internet outages, end of the marking period, etc.) and I didn’t have a lot of time or energy to read every day, but a lot of the second half didn’t really make sense to me. Not in the “I didn’t understand what was going on” way, but in the plot hole/continuity/character arc way. I did spend a lot of time researching Denmark, Greenland, and all the social issues addressed in the book, so even though I didn’t love it, I’m better for having read it. Plus, it satisfied a lot of challenge prompts. (Beat the Backlist: 4-word title, travel by ship, and these woods hold secrets; The StoryGraph’s Genre Challenge 2024: A thriller or crime novel in translation)

Midnight Robber was tough to get through because I was unaware that it was going to take an extremely dark turn. The novel starts off pretty light, but then the main character experiences something devastatingly traumatic and it was a lot for me to process. I was tempted to DNF it and come back to it later, but because of how much I liked the main character, I needed to see her through to the end. I’m glad I did! Another reason I wanted to see it through was that it satisfied so many reading challenge categories. (Beat the Backlist: these woods hold secrets, between 300 and 400 pages, and second chances; The StoryGraph Reads the World 2024: Jamaica; The StoryGraph’s Genre Challenge 2024:A science fiction or dystopian book by a woman or nonbinary author)

Another reason it took longer than usual to get through Smilla’s Sense of Snow and Midnight Robber was that I HAD to read Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar before the book signing at The Midtown Scholar. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and it will probably have its own post (once I read it again).

Now for shelf #16!

I’m going to stick to P. D. James for this shelf because I need something lighter, and I want to start reading some of the books I got for my birthday! I usually double (or triple) up on books, but they can’t be similar at all. Plus, I don’t want any content surprises. I’ve read most of the Adam Dalgliesh novels and I’ve loved them all.

Books I’ve read:

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
  • Children of Men by P. D. James

Shelf #14 Complete, On to Shelf #15

I’m flying through these books, which isn’t surprising because I bought most of them because I really wanted to read them at the time. Woe from Wit was great, but because it’s humorous, I know it would be better to see it performed. I looked online, but all the performances I could find were in Russian. I can see why my former student recommended it to me.

I didn’t know much about Transcendent Kingdom before I started it. I bought it because Homegoing was brilliant. I read it in a little over a day because so much of it hit close to home. Like the main character, I’ve struggled with faith and I’ve had loved ones battle opioid addiction. What resonated with me the most was how the main character, Gifty, struggles with her relationship with her mother and recognizing her as a whole person. Gifty also grapples with racism, being an immigrant, and abandonment from her father. I always begin the year with “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, and for me, this novel was all three. Every element of this novel was so well developed, and I couldn’t stop reading even when it was hard. Gyasi is now on my list of writers whose books I’ll buy immediately without question.

Finding out that my copy is autographed was a nice surprise!

Now for shelf #15!

I’ll be spending some time on this shelf because there are a few books that will take care of challenge categories, and I have too many bookshelves to trust that I’ll be able to circle back around before the year ends. I need to read Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg because it’s a thriller or crime novel in translation (The Story Graph’s Genre Challenge), and Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson because she’s Jamaican and it’s a work of science fiction written by a woman (The Story Graph’s Genre and Read the World Challenges). I like how the challenge categories are making decisions easy for me!

Books I’ve read:

  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
  • The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
  • Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness
  • The Kiss by Katherine Harrison
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey
  • Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday with William Duffy
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Shelf #13 Complete, On to Shelf #14

Beowulf: The Script Book contains the original script for the Beowulf movie and the script that eventually made it to the screen with commentary by Roger Avary. For a variety of reasons, I was not expecting to stay up all night reading Beowulf: The Script Book, but that’s what happened. I love it when writers discuss their process, and I was fascinated by the differences between the two scripts and what Roger Avary went through to bring Beowulf  to the screen. I expected that reading two versions would be repetitive and possibly tedious, but I was quite wrong. Now I want to reread the original Beowulf and watch the movie. Maybe we’ll get more snow, and I’ll have extra free time!

Now for shelf #14

Because I’m indecisive, I plan to read two from this shelf: Woe from Wit by Alexander Griboedov and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. Woe from Wit was recommended by a former student and Transcendent Kingdom will take care of some reading challenge categories. 

Books I’ve read:

  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  • The Miracle Worker by William Gibson
  • The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
  • Less Is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer
  • The Firm by John Grisham
  • A Time to Kill by John Grisham
  • The Last Great Dance on Earth by Sandra Gulland
  • The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland
  • Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe by Sandra Gulland
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  • Miss Kraft Is Daft by Dan Gutman
  • Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H

Shelf #12 Complete, On to Shelf #13

I’m a morning person, so even though we have a two hour delay, I was up at the usual time. I love having time to read and reflect in the morning, and I hate feeling rushed, so I’m enjoying every minute of this time. I finished Howards End yesterday morning, and I liked it more than I thought I would. It had a “rich people are horrible and ruin everything” vibe that made me think of The Great Gatsby, and Forster’s writing wasn’t quite as dense as other literature from that time period. Howards End was published in 1910, so it’s a bit past the Victorian era. For some reason, anything written in that time period has either been a massive struggle for me or a DNF. Even contemporary works set in that time period irritate me. I’m not sure why because I know there’s a lot of brilliant Victorian writing. It’s just not my thing. Howards End satisfies “published 100+ years ago,” “on your TBR 5+ years,” and “an unexpected inheritance” on the Beat the Backlist Challenge.

Now for shelf #13!

I’m sure people who know me well will be shocked that I haven’t read everything I own by Neil Gaiman, so I’ll get to work on that. I’m reading Beowulf: The Script Book because I’m in the mood for some classic fantasy, and I’ve always been curious about this adaptation. I’ve not seen the movie, so that will have to happen. This also satisfies a bunch of challenge categories!

Books I’ve read:

  • American Gods 
  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  • Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman
  • Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
  • Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art Speech
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  • Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
  • The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
  • Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
  • Grendel by John Gardner

Shelf #11 Complete, On to Shelf #12

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe was entertaining but definitely a product of the 80s. I must have seen the movie because as soon as I started reading, I remembered the basics of the plot. What I found most engaging was the structure and how the multiple points of view across different time periods pieced the main elements of the plot together. For my reading challenges, this will count as a book with a door on the cover, on my TBR 5+ years, between 300 and 400 pages, and 3+ points of view, so it was definitely a good choice in that sense.

Now for shelf #12

I’m  not sure why I started reading Howard’s End by E. M. Forster, because I had a lot of options on this shelf. It checks off most of the boxes for a book that usually ends up as a DNF, but I’m over 100 pages in, and I’m completely invested in some of these characters. There are exceptions to every rule, right? 

Books I’ve read:

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Autobiography of Ben Franklin by Ben Franklin
  • All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
  • It Was on Fire When I Laid Down on It by Robert Fulghum
  • Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
  • An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
  • Written in My Heart’s Own Blood by Diana Gabaldon

When I have time to reorganize my shelves, I’ll probably make a separate section for autobiography/memoir. I don’t like that they are mixed in with fiction. I have no idea why I did that.

Shelf #10 Complete, On to Shelf #11

I know I said I was going to read slowly and deliberately, but Sweet Land Stories was an extremely fast read. I’m not quite sure how to describe this collection, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. Each of the stories was pretty disturbing and tackled various types of moral ambiguity. What tied them all together was the question of why people go along with things that are not in their best interests or in many cases reprehensible. And why do so many people make excuses for those who do horrible things? My favorite story was “Walter John Harmon,” which was about a religious cult led by a con artist. The members of the cult refused to see the truth and found ways to continue to venerate Walter John Harmon even after his betrayal was clear. This collection was published in 2004, but there were so many parallels to what is going on today. I’ll be thinking about this for a while.

Reading this satisfied two challenge categories: “Sweet or Spicy” and “read a book based solely on the title.” They fit together nicely. It would have also worked for “door on the cover,” but I have other books that will satisfy that.

Now for shelf #11!

I plan to read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe because of the reviews and because it has a door on the cover! I like letting the reading challenges guide me because deciding what to read from this shelf would have been extremely difficult without them. It’s highly likely that I’ll get through all my fiction shelves before I finish the reading challenges. I’ll have to come up with a new plan once my shelf challenge is complete!

Books I’ve read:

  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi
  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
  • You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Ripe by Sarah Rose Etter
  • Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Nonfiction November Photo Prompt: Dedication

For some reason, the first thing that came to mind when I saw today’s photo challenge prompt was how much I value the autographed copies of my books, especially those with the dedication, “To Michelle.” Here are the stories behind the encounters with some of my favorite authors.

I had the opportunity to meet Sir Ken Robinson at an extremely difficult time in my life. He was the keynote speaker at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Conference and Expo (PETE&C), and I would have backed out if I didn’t want to hear him speak so badly. When it was my turn at the autograph table, I thanked him for his work and told him that my students always love his TED Talk, “Schools Kill Creativity.” He treated me like the most important person he’d ever met, had me sit beside him, and picked my brain about how I was using his work in my classes. It was a moment I’ll never forget, and it was exactly what I needed to bring me out of the funk I had been in.

In 2019, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi spoke at the Harrisburg Book Festival, so of course, I HAD to be there. He was speaking with Dr. Imani Perry, whom I had never heard of. I purchased a copy of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, to familiarize myself with her work, and I was mesmerized by the brilliance of her writing. On the day of their talk, I was set on making myself look like the biggest dork in the world. On my way into The Midtown Scholar, I walked in front of a car and almost got myself run over. I was mortified when Dr. Kendi got out. He was very nice and held the door open for me, so I guess he wasn’t judging me too harshly! Then, when I was in the signing line, I was fangirling over Dr. Perry’s writing. Dr. Kendi laughed and told me that he felt the same way the first time he read her work. They were both so gracious and wonderful to talk to.

Dan Pink and Guy Kawasaki were also keynote speakers at PETE&C. I don’t have a funny story about Dan Pink, because I didn’t have a lot of time to interact with him. Guy Kawasaki was Apple’s Chief Evangelist, and I was trying to hide all my Windows devices from him during the smaller breakout discussion after his keynote. I remember joking with him about the Borg and Star Trek, which led to what he wrote on the cover of his book.

Another highlight of my life was getting to have lunch with an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center. As soon as I told Tom Jones I was a teacher, he treated me like a total rockstar. I kept thinking, “YOU’VE BEEN TO SPACE FOUR TIMES!!!” as we were talking.

It has been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to see an author speak and then meet them. I need to work on that.  As much as I appreciate interacting with authors on Zoom, I’d love to have more in person experiences. That may be a good reading goal for 2024!