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What I'm Reading: October 2012

October 29, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Here are the books I’ve read and especially admired in recent months, March 2012–September 2012.

  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, fiction
  • The Comprehension Experience: Engaging Readers Through Effective Inquiry and Discussion by Dorsey Hammond and Denise Nessel, professional
  • Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston, professional
  • Swamplandia! By Karren Russell, fiction
  • Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christoper Lehman, professional
  • Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading by Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp, professional
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, fiction
  • Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister, fiction
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, memoir
  • The Buddha in the Attic by Jule Otsuka, fiction
  • Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa, fiction
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, fiction
  • Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, nonfiction
  • True Believers by Kurt Anderson, fiction
  • Leading the Common Core State Standards: From Common Sense to Common Practice by Cheryl A. Dunkle, professional
  • Just Write. Here’s How by Walter Dean Myers, professional/nonfiction
  • How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough, nonfiction
  • A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg, food memoir

Uncharacteristically, compared to previous postings, I do not have one standout-favorite on this list, but two titles especially impacted me in very different ways. I love excellent, well-crafted fiction and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot did not disappoint. It’s a departure in style from his Pulitzer prize winning Middlesex but is equally well written. The Marriage Plot is a realistic, coming of age story set in the 1980s and focused on the intersection and interaction of three very different college students seeking to enter the broader world of life, love, and the intellect. The well-developed characters and their stories skillfully come together and leave the reader much to ponder. Like many excellent books, I thought about this one for a long time after I completed it.

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough confirms what many of us educators and parents have long known, that intelligence alone and even first-rate teaching are insufficient for success in school and in life. The author documents how childhood trauma, poverty, and extreme stress can have a lifelong, adverse effect on self-control, motivation, ability to succeed, and future health and happiness. Tough persuasively argues that the hope in beating the odds for many children relies on schools and families who foster and teach character development—such traits as resilience, self-control, optimism, curiosity, grit, ability to deal well with failure, and an ability to delay immediate gratification for long-term goals. He cites many actions we adults can take to make it more likely that our children succeed.

Commentary: The Pleasure of Reading Several Books at the Same Time

Years ago, I recall telling students they needed to finish one book before they could begin another. Yet that’s not what I do as a reader. In the past month, I’ve had three books going simultaneously and I’ve read each one for different purposes, at different parts of the day, and in different places.

By my bedside for light reading before going to sleep, I’ve been reading A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg who lives in my hometown Seattle. It’s a delightful food memoir that’s charmingly written and filled with captivating stories about family and food and dozens of mouth-watering recipes, some of which I’m about to try.

During the days and early evenings, as time has permitted, I’ve alternated between two books: How Children Succeed by Paul Tough and Just Write! Here’s How by Walter Dean Myers. How Children Succeed takes full concentration as it’s packed with research and facts although it too is easy to read because the text is so engaging and the true stories about the importance of grit, character, and perseverance are so interesting. I’ve been reading that book in a comfortable chair in my home office and underlining significant statements and research and writing notes to myself in the margins.

When I’ve had just a small amount of time and am not in a deep concentration mode, I have picked up Just Write! which I highly recommend for middle school teachers and students. Walter Dean Myers’ confession that he can’t begin writing a new book before he has a well-developed plan helped me focus my own writing on an upcoming book.

All of this is to say, we need to allow the same freedom of multiple choices we give ourselves to our students. I finished all three texts in a few weeks in large part because I chose the text that best suited me for my available time, mood, purpose, and attentiveness as a reader. 




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Category: My Reading

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