Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Salon: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back

     Well it's been 2017 for twenty-two days, and I am finally writing a wrap-up for my 2016 reading. But first, a brief aside:

On Teaching

     After fifteen years of teaching, I can honestly say, there is no such thing as a typical year. This year has brought many changes: a new principal, new start times, a new schedule, and now, new classes. Just before Winter break, I found out my schedule for January had changed and I would have two new classes to teach (a grade level I last taught fifteen years ago). I was definitely given the opportunity to turn down the change, but I decided to kind of "take one for the team." The new classes added to my schedule are college prep and honors ninth grade English. The good news is that I absolutely love my new students, and I love the classes. But teaching a whole new curriculum is a challenge, especially on such short notice.

     So here's my schedule for this semester: AP Literature and Composition (which I love teaching), and English 1, English 1 Honors.  In every class I teach I emphasize independent reading (students read books of choice). Since I have taught mostly upperclassmen for years, any suggestions of stories, novels, or other works that work well for ninth graders would be truly appreciated.

     Now, about last year:  it was a good reading year, but teaching and other facts of life mean that my total books read for the year was only 70. I envy people who find a way to read more. Many of the books I read were over 500 pages though, so maybe I shouldn't feel too bad.

What I read and Loved

     In 2016 I read fifteen classics. I think I can do better than that.

Here are my favorite books out of those I read in 2016 (most were not published in 2016):
1. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. This book is inventive, enthralling, and almost impossible to summarize. Just trust me, you should read it.
2. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist. A chilling futuristic novel set in Sweden. The main character is a woman over 50 with no children or husband. She is declared "dispensable" and goes to live in "The Unit" where she will eventually be euthanized and her organs harvested.
3. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Sci-Fi with an emphasis on climate change. Part of a trilogy.
4. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I've been meaning to read this novel forever, and it is every bit as good as people say it is.
5. Snow by Orhan Parmuk. Gorgeous and complex novel set in Turkey.
6. Pond by Claire Bennett. More a collection of vignettes or short stories than a novel, this lush book is beautifully written, almost poetry.
7. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. An incredible work. The novel opens with the fall of Vietnam. A story of divided self, and also an immigration story. Stunning.
8. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. I came to this novel a little late, but it has to be one of the best books I've ever read. Set in North Korea.
9. American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell. Set in the Rust Belt, these short stories are everything. This is a book I know I will reread many times.
10. Upstream by Mary Oliver. This might be the most beautiful and most consoling book I read in 2016. Again: this is one I will reread more than once. Essays from a beloved contemporary poet.
11. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. A short novella that packs a surprising amount into a slim volume.
12. The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. A beautifully written panoramic story set in India and Texas.
13. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don't know why I waited so long to read this book. I'm now an ardent Adichie devotee. Cannot recommend this one highly enough. Set in the U.S. and Nigeria. I really didn't want this book to end. It has humor, romance, the immigrant experience--everything.
14. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. If the underground railroad really was underground.... Whitehead defies classification but he's always brilliant.
15. Parable of Talents by Octavia Butler. This was actually my last book of 2016. I read The Parable of Sowers a few years ago, and always meant to read this sequel. But when I found out that there was a right-wing president in the book whose campaign slogan was "Make America Great Again" I felt I had to read this. Butler was a ground-breaking African-American writer who died far too young. She anticipated the future so well that it's almost scary. Ultimately this is a hopeful book, but there is much in it that is dark.

Looking Forward

     I really want to focus on reading books I love! Life is too short for dull books. In 2017 I want to read even more, and I want to read books that excite me, books that feed my soul, books that feed my mind.

     Here's what I've read so far: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (loved); The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (loved). In the middle of: Maude Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (her only novel) and Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez.


     What books have you read and absolutely loved? What books would my ninth graders love?


Judith said...

You've reminded me that I've been wanting to read Americanah. There we go--it's on my list. Oops, now that I've said that, I don't have access to the rest of your classics for 2016. I saw plenty of others that interest me!

Jeanie said...

Hi Lisa,
We read - and enjoy - a lot of the same books!

I'm in a big slump! Looking for something entertaining, but not stupid, if you know what I mean. If you have something along those lines that you really like, would you please post it as a comment on http://2manybooks2littletime.com? Thanks!!!