Saturday, January 4, 2014

20,000 Pages & 70 Books

Thats how much I read last year.

Keeping a log of my reading was the New Year’s resolution I kept in 2013. At minimum, I recorded the date finished, title, author, number of pages, and why I read it. Actually, I didn’t even succeed at all that. A number of dates have a question mark for the day because I didn’t get around to typing it up until several days later...or when I finished my next one as well. 

One entry has question marks for the entire date--I just know that I finished The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto sometime between 1/27 when I finished The Blood of the Lamb and 2/8 when I finished Between Shades of Gray. Sometimes I forgot an author or number of pages--but I can always go back and get those off of (as I had to do for a couple of books before I could complete my tally earlier this week). 

Just now, looking at The Lake, I realized I’d forgotten to record why I read it--because years ago a colleague Kaye Aoki recommended this author to me more than once when I’d complain about not being able to get into Japanese literature, and when the author came up as a high school Sakura book (20 or so books published within the last 2 years, selected each year by international school librarians in Japan, for students to vote on their favorite each spring) it seemed like a message that I should read it. 

Many of the books I read were Sakura books. My 10th grade English students are required to read 300 pages per semester outside of class, and to schedule a 10-minute talk about their reading. Sakura books are a popular choice for them--so I read some so I can recommend them, and some because students have given them such rave reviews. 

A recommendation from someone I know is the most common reason I picked up a book. And my most frequent recommender in 2013 was my daughter who is studying for a degree in English education--some of her recommendations coming from a YA lit class, some from other lit classes, a sprinkling from a variety of other classes, and a rash from authors from her college’s biennial Festival of Faith and Writing which she helped run in 2012. 

Some of the books I read were new books by favorite authors (Ann Lamott, Barbara Kingsolver, Khaled Hosseini, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), classics or popular books people talk about but I’d never actually read (Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Outliers), or books recommended on English teacher blogs (Atonement and Into Thin Air). 

As a world lit teacher, I’m always wanting more familiarity with internationally known prize winners and with writers from non US/British countries. This year I bagged 2 Nobels (Mo Yan, Sigrid Undset), 2 Pulitzers (Olive Kitteridge, The Orphan Master’s Son), and 2 Man Bookers (Bringing up the Bodies and The Finkler Question--the one book in all this list that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone for any reason). Three were authors from a new country: Pakistan. A certain stretch were middle school level books by Latin American authors in order to recommend a new 7th grade class novel. 

I read a wide variety of genres--not only novels, but also nonfiction (Quiet, King Leopold’s Ghost, The Ghost Map), professional (Readicide, How Children Succeed, Crucial Conversations), short stories (Flannery O’Connor and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven), and poetry (Lovely, Raspberry). 

And I experienced an entirely new genre--the graphic novel. January 1 I read Flight which I’d received from my daughter and her fiance for Christmas. During the summer I read Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, which my other daughter recommended from a college YA lit course she took. (And which I’ve since recommended to several students and faculty.) So when I saw Yang had another book coming out (Saints & Boxers--the first volume about the Boxer rebellion from the perspective of a Christian convert and the second from the perspective of a Boxer), I requested the library to get it. I hope it’s there when we get back from vacation! 

Sometimes I didn’t write up any more than those bare bones. Sometimes I wrote up to a page of responses and quotes (The Mirage wins the prize for the longest response). Sometimes the response either started or ended as an email to a friend. Several I sent to students when I heard they were interested in or had read the book (The Fault in Our Stars).

What have I learned? The importance of a learning community talking about books--I read most of my books due to recommendations, and I often pass the recommendation on. I’d like to have students reflect on how they choose books. It was fun to do this little analysis. I’m pleased with my variety--and want to make sure I’m intentional about choosing a poet this year (barely squeaked in with one last year). 

And it’s really cool to be able to say that I read 20,000 pages and 70 books last year!

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