July–Analyzing Journeys to Wales, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the Netherlands

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July started out as a relaxing month–I wrapped up my old job, took a week off to be a couch potato, and did what most Arizonans do when it’s 115 degrees outside: take advantage of air conditioning with occasional migrations to poolside loungers.

Because of the ample amount of R&R this month has afforded me before I plunged into a new school year (first day is tomorrow!), I spent quite a bit of time reading–so much so, my boyfriend commented that my head was always in a book. To be fair, he also had a cold earlier this month, so a lot of time was spent on the couch together, and a girl can only watch reruns of Brooklyn 99 so many times. So, this month was spent reposing with an ambience of Netflix in the background with Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on your Knees, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

As things at work wrapped up, my Fourth of July weekend was tranquilly spent racing through Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an easy-to-digest young adult fantasy book set in Wales. I’d been looking forward to reading this book, hoping it would be a dark and quirky easy read, and a good recommendation for my new students. While it was an easy read with dark and quirky moments, it wasn’t one of my favorites. Anxious Jacob and his bonds with the unusual, old-timey students at Miss Peregrine’s home weren’t particularly resonant for me, but hopefully the eclectic bunch and their trials against magical monsters will hold important messages for my students. Maybe I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I had hoped (and I recognize 25-year-old college graduates who typically enjoy literary fiction aren’t exactly the target audience) but it was a good step towards organizing my new classroom library, which is also an exciting development.

Next, I moved onto Canada with Fall on your Knees, a book I knew little about other than that it was an Oprah book, so it was probably going to be weird, depressing, and shockingly amazing. And it was just that. Read during my last week of work, when I was already a little inclined to procrastinate those final tasks of my position, and also while my boyfriend was bound to the couch with a cold, this book was wonderfully strange enough to keep me up late at night (and by late, I mean until midnight, since I’m 25 and have a strict bedtime of 10pm). It was hard to relate to any of the bizarrely flawed Piper women, whose imperfections and histories in their remote Canadian home rendered them borderline alien. Despite how stark and unfamiliar their personalities were, I felt some connection to their longing for something more, something beyond their “ordinary” lives. This particular longing is what leads me to travel (We have been recounting our trip to Europe for friends and family lately, and I often get asked why we went to Croatia–which happened when I went to Cuba, Ghana, and China–and sometimes it’s hard to articulate the need to just see something new, something more than what you see on a daily basis) and what has led me to re-enter a career field that was really challenging for me.

Next, I threw myself into Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, an intimate look at the de Leon family which takes us to both the Dominican Republic and New Jersey. I was able to connect with this high-energy exploration of family, culture, and human decency during my week off between my two jobs and while housesitting for my parents. I loved this book for many reasons, but the last few chapters were particularly powerful as our narrator pushes us to examine how we treat each other, and how much our society has actually changed. Who takes responsibility for this change? In the wake of the recent violence, it’s easy to feel disheartened–and I have often felt exactly that way. I’ve also felt torn, being in a relationship with a first responder but also working in a profession that serves predominately low-income, minority populations. I don’t feel like I should have to pick sides, but unfortunately the tensions often make it seem that way. However, Diaz’s characters were a needed reminder that there are outliers and changemakers, and it’s always possible to believe in the best and have hope.

Lastly, I finally took on The Goldfinch, which has been on my reading list for quite some time but was an intimidating choice due its length. I embraced it during my first two weeks of professional development at my school, which was perhaps not my wisest choice as I was knackered and brain dead by the time I got home, and barely able to keep my eyes open for 20 pages each night. Nevertheless, I looked forward to reading it, tucking it into my enormous teacher bag whenever I could on the off-chance I’d have a spare few minutes in my car to read. Theo’s transient journey following a personal tragedy, the different personalities he tries on while growing up in the wake of grief, was beautiful and gripping. It is the story of him working to make sense of a world that often seems illogical and unfair, a trial that will always be relevant. While it did seem overly long at some points, sometimes that’s how life is: chapters of our lives that seem drab or not very meaningful drag on, so perhaps The Goldfinch was expertly mimicking the very nature of human existence. Either way, it was a vivid portrayal of personal growth from a rather unique lens.

I’m so glad I was able to pack in so many books during a time that has been filled with a lot of emotion for me–nostalgia, excitement, relaxation, exhaustion, sweatiness (when it’s 115 degrees, the level of sweat is unfortunately a deep emotional experience). I’m also glad because as the school year gets underway, especially at the beginning, my recreational reading time will probably be decreased, so I’m not sure how many books August will hold. Nevertheless, I’m excited for this new phase of my life, and whatever stories I take with me!

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