Ecuador with Enchanted Islands

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 1.06.20 PM“It is a flaw of the human spirit that we always want what we don’t have, and the achievement of one goal merely sparks the setting of another; at least in those of us who strive to better ourselves.”–Frances Conway, Enchanted Islands

  • Here’s what happens:
    • Allison Amend takes the real life of Galapagos resident Frances Conway, a story about which relatively little is known, and fills it with secrets and espionage. Set against the Great Depression and World War II, Frances’s life is filled complex anti-Semitism, confusing sexuality, and more than a handful of complicated relationships with those closest to her. But sent to a desert island in service of her country is where she finds the clarity and strength to understand a life of solitude and unrequited romance.
  • It’s good because:
    • I truly didn’t know what to make of this book until I finished it. What was the message? What was the author telling me about secrets, about love? In the end, it was a unique story (I never could’ve predicted some of the characters’ backstories) with a very interesting take on how much we actually know and understand about the people we love most.
  • Read if:
    • I saw this book on the Book of the Month Instagram, and selected it without really knowing anything about it other than it hit a country I hadn’t read yet. If you want an unexpected read and a different kind of WWII book, I’d recommend this.

Up next: Guinea with the 2011 Best American Nonrequired Reading, edited by Dave Eggers.

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Angola with The Poisonwood Bible

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“So what do you do now? You get to find your own way to dig out a heart and shake it off and hold it up to the light again?”–Leah Price, The Poisonwood Bible

  • Here’s what happens:
    • The Price family arrives in the Belgian Congo as Baptist missionaries, determined to save the souls of the African villagers–or at the very least, to survive. This is the story of how African, instead, changes them. Caught up in the Congo’s fight for independence, the Prices are racked by disease, war, privilege, ignorance, spirituality, racism; what was supposed to be a year-long mission winds up being a life-changing (and even, life-ending) turn of events.
  • It’s good because:
    • I don’t know what I was doing with myself waiting so long to read this magnificent piece of literature. It is sensitive and honest and tragic and insightful; this has to be one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read, and I’ll carry it in my heart for a long time. Kingsolver’s fresh take on privilege, colonialism, and our ability to help each other is ground-breaking and very relevant. Told through the eyes of the five Price women, each adding their own biases and opinions and experiences to their African plight, I couldn’t help but see a bit of myself in each of these girls–even my least favorite. I recorded several quotes from this book because I was so taken aback by how candid and profound this story was.
  • Read if:
    • I truly can’t imagine what it must be like living with a story this big and beautiful inside of you, and I intend to write Kingsolver to ask. This book is much more than the story of a family in Africa; it’s a glimpse into the history of modern civilization. I really can’t express enough how moving this book was. Don’t wait a minute longer to read it.

Up next: Ecuador with Allison Amend’s Enchanted Islands!

May–Meditating on Slovenia, Denmark + & Bangladesh

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May felt so long, I had to actually sit down and flip through my weekly planner to refresh myself on what all happened this month before I was able to write this.

May is the last month of the school year, and usually that means fun final projects, field trips, and enjoying time with your students. Usually. For me, this year, it meant the end of the teacher strike (which was contentious and unfulfilling, to be completely honest), and a 2-day field trip to Los Angeles with 30 13-year-olds–all within the first week. Both experiences were important–and at times, even fun–but they were draining, and I didn’t find any “me” time until the second week, and event that was scarce.

I felt as if my school tried to cram all of the meetings and tasks admin forgot about until the month of May, so I constantly found myself in one meeting or another reflecting on goals, setting new ones, or reviewing some procedure. In between being “professional developed,” I read Veronika Decides to Die, a succinct consideration of how we choose to view the time given to us here on earth. I frequently find myself wallowing in the schoolhouse blues (because teaching is hard and I’m only human) so, as usual, Paolo Coelho’s beautiful words were a much-needed dose of perspective. Basically, if I knew I only had a week to live, I wouldn’t spend time bemoaning my principal or my headache or that one kid with a bad attitude. But time is always limited–I will die eventually, and who’s to say it won’t be in a week? So why do I waste time sweating the small stuff now? Honestly, always a welcome reminder.

I picked up another quick read next with This Should be Written in the Present Tense. It was short and cute, though whenever I read a translated text I can’t help but wonder if I missed some of its charm in translation. It was read quickly over a busy weekend of running errands, preparing for fun activities like floating the Salt River or celebrating my 27th birthday, or organizing school supplies to close out the year.

Lastly, I finished up the school year and month with a book I’d been looking forward to reading, White Teeth. I read this wonderfully vivid book about culture and family on my first luxurious days of summer vacation. This book dealt a lot with the clashing of family members–both within a family and between families–and as I assimilate to marriage and my new last name, it was an intimate portrait I couldn’t help but appreciate–especially since it was written with such tenderness and sincerity.

It’s hard to believe how long I’ve been participating in this challenge, and how much has happened in these two and a half years! I’m entering the final ten books of this literary marathon, and I’m looking forward to making more progress towards completion this summer!

Bangladesh with White Teeth

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“What I have realized, is that generations, they speak to each other, Jones. It’s not a line, life is not a line–this is not palm-reading–it’s a circle, and they speak to us. That is why you cannot read fate; you must experience it.”–Samad Iqbal, White Teeth

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is the story of two intersecting family trees, and the unique colliding of branches and roots. There are the Bangladeshi immigrants, the Iqbals, descendants of a controversial rebel, and the mixed-race Joneses, half-Jamaican, half English paper-folder, and they are brought together by their patriarchs who served in World War II together. Together, these families brush up against modernism, religion, assimilation, and tradition.
  • It’s good because:
    • I started this book knowing I was going to love it, and I absolutely did. Smith delves into the nuances of several cultures with such delicacy and intimacy, and brings these experiences to life with fresh dialogue.
  • Read if:
    • My goal for this challenge was largely to read more diverse authors. Zadie Smith is an upcoming writer and a fresh voice for women of color, so if this is a goal you also have for yourself, read this book.

Up next: Angola with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible!

Denmark with This Should be Written in the Present Tense

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“I had a feeling I needed help in other areas as well, but I didn’t know which. When I covered my ears with my hands, there was a rushing noise inside me like a whole shoreline. It wasn’t worrying in itself. But I had this little flutter under my breastbone, it felt like homesickness. Perhaps it was just acid reflux.”–Dorte, This Should be Written in the Present Tense

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is the quintessential and intimate tale of Dorte, a twenty-something who is lost and floundering in adulthood. This story is not dramatized or trivialized; it’s honest and straightforward and totally relatable. It’s the story of a girl and the meandering path towards becoming a woman.
  • It’s good because:
    • It’s a short book. In fact, most of the sentences are short too, which contributes to the tender candidness of the story. I selected this book around the same time I picked out Wreck and Order, which I unfortunately did not enjoy. While they have similar themes, I think Helle Helle managed to write the tale of confused young-adulthood in a much less grotesque and frustrating way (even though, I’ll admit, sometimes the trials of being in your twenties are grotesque and frustrating).
  • Read if:
    • You, like Dorte, often wonder what it is you should be doing with yourself.

Up next: Bangladesh with Zadie Smith’s White Teeth!

 

Slovenia with Veronika Decides to Die

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“She would consider each day a miracle–which indeed it is, when you consider the number of unexpected things that could happen in each second of our fragile existence.”–Paolo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die

  • Here’s what happens:
    • Veronika is bored with life and lost, and attempts suicide; while she fails in her initial attempt, she is told she caused irreparable damage to her body. She is then placed in a mental institution to wait out her last days, where she meets a variety of insightful other patients and health professionals who help her understand her life.
  • It’s good because:
    • Paolo Coelho has a magical way of taking a simple tale, and weaving in the truths of the universe. This book is short, but profound.
  • Read if:

Up next: Denmark with Helle Helle’s This Should be Written in the Present Tense!

April + March–Addressing Venezuela, Jamaica & Taiwan

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March and April were spent trying to restore order to my life. The moving and renovation process, though exciting, consumed every bit of spare time throughout January, February and the beginning of March–and honestly left us so tired that I barely felt like a human anymore.

We celebrated this new step into adulthood and marriage by adopting a puppy, Lemon (named after one of our favorite TV characters, Liz Lemon), and though she has introduced new routines into our lives (walks, dog parks, tidying her backyard), she’s been a huge light in my life.IMG_5426

I struggled through The House of the Spirits in March. Spring Break typically means time to sleep in and read by the pool, but this year it was spent painting baseboards and moving while my husband was at work. It was an exhausting and frustrating week, and I think I took out those feelings on this book. It was an intricately detailed work of magical realism that winds its way through a family’s cursed history, and while parts of it were very enchanting, I mostly got bored with the long descriptions. I may revisit this book in another chapter of my life.

With the move complete, April was spent settling into our new home (and also realizing the work is never done when you own the house). I tried to get back on track with reading regularly with A Brief History of Seven Killings, and even toted the heavy book to school on many occasions to read while my students were completing state testing. I enjoyed the premise and the varied perspective to each complex character, but I’ll admit this was also a long one with a lot of characters to keep track of, and a shocking number of graphic sex scenes.

Lastly, I finished the month with Green Island, a book I devoured while participating in the teacher’s strike. I greatly enjoyed delving into this revolutionary family’s tale after mornings spent at the capitol, protesting for better school funding. The stress of these past few months have taken a toll on me, but having a few days with my husband, spending time together and talking about a cause I care about, helped me feel myself again. And of course, reading the first book I’ve loved in a long time certainly helped.

It’s hard to believe I’m finally in the last month of school. I’ve had a great group of kids this year, but it has also been an emotionally challenging one with admin and the political climate. Adding in our renovation and move, our first year of marriage (which has been blissful, but also a big change) , and the everyday ups and downs of life, this school year has left a big change on who I am as a person–and I’m not sure I have the perspective quite yet to fully understand what that change means.

Here’s to turning 27, wrapping up my fourth year, and spending a summer reading and reflecting with my little family!