November–Interpreting the Republic of Congo and Uruguay

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November is a time when I think most people in the U.S. pause to reflect on the wonderful things they have going on in their lives–and I’m no different. 2017 has been too good to me–with my marriage to my soulmate, with a loving family whom I’ve seen often, with an amazing group of kids to teach this year. I’m beyond thankful for all the big things that really make a life worth living–but also for the small things: good coffee, and comfortable places to read interesting books, among them.

I started the month reading African Psycho, a book I had brought with me on my travels in October but hadn’t managed to finish. It was a dark read, and wasn’t one I particularly looked forward to as I slogged through schoolwork. It told the story of a murderer aspiring to live up to the legacy of a fellow killer, and while I spent some of my free time this month binge watching true crime shows like Mindhunter, this book just didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Next, I took on The Invisible Mountain, which I didn’t know a whole lot about except that it was the type of Latin American magical realism I’ve really come to love these past few years. Both my husband’s and my families live near us, which is a wonderful thing, but can also make holidays rather hectic. My husband worked on Thanksgiving, so my holiday included stopping by the fire station before my parents’ dinner, and then a make-up dinner the following day–not to mention the fabulously Friendsgiving we threw the week before. I love Thanksgiving, and every year I think a holiday centered around eating and family time is going to be relaxing, and every year I remember how busy and exhausting it can be. Therefore it was nice to be reading something I was looking forward to reading, a story of revolution and self discovery, but I found I didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked.

With December underway and the countdown to Winter Break on, I imagine I will be enduring similar conditions–Christmas shopping, wrapping up the quarter, finally finishing the paperwork nightmares of sorting out my teaching certification and and getting my name changed, and trying to be a festive and jolly person (and not the cranky brat I normally am). But hey–let’s hope I can squeeze in a few books too!

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The Republic of Congo with African Psycho

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“Could it really be that my willpower has no part in what I undertake? That my entire life has been drawn in advance so that I am only following a path established by a force above me?”–Gregoire, African Psycho

  • Here’s what happens:
    • Serial killer Gregoire gives us the skinny on his sordid past, murderous pursuits, and bloodthirsty aspirations for infamy.
  • It’s good because:
    • It’s straightforward and brief, and truly a unique perspective on murder.
  • Read if:
    • I’m honestly not sure why I picked up this book. I read American Psycho in high school (and I hated it), and I knew this book was intended to parallel the detached, matter-of-fact approach to violence and psychopathy. I guess if that’s your thing, this is a pretty interesting book.

Up next: Uruguay with The Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis!

October–Thinking over Zimbabwe & Vietnam

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Raise your hand if your October also felt 10 years long.

Hermione_the_teachers_petOctober is infamously called Darktober for teachers–something about this point in the year just stirs up something endless and awful–but that was only part of what made these last 31 days feel so long and taxing!

I kicked off the month counting down to Fall Break, a vacation from students but also a week in which I had jam-packed quite a few exhausting activities.

My  husband and I jetted off to Vancouver for a newlywed, weekend away after stumbling across some very reasonably tickets. Though we did experience some sticker-shock at what an expensive city it turned out to be, we had a nice time strolling through Stanley Park, perusing Granville Island, and venturing out for a whale watching tour. I brought When a Crocodile Eats the Sun with me to read on plane rides since my husband is infamous for passing out as soon as we board, and it was such a fascinating read to tote along. I tore through this emotional family saga of discrimination and perseverance much faster than expected, and found myself book-less for my last flight and layover.

After spending so much money over our weekend in Canada, I confined myself to the clearance table of the airport bookstore to pick up something to last me the last few hours of travel. I picked up Eleanor and Park, a charming YA read that I enjoyed, but one that did not correspond with this reading challenge (it is set in Nebraska).

My second Fall Break read was The Things They Carried, which I carried with me on a trip to North Carolina and Florida. I was very excited to visit some friends who recently moved to Durham, and was happy to squeeze that visit in en route to a wedding in Fort Myers. This book was a little heavier than I was probably looking for, but this moving account of soldiers in the Vietnam War was powerful and important nonetheless. I felt very touched by the stories O’Brien shared in this collection, though the weight of these stories slowed down my reading as it took time to process these accounts.

I had every intention of including African Psycho in this month’s reading, especially given how quickly I was ploughing through literature at the beginning of the month,  but the plight of a murderer was not exactly the relaxing read I was looking for after parent-teacher conferences and exhausting days with hyper children.

Hopefully this next month will hold some relaxing time with family, and the sorting out of my teaching certificate so I can start to find a better balance between work and my personal life.

Oh, did I mention my husband and I bought a house (or at least, started that interminable process…)?!

Zimbabwe with When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

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“Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death.”–Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

  • Here’s what happens:
    • Peter Godwin recalls his family’s history in Zimbabwe, sharing tales of post-independce prosperity and unity alongside the subsequent chaos and backwardness of the Mugabe dictatorship. While recording the making and unmaking of his beloved country with journalistic precision, Godwin also explores the idea of home as he struggles with simultaneous love and frustration for his homeland.
  • It’s good because:
    • This book was so much more than I expected. I added it to my reading list after randomly discovering it in a box of books my husband’s uncle donated to my school. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing of Alexandra Fuller, and thought this book looked like a similar coming of age story as a white African. I definitely sensed similarities between Fuller and Godwin–admiration and confusion for parents who boldly forced their families to face the challenges of post-colonial Africa, an accepting sense of humor for the oddities of day-to-day life in the bush, and a passionate exasperation with the poverty and corruption that flourishes in these complicated political circumstances. What I especially loved about When the Crocodile Eats the Sun was how Godwin interlaced his father’s history as a Jewish refugee from the Holocaust with the persecution of white farmers in Zimbabwe, really shining a light on humanity’s need to identify and demoralize an “other” and the overall effect on a person of being isolated from one’s home. These stories were indescribably moving.
  • Read if:
    • I often feel like I go through reading droughts, where I spend months without reading anything I truly love. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun marked the end of one of those droughts. I tore through the book during our weekend trip to Vancouver, in airports and on planes and while my husband napped after tromping all over the city. This book is a magnificent and intimate story of family, of home, of suffering, and of perseverance, and it will stick with me for a while.

Up next: Vietnam with The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien!

September–Surveying Rwanda & Syria

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My husband and I marveled at how long September felt–an Arizona phenomenon where we are all impatiently waiting for fall weather to finally hit while we are sweating out 100+ degree days. Nevertheless, I still feel like I didn’t accomplish half as much as I thought I would in this warm, interminable time. I had some LONG days with students, I felt like I was constantly behind on household chores like laundry and cooking, and I stumbled and creaked into trying to establish a running routine. In between those exhausting tasks, I took on Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire and Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

Inspired by my students’ unit on genocide, I took on Romeo Dallaire’s account of the Rwandan genocide, Shake Hands with the Devil. An understandably heavy book, I waded through the facts slowly; it was far from a relaxing read to unwind with after work. As overwhelming as it was, I am glad I read it alongside my students, who were comparing Elie Wiesel’s Night to excerpts from Broken Memory: A Novel of Rwanda and Tree Girl. Dallaire’s writing made me want to be a more knowledgeable activist, reinvigorated my desire to help my fellow man, and really drove to focus this unit on encouraging my students to understand and sympathize with the texts they read.

After finally finishing up with Rwanda, I decided to read something a little more light-hearted and frivolous, and picked up Murder on the Orient Express. I wanted to give the book a read before seeing the new movie, which looks excellent. I read it hoping to finally overcome my inability to piece together mystery stories, but alas, I lagged far beyond Hercule Poirot’s reasoning as he sifted through the evidence of this murder. It was a fun book to get caught up in in bed while my husband watched Rules of Engagement, or on our weekend away in Heber, drinking a cup of coffee and enjoying cooler weather.

October is going to be a busy but exciting month, kicking off with a field trip to Tucson with my students to visit Arizona’s only Holocaust museum, and then continuing with a month full of trips to Vancouver, Raleigh, Ft. Myers and San Diego. With Fall Break and a handful plane rides, I’m hoping to get through a few good books as well!

Rwanda with Shake Hands with the Devil

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“I believed that the magic of command lies in openness, in being both sympathetic to the troops and at the same time being apart, in always projecting supreme confidence in my own ability and in theirs to accomplish whatever task is set for us.”–Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is the heartfelt and open story of Canadian military leader Romeo Daillaire, and his experience with the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in the midst of their genocide. He sheds light onto his own leadership, on the goals and shortcomings of our global attempts to maintain peace, and the tragedies that took place not only within Rwanda, but around the world as we failed to respond appropriately.
  • It’s good because:
    • It’s a moving and important part of history, and hopefully the more we study why and how this happened, the better chance we stand of preventing something so awful from ever happening again. Daillaire is straight-forward with his retelling, sharing both the facts as well as his emotional reactions to this experience. It’s an honest retelling, and it should be read.
  • Read if:
    • I read this book with the same gut-wrenching apprehension you feel as you ascend a roller coaster–you know something terrible is right around the corner, and you can’t prepare yourself for it even though you know what it is. Dallaire writes with clear and precise details, as if he himself is trying to piece together how we let this genocide happen. It’s an important historical text, and if you’re interested in your role in preventing future atrocities like this, you should read it.

Up next: Syria with Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie!

June–Deliberating on Egypt, Mexico & Israel

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June was my first full month of summer break–a delightful 30 days of waking up with no alarm, of running errands in the middle of the day, of thinking of nothing but what I wanted to watch on Netflix. Sure, I am also in the last month of planning my wedding, which kept me fairly busy but mostly with tasks that were fun to me. But mostly, June was deliciously relaxing, an unprecedented time of basically uninterrupted self care.

I spent the month reading books about remarkably strong women in the most challenging of circumstances–a little ironic, since my life resembled that of a 50’s housewife (lots of cleaning before my fiancé came home from work, shopping, cooking, and basically eating bonbons on the couch).

Nonfiction typically takes much more of my focus, rendering me hell-bent to take note of all the facts, so it made sense to kick off my new open schedule with Cleopatra. Reading about the queen of luxury while luxuriating myself–well, it was divine. Sure, the girl had her fair share of challenges: a murderous family, a few scandalous baby-daddies, and a tumultuous political climate to rule, but she was also one of the richest people to walk this earth, and practically invented decadence. I may not have spent my first days of summer hosting feasts for dignitaries or cruising the Nile in a bejeweled barge, but I did engage in my own version, which typically entailed multiple cups of midday coffee, binge-watching my favorite shows on Netflix, and putting the final details on lovely wedding crafts.

Next, I was excited for a quick read–something that would encourage me to take time from running errands and watching TV–and that’s exactly what I got with Like Water for Chocolate. I loved the protagonist, strong, passionate Tita who endures multiple heartbreaks with bravery and wisdom. It was a colorful and atypical love story, and I devoured it in three days.

Lastly, I capped off the month with The Red Tent, a book that has been on my TBR list for months but kept getting pushed to back-burner as my reading pace slowed. Biblical fiction isn’t what I would say is one of my go-to genres, but I could certainly understand why this novel has garnered so much acclaim. Dinah’s journey into womanhood was compelling and her forays into heartbreak were completing spellbinding.

While I do feel sad the summer is halfway over, I am excited to be onto my next step as a woman: marriage. I’m thankful to have spent my last month as a single girl with a cast of bold and independent females!