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!

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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!

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!

Taiwan with Green Island

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“Some argue that 1968–the year of the student protests in France and the United States, Poland and Yugoslavia; the year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot–was the moment that the dictionaries were burned and rewritten, but this claim disregards the change that happens day by day, so incremental that it is invisible to us, like a snail sliming its way across a road.”–Shawn Yang Ryan, Green Island

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is the struggle of Taiwan–against colonialism, against dictatorship, against Westernization, war, and disease. Green Island captures how a nation’s attempt to find and assert its identity affects an individual family. This story starts with the birth of our narrator on the night of the March Massacre, and follows her family, and their relationship with their tumultuous island nation.
  • It’s good because:
    • I loved this book; it is the epitome of why I’m doing this reading challenge. I knew next to nothing about Taiwan prior to cracking its cover, and now I have this beautifully written glimpse into its 20th century history and a story I never knew I was dying to read. Green Island was so unexpectedly heart-wrenching and perfect.
  • Read if:
    • Just go grab your copy now. I picked it out without knowing anything about it other than it covered a country I had not yet visited for this challenge, and my heart is so happy I did.

Next up: Slovenia with Paolo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die!

December–Checking out Spain, Iraq & Cameroon

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The holidays usually fly by, but when I think of this past December and all the things that happened come to mind, I can’t help but feel the month of December was approximately three eons long.

The month started out with benchmark testing for my students, which is rarely fun for them but is one of my absolute favorite things (not just because I personally love a silent classroom working on independent work, but also because it’s exciting to see how their reading levels have grown). My students’ scores were really good, and I also had the opportunity to attend a training on incorporating books into the classroom, so I entered December feeling pretty positive about the work I was doing–which helped balance out the lack of enthusiasm I felt while reading For Whom the Bell Tolls. I often get caught between wanting to read the things I feel I should have read, and wanting to enjoy a page-turner (what my training dubbed “book candy”–books that may not be as challenging, but are fun to read), and I’m still not sure what the resolution is. Every now and then I’ll stumble upon a book that somehow falls in both categories (cheers to One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Red Tent and Like Water for Chocolate!). I was a little disappointed (mostly in myself as a reader) that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did, and I more or less slogged through the war-time dialogue and introspection.

I read Youngblood as my students took their final exams and I made the final preparations for Christmas and Winter Break. I enjoyed the deeply flawed–jealous, insecure, ambitious–narrator, though I hadn’t planned to read two relatively dark war stories back-to-back, especially while trying to get into the holiday spirit (a more or less perpetual struggle for me).

As I finished up this book, I discovered I had received an educational award that will send me to the Harvard School of Education in February for a training and awards ceremony, an opportunity I am so thrilled about. I decided to celebrate how any Winter Breaking English teacher would: with a juicy book from my #TBR list. I picked up Behold the Dreamers while shopping for Christmas gift books for my students; I had seen it all over social media and wasn’t even sure it would fit in with this reading challenge (but what self-respecting bibliophile can resist a good thrift store book deal!?). This was an amazing book to finish the year with, a heart-warningly human story with sharp thoughts on immigration, racism, social mobility, and materialism–perfect for reflecting on the past year and the current state of our country, and where the hell we go from here.

It’s crazy that this month wraps up not just three more books on my journey around the world, but also my second year of writing about this literary challenge. I am so excited for everything 2018 will hold: travel, celebrating the marriages of some of my best friends, growing as a teacher, moving into our first home, and reading the final 16 books in this challenge!

Let’s go 2018 and Year 3 of #AroundTheWorldIn80Books!

Iraq with Youngblood

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“I’ll answer crooked, and I’ll answer long. And when they get confused or angry, I’ll smile. Finally, I’ll think. Someone who understands.”–Matt Gallagher, Youngblood

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is the story of a “youngblood” lieutenant during counterinsurgency in Iraq, chronicling his struggles to find his foothold as a leader as he tries to uncover a local mystery nestled at the crosshairs of forbidden romance and a terrorist heist.
  • It’s good because:
    • Gallagher’s writing is sharp and honest when it comes to the internal struggles of being a soldier: the constant conflicts between vigilance and boredom, hopefulness and cynicism, camaraderie and competition. This is a dynamic piece of writing.
  • Read if:
    • You enjoyed The Things They Carried. Different war, of course, but I believe Gallagher alludes to this book often, especially when saying that the truest war stories are the ones that are hard to believe.

Up next: Cameroon with Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers!

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…)?!