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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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!

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!

Spain with For Whom the Bell Tolls

Screen Shot 2017-12-27 at 2.30.48 PM“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for, and I hate very much to leave it.” –Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

  • Here’s what happens:
    • It’s a transcendent war story detailing the experiences of Robert Jordan in the Spanish Civil War as he works to blow up a bridge. Throughout this task, he confronts his own will to live and the true meaning of love.
  • It’s good because:
    • It’s hard to say anything new about classics like this one. I admire Hemingway as a writer, and think this story is an important and enduring one, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was completing a high school assignment by reading this book. It wasn’t as engrossing or immersive as my brain would’ve liked, and I kept worrying I was missing some important detail–as if I were writing an essay about it.
  • Read if:
    • Like me, you’ve never read this particular classic. Or, if you’re in the mood for a tragic war story.

Up next: Iraq with Matt Gallagher’s Youngblood (another war story!).

August–Taking into Account New Zealand & Austria

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Whether a teacher or a student, August always hits me like a bus. This year has been no different. Sure, I’m entering this month as a wife, and currently the happiest I’ve ever been–but the mental and physical hardships of starting out a school year are just as challenging as they always have been! I am at the same school I was last year, which definitely made me feel more prepared plunging into the school year right after the wedding, but the hours and routines that go into the first weeks of school (combined the new germs from kids and 100+ degree heat of Arizona summer) always wipe me out.

I started the month still wading through Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, an epic monstrosity of a book I first began reading right before the wedding. Proulx emerges in the history of loggers across the world by following two families throughout 300 years, introducing and killing characters with the same fluidity and tragedy as life itself. Each generation of Sels and Duquets was so vastly different, that this book honestly felt like several smaller stories woven together. The story, at time, was too dense–brimming with new characters and historical context–for me to get caught up in after working a full day with my middle schoolers and then coming home to unpack wedding presents and write thank you notes with my husband. But, on the relaxing weekends spent at home when I wasn’t completely worn out or pulled in several directions, it was a beautiful and unique story to get swept up in. Life moves so fast, that the changes that happen throughout a year or a lifetime can be easy to miss, but Proulx does a magical job of documenting the ebbing and flowing of family and history. As my life has changed drastically over the past few years, it was a lovely reminder.

Next, I read The End of Days mostly in class with my students, a book I thought would be fitting tie-in with our class novel, Night. While still an interesting story, it wasn’t exactly the historical fiction that I expected, and didn’t connect to World War II in the way that I expected. I like to donate the books I read during DEAR to my classroom library, as my students have usually noticed and wondered about what I read, but the translation of this book was a little hard to follow even for me, so I’m not entirely sure it’ll be an exciting addition for them. The path a soul can take throughout history, as the bodies it inhabits die, is a very compelling topic for a book, and it was fascinating following the unexpected course the protagonist took.

With thank you cards finished and wedding presents unpacked, the last of my wedding tasks are complete and I regain a large junk of my free time. I am still balancing the responsibilities of being a teacher, the chores and duties of being an adult and a wife, and the tasks every teacher must fulfill–but hoping September will hold a few good books. I’m looking forward to my first three-day weekend of the year, and creeping a little closer to Fall Break!

Austria with The End of Days

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“If you get the slightest bit off track, the consequences in the end are just as inescapable as if you’d gone and leapt headfirst into this or that abyss.”–Jenny Erpbenbeck, The End of Days

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This story follows the soul of a female in five “books.” Each book finds her in a different circumstance, across time and Europe, but ultimately ends with her death.
  • It’s good because:
    • I expected this to be another fast-paced, historical fiction, young adult book about Eastern Europe–in the vein of Between Shades of Gray or Girl at War. I was completely wrong. While kind of jarring and confusing at first (I’m assuming this is due in part because it was originally written in German and then translated to English, and that can pose some challenges), it ended up being a surprisingly poignant exploration of the purpose of life rather than the predicted historical fiction.
  • Read if:
    • You like the type of books that toys with the nature of time and living. In reminded me vaguely of The Incarnations in the unusual way it floated across history through its ill-fated heroine.

Up next: Rwanda with Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil!