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!

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Jamaica with A Brief History of Seven Killing

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“The problem with a book is that you never know what it is planning to do to you until you’re too far into it.” –Nina Burgess, A Brief History of Seven Killings

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is a reimagining of the 1976 attack on Bob Marley, told over several years through the perspectives of a variety of figures including gang members, CIA agents, reporters, and politicians. It’s a story of violence, of political unrest, of poverty and racism, of enemies and allies. The break-in into the home of the Singer (as he is referred to throughout the book) is the event that sets many things into motion, but it is but one piece of this 500-page puzzle on the political and social history of this island nation.
  • It’s good because:
    • Each perspective has a distinct voice and a fresh new take on the circumstances. The book is largely written in Jamaican Patois, and I had to consult Google on more than one occasion to look up slang terms.
  • Read if:
    • This book reminded me of a cross between The Incarnations, with its sweeping views of multiple lives, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, with its slang-riddled, gritty look at Caribbean life. If you enjoyed either of those books, I suggest checking out this one too!

Up next: Taiwan with Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island!

Venezuela with The House of the Spirits

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“I write, she wrote, that memory is fragile and the space of a single life is brief, passing so quickly that we never get a chance to see the relationship between events; we cannot gauge the consequences of our acts, and we believe in the fiction of past, present, and future, but it may also be true that everything happens simultaneously.”–Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

  • Here’s what happens:
    • The story follows the weaving branches of the Trueba family tree as they fall in love, die, and fulfill prophecies.
  • It’s good because:
    • Allende is a gifted and colorful story-teller who writes magical realism with the best of them. She is able to follow generations of family in a way that is organic and extraordinary.
  • Read if:
    • I’ll be totally honest–I struggled through this book. I loved the premise of a cursed family and its path towards love, but it was a task for me to read this book. I hope to give it another chance when life is less crazy so I will enjoy it more, but anyone who is a fan of Isabel Allende should give this a shot; it’s her debut novel and it is very special.

Up next: Jamaica with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings!

January + February

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True life: I am a book blogger who has not read a book in two months.

After two years of lovingly maintaining this blog, the beginning of 2018 has truly rocked my world and my reading consistency. I am frustrated, but I am also trying to allow myself to be human and admit that I’ve had a lot on my plate (though I rarely accept this as an excuse from students on why they haven’t been reading). Things that have happened in the past two months:

  1. My dad had major surgery, and then wound up back in the hospital after an abscess formed during his recovery.
  2. My husband and I closed on our first home, a funky little fixer-upper that’s needed a lot of TLC. We’ve spent basically any spare moment since we got the keys mid-January trying to DIY the house into coziness–tearing up carpet, ripping out the world’s largest fireplace, painting the walls, installing laminate flooring, updating the lighting–you name it.
  3. I headed to Harvard for a week of professional development for an educational award I won, which required prepping for the program itself in addition to preparing my own students for a week of my absence.
  4. My husband had a rough and traumatic shift at work, and I scrambled to care for a man who endures unthinkable things at work every single day.
  5. I, like the rest of the country, having been watching with wide-eyed horror as the events from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and the aftermath have unfolded, losing sleep over the safety of my school and the unreasonable expectations of my profession.

I fully realize I would probably feel a little more optimistic and relaxed about a few of these things if I’d taken the time over the past few weeks to unwind with a good book and a cup of coffee (you can’t pour from an empty cup, anyone?), but with the new house and everything at work, I’ve had a hard time justifying any activity that isn’t goal-oriented and productive.

However, Spring Break is just around the corner–#3daysandcounting–and while my main goal for that time is to pack up our house and move, I hope to push myself to get back on track with my reading.

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!

Cameroon with Behold the Dreamers

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“Life is hard everywhere. You know that maybe it will get better one day. Maybe it will not get better. Nobody knows tomorrow. But we keep on trying.”–Betty, Behold the Dreamers

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is an extraordinary book disguised as what I’m sure is a rather ordinary experience. Behold the Dreamers follows the newly-immigrated Jonga family as they try to achieve the American dream in New York City. Jende Jonga acquires a job as a chauffeur for a Wall Street executive, and their plight for citizenship and success takes a few dramatic turns as the recession begins.
  • It’s good because:
    • This book has received a lot of praise, so I was prepared to enjoy it–even if, as I mentioned before, that plot sounded rather simple and common. But maybe that’s why it’s so important and resounding? In a climate of increasingly anti-immigration, borderline-xenophobic, corporations-before-people attitudes, this book is a very human reminder of the variety of struggles that exist within our country.
  • Read if:
    • You’re sick of constantly consuming political psychobabble online, and just want a refreshing and beautiful means to look at things from a new perspective.

Up next: Venezuela with Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits!

 

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!