My first reading selection this month was Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read (2014). Selected by Brian Sztabnik for the Twitter #APLitChat, this is a really cool read. Mendelsund combines his skill as Knopf’s art director with his musings about how readers approach texts. Unlike other books that reflect on how a reader brings their experiences to a text to glean insight or make connections, Mendelsund posits the reliability and validity of how readers construct meaning. The stunning graphics are paired with excerpts from novels, and the result is amazing. I found myself wondering how much of this applied to me and how I approach texts. In addition, I reflected on how I approach close reading with my students. How often do we ask students to dig deeper into texts, especially when they seem to remain focused on the surface details. I’m not sure that I would move to make this required reading for my Advanced Placement literature students, but definitely will recommend it as an option for summer reading. I’m definitely looking forward to the Twitter chat this month.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith (2017) is my first poetry collection of 2020. I have enjoyed the few poems I’ve seen by Smith in the past, and I am creating a profile of his work for NCTE’s Verse features later this year. A National Book Award finalist, this collection is visceral and confrontational. Smith confronts his HIV diagnosis and wrestles with the society’s perception that because of this he is less worthy– of love, of acceptance, of life. One of the most jarring lines from “everyday is a funeral and a miracle” wonders, “do i think someone created AIDS?/ maybe. i don’t doubt that/ anything is possible in a place/ where you can burn a body/ with less outrage than a flag” (65). I was stunned when I came across that during our silent, sustained reading time in class. I agree with Tracy K. Smith’s review in that “Smith’s is a voice we need now ore than ever as living, feeling, complex, and conflicted beings.” Smith does not shy away from expressing his desires, and he continuously moves between his observations and frustrations with his health and his condemnation of prejudice and generalizations. It’s provocative and powerful. I’m hoping to read at least one collection of poetry each month, and this one definitely didn’t disappoint as a starter.
I never doubted Elizabeth Acevedo’s ability to top The Poet X (which I LOVED), but I finished her novel With the Fire on High (2019) in two days. It is so very good! After seeing her read some of her poetry and excerpt from this novel at the 2019 NCTE conference, I chose to pair the text with the audio version. I often mention to students that guided reading can offer an opportunity to experience a text in a new way, perhaps offering insight because they are immersed in the story. I enjoyed this so, so much! Acevedo narrates her novel, and I immediately found myself wondering about all of the characters (except, I admit, for Tyrone) much like a nosy neighbor. Acevedo’s approach to a teen parent is refreshing and empowering. Often, stories with teen parents or teen pregnancy focuses on the moment they find out or some generalized version. Acevedo creates a story that includes a complex high school senior who happens to be the parent of a toddler. She doesn’t advocate for pre-marital sex, for teen pregnancy, or even take a pro-life stance. Her protagonist Emoni offers a candid look into inter-generational connections combined with a coming of age or milestone moment. I seriously want to try the recipes Emoni shares at the start of the sections, though I’m not sure that I’d come close to her innovation. If this title has been on your to-be-read shelf (or if you haven’t heard of it yet), I encourage you to move it to your next read. You won’t be disappointed.
The Infinite Game (2019) is the second Simon Sinek book that I’ve read, and like Start With Why (2009), it did not disappoint. Although the examples Sinek provides are focused on economic policy and the business world, this book is the focus of a book study from the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA). The book study correlates Sinek’s principles to teacher leadership. I believe that teachers, administrators, and legislators would do well to read this and discuss and align our goals for public eduction. “It is the combination of what we value and how we act that sets the culture of a company” (121). I would argue that many people, including myself, have become distracted or dismissive of the power public education has as a service. All too often finite thinking results in polarized options. Education is not a finite idea; if we truly believe that people should be life-long learners, then we should again begin seeking to serve our communities with this mindset. I highly recommend this text for anyone and everyone who has influence on the policies that affect public education. #OurKidsAreWorthIt