Per my 2017-18 teaching manifesto, I pledged to write alongside my students and to offer more choice in reading and writing. One of my many virtual PLN heroes through #APlitchat and Voxer Adrian Nester gave me a great idea for my second blog. Her challenge is to find four books (or series) that helped readers shape their lives. So many titles and authors came to my mind as I started to draft this blog on paper last night. Before I knew it 2 hours had passed, and I was left with bullet notes, random titles and author names, question marks and a pseudo sense of ranking. This. Is. Tough.
I mean, I honestly feel guilty when I make these selections because I believe my obtuse measuring scale left out a “better” work. I also feel hesitant and anxious to publicly state that these works helped to shape my identity as a reader because, well, what will others think about my choices? What do my choices reveal about who I am? How do I define who I am when I am so many people: teacher, mom, wife, daughter, sister, Lutheran, etc. Do these works jive with all of these roles? And, then I got over it. I LOVE to read. I love to share what I read. I’m the kid who deliberately walked around with more books from the library because I wanted to be seen as a reader. Reading defines who I am, not just these works. Yet, the four I’ve chosen seem to have had a lasting impact on me.
Book #1: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I grew up in a house with four siblings, and I shared a room with both of my sisters. I was also very physical and demanding when I was younger, believing that the louder and more forceful my personality, the easier life would be/people would see my point clearly. Is it any wonder then why I quickly identified with Annie Lennox? True, I could not empathize with her parent’s loss, but the idea of having a 100-room house to wander seemed wonderful and peaceful. Once Annie discovers the garden and befriends Colin and Dickon, the manor doesn’t seem so lonely. Perhaps the language is flowery, but I felt like a grown up reading “real” stories in early elementary school. This was my first big chapter book, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment and a place to escape.
Book #2: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Similar to Burnett’s Garden, Salem’s Lot made me feel like an adult. I “borrowed” my dad’s copy of the novel. He started a membership into a book-of-the-month club, and he quickly acquired several King titles. My dad’s interest in King peeked my curiosity, though maybe reading my first adult horror novel at age 11 wasn’t the best idea. The creepy novel about the sinister town of Jerusalem made the hairs on my neck stand up. The scandal, violence, and language shocked me, but I also understood the courage and frustration of Ben Mears when he refused to leave this mystery unsolved– even more so when he chose to do something about it. Salem’s Lot was the first book I read under the covers with a flash light, and it started a life-long appreciation of King’s style and candor when crafting his stories.
Book #3: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Oh, how I love Irving’s narrator, characterization, and story line. I was in my early 20s the first time I read this novel. It was not assigned for my English literature classes; I just happened to notice it at a friend’s apartment. He simply said, “I think you’d like it.” That was an understatement. At first the chunked timeline frustrated me because I didn’t see how or why Irving was taking me along so far into one portion only to shift gears to another. In the last 60 pages when the finished puzzle started to form, I wept and wept and wept. This novel is so beautiful. I ached to know more, to be friends with or to take these characters out for coffee just to talk. Irving is a master story teller who creates complex characters. He demonstrates heroic qualities in ordinary lives. I’ve ready several of Irving’s works, but my first love will always be Owen Meany. Just writing this reflection inspires me to read it again!
Book #4: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I’ll admit. I never enjoyed history when I was young. It’s not that history isn’t interesting; it’s more so that my educational experience was simply skill-drill-and-kill. Rote memorization of places, people, and events without context does not breed interest. Thus, as a teacher, I became a history student in order to build context for my students, making the experience richer. Golding’s allegory about the fall of man and the dangers of war gave me an opportunity to extend our learning about World War II and the effects of the Cold War. The first few times I taught this text, I enjoyed learning alongside my students as they built more connections. After several years, I still love watching them hunched over the novel as I read aloud. I am even more excited when a student asks to read a cold passage aloud, trying on their best British accent. The excitement, the shock, the anguish, and the relief on their faces most often translates into their passage analyses, allowing me to engage them in how literature and history are symbiotic. I’m also a sucker for Dystopia!
Yes, perhaps, having this honorable mentions portion is a bit like cheating because I get to list more books and authors, but seriously, there are so many that give me fond memories. At one time or another these rejuvenated my love of reading because of the great experiences attached to them. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak were the go-to picture books for my sons when they were little. I read them so frequently that even now I can recite them by heart. Both the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter series reminded me of how fun and fulfilling suspending my disbelief can be, and the beautiful characters and themes are timeless and universal. As an adult, I’ve also become more interested and deliberate about my nonfiction reading. In the last decade, I’ve read several titles that have had a definite impact on my classroom, my instruction, and my reflection about how we shape our identities: Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and Jonathan Bergmann’s Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement.
In the end, reading is about discovering more about myself. Reading affords me the opportunity to research and connect, to live vicariously, and to entertain others. I LOVE it when I can share that experience with my students and my children. And, I’m always looking to make my to-be-read pile even higher, so let me know which titles you’d recommend. Happy reading! #MrsTReads