what i read, what i thought

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I didn’t pick this book off the shelf. It probably would never have been my choice when perusing the bookstore. But, I found it on the first day of school in my desk. It had been left on the last day of school by a student as a thank you gift and it sat in my desk all summer long waiting to be read. Pulling the draw open and finding this bright red book staring up at me was quite surprising.  Finding out that a student had chosen it for me was touching. Sadly, I thought when would I have time to sit down and read this? Then, Labor Day weekend had been a complete and utter wash out. It rained incessantly in Boston and the temperatures dipped low enough to put on cozy sweats. Under these conditions, I curled up on the couch and found myself with just enough time to read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. 

I started the book out of a sense of obligation. A student had been thoughtful and purchased me an adventure in writing. It was my responsibility to read this novel so that when I thanked the young man, I could do so with the ability to share and discuss the plot of the novel. I was utterly surprised by how taken into the story I became. I pushed David away when he tried to interrupt my reading. I needed to know exactly what happened between Lou and Will. Set in the present, the novel follows Louisa (Lou) as she is searching for a job in a sleepy town in England whose main attraction is an old castle.  There are not too many prospects for Lou and she finds herself going out to job interviews that are quite lacking and/or disgusting. After a number of factory jobs, Lou finally discovers a care-taker position for a quadriplegic man that pays quite a lot more than the going rate. Intrigued and really unable to let this opportunity pass her by, she responds to the add.

Will Traynor has spent the last two years confined to his wheelchair and trapped in a body that no longer allows him to experience his fast paced, high stakes lifestyle. Forced to withstand daily humiliations and degradations, he has tried to take his own life. His parents, though icy and distant, aren’t prepared to let Will give up on this new life even if it is one that he never imagined for himself. Hoping that they can convince him that life as a quadriplegic can be more, they are given six months by Will to prove it.  In steps Lou, who unbeknownst to her is not being hired for her experience in adult care (since she doesn’t have any) but is being hiring for her attitude. Perhaps surrounding Will with the right people will change his plan of action and convince him not to take his life. Isn’t six months quite a long time after all to change someone’s outlook?

As the New York Times article noted, “Lou has never fully lived; Will has, but no longer can.” This odd duo embarks on a normal routine of life, love, pain, opportunity, loss, regret, doubt, and fear. The friendship that builds between these two unlikely individuals is poignant and endearing. Lou’s determination to impress Will and change his perspective forces her to also challenge herself to live outside of the expected life she planned for herself. As Schillinger reflected, “Moyes’s heroine, if Lou can be so styled, may not be heroic; her male counterpart may be nobody’s idea of a leading man — and yet with Lou and Will she has created an affair to remember.” As the months tick by in their story, it became my signal most important objective to read to the end of the novel to find out if Lou was “successful” in changing Will’s mind. Was Lou enough? Would Will still end his life? What would I do if I were in Will’s place?  The final page of the novel left me…..

what i read, what i thought

I have seen this book on the shelves for quite some time. Yet, I never reached for it. Not even to read through its little synopsis on the back. I have this thing against reading a book whenever everyone else is reading it and raving about it. There is no real justification for this behavior, it is just a part of my reading practice. But I am so glad I finally made my way to it. It was the best way to end my summer of non-school related reading. And, it truly warmed my heart.

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As a puppy mom, I admit to believing that my dogs, Buster and Bella, are special and unique. I admit that I have at times felt like they were humans reincarnated. That their eyes reflected a wise soul within and that they not only understood everything I was saying to them but that they also had the capacity to respond. Obviously not vocally, although sometimes they do bark, but through their gestures, touch, and cuddles. If I was not married to David, I would absolutely be a dog lady and I would take pride in it. Buster and Bella are members of my family not just family pets.  For this reason, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein truly resonated.

From the very first paragraph I was completely hooked. I devoured the novel and its story of Enzo and his family. It beautifully wove the life cycle of the dog, Enzo, into the fabric of the family.  Told from Enzo’s perspective, it created hilarious moments as Enzo explained what a dog does each day when owners leave, how dogs see their place in the family, and how this particular dog soaked up each life experience as a part of his education for the future when he would one day be reborn a human (as he saw on a TV documentary about ancient dogs in Mongolia). Dogs are observant, clever, and loyal. These beautiful qualities were reflected in Enzo. He was often present when no other human was for his owners. He watched Denny, his owner, go through life from a bachelor, to a married man, to a family man, to a man seeking solace and redemption after a series of heartbreaking events. But, Enzo is always there providing touching commentary, reflection, presence, and tons of comic relief.

One of my favorite moments from the novel is when Enzo is going to stay over night at a friend’s house as Denny will be away.  Denny tells Mike, the friend, to bring Enzo to the house to collect his things, in particular to get Enzo’s toy stuffed dog by asking Enzo, “Where is your dog?”  You see Enzo loves this stuffed dog, it is his best friend and he hides it during the day so that the little girl in the house, Zoe, doesn’t acclimate it into her own stuffed animal collection. It is a reflection that you could only hear from Enzo. From the human’s perspective, Enzo hiding the dog is a quirk but to Enzo it is a strategic tactic! Enzo’s narrative throughout the novel demonstrates love, fear, danger, redemption, courage, and, for me, he explained exactly what Buster and Bella must be thinking each and every day!

The end of the novel is inevitable. I read the last pages out loud while lying in bed with David. Our puppies slept quietly on the sheets between us as Enzo’s story concluded. Despite the tears I shed, I truly enjoyed the novel. It made me laugh and cry and it was a fantastic ride which in the end is exactly what racing in the rain is all about…

“He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.”

what I read, what I thought

A few weeks ago, I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and wrote a little review on the book which was recommended to me by a friend. Having been intrigued by this dark thriller, I decided to read Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects while travelling from Boston to Minnesota and back this past weekend. In many ways, the books are similar with their disturbed protagonists who are unafraid (or at times driven) to inflict pain on themselves. Both stories revolve around murder and mystery that bring the protagonists perilously close to the murderers. Dark is a word that is exhausted while describing Sharp Objects. One of my favorite reviews is by Stephen King (Though I have not read any of this novels as I am too scared to do so), “To say this is a terrific debut novel is really too mild. I haven’t read such a relentlessly creepy family saga since John Farris’s All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By, and that was thirty years ago, give or take.”

Flynn’s style of writing is contagious. From the first sentence to the last she generates a fever in the reader that compels him or her to read through the tale of intrique as quickly as possible. Home is complicated place for many and Sharp Objects exposes these trials that members face within a particular family.  The “give and take,” the “love and hate,” and the “for and against” mentality of the family is exhibited for the reader who may or may not understand these opposing feelings about one’s childhood home.  Yet, this conflict whether as extreme as in the novel or more subtle (as I assume in more families), is present. Therefore even though this particular story represents a wild extreme, a reader is still able to identify with the characters and their humanity (or lack there of).  I mention this not to create normalcy out of the events that occur but to explain perhaps why I was so compelled to finish a story as troubling as Sharp Objects. I recommend this book, but only to those who can handle a story that is not in anyway a comfortable portrayal of family.

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what i read, what i thought

Spring Break started with a snow day as you may have read in my last post: students. Stuck inside for a few hours, I hit the ground running on my long list of books to read as quickly as I can within the next 14 days. It is so decadent to know that from now until March 25 my only priorities are to see people I love, relax, and read. The first book tackled was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Yes, this book is technically a young adult book, but before you simply dismiss it hear me out.

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together until all living humans read the book. And then there are books… which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”—Hazel, from The Fault in Our Stars

Revealing the full plot of the book would be an injustice to the complex waters that Screen Shot 2013-03-09 at 6.29.54 PMGreen emerges the reader.  Teasing out the intersections of love, friendship, sarcasm, coming-of-age, mortality, passion, and purpose, Green’s protagonists, Hazel and Augustus, demand to be brought to life and demand the reader’s utmost attention. It is a bittersweet, poignant story.  At times genuinely reflective of angsty teenage melodrama but it is more often about the finding meaning while facing oblivion. Green’s voice defies the categorization of young adult with its raw glimpse into the world of Hazel and Augustus.

“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities … There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbound set. But Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity.” —Hazel, from The Fault in Our Stars

 

what i read and what i thought

I can’t believe I just finished it!! Reading for pleasure during the school year is practically impossible, but when a friend passed along this book to me and said, “I cannot tell you anything about it but that is was amazing,” I knew I needed to make an exception. Each night I would come home with my stack of papers to grade and lessons to plan and stare at the book on the kitchen table.  When would I ever get the time to crack it open?

Then two weekends in a row the city of Boston was hit by tremendous snowstorms. I woke early these days to make my coffee, nestle in on the couch and begin reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

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As the snow fell in heavy flakes outside my window and as I emptied my coffee cup, the pages ticked off one by one. I wasn’t sure this book would capture my imagination.  The first few chapters were good but nothing that compelled me to want to dedicate my day to the story and to the protagonist, Nick Dunne. Early on I didn’t like Nick, so why finish his story? But, my friend had said this was the type of book that you should only read once you have set aside some ours to get lost.

It was about 50 pages in when I became hooked. As the story of murder, intrigue, and possibilities unravelled I found myself squealing with every new twist and turn.  Just when you think you have a handle on what is going on, the trajectory takes a sharp turn and leaves you biting your nails in anticipation. I could not gobble up the last 100 hundred pages fast enough. As I approached the last few pages, David called out, “You are almost there. You can do it.”  I was hypnotized by Flynn’s tale. Never a fan for CSI or Law and Order, I literally could not stop until the story came to its unexpected conclusion.  It was a twisted end and one I am still deciding it I really “liked” or not, but regardless I recommend this book to the next reader.  Enjoy the ride.

what i read and what i thought

The best part of being on break is being able to read for pleasure.  During the school year with grading and lesson planning forever consuming my precious “free time,” I rarely have the opportunity to pick up a book and just read for the sake of expanding my mind, going on an adventure, or indulging in the diversion of a good story.  This winter break, I was lucky to pursue this delightfully.

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This was a recommendation from the blog Eat, Live, Run. It was such a fast read and was truly the perfect book for a road trip. I read it in one day as the language and imagery of the author is beautiful.  Often stopping to reread sentences in order to truly appreciate the author’s depth, I enjoyed this historical fiction piece and the adventure it took me on.

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At school we have been focusing on the role of diversity in the classroom.  In a series of faculty meetings, members of the community presented on the work that is being done and the work that can continue to be done in order to harness and make real valuable space for discussions of diversity.  One of the facilitators recommended Whistling Vivaldi. While not a fast read like Blue Asylum, it did bring light to a serious dilemma facing all of us: stereotype threat. It was fascinating to read how we are consciously and subconsciously affected by our labels and how this can be reversed through significant and important interventions.

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While cozying up in Skye’s apartment the other afternoon, I stumbled across this book and asked to borrow it.  The author of this book is also the writer of one of my favorite blogs, SouleMama. While I do not currently have a brood of children, this book had such GREAT ideas on how to unleash one’s creativity and how to make being creative a part of an individual’s daily routine. I often let the creative side of me wait until the long list of to-dos is complete and by then, tired, I just roll into bed.  After reading through this delightful and warm piece on creativity and projects, I have a long list of ideas for my near-future creative endeavors!

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This last book of the winter break was a gift from an advisee.  Opening this present on the last day of school got me SO excited to go on break.  Clearly, this student (or perhaps his parents) understood that breaks are a perfect time to immerse oneself between the pages of a long novel.  While I am halfway through this story, I am enjoying the journey, mysticism, and strength of this historical fiction set in the time of the fall of Jerusalem.