What I'm Reading and Listening To.

By popular demand, I am bringing this post back to the blog.  Many of you have expressed you like to get book recommendations (which is awesome) and seeing that I am once again teaching English full-time, I have a LOT more opportunities to read, talk about books and recommend books. The high school I work had has a Choice Reading program for all students--basically students get to choose their novels that they read throughout the year and every class period has 15-20 minutes built into it for silent sustained reading time.  It's amazing. I have never, ever in my 11 years of teaching seen kids as excited and passionate about reading--and it's rubbing off on me too! Part of the job is also talking to kids daily about what I'm reading and sharing with them new books or suggestions--Book Talks take about 5 minutes of every class period and kids often find that they want to grab the novels I'm talking about--which means I need to be reading, reading, reading too! 

This year I am teaching all 9th grade and I'm realizing quickly that I've got to catch up with my Young Adult genres.  I haven't read a lot of YA until recently and I am really excited to share some recommendations below. I used to sort of turn up my nose at YA, but now I'm seeing some really quality written books out there in the genre and I think some of you might really love some of these recommendations.  

As always, I'd love to know what YOU'RE reading, so please leave a comment!

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

This book. Literally. I couldn't stop reading it. I bought it at about 3pm on Sunday and I finished it that same evening around 9pm. It literally grabbed me and hugged me and I HIGHLY recommend it. It is Young Adult, but it is quality.  The language is beautiful and the writing is excellent.  The story revolves around a 17 year old narrator, Lennie (short for Lennon) who has recently lost her best friend and sister, Bailey, in a freak medical occurence.  The book deals with her very complicated feelings of grief, her love for clarinet, her grandmother (with whom she lives) and, of course, the 2 boys that she loves.  It's SO good. This author also just wrote a new novel called I'll Give You the Sun, which I cannot wait to read.  It's really, really, really good--don't let the young adult title scare you away.  You'll love it.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

So, I was late to the party on this one, obviously.  But in my defense, I did try to read it earlier and it just didn't grab me.  The second time around, though, was not the case. I LOVED this book. Here's why I loved it though--not because of the mystery aspect, though that was rad. I loved it because the 2008 post-economic downfall storyline that finds the two main characters Nick and Amy living in a McMansion-type suburban area in Missouri.  I loved this part of the storyline. There was a power in the writing that Flynn produced gently and subtly addressing the "Keeping up the the Jonses' mentality that is plauging so many these days. I'm not sure why, but I just really resonated with the empty, abandoned houses in Nick and Amy's neighborhood, the ideas of people doing all these things just to make their neighbors think that all is good and they've got it all together.  That is the part of the book that stuck with me.  This book is obviously bloody and disturbing, but, damn, it's really good.  Better than the movie, though the movie was pretty great, I thought.

The Shining by Stephen King

Also late to the party on this one, right? Like 20 years late--ah well.  Truthfully, Ian and I listened to this book on the way home from the last leg of the road trip, so it's not on my current bookshelf, but I loved it and wanted to share. Obviously I've seen the Jack Nicholson version many times (and we will not speak of the re-make in the 1990s, let's just pretend that never happened), but we both wanted to read the book so that we could read King's newer sequel, Dr. Sleep.  Anyway, we found a full audio version and listened to all 19 hours of it en route from Colorado to Minneapolis, and let me just say, it was absolutely awesome.  Much more psychologically disturbing than the movie.  The book really goes into Jack's history, his drinking and his mind, which I found fascinating.  I think that Stephen King is a pretty good writer (duh) and I really appreciated the intense character development of Jack.  I'd definitely recommend reading it, even if you've seen the movie--it has more to think about--it's less scary and more disturbing.  Go for it. 

Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West

This book I finished awhile ago, but it's SO good.  I love stories written about the West and this one was no exception.  I'd say it was a little like John Steinbeck with a dash of Nicholas Sparks.  Maybe. I'm not sure how I feel about that description as I type it...but I'll leave it for now.  Anyway, it's really good--it's about a man who moves to a small town in Wyoming (tiny town) and starts coaching the (really bad) high school basketball team.  As the novel unfolds, you discover that he is running from a traumatic event in his past.  The story is great though--it's sad and honest and heartfelt. The kids seem like real kids and the coach is a real guy--it's not all sappy like Sparks can be, but it does have some really lovely character development.  I would definitely check it out.  It's long, but a quick read. 

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

I just started this book 2 days ago, and already I know I'm going to end up loving it.  It's the story of a woman who is brutally attacked on a road while riding her bike one more.  She manages to escape, but the results are devastating for her mental capacity. She retreats into her volunteer work at a homeless shelter and while she is there, she meets a homeless man who she discovers is hiding a secret that connects her and him to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  This book is going to kick ass.  As soon as I heard that it has strong ties to Gatsby and the Roaring Twenties, I was like, "Um, duh".  My hope is to finish it this weekend, so I'll keep you updated, but I have a feeling I won't be disappointed. 

And So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Of course she's reading this," but truly it took me awhile to warm up to this book and to accept reading it.  See, I really pride myself on being a Gatsby scholar (my dad doesn't believe me, but I've read pretty much every scholarly article out there and literary criticism of the work, including rereading the novel over 300 times) so when I heard that Corrigan had managed to write a new book about Gatsby and she beat me to it, I was a little annoyed. Now, obviously I don't have time right now to write a well-researched Gatsby critique, but still...I couldn't help but feeling that I should have done it first.  Ah well.  So, it was with much trepidation that I pushed "Buy" on the Kindle button and downloaded this to my tablet.  But, thus far, it's pretty interesting.  I think I'll need to finish it to see if she really does enlighten or change any thoughts I already have on Gatsby, but so far it's enjoyable to revel in her analysis and the prose of Fitzgerald.  And Dad, I'll let you know what SHE says about the end of Chapter 2. 

Thank You For Your Service and The Good Soldiers, both by David Finkel

I have been known to be judgmental of the military. I've also been known to claim that asthma is a made up illness, then I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma.  I also used to say people with back problems were weak. Then I threw my back out 3 times in 2 months and was bedridden for 3 days.  So it's time for me to start being a little more informed when I speak. Thus, The Good Soldiers and Thank You For Your Service, both by Finkel, have found their ways to my bookshelf.  I really enjoy learning about the impacts of war and tragedy on the minds of our soldiers and this book is no exception.  Finkel has done a wonderful job of making the realities of military life in 2014 come to life and his exposure of PTSD and the impact it has on soldiers is both riveting and terrifying. 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This is young adult, but I do loves me some East Coast/Hamptons drama.  And, thus far, it's not cheesy young adult. It's very interesting and pretty well written. Basically it's the story of the Sinclair family who live on Martha's Vineyard in the summers, as old money folks will do, and the tale of what happens on dramatic summer, the subsequent cover up, and all the awesomeness of teenage sunburns and lemonade along the way. It's a short book, I'm about 30 pages into it, and it's great thus far. I think I'll love it and there is nothing more enjoyable than escaping into a fictionally wealthy summertime, as far as I'm concerned. 

Oh, and I'm also REALLY into (read huge poet crush) on spoken word artist Miles Hodges right now.  He is truly rock solid and yes, his poetry has some language, but damn, can this young man create some images.

"Your mind was great baby, but your mind, your mind was the night before a revolution."


So that's it for right now!  Other items on my Next List include the new Jodi Picoult book, re-reading East of Eden and The Great Santini and a whooolllle lot of young adult including Asylum, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines and The Impossible Knife of Memory.  Would love to hear your recommendations and thoughts!