1) Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I actually read this last fall and desperately tried to get my students interested in it. I failed. This year, it was a book club book so most of them read it, and we actually used it as a kind of “book club” book with some of our students who need extra help reading. I am no expert in literacy strategies, but my gut tells me (and research backs it up) that the way to help kids improve in their reading comprehension is to read a good book and talk about what they read. Which is what I do. Which is what my mama did with me. Explains why I like to read so much I think. Anyways, the book is all about the life of August, a 10-year-old boy with a cranio-facial abnormality, who goes to 5th grade. It’s his first time at a regular school, and, like you’d imagine, it’s hard. But there are also kids who reach out to him. There’s a part of the book towards the beginning, and it makes me cry just to think about it. Summer (lovely, lovely character) sits at a lunch table with August, who was sitting alone, on his first day of school. As a society we value physical courage so greatly, and we certainly recognize and laud great acts of moral courage. But I’m not sure if we spend enough time recognizing small, heroic acts. I know I don’t. But I also was raised to never ever leave anyone out. There’s nothing worse than feeling left out. Anyways, I cry throughout this book which is a sign that something good is going on. Read it!
2) Middlemarch by George Eliot. I first read Middlemarch in Oxford. I loved Dorothea Brooke, the protagonist, so much because I was Dorothea Brooke. And I loved it because Virginia Woolf (who I read but didn’t much understand) said it was the only Victorian novel “written for grown-ups.” Not that I all that “grown-up” at age 20. But I wanted to join the ranks of the well-read and well-educated. It’s interesting re-reading it 6 years later. I still think I’m Dorothea Brooke, but I see her foibles and weaknesses. I don’t want to be Dorothea anymore. I want to be Mary Garth. But alas, I will probably be a little Dorothea-ish all my life. As I’m rereading this, I’m also listening to a book about one woman’s experience of re-reading Middlemarch. (I love how I’m re-reading a book and reading a book about re-reading a book. Of course I planned it that way). What struck her the second time was that the book is not so much the coming-of-age of Dorothea, but a cautionary tale about having a deep love and intellectual interest in something and what happens if that is stifled. Dorothea spends a lot of time wondering what great and glorious task she can accomplish. Dr. Lydgate (dashing young doctor just come to Middlemarch) has a passion for medicine and research, but through the course of the book that passion is squelched and eventually disappears. Truly, to have a vocation and to ignore it seems far sadder and graver than searching for a vocation and not really finding anything. Anyways, I realize this isn’t much of a review, but more a meandering about my thoughts as I reread. But seriously, it’s long, but not that long as far as Victorian novels go, and is a good story with characters you grow attached to as the story unfolds.
3) So…I’m going to cheat and throw in a tv show. I’ve been watching Mad Men for a few years. Mostly for the clothes. Grimly, each spring I get settled in for a few weeks of utter depression and despair. But the writing is so good. And the costumes! And while I don’t like many of the characters, I am very interested in what happens to them. Also, the real reason I’m recommending this is because Don Draper, ad-man extraordinaire, serial philanderer, impeccable dresser, office napper and drinker, mis-treater of secretaries (those poor girls), worst father ever did this in the last episode.
Yes, he’s sitting in his bathrobe in the middle of the day downing sleeve after sleeve of Ritz crackers while watching crappy tv. I’ve never had much in common with Don Draper before, but after seeing this. Well, he’s just like the rest of us after all.