Category Archives: year in review

Year in Review: Top Ten Books of 2015

2015 started with a Buckeye National Championship, and I’ve got to say– thinking back to those wins still brings me an insane amount of joy. It ended with me finishing the final 2 courses I need for my Literacy Specialist masters degree, which has been three years of a 3-train, hour-plus commute up to Teachers College for each class. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the concept of “free time” in 2016–which I’m hoping to spend mainly pursuing painting, drawing, and photography. I just received Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic which I hope will help me to remember to not be afraid of not being good right off the bat. So much of my reading from this year, especially from this summer, helped cast a vision of what I want this year to be about–making meaning from the world around me and creating in response to it.

Highlights from this year include the beginning of my book club, a trip to Austin with my best friends, finding nature in urbanity, another great weekend in the city with my mom, teaching with the best in the business, chasing after flowers in Louisville with my dad, wandering the city with Daniel, adventures with kindreds, my first Buckeye game, laughing with family in Kentucky, Ohio, NYC, and Newport, and playing with my nieces.

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But as for reading, here are the best words that illuminated the way (if available, they include links to the posts I wrote; if not, they include links to other reviews or author sites).

Fiction

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (her Life after Life made my Top Ten a few years back–both are brilliant)

*Honorable Mention: the paired reading of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee combined with the necessary responses and conversations that happened around its publication.

 

On Being/Meaning Making

Syllabus by Lynda Barry

Falling Upward by Richard Rohr (Rohr is a Catholic priest whose thinking has been the most insightful in trying to escape the binary thinking so present in both modern politics and faith communities)

Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

New and Selected Poems, Volume 1 by Mary Oliver

*Honorable Mention: The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit and Looking at Mindfulness by Christophe Andre

Best Young Adult

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Need more books? 

Here are the past years in review since 2007 if you are looking for more books to add to your 2016 reading list.

 

Year in Review: 2014

2014 has been a year in which I’ve flown by the seat of my pants.  Graduate school took over most of my evenings and a large chunk of weekends–and though it’s been a lot of work and severely limited my social calendar, I feel like I am learning alongside some of the most passionate literacy teachers and from the all-stars of my profession. A great deal of my life at work was spent immersed in the world of inclusion teaching: thinking about what full time co-teaching would look like, trying to get the necessary supports ready, sitting in on interviews, clenching my jaw nervous about letting go of full control, and then feeling utterly thankful for the co-teacher I now share a classroom with and how much I’ve learned from the experience.  The team of teachers I work with has amazed me with their passion and drive–and the support that exists among us when at the end of the day all we can get out is “teaching is hard.” (True story. That was where the conversation took us at a party a few weeks ago.)

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This has also been a year where I’ve been so thankful for family.  We lost my grandpa in June, and I witnessed the definition of what family should be–and that is exactly what my grandpa would be the most proud of–having his five kids, their spouses, and his 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren together.  So many dad’s side of the family came to the services to stand alongside us. I’ve been able to get home to my parents 4 times this year to laugh and listen to music.  I celebrated my first Christmas away from home, but married into a wonderful family that includes the cutest nieces in the world and got to eat waffles from my mother-in-law’s grandmother’s waffle iron.  My apartment continues to be an adventure in shitty-coziness (leaks, slants, animals), but couldn’t ask for a better guy to check for rodents that may or may not have fallen from the ceiling.

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I’m still trying to weave art and poetry into my life, playing with watercolor and drawing, reading Mary Oliver. I journeyed through The Artists’ Way by Julia Cameron and am still learning so much from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. But as always, it is reading that has built the backdrop of my year: opening my eyes beyond my daily existence, reminding me of bigger truths, letting me escape, introducing me to new people.    Here are the best of this year, linked to the post I wrote about them:

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker: recommended by my mom and a gorgeous story that explores the space between suffering and love, set mostly in Burma

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: an incredible book to read closely and the basis of one of my favorite book club conversations of all time

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: a surprising favorite that started as a beach read but stole my heart in the last third

Transatlantic by Colum McCann: the second half of this story beautifully (and surprisingly) pulled together threads of women’s history and walked me through grief

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: the most beautiful and thought-provoking book of the year, set mostly in Japan

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler: the most enjoyable book to read while in week 2 of a month long cold, with some tea, while it’s pouring. Fey/Poehler for president.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: stunning, though-provoking, lyrical WW2 historical fiction

The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan: my foray into science-nerd reading which literally showed me just how big and wonder-filled the universe is

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki: I thought this young adult graphic novel would be for kids, but it was a poignant reminder of the complexity of the early teenage years

The Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra: the post for this book is still in progress, but its craft and themes taught me so much about Chechnya and life in a war-torn country

This is the end of my 8th year writing this blog. You can find lists from 2007-2013 here. I think I’m going to re-do an old reading resolution–read the books on my nightstand before I buy anything new.  Here’s the current pile:

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My Year as a Reader: Top Ten Books of 2013

I generally count my time in alignment school years: September is the new year and August is the month of reflection and generating new ideas for the coming year, so it’s always interesting each December to examine and reflect on the calendar year.  And actually, it’s probably healthier to not count my days by my profession.  This year was one of my favorites:

First and foremost, I got engaged on January 1st and our wedding in August was a celebration with family and friends I will truly never forget (especially my grandpa organizing the Yager family at the hotel bar Friday night, dancing to Gloria with my Uncle Bob at the reception, or my Brooklyn girls fulfilling their promise of charging to the dance floor as soon as the music started, hands in the air).

Personally, I have learned so much about paying attention to small moments of beauty and truth, breathing deeply, and taking the time to nurture creativity.  Professionally, this summer I had the opportunity to be inspired by kindred educators at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s institutes, which has driven so much of the energizing work happening right now in my classroom and my ability to truly celebrate each of my students and their voices.

As a reader, I set a resolution at the end of last year to not buy any new books until I made it through the ones I already owned.  I did pretty well on that until the spring and it completely fell apart once June hit and I decided that summer reading was an exception.  Oops.  But, I did buy a kindle and used the kindle app on my ipad to read multiple book, and learned about how to check out e-books from the library.  Also, I’m such a fan of independent book stores, that it was hard to walk in and NOT buy something, just to show solidarity in their mission, especially Greenlight, Community Bookstore, and Book Court.

Regardless of how I got them, though, below are the ten best books that narrated my whole path this year:

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: This was story tucked into story tucked into story, told in a mirror image format that was the most challenging and most thought provoking fiction of the year. I couldn’t stop thinking about the thread that tied the narratives together.

Quiet by Susan Cain: The subtitle really says it all for this one–the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.  This was the best nonfiction book I read all year and help me to not just own my introverted nature, but think about how I can empower my introverted students.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: This short book is for adults who have forgotten the magic of being a child. At once fantastical and realistic, this story was phenomenal and my favorite fiction book of the year.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: My cousin and her son recommended this middle grade book to me and I think it is one of the most important I’ve ever read about life and loss.  I wept at the end, which is rare for me, and had a hard time recovering–but this is because it beautifully captured so much of what it means to be human.  The illustrations were breathtaking, as well.

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy: Van Booy has become one of my favorite authors because of his poetic style and ability to capture tiny moments of humanity at its most beautiful.  As suggested by the title, it follows multiple story lines to show how people are much more connected to one another than we realize.

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson: I read mostly mystery for the month of August and this was my favorite by far.  Atkinson’s protagonist is born in 1910 and the story continually resets itself and re-imagines what her life may have looked like.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala: This memoir is one of the most discussed books of the year and Deraniyagala’s story of grief after losing her husband, sons, and parents in the 2004 tsunami is heart-wrenching, powerful, brave, and important.

Everyday by David Levithan: This book was by far my favorite Young Adult read of the year.  The protagonist is, essentially, a soul–s/he inhabits a different body each day and the reader gets to experience this unique voice and watch as s/he tries to craft a life outside the inhabitation s/he cannot control.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown: By far the most transformative nonfiction/personal growth book of the year, especially for this Type A/Oldest Child combination.  She helped me find some grounding and do a lot of the thinking work that propelled me from May onward through the year.

1,000 Mornings by Mary Oliver: This short book of (accessible!) poetry grounded me as the seasons changed and helped put some of the wisdom I took from Brene Brown to work.

(Looking for more recommendations for your reading year? Click here to read my year in review posts since 2007.)

As always, I’d love to hear your best recommendations & reading plans for the new year!

Year In Review and Top Ten Books of 2012

This year, my reading life seemed to be anchored in studying history and looking for wonder.   It is easy to get caught up with trivialities and the day to day, and for me, that is when I begin to feel the least like myself.  Thank goodness for the books that keep my eyes open and my brain thinking–and, more importantly, for the people in my life this year who were such good reminders of truth and beauty.  


I started this blog in January 2007, so each December since I’ve read through all my posts of the year and done a reading “year in review” that includes my top ten.  What’s different about this list and most book lists out there is that I get to maybe one newly published book a year (too expensive for this teacher and too heavy for this car-less commuter), so my choices never reflect the newly published.   Here are lists past if you feel so inclined:  20112010200920082007.  If you want a closer look at what they’re about, click on the title for my original posting. 


A laugh-out-loud/don’t take yourself too seriously read:  


1. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy  Kaling.  I read this book on the train home from my New Years gathering and finished it the first morning of 2012 and laughing was the best possible way to start a new year.


The best vacation reads: 


2. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Crosse.  This is a read for book lovers that I curled up with during this year’s February break.  It was thought provoking, but for me, mid-winter, it was more of an enjoyable escape during a week off work: a quest to make the perfect book store with a mystery tucked in.

3. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy.  I read about this book in New York Magazine and started it during one of the first few days of my summer break.  One morning I took a roll and a coffee to Prospect Park, thinking I would spend 30 minutes or so reading.  Two hours later I got up, completely moved by the poetic characters and language.  Absolutely beautiful. 

I got pulled in by World War Two this year: 

4. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand.  The true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner, Air Force Bomber and POW in the Pacific during World War Two, this book was an incredible story of the endurance of a man as well as a heart wrenching glimpse into the life of a POW both during and after imprisonment.


5. Night by Elie Wiesel.  Wiesel’s memoir of his time spent in a concentration camp, I re-read this book with students in an incredibly powerful club in the spring.  I would put this book on humanity’s must-read list–it is dark and difficult to swallow, but so important.


6. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen.  This is the story of William Dodd, America’s ambassador to Germany in the thirties, when things with Hitler were beginning to heat up.  It was a fascinating read and a great introduction to the politics leading up to World War Two.


7.  Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas.  This book is a commitment: it is over 600 pages of very small type. However, I was completely enthralled by this biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian theologian from the 1930s and early 40s who was a key part of the resistance to Hitler and the Valkyrie plot to assassinate him.  It was such an inspiring read of someone who refused to sit back in safety when something felt gut-wrong to him no matter what others were saying–and for that, he is a hero in my eyes.


A book that will keep you guessing long after you finish it: 


8.  Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.  This was probably the most challenging, unique read of my year and the kind of book that as soon as I finished it left me wishing I could immediately start over and then head into a literature course to discuss it.


A classic worth re-reading: 



9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I loved reading this book in high school (my honors English teacher even helped us organize a mock-tail party in full dress attire a la Gatsby at the end of the year).  I’m reading this book in a club with students later this year, so I reread it for the first time since graduate school and it gave me lots to think about.

My favorite book turned movie of the year: 


10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  I read this years ago and enjoyed it and decided to re-read it before the movie came out.  Chbosky captures the mind and coming of age of wallflower Charlie through a series of letters.   I went to see the movie at BAM after an amazing brunch and it really turned into a perfect afternoon, because the movie version is incredible–the kind that restores one’s faith in humanity incredible.  I highly recommend both, but the book first, obviously!


I’m always looking for recommendations and I love hearing about people’s best reading experiences of the year! Stay tuned for my New Year’s Reading Resolution and my reading plan for the early months of 2013.  


The New York Times wrote earlier this year about stories AND science: “The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.” So, that is your motivation for finding a new book or two to explore in the new year.  

Reading Year in Review and Top Ten Books of 2011.

My blog is about to celebrate its 5th anniversary next month.  I wrote my first post on January 6th, 2007, partly to slow down and think about what I was reading again and partly in an effort to get more comfortable with sharing my writing in a “public” space (I would like to thank my 4 loyal readers at this time: Mom, Dad, Alison Covey, Kendra Bloom).  Every year when I’m home for Christmas I read every post I wrote over the year and choose the top ten best books I’ve read.

Usually, it takes me many hours to reread my blog posts for the year. As I read, I take notes and end up with a list at least 20 contenders for the coveted top ten.  I have to do some serious thinking and rereading of posts to decide which books had the biggest impact on my thought life–and then spend some serious time laughing about the nerdy ways I spend my time.  This year was not so difficult.  Sadly, I don’t think I can attribute that to any increased coolness to my life, but I do think I have a few answers/self justifications for the reasons why this year I had only 23 posts (2008 holds the all-time high of 97):

  • The spring was filled with YA books that enriched my teaching life and a side project I’m working on, but weren’t necessarily significant enough for me to subject my loyal readers (see above) to. 
  •  The summer, normally the two months that I read the highest number of books, was filled with Infinite Jest, a book that I felt I needed to finish before I posted anything about it.  (Then, the fall happened and I still have 5 additional posts about Infinite Jest sitting in my drafts.) 
  • This fall, I got caught up reading books for and with my students. Many of my Saturday mornings, normally my drink-a-hot-beverage-and-write-about-my-reading time, were filled with training for my half marathon.  Also, my book club choice was For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway, which is not a read-before-you-fall-asleep kind of book: I would make it literally 3 pages and fall asleep. I’m finally about to finish it, which I owe to traveling 3 out of the last 5 weekends on U.S. Airways, who does not offer in-flight television.  

All that to say, it is interesting to look back on a year through the lens of reading. I am nerdily excited for what 2012 will bring in my reading life…and the reflections that accompany good books.  As for the Top Ten, I have to credit Margaret, who is the sole other member of my book club, because six of our choices made the top ten list this year. So, in no particular order:

The Hours by Michael Cunningham/Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (rereads)
These books have to be paired together and were two of the most thought provoking reads of the year.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
This book received an insane amount of press when it was published last year.  Overall, especially because my book club read read The Corrections first, I throughly enjoyed getting inside the mind of Franzen.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteygart
Not especially well written, but it definitely was the instigator of many great conversations and some science-fiction/technology induced nightmares.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
I think this was the most historically significant, jarring book that I read this year, and combined with its lyrical prose, it left me speechless.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Short. Beautiful. Inspiring.

Bossypants by Tina Fey
The most enjoyable book of the year.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Harder than my book club’s run with the Russians a few years ago and encompassing almost all of my summer, this book was well worth it.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years  by Donald Miller (reread)
This book was a non-fiction, good reminder of all things I love about story and life.

The Summer Book by Tove Janssen(reread)
This book has become one of my yearly rereads and I’ve written about it a few times.  I spend the quiet, early summer mornings I have at my parents’ house on their screened in porch reading just a chapter or two a day so that I can savor and soak in it during my entire visit.  This year it was my respite from Infinite Jest, to make sure that reading was not only speaking into the my academically-minded side of my brain, but also my soul.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I read the first book of this series as soon as it came out, on recommendation of our Teachers College professional developer.  I never finished the series because I felt like I knew enough to talk about it with kids and had so many other books to read.  However, after the Epic-Literary-Reread book club on Harry Potter with my students last year, I thought that it would be cool to do the same thing with The Hunger Games this year.  I read these books in about a week and was amazed to see all of the entry points for young readers to have uber literary conversations. I have also been amazed at how many of my adult friends have been reading the series and are eager to discuss. A post-movie discussion party is in the works.

Cheers to reading and a 2012 filled with more writing about it!