Changing the Way I Build My Library

This week my plan was (and still is) to focus on books of my college years and my twenties. I spent most of my twenties single and discovering life so these momentous phases link well together. Because of an unexpected family crisis, I was unable to write at the beginning of this week and this is the first year I hadn’t written a few posts ahead. (Lesson learned!) We’re all back home and doing well so I thought, rather than try to catch up, I’d batch a couple books into one post. So, today and tomorrow will be two books.

51R+D9ZxrSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_My college years were actually spent reading texts for school, most of which were art history tomes. Life-changing in the academic sense, but really more coffee table books than anything. I got my Master’s Degree in Urban Education and it was there that I really started reading people of color and digging intentionally into books written by authors who have the same background and perspective as the protagonist.

One of my favorite books during these grad school years was The House on Mango Street. Sandra Cisneros is a masterful storyteller and her fictional characters reflect her own life experiences. The short stories follow Esperanza, a Latina girl from Chicago. I love well-written short stories and Cisneros uses this form to create a stunning narrative arc.

One of my favorite stories in the book is “Eleven,” about how we are each of the ages we’ve already lived. That story has helped me parent when my girls (and myself!) act like two-year-old or ten-year-old or even our own ages.

The House on Mango Street sparked my thesis about using our classroom libraries to reflect the backgrounds of our students. I purposefully sought out books my students could relate with and, as I raise white girls, I have intentionally filled our home library with books that don’t reflect my daughters’ experiences. It taught me to be intentional about how I stock my libraries, especially for emerging humans.

* * *

51JAnJWnbkLAfter grad school, a friend and I were talking about reading and meeting guys. We wanted to start a book club that wasn’t simply women drinking wine together so we created “Books and Beer.” Every month we met at a bar and we advertised our club on Craigslist. (In the days before Craiglist got weird!) We thought a lot about our first pick – we wanted something that was easy to read, a good discussion, and a book that guys would want to read, too. Life of Pi by Yann Martel seemed a perfect choice.

While the book itself wasn’t life-changing (though it was one of my first magical realism reads) the marker of this book club was. We met at bars for years and we did indeed meet guys who read. (Though none of our spouses came directly from book club.) Eventually, we stopped advertising on Craigslist and even stopped meeting at bars. As life changed, it became a more traditional book club of women meeting in homes, drinking wine. After 10 years, I stopped going last year but it will always hold a special place.

What I loved about this book club was finding books that fit a large audience. We never knew who would attend and so we tried hard to find books that were thought-provoking but that would also reach a wide variety of readers. We would always have a stranger or two at each meeting and it was always interesting to hear such different perspectives.

Life of Pi sparked a wonderful decade of reading for me and I won’t ever get rid of my copy, even if I never read it again.

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Since we have two books, I have two questions: Is there one particular book that changed the way you build your library? If you were to start a book club, which book would you pick for your inaugural read?

A (1)This post is Days 11 & 12 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

When You Outgrow Books You Loved

One year in high school, my best friend and I decided to take “Independent Reading Seminar.” I thought this would be a good way to catch up on reading outside of class. What we didn’t realize is that it was an English classed aimed at students who didn’t read. The goal of the class was to teach high schoolers that reading is fun! Essentially, we got credit to read Teen Vogue, comic books, newspapers, or anything with printed words.

510VwbbHZkL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_I decided to use my time to tackle The Fountainhead for an essay contest I was entering. The 700-page novel was longer than anything any of the other students had read and it earned me the title of “smartest kid in the class.” Without that dedicated time, I’m not sure I would have finished that heavy tome.

I’m not sure if I was the target age for The Fountainhead or not. In many ways, reading it at seventeen made the book much more impactful than if I had read it at twenty-seven. The themes of individuality and idealism made my teenage heart sing. As a questioner and overthinker, I didn’t fit into many groups in high school. I certainly wasn’t an outlier, but I wasn’t popular or nerdy or athletic or any of the things that truly gave you a group. So, the idea of fighting the system, of living true to your values, no matter what, gave me hope for the future.

Since then, I’ve read several more of Ayn Rand’s work. The older I’ve gotten, the less I connect with her particular brand of individualism and ideals. I’d say my favorite of the books I’ve read by her is We the Livingwhich is an autobiographical novel. That one helped me understand more of Rand’s need to push violently against and hints at too much community or communist overtones. I get that she experienced the harshest and most distorted expression of communism.

So, even though the values expressed in novels like The Fountainhead aren’t the values I’m living out today, this novel will always hold a special place in my journey toward creating my own idealism and way of thinking.

What book impacted you at a young age that doesn’t necessarily reflect your values today?

A (1)This post is Day 10 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

The Beginning of Social Justice Awareness

Yesterday, I mentioned a librarian who made space for me to dig deeper into the books we were reading as a class. Another influential person was her assistant (whose name, twenty-some years later I can’t remember!) This paraprofessional was always recommending young adult books grounded in social justice.

0440407850I read about Kurdish sisters fleeing to safety; I read about Holocaust survivors; I read about migrant farm workers and people crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Looking back, these books easily could have been written last year. In some ways, it’s sad to think that our world hasn’t changed all that much. In other ways, I’m so thankful for a teacher who would make me aware of these human rights crises from a young age.

Journey of the Sparrows is one of those books that comes to mind from that era of reading. It follows the journey of three young children who travel from El Salvador to the United States, crated in the back of a truck. They end up in Chicago, where their story continues as they try to find work and make a life as undocumented immigrants.

This book paved the way to books like Enrique’s Journey, a journalistic book about a young boy crossing the border to find his mother. It laid the groundwork for my reading of Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and is why I stand on the side of the refugee.

And, while Journey of the Sparrows was formative in itself, it will always represent that adult in my life who pushed my thinking and opened my eyes to a greater world. I hope that, as our girls grow older and their friends come to our home, I can be that adult for someone as well. I want our girls to be raised with a global awareness and a heart for the injustices both right here and around the world. Having these books in our home is helpful but having another trusted adult recommend them is incredibly powerful.

One of my greatest hopes is that they will have a librarian in their own school journey, just like I did, who sees that potential for justice and a heart for helping to push against systems of oppression.

Is there an adult who has influenced your reading journey? When did you start reading books that impacted your view of social justice?

A (1)This post is Day 9 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Stretching My Thinking

As an avid reader, I entered eighth grade with most of the language arts curriculum already read. Luckily for me, I had a teacher and a librarian who recognized the fact that I was a self-motivated learner. So, while the rest of the class read The Diary of a Young Girl, I went to the library and read The Giver.

51UsRhmuBkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What I loved about this exercise was reading these books in tandem. In order to skip class, I wrote a paper on totalitarianism in relation to both books. This was the first time I remember pairing books to create a deeper level of thinking. It changed the way I viewed reading and learning.

The Giver was also the book that helped me think critically about the government. It was one of the first dystopian novels I remember reading and I realized that, without political awareness, governments can become unsafe. I don’t remember thinking that this could actually happen in America but I do remember realizing that political involvement was nonnegotiable.

I know a lot of people compare our current political climate to dystopian novels and there are many days I completely understand. But I think the bigger reminder for me in this is to read books that stretch your thinking. Read stories with characters that make you uncomfortable. Read novels and memoirs and essays that help push back against your own status quo.

While The Giver is a fairly entry-level dystopian novel, I’m thankful for my teacher who put it in my hands and trusted me to make connections beyond the text. (Though, I’ve heard recently that it’s actually the first in a series. I may need to go back and read the others.) Now, I look at my reading habits and I’m often reading companion books that give me multifaceted views on a variety of topics. Because of that experience, I’ve learned to push my thinking and use books as a way to keep me on my toes and thinking critically.

What books helped you become more politically aware? Do you read to push your thinking?

A (1)This post is Day 8 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

The Book That Changed My Life

The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I was much too young for its themes. I read it and connected to Scout as a young girl. But this book grabbed my attention and I kept reading. In high school, I reread it and dug into the injustice. As a new teacher, I reread it and connected to Miss Caroline, the teacher who was trying her hardest. I made Frank read it when we found out we were pregnant with Bea, telling him that Atticus is a model of understanding fathering.

220px-To_Kill_a_MockingbirdI know there are flaws in the book and perhaps it shouldn’t be a standard in curriculums of formative literature. I know I’ve romanticized Scout’s feisty spirit and Atticus’s noble role in his community. The fact that such an iconic book on race is written by a white woman is problematic.

However, sometimes we need to see ourselves in order to join a conversation. As a ten-year-old, I just wasn’t ready to jump into deep conversations of racial injustice. I needed some hand-holding and connection to my own life, even if it was simply the fact that the protagonist was also a young white girl.

Because of To Kill a Mockingbird, I learned to grapple with the uncomfortable issues of race and justice. I learned to question the status quo in my own experience. Because of To Kill a Mockingbird, I’ve graduated to books on racism written by people of color who know what they are writing about.

Some books are important stepping stones to our awakening. Should everyone read To Kill a Mockingbird? No. It’s not for everyone. But I hope that my own girls read it and are transformed by it. I hope they continue to read it and grapple with the issues presented. And I hope they move on to other books that deepen their understanding of injustice and systemic racism.

I will be forever thankful for the lessons I learned from Harper Lee and for the journey her book set me on. This will always be one of my top favorite, life-changing books for that reason.

What book set you on a trajectory of discovery? Can you think of that pivotal read?

A (1)This post is Day 7 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Resources To Subvert Columbus Day

It’s hard to believe that in 2018, we’re still debating the idea of Columbus Day. (A holiday we didn’t start observing until recently.) But we are and I’m committed to remembering a different narrative as we raise our girls. I had the honor of talking with Kaitlin Curtice over at SheLoves Magazine today about ways we can create family habits that change this story. I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

annie-rim-indigenous-resources-5Columbus Day is today in the United States and Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Frank and I were wondering how we could honor these days as a family. What can we tangibly do to recognize our role in the injustices of the past and how can we thoughtfully move forward in the work of restoration?

Even though our school district doesn’t observe Columbus Day as a holiday, I want to be aware of its recent reach in our society. (And, many areas still do celebrate it.) If anything, it reminds me to start thinking about Native American Heritage Month in November and all I can do to start preparing for that. (I did suggest skipping Thanksgiving altogether this year and this was quickly vetoed by Frank. So, we’ll still have pie, but we may also take a few moments of silence for all the massacres that surrounded those early thanksgiving feasts.)

I talked with Kaitlin Curtice about her practices around these particular holidays. Kaitlin is from the Potawatomi Nation and has written this month’s Red Couch selection, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places. (Read our interview with her last fall here.) She offered some suggestions for those looking to move into these days with intentionality. Head over to SheLoves to hear 3 ways Kaitlin suggests supporting Indigenous Culture.

How do you teach your children about these tricky holidays? 

When Literary Friends Teach Life Lessons

This week, I’m remembering books I read during my middle school and high school years. I was incredibly fortunate to have librarians and teachers throughout my education who handed me an incredible array of books that made me think about my own life as well as exposed me to experiences that were vastly different from my own.

51TrAqwepPL._SX299_BO1,204,203,200_But before we get to some of those other life-changing books, I have to start this week with the author who most girls of my age and socio-economic status adored: Lucy Maud Montgomery. I think it’s interesting that, though Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908, her books resurfaced in the 1980’s and 90’s in popularity. My mom doesn’t remember reading the Anne series but I know many women my age who look back on those books as pivotal in their reading journies.

Though Montgomery has written prolifically, the stories I most connected with were the seven Anne of Green Gables books and the Emily of New Moon trilogy. My Anne books are worn with all the rereadings over the years. While I was pregnant with Elle, Frank read the first book aloud and I loved reliving that story, knowing we were about to raise two girls.

I think what I loved most about Anne and Emily is that they leaned into their passions. They struggled with girlhood drama and stresses but their lives weren’t very much like mine. But what I did respond to and hope for was the fact that they knew what they wanted to do and they followed those dreams. Both were writers and, while I didn’t imagine that path for myself when I was a teenager, I knew I wanted to live a creative life. I wanted to follow my dreams and pursue my own dreams with the same hopeful energy.

I haven’t read the Emily books since my high school years but when I reread Anne with Frank, I remember connecting more with Marilla. Perhaps because I was a new mom raising my own feisty daughter, I understood Marilla’s exasperation more than when I was younger. Maybe I need to revisit these books again with the eyes of age and parenthood.

Recently, both the girls watched Canadian miniseries of Anne of Green Gables and I saw a new favorite emerge. Bea has watched it quite a few times now but Elle still talks about the “girl who walked on the roof.” I love that our own inquisitive, intense, spirited daughters will have a literary friend to turn to when they’re a bit older.

Is there a book or series that was published well before you were born that resonated with you, either in your younger years or now?

A (1)This post is Day 6 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.