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.
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.
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After 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?
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.