Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Recent Book Loot.

I used to do "Book Loot" posts pretty regularly, but haven't done one in ages! I do think I have begun to limit my book purchases quite a bit. For one, I don't have enough physical space to keep storing all of the books I want to buy and read, and two, I've been much better at reading from my own shelves the last couple of years. However, I still buy when the mood strikes, and I am a part of a book swap with some fellow bloggers, so I do acquire new titles pretty regularly!

In what I'm going to call a fit of boredom, I made an Amazon order a couple weeks ago to get a few new titles. Here's what I got (from top to bottom):

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: I love L'Engle and read almost all of her work when I was a young teen. A friend of me got me hooked on her books and I scooped up most of them. And while I know I've read Wrinkle before, I couldn't find my copy. I tore through every box of books I own, and sadly, my copy disappeared (I found everything else by her, so not sure what happened). With the movie coming out, I really want to reread, so I'm glad I have a new copy ready to go.

2. Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart: I've enjoyed the other titles by Lockhart I've read over the last couple of years-We Were Liars blew me away and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks being a favorite to recommend to kids at school. I had marked this one on Goodreads when I saw it pop up, but hadn't snapped up a copy yet. It looks like another suspense-type novel, so I'll probably save it for a day I can read it all in one go.

3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Are you shocked I've never read this? Me too! It's a book I feel I should have read by now, but just haven't gotten around to. Now that a physical copy is on my TBR bookshelf, I'm hoping I can get to it before the end of the school year. I truthfully know very little about it.

4. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez: I first heard about this one in an ELA teacher Facebook page a couple months ago, and the title kept popping up amidst conversations of books similar to Dear Martin and The Hate U Give. While reading the description doesn't make that direct connection for me, I am pretty intrigued by what it has to offer (in fact, I'm starting this as soon as I finish drafting and scheduling this post!)

5. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg: This title actually came up at the AP conference I went to this past summer and I've had it on my Amazon wishlist ever since. Issues with class in the United States fascinate me, and I'm hoping it offers some good things to ponder and discuss.

What are some recent things you've picked up? Have you read any of these titles? Let me know!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Flu Haze.

Usually when I sit down to write these posts, I have an idea of the things I want to write about, and then I stick to that list. This week is not like that. I can't think of anything of substance to write about, mainly because I have been in my bed for nearly 3.5 days straight either sleeping or sleepily watching Netflix.

On Monday, we had a snow day, which was the nest thing ever after the events of last weekend. On Tuesday, I felt exhausted all day and ended up taking a 2 hour nap on the couch when I got home from work. When I woke up, I felt terrible-still exhausted, aching all over, and that feeling in the back of my throat that signals I'm going to get sick. I guess I wasn't surprised. When I get overworked and don't sleep enough, I inevitably get a cold. But this felt different.

I went to bed super early and got up for work Wednesday in a complete fog. I took my temp and didn't have one, but I just felt off in a non-cold way. I struggled through the day and took Motrin at lunch after noting I had a small fever. After school I had a training I couldn't skip, but as I sat there, I just felt worse and worse. I headed back to my classroom and prepped for a sub on Thursday, just in case (best decision ever). After leaving my sub plans on my desk, I left work at 5:15 and headed straight to the clinic.

At that point, I had massive chills and my body aches were unreal. They were out of the instant flu tests, so they did the 24 hour test and prescribed me flu meds to start in the meantime. Since I'm a teacher and immuno-compromised, they didn't want to take any chances. I got my meds and headed up and immediately put in for a sub and jumped into bed. I shivered under our normal bedding and three blankets until the middle of the night when I woke up drenched in sweat. It was terrible.

I proceeded to stay in bed unless I was showering or needed the bathroom until this morning. And while I often say I would love to stay in bed for days to read and watch TV, it was not wholly enjoyable. I feel weak and still sick-my throat is super swollen which makes talking and swallowing difficult. I don't have a fever (haven't since Friday), but I feel achy and tired and like I could sleep for days. I'm grateful we had another snow day on Friday (we got a foot of snow), so I didn't have to use another sick day, and while I think I should stay home tomorrow, I don't think I will. Since I was out the week prior (for a field trip), I feel guilty about taking the time. We'll see how I feel in the morning....just in case.

With all of that going on, I didn't read much. I couldn't focus on a book Thursday and most of Friday, and I finally managed to finish Where Angels Fear to Tread by Forster last night. And I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed it more had I not been all sick and whiny.

I'm actually not sure what I'm going to read next. I should really start Ulysses for the readalong I'm "participating" in, but I am not up for that today. I need something fast paced and addicting. Any suggestions?

That's all I've got for this week-just too exhausted to write more. I hope you all had a great week!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

American Street by Ibi Zoboi.

“So trying to come to America from the wrong country is a crime?”

American Street is a book that sat on my Amazon wishlist for months-since its publication. There was something about the description that drew me to it (plus the gorgeous cover), and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I finally bit the bullet and purchased it in early January and got to it during the #24in48 Readathon last weekend. 

It was not what I expected. 

Do you ever build up a book in your mind and have these expectations, only to have the book be about something completely different? That was American Street for me. And I say all that while also saying that this was a good piece of YA fiction. It just wasn't what I expected. And there were a few things that irked me.

The description talks about the main character, Fabiola Toussaint, immigrating to the United States from Haiti with her mother. Her mother is detained and Fabiola goes on alone to live with her aunt and three female cousins in the city of Detroit. 

This is where I detached from the book and had to be brought back because the book detoured into something else entirely. Based on the synopsis and description, I thought I was going to read more about Fabiola's struggle with immigration and assimilating into the culture of Detroit. I thought I was going to see more focus on the struggle to reunite with her mother and get her to Detroit. And while there were references to both those things, the book was more closely tied to how Fabiola's view of America changed and her desire to become a part of it more wholly.

I was fine with where the story ended up going-it just wasn't what I had anticipated. The story follows Fabiola as she enters an American high school (a private Catholic school in Detroit) and she learns just who her cousins and aunt are. There's a lot of references to gang violence, drug dealing, and the shady bits of Detroit (side note: there are good places in Detroit-the city is often painted negatively in the media, but there are nice places and the city is bouncing back from what it was). Fabiola's cousins, Chantal, Primadonna, and Princess are a hoot and while I didn't like some of the choices the author made in connection to their relationships, I did enjoy their characters and how they tried to bring Fabiola into their culture.

That being said...the hardest thing for me to reconcile with in the novel was the amount of abuse and shaming that went on between the female characters. They often slut-shamed each other and other female characters to the point that it made me angry on more than one occasion. I work in a high school, so I get it and I see it happen daily, but I hate it anyway. I also hated the normalization of a very abusive relationship.

Fabiola's cousin Primadonna (Donna) is in a long-term relationship with Dray, who not only physically abuses her, but also abuses her mentally. He's a control freak about what she wears, etc. The other characters make fun of Donna for it, but then make statements like "that's just how they are together", or "that's how they love."

*sigh* I hate the normalization of abuse because teenage girls equate that to a real relationship. And it made me sad because I think there was so much opportunity in that relationship to say something. But then again, it's Zoboi's story to tell.

Negatives aside, I enjoyed the slight elements of...mysticism? Magical realism? Not sure what word to use, but there was a great deal of some kind of element that allowed things to happen. It wasn't over the top, but there enough so it was noticeable by the reader. I also enjoyed that while Fabiola was the main narrator, the author allowed the  main secondary characters a chance to have their own voices heard just enough so that felt more real, more developed. It was an interesting stylistic choice, but one that I appreciated. 

And, obviously, I liked the references to Detroit (I live 30 minutes north of the city in a suburb, but I've always loved the city). The references to specific Detroit locales made the book that much better for me as I could situate myself a little more clearly in Fabiola's story. 

Overall, a good piece of contemporary YA fiction-just not what I thought it would be.

“Don't give me no 'but you're beautiful on the inside' bullshit."

"No, you are beautiful on the outside," I say.

"Don't give me that bullshit either. I'm beautiful when I say I'm beautiful. Let me own that shit," she says. Her eyes have not left the computer screen this whole time, but I know she's paying attention to everything I say.

"Okay, then you are ugly."

"Thanks for being honest."

"Seriously. That's what we say in Haiti. 'Nou led, men nou la.' We are ugly, but we are here."

"We are ugly, but we are here," she says, almost whispering. "I hear that.” 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Have Been On My TBR the Longest and I Still Haven’t Read.

I was really excited to see this topic this week. A few weeks ago, as I was re-shelving books after the move, I realized how many books I purchased years ago for my blog that I still haven't gotten around to reading. It kind of made me sad that all these classics have been sitting on my shelves for years and years, and I still haven't made time for them. It's been a few years since I've read a large number of classics yearly, but I'd really like to spend more time with them. They make me feel better as a reader, if that even makes sense. I've got nothing against a YA title, a bestseller, or anything else, but the classics are just something I'm drawn to.

So, one of my biggest resolutions this year was to have a better balance in my book diet. And so far, so good.

I'm sidetracking myself...For this list, I wanted to focus on some titles from my original 250 list, as it's really the oldest TBR list I have, and pull some titles that I still can't believe I haven't gotten to yet. Hopefully I can make room for them this year!

In no particular order...

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: I was super excited to get to read this when I made my 250 list, and while I know I started it at some point (there's still a bookmark in it about 100 pages in), I stepped away from it during a busy period and never returned to it. I'm set to do a readalong of it in April, so I know I'll finally read it and I am so excited. I really enjoyed War and Peace, so I have high hopes!

2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: This is one of those titles that I am almost embarrassed to say that I haven't read yet. I've read a lot of Angelou's work in anthologies, school textbooks, etc, but I have never picked this one up. I can remember being excited to put this one on my list, but time gets away from me. I actually think this would be a great title to read this month...so I'm going to move it on my nightstand.

3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: It never fails that when I tell people (especially bloggers) that I've never read Alice, they freak out on me. But I haven't. I am a little wary of this one, for whatever unknown reason, but it's never struck me as the "right time" to give it a go. I did put it on my TBR challenge list for this year so I would make it a priority. I'm thinking this spring/summer?

4. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe: Considering I teach a course on Shakespeare and talk about Marlowe, you would think I would have read something by him. But nope. This is the only Marlowe on my shelves and there it sits, unread and unloved. I'm thinking that once I finish all of Shakespeare I'll give this one a go...

5. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Again, you would think that since I teach a course on Shakespeare I would be able to call this an accomplishment, but no. There are about 10 plays by the Bard that I haven't read (as well as some of his longer poems), and I do want to read all of them. I own almost all of his works as single editions, so perhaps I should try to read one a month until I finish? My little "Shakespeare Project" tab up there is woefully outdated as well.

6. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: I've had a love/hate relationship with Dickens for a very long time, but this was always a title I was intrigued by. I've read a lot by Dickens over the years, but I always pass this one by for some reason...even though I know I will love it. Again, perhaps this summer?

7. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: Yet another title I'm ashamed I haven't read yet. I've also never seen the musical, in any form, so feel free to shame me. I have no doubt that I will love this once I dive in, but my copy looks awfully chunky...

8. Beloved by Toni Morrison: I've actually read a few other titles by Morrison, so that assuages my guilt a touch, but this is another book I should have read by now. I'm actually moving this to my nightstand alongside the Angelou in hopes I'll get to it soon!

9. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: Every time I get to the Civil War in my history classes, I tell myself that I'm finally going to read this. And every time, I don't. This is definitely a title I need to read sooner rather than later, but it never feels like something I need to get to immediately. Instead I pass over it.

10. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell: I can tell you exactly why I haven't read this yet-I'm hoarding it. I do that sometimes with authors I love. I hoard their books so I always have something unread by them on my shelf. In reality, that's silly. I know I'll enjoy the book more as I'm reading it then having it sit there unread, but that's what I do to myself.

Tell me what books you have sitting on your shelves!

(In looking at this list...I kind of want to do A Victorian Celebration again this summer like I did a number of years ago. Would anyone be interested?)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: New Kids, Lovefest, and Reading News...

It has been a long and exhausting week, which is why I am writing this update at 11:09 Sunday night instead of early Sunday morning. It doesn't help we were gone Friday and Saturday, so I feel all discombobulated. I was going to skip the post, but I got a magical phone call and we have a snow day tomorrow, so now I can stay up late writing. :)

Last week felt like it went by very slowly. It was the start of the new semester, and I only gained one class of new kids. 4 of my 5 hours are year-long courses, so I kept those kids-they just mixed together in their hours. My only semester course, Shakespeare, has all new kids, but I know a lot of them from previous classes or as members of NHS (which I advise). It's a great group this semester, and I'm excited to do some new things with them. We're still doing some of the same opening units, but I want to change up the plays a little-definitely thinking we're reading The Merchant of Venice. Any other suggestions?

Besides the start of the new semester, there were the other stresses. Grades were due Wednesday and we got a new gradebook system this year, so of course, we're all still trying to figure it out. I was so glad that I was done grading last week, as most of my grades were done-I just had to enter comment codes and citizenship, and all the other things kids needed me to enter. I also had a very heavy "Talking" week, which always strains my voice.

It doesn't help that I also had IEP meetings, leadership team meetings, and play rehearsals mixed in there. The play rehearsals are done now, since we had Lovefest this weekend.

Lovefest is actually called the "Mid-Michigan Theatre Arts Festival" and I've gone every year for the last 5 years. Essentially all the participating schools rehearse a 1-act play. They get 1 hour to set up their set, perform, and tear down their set before getting feedback from a local college professor. Over the course of Friday night and Saturday, there were 15 performances. It's a wonderful experience for the kids and they have a blast being with like-minded kids. I love seeing all the shows and I like being a part of the plays as much as I can. I was definitely less involved this year than I have been in years past (last year I helped a student direct a version of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"), but I was excited to go anyway. Our kid did a comedy this year-"The House of Fog"- and did a fabulous job.

There were some other great plays. One school did a workshopped piece of the 3 Oedipus plays rolled into one, and it was amazing. I also loved a performance of "Silent Sky," about female astronomers at Harvard. "Dark Road" was another great performance. It told the story of a female Nazi guard-what brought her into it and how it changed her as a person. But one of my favorites was a piece called "Exonerated." It had multiple storylines woven together that talked about people who were sentenced to death row for crimes they didn't commit (all based on real people). It was a powerful piece!

The weekend always ends with an awards ceremony from the 2 college professors who watched all the plays, and a big celebration. The professors announced that Saginaw Valley State University started a scholarship just for Lovefest participants wanting to go in theatre and gifted a kid a $2000/year scholarship at the festival. It was amazing.

Anyway, Lovefest weekend is always one of my favorites of the year, and I love that Matt goes with me as well. The kids like getting to know him, and he enjoys seeing a little of what I do. This year he drove our set truck, so he bonded with the techies. We got home super late last night and tried to get some sleep today.

So yeah, definitely glad to have tomorrow off. I'm going to spend some of the day helping Matt work in the kitchen (STILL NOT DONE). We need to finish hanging cabinet doors, and we might start putting up the backsplash. But I'm definitely going to do some reading. I didn't bring any grading home since I knew I wouldn't get to it, so now I have some free time.

I didn't get a chance to read a lot last week with how busy I was, but I only have about 100 pages left in Where Angels Fear to Tread by Forster. It's a quick read and I'd like to finish it up. I'd also like to get to Caraval by Stephanie Garber, as it's one of the Battle Books for school. But I'm also participating in a Ulysses readalong (or at least I'm supposed to be), so I should probably start it (I did read the first 50 or so pages a few years ago, but set it aside). I do have some posts scheduled for this week, but I need to finish something so I can keep up my posting streak. ;) Now I just need to work on reading and commenting. I'll get there!

Let me know how your week was and what you're reading this week!