I like to read. I always have. I have stacks and stacks and stacks of books from my childhood, through college, and now in my adult life. I was just rearranging the books on a newly painted bookshelf the other day [which the hubs made whilst in high school…props to the hubs], and I realized how many books I have [and, I will have you know, I heeded the advice of "Real Simple" yet again and displayed some vertically and horizontally and interspersed frames and candles and "knick-knacky things" and it looks much better].

I don't dedicate a lot of my time to reflect on the books I've read, and even less time to share what I've read on my blog, unless it truly blows my mind. As a teacher, I have very little time when I'm not behind in my grading endeavors, and therefore little time to read. So during the summer I DEVOUR books. I eat them like candy.

So here is what I have read since the beginning of the year, most of which I've read since April. My personal thoughts are attached:

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: I had heard great things about this book, but didn't know much about it. I knew it was a memoir, and I knew memoirs are one of my favorite things right next to Oreos, so I asked for this for Christmas. Micah delivered. And it was beautiful. It is painful and real and honest in ways a lot of books aren't, but Walls writes about her childhood in ways that invite the reader to both love and hate her parents. Her father was a drunk who loved his family fiercely when sober and hurt them fiercely when under the influence. Her mother was an artist that didn't believe in working and so her family did without for most of their life. It is a riveting account of a vagabond family, and a girl who grows up realizing she has to get away from her parents. It is exhausting. And I'm looking forward to reading her next book, Half Broke Horses.
Jesusland by Julia Scheeres: If the last book was exhausting, this one was just brutal [why do I put myself through it?]. Also a memoir, Jesusland recounts the story of a girl who was raised by hypocritical Christian parents who adopted two black boys while living in a very racist Indiana in the 1970s. Scheeres recounts the escapades of her and her brother David, which eventually lands them in a reform school in the Dominican Republic. It is a crazy story, which upholds the saying that often life is "stranger than fiction," and shows a sibling's love through the trials of racism and unauthentic religion. It was tough to stomach, but beautifully written.
Wicked by Gregory Maguire: This was the weirdest book I think I have ever read. It started out pretty great. And then….well, it just got really, really strange. I kept reading thinking the ending of this million page book would redeem itself. It didn't. Don't read it. I hear the broadway show is way better.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller: Donald and I have had our ups and downs. I have read all of his books and wrestled with some of his ideas [although one of my top ten favorite books was written by him: Through Painted Desserts.]. However, in this book he shares his honest struggle with wanting to have a meaningful life and feeling like he was falling short. It is all about his journey in learning that our lives are like written STORIES. They must have an"inciting incident" in which the main character/protagonist is thrust into something great/challenging/or awful and uses this to push them towards their climactic moments in life. He discovers anew the idea of "God as author." You can imagine how much this connecting with me, the English teacher who teaches "stories." One particular idea that struck a cord with me was when he shared this: He talked about movies as stories, and wrestled with the idea of actually going to a movie theater and watching a guy on screen want/desire/long after a new BMW. The end of the movie is him driving off the lot, tears rolling down his face, in his new car. Roll credits. He talked about what a terrible story that would be. But then said: THESE ARE THE STORIES WE FIND OURSELVES LIVING. "The ambitions we have will become the stories we will. If you want to know what a person's story is about, just ask them what they want. If we don't want anything, we are living boring stories, and if we want a Roomba vaccum cleaner, we are living stupid stories. If it won't work in a story, it won't work in life." There was a lot to chew on as I read this book [in a day…yes, it was that good and challenging and I wanted to know more about how to live a good story].

I don't think Donald Miller books are for everyone. But I do think everyone should read this book at some point. Yes, there are some sarcastic, typical, cynical Donald Miller moments, but the questions he will make you ask are worth it :-).
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: If you didn't know this already, I LOVE Bryson books. [Click HERE for a story about another time I read one of his books!] I haven't read them all, but I will die trying. Last fall I read his memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and before that read Made in America and laughed my way into oblivion. Brent can always tell when I'm reading Bryson because I end up laughing out loud. In this particular book, Bryson documents his journey while hiking the Appalachian Trail with his overweight high school pal. He mixes in history and research with hilarious anecdotes and beautiful imagery, and although it doesn't always read like a novel, thumbing through his books is always a journey well worth the time it takes. [I tried to find a good example of some of his hilarity, but alas there is too much and most of it must be read in context].
Speak by Laurie Anderson: At the end of school I decided to take a journey to our library and read some of the young adult books that my students were reading. This book has been highly recommended by my good friend, Jenny, who also teaches Language Arts. It was a quick read, but left a mark on me. It is about a high school freshman who cannot, will not speak because of what has happened to her at a party the summer before. She was raped. Because she will not tell anyone, and because no one asks, she is left to suffer and it eats away at her from the inside. It is not until the end when things come to a climactic moment of fear and danger, that she is able to SPEAK. She opens up to a teacher who has challenged her and been there for her. This book challenged me in a lot of ways. It is a difficult subject matter. It is something no one really knows how to talk about. It is something I don't even want to think my students have heard of. But the truth is, some of them need to speak. Whether it is about this or other difficult things in their life. Everyone goes through unthinkable tragedies; everyone needs to be able to talk about them. This book made me realize that even if I am not the one they open up to about stuff, I should be someone who realizes they struggle; I should be someone that loves them in their moments of darkness.

The Hunger Games triology by Suzanne Collins: I continued my "young adult" reading with something a little lighter. I don't think there was a day in my classroom when one of my students wasn't reading one of these books, so I thought I'd find out what they were reading… And now I know why. WOW. They are fantastic. They are well written and contain a TON of adventure, mystery, and romance. They are set in America in the future, after she has lost her stability. They are told from first person point of view by Katniss Everdeen, a tough seventeen year old girl who has looked after her mother and sister after her father died in a mining accident. The Capitol that controls the "districts" hosts the hunger games every year. Once a year a boy and a girl are selected from each of the 12 districts and they must fight to the death in an arena until there is one victor. This absurd and bloody battle is the Capitol's way of keeping control of the districts. The action begins in The Hunger Games, and just when you think it can't get any better/ any crazier Catching Fire proves you wrong. I stayed up for three hours one night to finish Mockingjay, thinking that surely as I turned the pages the action would cease. It was not until the last two pages that I felt like I could take a deep breath. So much for "light, young-adult" reading. It was mesmerizing and completely held my attention for the couple weeks I read them.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: My Aunt Linda told me about this book about 5 years ago. I put it on my mental list and forgot about it until recently when all the hype for the movie surrounded me. So I grabbed a copy and read it in a few days. It is one of the most unique books I have read. Set in depression era America, it tells to story of Jacob Jankowski, a vet who ran away with the circus. It involves murders and romance, mystery and intrigue, adventures and circus animals. There are definitely some "grittier" portions, and some "sensual" moments. I wouldn't recommend this for teenagers, and even some adults if these things make you squirm. However, Gruen paints an incredible picture of this time period and the very unique action of the train circus. It is incredibly creative and I'm glad I read the book.

This is my next book: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She is one of my favorite authors and this is a book about writing. I've used excerpts from this in my classroom…but I've never read the book in whole. Kali and Dan got this for me for my birthday, and now is the time. I'm so excited. Now if you don't mind…I think I'll go read :)

Please leave a comment if you've read any of these books and agree or disagree with my assessment of them.

Also leave a comment if you have a book I should read… I have 50 days until school starts again :-)


*carrie* said...


I just started A Million Miles last night! I, too, crack up reading Bill Bryson, and I've read all of Anne Lamott's non-fiction--Traveling Mercies 3 times!

I can't decide whether to watch and/or read Water for Elephants . . .

Thanks for the reviews.

Lauri said...

Loved Glass Castle and Hunger Games Trilogy. Have Water for Elephants on my kindle but haven't read it yet. Would recommend Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and Infidel and I can't remember the author, something like Kirsi Ali. I'll have to look that one up and get back to you. I am going to download a few of your recommendations. Thanks a bunch!!

Aunt Linda said...

Here is the best book that I've read since The Poisonwood Bible ... "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese. An amazing read.

The ORourkes said...

So funny Kelsey! I am in a bookclub and have read many of these books. I just finished reading "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. Fantastic. Next up is "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana De Rosnay, supposed to be a great read as well. And I agree with Lauri about "The Devil in the White City." Especially if you like a little history thrown in (which I have a hunch with who your pops is history is much encouraged :). And "Infidel" is written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Also really great. Thanks Lauri for stealing all of my thunder. Happy reading!

Tara said...

o my. i LOVE to read...and can't wait to take you up on your recommendations. lance and i both read all three of the HG trilogy the week after christmas last year. they're great!

i'd recommend:

:: reading lolita in tehran [azar nafisi] - this is a memoir in books by a woman who was a professor at the university of tehran. she's incredibly eloquent and well-read, also a deep thinker. love it.

:: the kite runner/a thousand splendid suns - thinking you may have read those already.

:: eat, pray, love - prob. read this one, too.

welp, i'll have to stop there for today. probably could go on forever!

Brent said...

Man, you're a reading machine! I'm lucky if I get you're blog read for the day. Love that you read so much.

Amanda said...

A lot of these are on my to read list, which seems to grow longer by the day! I read Donald Miller's blog and have really been wanting to read Million Miles, but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Wicked is a horrible book. I adore the musical and have seen it three times, but that's one of the few books I've ever just given away after reading it.

Random fact: my aunt lives on the same street as Anne Lamott and I met her walking her dogs once. She's really nice! :)

remireads said...

You should add Tom Franklin's "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter." Classified as a literary mystery. Reading this novel is like immersing yourself in the Mississippi swampland. His writing gives such a sense of the world and how it really works. Can't say enough good. It does have a bit of rough language and one or two rough situations that are plot appropriate.
I also would recommend "Devil in the White City." "Sarah's Key" is a very quick read. I would give it 3 out of 5 stars. Everyone else in my group gave it 5 out of 5. The part of the book that took place during the war I thought was very good....it was the modern day part that I had problems with.
If you haven't read "Kite Runner" or "A Thousand Splendid Suns", and you can only read one...I would go with "A Thousand Splendid Suns." Just thought that it had more local color.
"The Saving of CeeCee Honeycutt" will take to you the south again with a story that features strong Southern women.

Micah Wolf said...

i TOLD you that you wouldn't like Wicked....what can I say. We are best friends, we are a lot alike and I know you. I told you so.... :)

Micah Wolf said...

but of course love love, Glass Castle, Half Broke Horse and Water for Elephants..

you need to read the Help too.