Five Fiction Books I Read This Summer

Plus Commentary

Printable Version

My summer started early. We had a construction project at the school, which forced us out in May. (I continued to work in June and August, without students in session.) Of all years for this to occur, 2021 seemed appropriate. This gift of time gave me an opportunity to read more fiction over the summer months.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ighiguro

A story that keeps you both guessing as to what will happen next while realizing with appreciation what was already present. "Craftsmanship" is the word that comes to mind when trying to describe Ishiguro's work. The little details, such as Klara's way of seeing her world, become bigger points as we understand the consequences of people's choices. The author has respect for the reader. (h/t Regie Routman for this recommendation)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This book is both an excellent story and a call to action. Thomas creates an authentic and complex world that feels too prescient with our recent events of social unrest. It deserves a spot in all high school classroom libraries. Reading literature like this reminds me that fiction can sometimes create a better understanding for the reader than any nonfiction text.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

An example of "meta-fiction", in which a washed-up writer steals a story from someone else after they passed away and didn't complete their work. When messages start popping up accusing the main character of theft, tension rises and decisions become riskier. The author's ability to empathize with the flawed protagonist is one of the strong points of the story. She keeps you guessing until near the end.

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

My wife picked this up in an independent book store while on vacation. A creative allegory/dystopian novel in which a group of kids, on vacation with their parents (whom they resent), respond to an environmental catastrophe. The references to the actual bible, such as carrying animals away from the storms, are frequent. See how many you can spot, as well as infer how these references help you as a reader anticipate and understand the characters’ decisions.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Dystopian literature? This is a hard book to categorize, which speaks to how unique of a read it is. A pandemic flu that wipes out 99% of humanity is the context for several interconnected stories before, during and after this catastrophe. The way the author organizes the scenes serves to propel the story as much as the writing itself.

What book(s) did you read this summer? How did your environments shape you choices?

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Commentary: Reading Environments

It is clear to me that our current situation - a pandemic combined with pressing environmental and social issues - has shaped what I am choosing to read. Two of the books take place directly in a pandemic, and two others respond to the growing discontent in society.

Why would I subject myself to more of this experience through story? I think that is what fiction helps us do: to manage our feelings and thoughts by taking up characters’ perspectives in somewhat similar situations. What they felt and did affirms our own emotions. There was also some escapism in some of these books; our current situation is nowhere near as dire as in The Children’s Bible or Station Eleven.

Reflecting on my current reading choices also reminded me about how important it is to have accessible literature for students. This means not just making books available for kids in our classroom library. To me, accessible also refers to titles that represent the content of our times. Questions may surface as we consider our reading environments:

  • What are we studying in the classroom?

  • What topics do the kids feel are relevant?

  • What is on their minds?

My summer reading choices also reinforced the value of professional trust and relationships between all members of a community. For example, I have a reading network. I can go on Goodreads and see what my connections are reading, or how they rated a book on my to-read list. They will also recommend books on Twitter or even personally. In addition, I have learned how to find new books related to what I like using book sellers’ websites.

These skills aren’t naturally developed. Therefore, it seems incumbent on teachers and schools to develop the habits and the strategies for lifelong reading. Consider these questions for guidance:

  • Do they know that if they cannot find a book in their classroom library, they might next go to the online catalogue and search within the school library?

  • Is there a process for students to request books for the classroom library?

  • Are there digital tools available for students to search for titles and post/read reviews from peers, such as Beanstack, Biblionasium, and TeachingBooks?

Community matters for supporting readers. But it matters less if kids don’t have time to read. This year, with the need for social distancing, devote large periods of the day to read independently. (If a misinformed principal questions why you are not “teaching”, explain that you are doing your best to avoid close contacts. :-)

Accessible literature, creating reading networks through relational trust, and time to read have the common thread of environments where readers thrive. Students have the books they want and need. They feel empowered and safe with the titles they select. Independent reading is valued as much as skill/strategy instruction. I have found when kids are placed in these spaces, they cannot help but succeed as readers.

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