I like to ask people what they are reading over the summer--it gives me many ideas for my night table. Unfortunately, the stack of unread books is growing faster than the "completed books" shelf! A number of people have asked me what I am reading this summer and I thought I would mention a few books in the hope that you will send me your comments and recommendations.
I was partly inspired by English teacher Nicole Sintetos's Ford Steffian Grant--sponsored trip to California to read John Steinbeck's novels in the locations where they were set. There is something special about reading fiction in the places that inspired the stories. I feel great fiction captures the essence of an area and allows the reader deeper access to the people, architecture, food, customs, and environment of a place. I spend a few weeks every summer in Colorado with my family. Last summer I read an outstanding novel by Peter Heller called the Painter, which was set in many of the towns we explore in our region there. Another of his excellent books, The Dog Stars, is also set in Colorado. Peter Heller is a graduate of Putney School so it is cool (but not surprising) to see a boarding school product writing so well.
This summer I am working my way through the books of another Colorado author, Kent Haruf, who writes about the eastern plains of Colorado--an almost entirely different country from the mountains where we spend the summer. Many of his stories take place in Holt, Colorado, a town frequented for its grain elevator more than anything else. That elevator is a central character in the first story I read, Eventide, a good read but not as great as Plainsong. I was a little skeptical when the quote on the cover from the The New York Times Book Review said Plainsong had the "power to exalt the reader." But, it did. Haruf names the titles the chapters after the central characters in the fictional town of Holt and I have met few more compelling characters in fiction or real life than the McPheron brothers. These two older farmers see both the good in and the struggles of teenagers like the best educators I have worked with in my twenty five year career. My appreciation for the book might stem from some unconscious nostalgia for a less consumerist and fast paced existence, but I would like to think it comes from a darn good story.
Unfortunately Kent Haruf died recently, but he left us with one last gift, Our Souls At Night, which my wife Lisa stole from me and loved. It is next on my list. I have a bad habit of reading about five or six books at once! I give up on some (Natural Born Heroes and The Sports Gene) and work through the others. I borrowed my son Calvin's book Drown by Junot Diaz and am enjoying it after the first three stories in the collection. Drown has many similarities to Plainsong in that captures the relationship of people to place, has compelling characters, and uses dialogue in a sparing and powerful way to move the narrative.
When I was in Colorado I heard that one of my favorite authors from graduate school, Roderick Nash, had moved to our town to retire so I bought his seminal book Wilderness in the American Mind. I am not sure I will read the whole book but I am thoroughly enjoying being reminded of his creative look at how we imagine wilderness and how our views of the wilderness both shape our identity and our policies toward it. I remember great discussions in graduate school stemming from our reading, like, should we protect wilderness for its own sake or for our own benefit? How did our views of wilderness shift from our country's earliest days to today? Outside Magazine called this work a book that "changed our world." I now remember why.
I just finished Alexandra Fuller's new book Leaving Before the Rains Come but found it a bit of a disappointment after her hilarious and brilliant earlier book, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: an African Childhood. I used to teach a course on colonial and postcolonial Africa and found the Fuller family's attempt to live a postcolonial existence in Africa funny, disturbing, and fascinating. There are few real life characters to rival Fuller's parents, and unfortunately we only see their sadder side in her latest book about her divorce.
While I find I get more inspired and more ideas for leading school from novels and books that have nothing to do with schools, I am reading some interesting articles and books about education. I subscribed to Science Magazine to help me in my quest to learn more about the future of science as we plan for our new Programming, Robotics, Imagination, science and Math Building. With the flyby of Pluto this summer there has been a great deal to read about space. I just started blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. I am curious to see how I feel once I finish the book, but I feel like they are talking about schools that are trying to use technology to get to what we have at Dublin School right now--something that is built on close student--teacher relationships and allows students to develop deep understandings of the material being covered. I will write more as I read it.
English and ESL teacher Michelle Knapp recently recommended T-Nehisi Coates's book Between the World and Me, in which he talks about what it is like to be a black male in America today. I have ordered a copy. Lastly, after reading Henry Walter's faculty profile about his favorite book I had to go out and find it, but it wasn't easy! I will fill you in when I get through the next stack. In the meantime, please let me know if you have read anything that makes you look at the world around you a little differently.