I completed my MA-TESL in May after a really great class in which we read several books about language and culture. In the summer, I headed into the teacher certification program and a part-time job in Kansas City teaching ESL to adults. As far as reading goes, I had a perfectly balanced year between fiction and nonfiction. Didn't plan it -- just worked out that way!
1. Ways With Words: Language, Life and Work In Communities and Classrooms (nonfiction) - Shirley Brice Heath.
Read for the Language and Culture class. This was the first time I ever thought about how home life and school life connected. A real eye-opener.
I got the impression from this biography that Earhart's skills as a pilot weren't all that polished and her husband and manager, George Putnam, pushed her into many adventures that she wasn't ready for (including her ill-fated final flight) because she had such incredible promotional appeal.
3. The Invisible Culture: Communication In Classroom And Community Of The Warm Springs Indian Reservation (nonfiction) - Susan Urmstrom Phillips.
More home and school culture examination. Also for Dr. Cheryl Eason's Language and Culture class.
4. Patton: The Man Behind The Legend 1885-1945 (nonfiction) - Martin Blumenson. Written by Patton's close friend and former aide. An interesting look at Old Blood And Guts, but sometimes seems to get bogged down in long discussions of military tactics.
5. Educating Esme: Diary Of A Teacher's First Year (nonfiction) - Esme Raji Codell.
Esme has the imagination and drive that we would wish for in first-year teachers, and I believe this book should be read during that first and frustrating teaching year, but she comes across as a little arrogant. Also, she expresses appreciation and admiration for her mentor teacher, but except for one shocking but funny incident, she summarizes her training in a couple of breezy, almost offhand sentences. I would've suggested a different title: Esme's Ego.
6. The Inner World Of The Immigrant Child (nonfiction) - Cristina Igoa.
Language and Culture class. After I read this book, I wanted to be Cristina Igoa, the greatest ESL teacher in the world. A fascinating look at what challenges immigrant children face. Igoa also takes readers through the process she used to set up her classroom, and suggests activities useful for teaching mixed levels.
7. Hatchet (novel) - Gary Paulsen.
Exciting YA novel. Brian, whose parents are recently divorced, is on his way to visit his father in Canada. The pilot has a heart attack and Brian must crash land the plane. His adventures during the next 54 days in the Canadian wilderness are suspensefully narrated. Robinson Crusoe for the younger set, but adults will be just as enthralled.
8. "Good Writing" In A Cross-Cultural Context (nonfiction) - Xiao Ming Li.
Language and Culture class. I was having a wonderful time; all the assigned reading was endlessly interesting. Unbelievably, this was my first realization that our straightforward style of writing is not considered proper in all cultures. Wow! Eye-opener! I've thought of this book often during my 10-years as an ESL/EFL teacher.
9. You Just Don't Understand (nonfiction) - Deborah Tannen.
Language and Culture class. Tannen's bottom line is that women talk to connect emotionally and men talk to impart knowledge. This book made me take notice of how I communicate with others. I laughed and shook my head as I recognized some of the conversations I've had that have been frustrating. If I haven't always been more direct since I read this book, I now recognize when I'm not using the necessary communication skills to make myself understood.
10. Waking The Dead (novel) - Scott Spencer.
Fielding Pierce is a young politician who lost his activist girlfriend several years ago when she was killed. He has thrown himself into his work, but can't forget her. Suddenly, he gets the feeling that she might be alive. Is he having a nervous breakdown? I like Spencer's Endless Love better, but this is a close second favorite.
11. Bootstraps (nonfiction) Victor Villanueva, Jr.
The last book for the Language and Culture class. Villanueva, whose family is Puerto Rican, details the prejudice he struggled against all his life, even after he was in supposedly enlightened academic circles. A powerful and angry book. Highly recommended.
12. The Chisellers (novel) - Brendan O'Carroll.
The story of Irish widow Agnes Browne and her huge family. The comedic situations might remind some readers of Roddy Doyle, although there's not as much depth. Brendan O'Carroll is also an actor and had a small but extremely funny part in the movie adaptation of Doyle's novel The Van.
13. The Mammy (novel) - Brendan O'Carroll.
Agnes Browne, who runs a produce stand has recently been widowed. She's feisty and has a wicked deadpan humor. This was made into an entertaining movie called Agnes Browne, starring Anjelica Huston (who also directed) as the title character.
14. 'Tis (memoir) - Frank McCourt.
The sequel to Angela's Ashes. McCourt comes of age as an immigrant in New York City. Wryly funny. McCourt was a brilliant storyteller.
15. The Perfect Storm (nonfiction) - Sebastian Junger.
The true story of how the Andrea Gail was lost during the Halloween storm of 1991. Incredibly engrossing. The movie version does its best but it can't quite capture the hugeness of this tragic event.
16. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (novel) - Stephen King.
Another lost-kid-survival tale. Trisha, who is on a hike with her dysfunctional family, takes a short detour to get away from her mother and brother's arguing. Bad choice. She is lost in the woods for several days. One thing that helps her is imagining that she's having conversations with Boston Red Sox pitcher Tom Gordon. This book is scary in a psychological way, rather than King's usual gross-out tricks. Well-written. I put it right up there with Misery.
17. A Lesson Before Dying (novel) - Ernest J. Gaines.
The setting is the South, and an African-American man is the sole survivor of a liquor store holdup that went terribly wrong. At his trial, he is sentenced to death. His grandmother asks the young schoolteacher in town to talk to her condemned grandson and help him go to his death with dignity. I know this is a modern classic, but I really didn't care for it at all. The premise seems a little phony. The situation is set up so Gaines could lay down some life wisdom. I wish I could have gotten a different feeling from the book.
18. Booth (novel) - David Robertson.
A novel about Lincoln's assassin, and how he charmed the Surratt family into taking part in his heinous plot. Robertson's writing seems a little uneven and the action seems all over the place.
19. Among Schoolchildren (nonfiction) - Tracy Kidder.
Kidder spends a year in Chris Zajac's 5th grade classroom in Holyoke, Massachusetts. This is my favorite of Kidder's books -- I read AS when it first came out in the 1980s and again in 2000.
20. Invisible Writer: A Biography Of Joyce Carol Oates (nonfiction) - Greg Johnson. Johnson did an incredible amount of research into JCO's life and work, but he doesn't really succeed in capturing a successful portrait of her. With any other writer, I'd be disappointed but in this case, I'm glad she's unattainable. Being an enigma seems to work well for her type of fiction.
21. Expensive People (novel) - Joyce Carol Oates.
In this late 1960s novel, Oates goes into the mind of Richard, a young teen from an affluent background who happens to be psychotic.
22. Get Happy: The Life Of Judy Garland (nonfiction) - Gerald Clarke.
Find another -- ANY OTHER -- biography of Judy Garland. Don't read this one. Don't check it out or borrow it or buy it. This guy's got a fat nerve, calling himself a biographer. He should be held down and scrubbed mercilessly about the face with used toilet paper.
23. The Talented Mr. Ripley (novel) - Patricia Highsmith.
My introduction to the original twisted sister, Patricia Highsmith. Great stuff. Ripley is classic.
24. How We Choose To Be Happy (nonfiction) - Rick Foster and Greg Hicks.
The authors compare 9 different happy people from different walks of life and note what they have in common. I found this book sensible and useful.
25. Henderson The Rain King (novel) - Saul Bellow.
The story of Eugene Henderson, a self-made millionaire who runs away to Africa to find out what he really wants out of life was entertaining, but Henderson's philosophical ramblings get a little long-winded and stale. This novel didn't make me want to run out and read more Bellow.
26. Wait Till Next Year (memoir) - Doris Kearns Goodwin.
I got so engrossed in this memoir of 1950s baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers, that when the Dodgers' owners moved them to Los Angeles, I felt a strong sense of betrayal. Incredible writing. Even if you're not a baseball fan, this memoir has the stuff.
27. The "Genius" (novel) - Theodore Dreiser.
Eugene Witla is an artist who eventually finds financial reward as a commercial illustrator, but his personal life is in a continual mess because he can't control his romantic appetite. The ups and downs of Witla's career seem much more interesting than his passionate love scenes. Dreiser had a bit of a tin ear when it came to the latter. Not his best, but still a good read.
28. Tender At The Bone (memoir) - Ruth Reichl.
The first volume of Ruth Reichl's memoirs. Her writing style is funny and warm, and no one describes food better, except for maybe M.F. K. Fisher. Several recipes -- there's one for schnitzel that will knock your socks off.
29. The Blind Assassin (novel) - Margaret Atwood.
This novel-within-a-novel has a very cool twist ending. One of my favorites by Atwood and the cover of the book is one of the most gorgeous ever printed.
30. The Centaur (novel) - John Updike.
A touching father-son story. Updike's tone is unusually quiet in this one, as if he didn't want to get in the way of the story and the myth of Chiron that is the subtext.
31. Pygmalion (play) - George Bernard Shaw.
For one of my education class assignments, I had to write a lesson plan for high school freshmen around a piece of literature. I'd always wanted to read this play, so I killed 2 birds with one stone.
32. The Waterfall (novel) - Margaret Drabble.
For a novel about adultery, this was boring. I slogged through to the end, but it was an effort. I haven't wanted to read any Drabble since.
33. The Call Of The Wild (novel) - Jack London.
Buck, who is half German Shepherd and half Saint Bernard, is stolen from his comfortable family home and cruelly put to work as an Alaskan sled dog. Although he escapes and meets kind people once again, he eventually turns his back on civilization and becomes the leader of a pack of wolves. I loved the story, but was annoyed at my copy's cover. London explicitly states that Buck looks like a giant wolf, due to his Shepherd bloodline, but the artist drew him looking like a Saint Bernard. I've always meant to read more of Jack London, but haven't gotten around to it.
34. Angel Of Light (novel) - Joyce Carol Oates.
A political family that is descended from John Brown (who was nicknamed Angel Of Light by sympathetic abolitionists) suffers from tragedy. When the father is found dead from suicide, his adult children suspect their mother and her lover and vow revenge. Ruthless, inexorable, just what you'd expect from a Joyce Carol Oates novel.