Teacher Development

5 Eclectic Book Recommendations for Winter Break

One of my favorite things to do at this time of year is to select the books I'll read over my winter break. As I collect them, I stack them on my bedside table where every morning, I see them upon waking and am reminded of my imminent vacation.

This year, I'm compiling a rather eclectic collection because that's the mood I'm in. So here's what I'm reading, offered to you in the hopes that you might find something in this list that sparks your curiosity.

#1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

It's rare that I read a book review and order the book right away, but that's what happened when I read the New York Times review for this book. And then when the book, came I devoured it all in one sitting. It's that good. Marie Kondo has developed a process and system for organization that promises to change your life and I can see how it could.

Her approach has two stages: purge and then organize. In the purging phase, you have to touch every item and ask yourself, "Does this give me joy?" and if it doesn't, you thank it for the joy it may have once given you or the purpose it once served. Then you send it on it's way, understanding also that the item will be happier and freed once you've let it go.

This book has really changed the way I think about the things I live with (as well as the things I eat, the people I'm around, and so much more). While I haven't been able to follow her suggestion to declutter all in one big swoop, I have started on my clothes, the kitchen, and the bathroom -- it's been revolutionary.

Just her suggestion for how to fold socks and t-shirts is brilliant! If anything in this paragraph piques your interest, get this book. There's something truly transformational about what's in it. (And by the way, I have to thank fellow Edutopia blogger, Maia Heyck-Merlin, for including this review in her monthly newsletter and sending me on the path to finding it.)

#2. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

This is the first novel in a trilogy which centers on two women and their friendship over decades. It's been called a "modern masterpiece" by one of Italy's most acclaimed authors. And just about every time I turn around someone else is asking me if I've read these books. So I'm going to. The reviews use words that entice me and make me think this will be perfect winter break reading -- narrative, plot, characters, and intensity and I'm always fascinated by women's friendships. I'm going to wait until break really starts before I dive into this novel.

#3. The Cook's Illustrated Meat Book by the editors at Cook's Illustrated

I heard these authors interviewed by radio host Terry Gross on "Fresh Air" and knew I needed this book, and when I say need, it truly is a need. After 27 years as a vegetarian, I recently returned to eating animals. I'm very concerned about the experience that the animals had while they were alive and want to make sure I'm only putting healthy meat in my body.

This book not only provides information on those issues: Why eat grass-fed beef? Why buy a chicken that was air-chilled? And it also promises to help me produce delicious food.

It's big and heavy and packed with information about cooking, knives and pans, sauces and side dishes, and so much more. I'm enjoying eating meat and I also love to cook, so I'm hoping this book will provide me with a basic knowledge set from which I can produce many meals.

#4. The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein

I also heard this author interviewed on "Fresh Air" and thought it sounded intriguing. It promises an overview of 175 years of American teaching. It's a weighty hardback but as soon as I picked it up in the bookstore and browsed through it I realized that this is exactly what I want to read during my winter break; it actually feels like a quick and captivating read.

It was also a great advertisement that a The New York Times critic described the book as "meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced." I love my work so much and I'm so fascinated by all-things education related that, yes, it feels like fun to include this as vacation reading.

#5. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder by Arianna Huffington

Like so many woman, I'm also trying to figure out how to I balance career and family, the development of my internal self and the maintenance of my external words. Do I "lean in" enough or am I cutting my leadership potential short?

Now, Arianna Huffington has joined this conversation about what constitutes success in life. I've read a few chapters and so far it's easy to read. She makes a compelling argument for sleeping and slowing down, and I like the anecdotes interspersed. I enjoy reading things from outside the education world because they often spark new connections for me.

A Plug for Independent Bookstores

I have a multi-pronged process for creating my reading lists. I get inspiration for books to read from Goodreads.com, The NY Times Book Review, and the radio show, "Fresh Air." While I do order books online, I also love spending time in bookstores browsing the new selections, reading reviews by those who work in the store, and talking to the employees (as well as often to other book shoppers).

Many of the books I read end up on my bedside table because I've picked them up, read a few pages, glanced at the author's photo, and taken in the feeling of holding the book in my hand. When I hear that independent bookstores are struggling to survive because of Amazon, I feel very sad and scared and guilty, too. I can't imagine being a reader without bookstores. So consider perhaps just buying one (or more!) of your winter reads at a bookstore.

Please share in the comments section below any books you're looking forward to reading or want to recommend to others.