Professional Learning

Hitting the Books: Summer Reading Recommends

May 21, 2013
Photo credit: Elena Aguilar
(Some of) Elena Aguilar's summer book collection.

I know a vacation is coming when stacks of books next to my bed start growing. I've started to notice that building those stacks makes the final weeks of the year easier -- the visual reminder of the upcoming break.

This summer I have a theme for the reading I'll do: literature that addresses political and social transformation. Some of the books on my list are ones I read a long time ago and want to re-read. For example, twenty years ago I read Ursula Le'Guin's The Dispossessed. It was brilliant and profound and I remember wanting to re-read it immediately (but some other book grabbed me). So I'm going to start there. Re-reading feels like an indulgence, which is the perfect way to start the summer. I'll bounce between books I've read and new books. Here's what on my list, followed by some suggestions for other books you won't want to miss.

Dystopian Science Fiction

A lot of science fiction that addresses the themes I'm interested in, so after The Dispossessed, I'm going to read (or re-read) the following:

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler. Butler is one of the few African American women writers of science fiction. I've read some of her work and found it compelling and unique and unforgettable. If I have time, I'll also read another novel by Butler, Lilith's Brood, which is described as "an epic of human transformation."

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood. Here's another book I read many years ago, that addresses the themes I'm interested in. I have an almost visceral memory of this book -- I get a creepy-under-my-woman-skin feeling. I imagine there's much to get out of multiple readings of this book, but if you've never read it -- do so. This summer. It's terrifying because of the glimpses of our own world that we get in what's supposed to be an unimaginable horrific future world.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. I have never read this classic. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did and so it's time.

Young Adult Science Fiction

Legend, Marie Lu. The first in a series for Young Adults, this is a futuristic, dystopian, fast paced action novel. I started reading the first few pages and was hooked. I need that in the summer!

Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant, Veronica Roth. A teacher-friend recommended this Young Adult trilogy -- it's another dystopian thriller and this one promises "unexpected romance," too. Reviews highlight political control, castes, and the exploration of individual agency in an all-controlling political system.

Origin, Jessica Khoury. This was another book that I picked up in the bookstore, leafed through, and immediately added to my list.

By the way, if you're like me and spend hours browsing your local bookstores and scribbling down titles on random scraps of paper and later can't find or remember the title of that book you saw that you now want to check out of your library -- I have a fun tip for you! The Goodreads app has a scanning device so you can scan the bar code, and then add it to some Goodreads list you have going, and there it is. I like Goodreads.


So Far from Home: Lost and Found in our Brave New World, Margaret Wheatley. I just read this. But I'm going to re-read it. This is a short book by one of my favorite thinkers, writers, and leaders. It was hard to read -- hard in the way that you know she's speaking truth that's really, really hard to hear. I need to re-read this, maybe just a few pages at a time. I think Wheatley may offer the most useful clues for how to survive working in our public school system. "Give up hoping to make change," she says, "Give up hope as a motivator." I'm working on it.

Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl. Written by a Holocaust survivor who became a psychiatrist, Frankl's memoir offers brilliant insights into how to make sense of our world. I read this in college, and have long wanted to re-read it. Since I can remember, I have been driven by an urgency to find meaning, above all, meaning in suffering. The content of this book is an essential contribution to the big picture reading themes I'll do this summer.

That's what's on my summer reading list. I'm a bit concerned by the state of our world and our education system. Reading fiction and non-fiction is both an escape and a way of seeking insights and avenues for action.

The Best Books (Related to Work) That I've Read This Year

These are my top favorites from this last year, the two that have most influenced my work as an educator.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain. This book offers information that has deeply changed the way I think about myself and how I work in the world. It also contains essential suggestions for classroom instruction and learning in general. Every teacher, principal, and parent should read this book. If you've ever thought you might be an introvert, read this book. Now! If you love someone who you think might be an introvert, read this book. I listened to it, and then got the book and re-read it, and have listened to sections of it again.

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, Doug Lemov et al. This book has change how I think about how we teach. I read it thinking, "Of course, that's SO obvious!" while feeling embarrassed that I'd never done what was so obvious -- namely, provide more time for who ever is learning something to practice. And practice, and practice. This book is key for any of us who try to help others learn. It's a quick easy read. It feels like the missing piece, the secret key. The concept might just be the panacea we've all been waiting for. Really.

And what are you reading this summer?

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