I gestured to the stack of books next to my bed and said to my nine-year-old son, "Those are the books I'm going to read this winter break!"
"All of them!?" he exclaimed. "I don't think you can read all of those."
He might be right. I've gathered nine books, over 3500 pages of text, that I'm hoping to devour starting this weekend when my break begins. After a year and a half of almost exclusively reading education-related books, I'm craving stories and beautifully crafted sentences . . . and plot and character and action and historical fiction and science fiction . . . and that almost trace-like state that we enter when we're consumed by a novel.
So here's what's in my stack, in the order in which they are piled:
1. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander, is a recently published set of short stories by one of my favorite authors. His stories are never a light read, but always thought provoking and memorable.
2. This is How You Lose Her is by Junot Diaz, another one of my favorite contemporary writers. If you missed The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I highly, highly recommend it!
3. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, seems like it's on many "best" lists. I like that it's big and fat, that I'll get lost in it, and that it promises historical fiction and characters and all that good stuff.
4. The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, is a novel that comes highly recommended by the owner of one of my favorite independent book stores, A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, California. Everything she's recommended to me has always been amazing, and I’ll now buy almost anything without even reading the back cover if she says it's good. Have you been to your local bookstore lately? Don’t give up on them! Stop by, chat with the salespeople and get their recommendations.
5 and 6. Blackout and Doomsday Book, both by Connie Willis, promise adventures in time-traveling, science fiction and historical fiction by one of my favorite sci-fi authors. She's won big awards -- the Hugo and Nebula. I've enjoyed her other books tremendously and can't wait to dig into these. Only problem: which one to start with?
7. So Far From Home, by Margaret Wheatley, is the only book that I'm reading because it's sort of related to work. I love Meg Wheatley's writing -- it's the most thought-provoking, eye-opening, and also often disturbing work that I read on transformation, healing and social justice. This one is brand new, seems to offer some new (and disturbing) suggestions, and speaks a truth so raw and vulnerable that I can only read a few pages at a time. I’ve already started it, and I know this one will be consumed in small bites. If you read it, let me know. I want to hear others' reactions.
8. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens -- why is this one on my list? It's here because I like social realism, I was born in the East End of London, my husband has told me for many years that I'd like Dickens, and I feel unlearned because I've read so few classics. So this year it's Dickens.
9. The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc, by Kimberly Cutter. This one I'm half way into. It's really good. Fascinating subject, vivid depiction of a brutal time in human history, and Cutter's portrayal of Joan is brilliant. My son asked about this one -- the cover shows Joan in armor -- and I told him the premise and started reading a few lines. "Keep reading," he said. The next day, he asked, "Can you read more of that book to me?" Some of it is not appropriate for a kid, but it's also everything we love in stories: a misunderstood heroine, a tale of the underdog, war and struggle and triumph and hope, and questions about faith and strength that we can all relate to.
Just a few more days of work and then I’m off -- to Costa Rica actually, to see my father and family, to bask on the beach (lathered in sun screen, of course) and to explore the jungle . . . and to read and read and read. And to all you readers in the Edutopia community: What are you reading this winter? What's on your "Best of 2012" reading list or your “All-Time Favorites” list? Please share recommendations!