Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

Top Ten TuesdayTop Ten Books I Read in 2014

With the caveat that I am not quite finished reading for this year – I still have two whole weeks and seven books left to meet my goal! – here are the Top Ten Books I Read in 2014 So Far.*

*in no particular order

  • AfterworldsDoll Bones, Holly Black When I was sixteen or so, Holly Black was my favorite author ever (except for maybe JK Rowling). I adored her book Tithe. Despite that, I never really read much else by her, except for short stories in anthologies. But when I saw this one, I somehow knew I had to read it, and it was just so perfect… all about make believe and growing up and losing the magic or maybe it was never real anyway. I loved it.
  • Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld This was another new book by an author I loved in high school. Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday was the defining book of my years at tech school (junior and senior years), but, like Holly Black, I never got into any of his other books. But this was the year I read books about books – Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones – and this one was the best of them all.
  • The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien I’m way late to this party. Guess what? I also loved The Lord of the Rings in high school, but despite multiple attempts, could never get into The Silmarillion. I still think The Music of the Ainur is possibly the most boring chapter of fiction I have ever read, at least voluntarily, but the rest of it was so good. I have a lot of feeling about elves.
  • Akata WitchAkata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor Okay, finally something new. Oh, man, was this new. It was excellent, and everything I like in a book – contemporary fantasy and magic and best friends – but also totally unlike anything else I had ever read before. Okorafor was on my list of Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2014, too.
  • Welcome to Bordertown, Holly Black This must have been the year of returning to my roots as a reader, because although I had never read any Bordertown books before, I remembered most of these authors from the Firebird anthologies I devoured in – guess what? – high school. I enjoyed this so much that I wrote fanfic of it for my Camp NaNoWriMo short story.
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post, emily m. danforth Speaking of high school, what would I have given to have this book back then? I would have given a lot. This book was just so perfect. Usually, when I finish an excellent book, I have a “book hangover” and I can’t decide what I should do with my (reading) life. This one was so good it just left me starving for something, anything, to keep that feeling alive.
  • Boxers & SaintsCastle of Shadows, Ellen Renner This one was totally new to me, but again, it had a lot of my beloved tropes of tomboyish, clever girls wearing trousers. It was a lot darker than I was expecting. I picked it up completely on a whim, devoured it, and can’t wait until I can share it with my students – and get the next book in the series, City of Thieves.
  • The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani This is definitely in the running for most fun book I read in 2014. I’m not going to lie, sometimes fairy tale retellings get a little old. I don’t want to say there’s a finite number of things we can do with Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but it takes a lot to stand out. This is not strictly a retelling, but it uses fairy tale tropes – and turns them on their heads – so cleverly that it really grabbed me.
  • Boxers & Saints, Gene Luen Yang Oof. After I finished reading this, I just sat on my bed, saying “holy ****” over and over again because I didn’t know what else to say about it. Just “holy ****.” It was so good. It really stuck with me, and I can’t shake it.  I still get parents who complain about their kids reading comic books. Maybe next time, I’ll give this to them. (The parent. It’s not really for my elementary students.)

Okay, I said that this wasn’t an ordered list, and it’s not, except:

  1. The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, Laura Miller This is it. This is the book of 2014. I read it in late summer/early autumn, but it is the defining book of 2014. It’s the best thing I read, and it completely changed how I read. I don’t even care for Narnia, really, but the idea, the idea of the Magician’s Book, that one book against which all others are measured, and the difference in a childlike grace and a grown-up grace as a reader. I understand my reading completely differently now, and it’s, well, magical.
    The Magician’s Book also set me on a path of reading nonfiction. I dabbled a bit earlier in the year, which is what lead me to reading this, but The Magician’s Book taught me that nonfiction can be every bit as fun and moving and enjoyable as fiction.

The Magician's Book

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“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (December 3, 2014)

What are you currently reading?

The TastemakersAfter last week’s big push, I found myself in a slump. I read all the good stuff and I didn’t have anything left that really excited me. But with a month to go until my Goodreads 2014 Challenge closes, it’s crunch time. I have to keep reading; I have just under a month to read twelve books. Now was not the time for a slump.

So what did I go?

I got more books.

I’ve read a lot of nonfiction this year, which is new for me, but often I find that it holds my attention, even when fiction falls flat. I mean, there’s just so much cool stuff out there in the world, ways of considering things I took for granted. So right now, I’m reading The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue.

What do I know about food blogging? The closest I get is sharing photos of cakes on Instagram. I’m not a foodie, but The Tastemakers has been fascinating.

I also started, then set aside, Reading Like a Writer. I think Francine Proses’s book will be a good one for honing my writing craft, but a chapter dedicated to the singular importance of a the perfect word in a well constructed sentence… Well, it’s not very appropriate reading for the last week of NaNoWriMo, so I put it down for awhile with the intent to come back at a more opportune time.

Meanwhile, because I don’t want to be reading no fiction, I’m continuing my reread of Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday, which I started during our school’s D.E.A.R. program. I loved this book so much in high school.

What did you recently finish reading?

23281884As part of my NaNoWriMo participation, I (re)read along the week-by-week chapters of founder Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! for helpful tips and pointers I forgot in the seven years since I won. That was the only book I finished reading this week. All of my time went to writing.

What do you think that you’ll read next?

I’ve got A Mad, Wicked Folly on my phone, because it keeps coming up on book blogs and hey, women’s suffrage.

Other than that, I don’t have anything in particular lined up, because a) that’s not really a thing that I do, and b) I’ve got to be reading a lot, and while a list of possibilities is helpful in keeping me motivated, a list of “requirements,” or a list that feels like a chore to complete, will only make me drag my feet.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays are hosted by Should be Reading.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (November 26, 2014)

Brown Girl DreamingWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve wanted to read Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming since I first heard about it, but after National Book Awards, I knew I had to read it. (I hadn’t known that Jacqueline Woodson grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, which made me that much more interested in her memoir. I was never religious, but my BFF in high school was a Witness and I used to read the Watchtower and Awake! magazines.)

I can’t wait to get this book into my library. I think it’s so valuable, and so important, and so good. My students love novels-in-verse historical fiction – the older students’ teachers read them Tofu Quilt and I have a few girls who rave about Inside Out & Back Again, and I think this will be an appreciated addition to the collection.

I also started The Twistrose Key while waiting in line at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater for a friend, and I … read a bit, and then checked Twitter or Facebook, then read a bit. I don’t know. Lately talking animals just don’t do it for me? That’s what made me put down Hollow City, too. It’s weird, because I grew up on the Redwall books and, duh, Iorek Byrnison in The Golden Compass, but I dunno. I’m going to keep at it, but slowly.

What did you recently finish reading?

Last week, I was eight books behind on my Goodreads Challenge. This week, I’m only three. I read Mem Fox’s Reading Magic, hoping there would be some useful tips for teachers, not parents, but there wasn’t much.

finally finished Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel and The Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature. (I was nearly finished with both of those things, anyway. I just actually got around to finishing them this week.)

The Story of Fish & SnailI read all of Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. I was super excited for this book after Kelly Jensen‘s glowing review, but I found it a little bit meh. Maybe it would have been better in print, or even on a bigger screen, so I could get a better view of the photos that accompany each poem?

In my library collection, I had the opportunity to read Fortunately, The Milk in one short sitting during an inservice day, and the good luck to read the utterly delightful The Story of Fish & Snail. I read it out loud eight times from Monday to Friday, and I liked it more and more each time – definitely a keeper. One class even asked for an encore. It’s so much fun to slam the book shut when Fish says “THE END.” and the students can see there are still pages left. (I like that the end then is a new beginning, and doesn’t say “THE END.” I liked how cleverly the illustrations are used to be in the book/about the book. It’s meta, but it’s subtle.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

Well, like I said… I’m not so good about TBRs. I think The Twistrose Key will be a lingering read. That’s not a bad thing, just different. After Brown Girl Dreaming, if I’m not burned out on novels-in-verse, I might pick up Inside Out & Back Again. One of my students adores this book, it seems like a good “readalike,” and I know she would be thrilled if I picked up a book at her suggestion.

My Thoughts On: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

11595276I finished reading Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post yesterday during my lunch break. I first heard about it recently, when it was removed from a Delaware school’s reading list (and the reading list was subsequently cancelled entirely to avoid controversy.*)
*spoiler: it didn’t work

Officially, Miseducation was removed for “profanity,” but let’s all be honest here: it’s because Cameron is a lesbian, and because she’s resistant to the “ex-gay” therapy she receives at a Christian “school” where she’s sent by her evangelical aunt when she’s outed by a “friend with benefits.”

I didn’t grow up anywhere near Miles City, but it sounds an awful lot like Milton(, Vermont). The profanity never sounded gratuitous to my ears; that’s how rural kids talk. We didn’t have a cool old abandoned hospital, but we did have a broken down creamery where teenagers went to smoke weed and graffiti walls. I only went in there once, as a senior, in broad daylight. I was never one of the “cool” kids like Cameron, who grieve by acting out.

Cameron is sent to Promise by her evangelical aunt, who raises her after her parents die suddenly in a terrible car accident. This is going to sound weird, but bear with me: I felt like the “dead parents” thing didn’t fit in with the story. It was the one thing that didn’t quite work for me, although Danforth’s writing rang painfully true when Cameron talks about how she never knew her parents as people, and how they became saints in her memory, untouchable because she felt so guilty, like they died because she was kissing a girl and shoplifting.

My father passed away when I was fourteen, the summer before I started high school. Unlike Cameron’s parents, my family saw my father’s death coming. I guess I wanted her parents’ deaths to play into her character more – the only time it came up directly was when her counselor suggests that her parents’ parenting mistakes “made” her act out on “inappropriate gender identity” and “sexual sin.” At the same time, I knew how after a parent dies, it’s everything but also nothing. How do you write that? I don’t know.

I wonder why Danforth decided to go with the dead parents route. After all, it’s not like parents never send their kids to “ex-gay/conversion therapy” – although it is now banned in many states, at least for minors.

Either way, I couldn’t put it down. The first half or so seemed long, but maybe that was because of the sense of impending doom. Everyone knows Cameron gets sent to Promise, so every time she kissed a girl, I kept wondering, is this it? is this the time she gets caught? 

In Kat’s article about the book banning controversy, she says

It’s a lot like But I’m a Cheerleader except a lot less campy and a lot more depressing. It takes place around the same time as the cult classic movie, beginning in 1989. It was the year I started elementary school, and if the world was a different place for LG and B youth, trans youth didn’t even “exist.” Don’t expect the novel to be painless if you grew up queer in the 90s. Having read the novel, I can attest to its impact, since I did grow up queer in the 90s.

I’m a little younger than Kat, and much younger than Cameron. I was born in 1989. But I grew up in a rural town like Miles City – only, we didn’t even have anything exciting like the Bucking Horse Sale – and I remember VHS tapes and looking through the tiny rental store for something, anything out of the mainstream. (I wasn’t looking for queer content, because approximately every person I ever knew realized I was a lesbian before I did. I was looking for anime, and the one thing the rental shop had available was Princess Mononoke in the “Adults Only” cabinet.)

Maybe it was that, or Danforth’s beautiful writing, but I believed in Cameron in a way I haven’t believed in a story protagonist in a long time. Maybe it was the first person narration? I don’t know. I wrote before about how we lose some of that immersive reading we had as tweens when we get older, but I found it again in this book. It’s that good.

The ending left me hungry for more, but in what I think of as “a His Dark Materials way.” I want to know what happens to Cameron throughout the rest of her life, immediately after up to wherever she’s writing from, but I don’t want to be told. I don’t think I want a sequel. (Of course, I would read one, if Danforth wrote it.) Some of Cameron’s reflective narration hints that she turns out okay, especially when she’s reflecting on the pseudoscientific nature of her “therapy” at Promise.

I resisted the urge to run around, recommending this book to everyone I’ve ever met until I finished reading it. (Last time I enthused about a book I hadn’t finished reading, I was disappointed by the ending and had to eat my words.) Now that I know how it ends, I can say, wholeheartedly, “everyone I’ve ever met and everyone I’ve never met should, without a doubt, read this book.”

Judging a Book by its Cover: Hetty Feather

Hetty Feather          Before starting at the school where I work, I had never heard of Jacqueline Wilson. Since then, I’ve read many of her stories and just fallen in love with all of her characters. The previous librarian purchased a full set of the Nick Sharrat illustrated paperbacks, and they’re very charming. The first title I read was The Lottie Project, and I like to use the lovely new version in contrast to the very dated 1999 edition to illustrate to my students why we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

I recently finished reading the Hetty Feather books – Hetty FeatherSapphire Battersea and Emerald Star – and went looking for other versions, out of curiosity. For the most part, Goodreads lists the Nick Sharrat illustrated versions that I read from my library – no weird old 1990s vibes here!

I like the simple, straightforward and inviting look of these books. They look like books I want to read, and I feel like they capture the tone very well. Although Hetty’s life is difficult, she is an optimist, and she finds love and kindness where she can and never turns bitter, so the cheerful look of the covers is well suited to the books.

… but then there’s these Kindle edition. 19314546

I have no idea what this book is about. There’s a sad redheaded girl, holding a black cat – does Hetty ever have a cat? it’s been over a year, so maybe I’ve forgotten – wearing what loos like a tutu or dance petticoat, and definitely not Victorian-era proper undergarments. The lettering and curlicues make this look like a YA novel, except that the age of the protagonist is too young for that. I seriously don’t know what the cover designers here were going for, but I don’t like it. I can’t imagine that my elementary students would want to read this book, and if you sold it to a high schooler on the cover, I think they’d be disappointed, because it wouldn’t be the book they thought they were getting into.

What’s up with these covers? Maybe cover design isn’t quite as important for ebooks? I knew a guy in undergrad who liked to lament about the move from vinyl to .MP3 because smaller space would mean less design. I laughed then, but now maybe I get what he meant then.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (October 8, 2014)

The Witch's BoyWhat are you reading?

Sometimes I go a little overboard with new books. I now have Kelly Barhhill’s The Witch’s Boy, emily m. danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and (finally) Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds.  In my impatience to get Afterworlds, I also borrowed the high school library’s copy of So Yesterday, which I adored in high school.

Oh, and I’m still working on Jacqueline Wilson’s Diamond and Kat Zhang’s Once We Were.

What did you recently finish?

With all of this jumping around lately, I haven’t actually finished anything. I read a bit of this, a bit of that. Maybe that’s why I’m currently eleven books behind on my 2014 Goodreads Challenge.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I don’t know. I need to get through some of the books that I’m currently reading before I start anything new, because I still have that other stuff (The Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature, Superman: The High-flying History of the Man of Steel) to finish.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (October 1, 2014)

What are you reading?

I started Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2) and Diamond (Hetty Feather, #4) yesterday at work. I still have Superman: The High Flying History of the Man of Steel on my phone’s ereader, too.

Hetty FeatherWhat did you recently finish reading?

finally got the chance to read Emerald Star (Hetty Feather #3). We got it in at the beginning of the year from Titlewave and it kept getting checked out. I managed to grab it on the way in and nobody asked for it (usually I keep my library reading books on my desk and students are allowed to borrow them) so I finally had the chance to read it the whole way through.

I was surprised by the ending, but when I was explaining to my friend how I felt about it, I realized that it was very well foreshadowed through the whole series, really, and especially in the final book.

What will you read next?

I’ve only just started Diamond and Once We Were, so those will keep me entertained for a bit longer. This Friday is a librarians’ meeting for the region, and I’m sure I’ll pick up book recommendations there. You can’t put a gaggle of librarians in a room together for a whole day and expect them not to swap book suggestions!