Fiction Read in January:
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
I picked this one up off the “new” shelves at the library somewhat at random. I had read one other book by Barnes and liked it. The Noise of Time tells the story of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, something I knew less than nothing about before reading the book. For that reason alone, it was an interesting read. It also explores issues of art and power as Shostakovich struggles with living in the Soviet Union and the line between being doing what he has to to survive and create art and becoming a hypocrite or someone who is just a pawn of the state.Barnes’s style is not for everyone. It’s somewhat dry and crisp. It’s not necessarily my favorite style, yet, the two books of his that I have read have lingered in my mind long afterwards.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleve
As a contrast, Everyone Brave is Forgiven was an engaging and beautifully written book but not one that I think will necessarily stand out when I look back at the end of the year. Partially that is because it’s yet another WWII era book set in London with brave sympathetic characters. I loved the people and the story but I’ve read many others like it.
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
One of the Cybils nominees in the poetry category, this novel in verse tells the story of year in the life of a fifth grade class whose school is doomed to be shut down at the end of the year. Each poem is told in the voice of a different student with the conceit being that the students are leaving their story for a time capsule that will be left at the site of the school.
My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
I assigned both of these Revolutionary era novels to my eighth graders. Astonishingly, it was the first time I had read either. The different views of war told in each made for some good discussion (and an upcoming compare and contrast paper for him). It was especially interesting to discuss these two in comparison to Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson which gives yet another very different perspective on the Revolutionary War.
Non-Fiction Read in January:
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Armstrong
If you watched TV in the 1990s this is a fun read. It got a little too detailed but overall it was a fun inside look at the world behind the hit TV show.
Grit: Passion, Perseverance and the Study of Success by Angela Duckworth
Grit is the new EQ…the secret to success and the thing everyone wants to talk about. How to get it. How to cultivate it in kids. How to know if you have it. Duckworth has a lot that is very interesting to say about grit and what drives successful people. She does a good job of balancing the psychological research and stories with more nuts and bolts questions (how do we cultivate grit in our kids). The biggest missing piece for me was that she never really defines what success is. A central idea of the book is that “gritty” people have an overarching life goal that drives all the smaller goals in their life. As a Christian, I think more in terms of purpose than goal and I would say that the purpose of life is, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I finished the book feeling vaguely dissatisfied with how to apply the concepts to that kind of purpose or to a life where success might look very different than a striving for a very specific kind of wordly success.