I learned about the Centurions, who read 113 books in 2013, from a book by Donalyn Miller, one of my teaching heroes. And because I teach a writers’ workshop, consisting mostly of kids who read below grade level, and because I am constantly trying to be like “BOOKS ARE AMAZING AND THEY ARE YOUR FRIENDS” I decided we were going to compete in a reading contest. Since January, I’ve been on a mission to read 114 books this year. (If the eight kids in my workshop, working as a team, read more than 57 books by the time school got out, when I should be halfway through, we’d do “something awesome” on our last day of class. Of course eight kids should be able to read that many books, but they’re mostly really reluctant readers.)
I don’t even know if the Centurions are still a thing this year (I think it’s mostly a Twitter thing, and I’m too verbose for Twitter) but regardless of my writers, it still sounded like one of those ridiculous but easily quantified goals I like to set. (“I’m going to eat at a restaurant for every letter of the alphabet!” “I’m going to do my own 101 Cookbooks project!” PS: both of those goals became my bitches.)
Here’s what I read in April:
Orange Is the New Black was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be kind of “oh, poor little rich girl” but I genuinely felt sorry for Piper, and there were a lot of references to prison reform, and it generally was not as White Lady In Prison as I expected. And then I started watching the show, which is as good as everyone says.
Through the Children’s Gate wasn’t as good as Adam Gopnik’s book about Paris, Paris to the Moon, but I did like the essay about his therapist.
A Land More Kind Than Home was basically modern Southern Gothic, meaning it was awesome.
The Marriage Plot convinced me that Middlesex is probably the only Jeffrey Eugenides book I’ll ever really love.
Literarily speaking, I don’t think I’m supposed to like The Glass Castle more than The Liars’ Club, but I really did.
I almost always like oral histories, and I almost always like the books I read about China, but The Corpse Walker just sort of made me hate the ’70s type of New Journalism. I don’t wanna know your opinion! I wanna hear about the safecracker!
The Emperor’s Children was like the worst of postmodernism and the worst of modernism all tied up into one pretentious book with unlikable characters and words that even I didn’t know. (Believe the Goodreads reviews, not all the “best of” lists.)
I wanted to like The Liffey Flows On By because I met the author at Magers & Quinn and she was very sweet, but this was awful. Like, if “Days of Our Lives” took place in early- to mid-20th-century Ireland. Bastard children, and secret identities, and a million typos…unless someone actually was thrown in goal, not gaol.
I put a lot of time into Shakey, even though I’m not a huge Neil Young fan. At the end of almost 740 pages, what I came away with was that Neil Young has made a lot of fantastic, epic music, an almost equal amount of near-unlistenable music, and he’s kind of a dick. Also, I’m pretty sure that the author wouldn’t approve of the fact that “Cinnamon Girl” is the only Young song I much like.
Blankets was really good on its own, but it endeared itself to me even more because there was a scene that I recognized from the Milwaukee museum, a formative place in my youth (the T. Rex eating the triceratops.)