Ruminations on Roosevelt

“I am a part of everything that I have read.” – Theodore Roosevelt

I asked my students to respond to this quote this week. And the more I think about it, the more I tend to wonder if it should be restated. What if it said “Everything that I have read is a part of me”?

When I reminisce on the books and stories I hold most dear (To Kill a Mockingbird,  Antigone, and A Man Called Ove to name just a few), it’s easy to pick out the fragments of those pieces that have stuck with me long after the last page. Injustice in the world always recalls Atticus fighting for Tom Robinson. Stories of women like Malala speaking out in patriarchal countries always evoke Antigone openly defying the laws of Thebes. And moments of compassion and understanding always remind me of Ove begrudgingly caring for a stray cat. Every cover I open, page I turn, tear I shed leaves another sliver like a tiny splinter in my soul. My entire being is simply an amalgam of each and every character I’ve met and situation I’ve encountered. Am I human because I read, or does reading make me human?

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Why I Love YA

I do not fit the dictionary’s (or society’s) definition of “young adult,” not by a long shot. But nevertheless I read and love YA literature for the nostalgia and camaraderie.

I was fortunate to attend the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Atlanta a few weeks ago. During one session, I overheard a line that has stuck with me ever since: Laurie Halse Anderson said, “Young adult literature is popular with adults because no one talked about those things when we were growing up.” And she’s right!

I’ve blogged before about my reading life (see “A Life in Books” and “Reading: A Life and Goals”), and the more I think about the kinds of books I read as a kid, the more I realize that they would be considered “middle-level” today and not truly “young adult.” (Forever by Judy Blume is an obvious exception to this, but I digress.) There were very few, actual young adult novels to help me navigate the treacherous waters of high school and everything they encompass: friendships, dating, drinking, sex, parents. The books my teachers assigned certainly afforded no guidance–all I learned from George in Of Mice and Men was that {spoiler} murder is the simplest way to lighten your load. That wasn’t really advice I needed when I didn’t make the varsity softball team. A book like Challenger Deep would have showed me how to bounce back from that rejection.

While it’s nice to be reminded of what my high school experience was like, I honestly can’t imagine growing up in the world we have today. It seems like kids face so much more pressure and so many more obstacles than I ever remember dealing with as a teen. Ultimately, I read YA lit so I can better understand what my students might be going through and then share those findings with them so they know how to handle life.

The other aspect of YA lit that appeals to me is the sense of community among the authors. At any given time on Twitter, authors are chatting with one another about new projects, defending one another from misguided attacks, or just sharing a mutual love for coffee. I admit I geek out a little when I see Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli talking about movies or Sarah Dessen tweeting about her obsession with Lauren Graham. And the best part is when they interact with their readers! Many authors on Twitter are so appreciative of feedback about their work, and I don’t know if they really understand the other side of that: how thrilling it is for a reader to have a tweet replied to or liked. That kind of accessibility is something that makes YA lit and authors so special.

My actual age might not fall in the range of the target audience for YA lit, but I’m definitely still a young adult at heart!

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No big deal. Just hanging out with Laurie Halse Anderson at NCTE!

On Books, Authors, and a Festival

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“Every sunset is an opportunity to reset.” – Richie Norton

I’ve read 11 books since January. That’s almost a book a week! Four books were by male authors and served as a reminder that I should read more books by male authors (who are underrepresented in YA literature, in my opinion). Three books were nonfiction, which is impressive because that’s a genre I don’t often gravitate to. And two books helped me discover a new favorite author: Robin Talley. I was able to find at least 30 minutes a day to read, and I hope to increase that number (maybe 45 minutes a day) for the next nine weeks.

I’m currently reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (from the AP list). Their Eyes Were Watching God was really challenging at first because the characters speak with a very strong Southern dialect. While I’m used to reading about a page a minute, this book slowed me down so much that I became frustrated. I just got to page 50, and I’ve finally caught on to the rhythm, so I’ll keep reading. When I finish, I plan to read The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison as my second AP read.

I’m also reading Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea which is written from the perspectives of four different characters as they journey through World War II. I chose this book because the author is on a panel (along with Sarah Dessen and E. Lockhart) that will be presenting at an educators’ luncheon as part of the North Texas Teen Book Festival later this month. I’ve already read books by the other two authors, so I wanted to familiarize myself with Sepetys in case I run into her in the bathroom line or something. Here’s how I imagine that conversation would go:

Ruta: Hello!

Me: …

Ruta: [walks past me to an open stall]

As awkward as that moment would be for me, I’m still really excited about the event!