Summer to Fall; Canoe to Classroom

I spent half of the summer sleeping in a tent; the other half on a squeaky cot likely double my age. Working at sleep-away camp means a lot of things: jumping in the lake even on the chilly, rainy days, eating countless s’mores, routinely facing wind and whitecaps in a canoe, singing songs in the key of loud. Each night I would fall into bed – no matter whether my sheets or my sleeping bag – and find hardly an ounce of energy left.

At the start of the summer I set myself a goal: two books a month for June, July, and August. Though I brought a book on every trip and one sat by my bed at camp each night, I finished just one: John McPhee’s Coming into the Country, about the vast wilds of Alaska and the people who care for the land with strong and conflicting convictions. Its review (which will be posted in the next couple of days) is my coming out of the country, leaving the towering white pines and crystal clear lakes behind for a classroom and another group of young people to lead on a very different set of adventures.

An Introduction

Elizabeth: The library at Netherfield, I’ve heard, is one of the finest.
Mr. Bingley: Yes, it fills me with guilt. I’m not a good reader, you see. I prefer being out of doors. Oh, I mean, I can read, of course. And I’m not suggesting you can’t read out of doors.
Jane: I wish I read more, but there always seems to be so many other things to do.
                    — Pride & Prejudice, the 2005 film adaptation

 For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a personal library. I saved all of the books I read in English classes in high school and college. Boxes full of books slowly accumulated in my parents’ basement. One day, I thought, I’d live in a place with enough bookshelves to turn this stack of boxes into a proper library.

To mark my graduation from Princeton with a degree in English, my parents gave me books. Lots of them. My parents reached out to my closest college friends and favorite high school teachers with the question “What books should an educated person and future teacher have read?” Their almost 200 suggestions turned into the greatest gift I have ever received.

I have spent the last seven months too busy to read (a la Jane Bennet) and too intimidated by where to start. But now, facing five months without full-time school or full-time employment, it is the time to begin.

The plan:
– Each week, between now and the end of May, I will (do my best to) read one book or two plays.
– After completing each book, I will write an approximately 500 word review, posted here.
– I will start with books that I have not already read. (e.g. The Great Gatsby will have to wait)

The purpose:
– I’m not sure I can tell you the last time I read simply for my own interest or pleasure. This project is primarily about reconnecting with the reader in me and continuing to discover the things I like to read and the things I find interesting to read.
– Furthermore, the “greats” of literature are “great” for a lot of reasons. That doesn’t mean I or anybody else actually wants to read them. Finnegan’s Wake? No thank you. When books are published today, critics and bloggers alike whip up dozens of reviews and recommendations. What if Heart of Darkness or Mrs. Dalloway is actually the perfect book to recommend to a friend, but you’d never realize that because they’re stuck in the “classics” section of the bookstore? I’m hoping to find some classic texts that speak with relevance across time and that are enjoyable, not just interesting, to read.
– The best teachers are also still readers and writers. I hope that this will serve as a model for my future students: their ambition to learn and curiosity about the world need not stay within the four walls of my classroom.

Up first: Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell.
Why? My copy has a small crack in the spine. That seems a good a reason as any.