by Jim Lang
As 2013 closes I have to look back at my year as a reader. As always, my choices as a reader shaped much of my year. Here’s a look back at what I read and what I learned:
Tris Prior is this year’s Katniss Everdeen
Like many readers I have been hooked by the Divergent trilogy. In fact, I am reading Veronica Roth’s final book in the series, Allegiant, right now. In my mind, Insurgent (Book 2) was even better than Divergent (Book 1). The feisty, stubborn Tris Prior believes in something beyond herself, and her strength drives Roth’s narrative. I am determined to finish Allegiant this week, so I’ll soon know whether the Divergent trilogy belongs in the same group as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games and Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogies.
John Green rules
2013 was the year I finally gave in to the demands of colleagues and friends and read a John Green book. I began with his best, The Fault In Our Stars, and loved his characters’ strength and quirkiness. I followed that up with the even more disturbing Looking for Alaska and the somewhat disappointing Abundance of Katherines. Paper Towns is in my To Be Read stack for 2014. Green’s books provided me with many relevant, interesting conversations with my students in 2013.
Khaled Hosseini writes stories that matter
When Khaled Hosseini publishes a book, I snatch it up and devour it. I fell in love with his narrative style and his complex characters in The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, and this year I enjoyed And the Mountains Echoed in much the same way. His writing style differs here, as he does not focus on a single character but pulls together multiple narratives to tell his story of siblings Abdullah and Pari. The result is a story that stayed with me long after I finished his book.
Howard Roark’s NOT crazy
As I trudged my way through Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead this past summer, I admittedly began to despise Howard Roark and his absolute refusal to compromise his beliefs. Ever. I secretly began hoping for a brutal end to Roark at the end of Rand’s novel — Maybe he’ll fall off a skyscraper! Or get crushed by a stone gargoyle that falls from the side of a building! But then something happened. I spent several weeks discussing Howard Roark and Ayn Rand with my AP Language and Composition students, and as we delved into Rand’s story together, somehow, the idealistic Howard Roark made more sense to me. In truth, we probably need more Howard Roarks in today’s world. And as is often the case, I learned from my students in 2013, which is one of the joys of teaching reading and writing.
Michael Connelly is still the king of mystery
Like every year, I again spent much of my time with some of my favorite suspense and mystery writers: John Grisham, Jeffery Deaver, John Hart, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and Michael Connelly, to name a few. And while I enjoy all of these writers for different reasons, Connelly is still the best. I only read one of his books in 2013, The Scarecrow, which is unusual for me. I am in desperate need of jumping into another mystery with detective Harry Bosch, or another legal drama with attorney Mickey Haller, Connelly’s two best characters. No one blends mystery, strong characterization, and a compelling plot like Michael Connelly.
Appreciate the hidden gems
The wonderful part of being a reader is stumbling onto an unexpected treasure, a story with little mainstream fanfare that pulls you in and makes you feel something. Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars made me laugh out loud and is a must-read for all teachers. John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back amazed me with the author’s ability to weave together seemingly-unrelated stories into a memorable narrative. And R.J. Palacio’s Wonder made me care about the characters so much that I felt their hope, disappointment, worry, and joy right along with them. Great writing in all three cases, and a reminder that sometimes the greatest stories come from unexpected places.
So, these were the books and lessons I encountered in 2013. My reading goals for 2014 include reading more non-fiction and biographies, delving more into “the classics,” and reading more than one Michael Connelly mystery. And as always, I hope to continue discussing books and the lessons I learn with my own students.
Happy Reading and Happy New Year!