Tag Archives: book review

My Top Ten Books

I’m a reader, have been since I was four years old. It’s in my DNA, who I am. I’m the kind of person who loves a good conversation about books, sharing my latest favorites and must-reads and hearing about which books my friends, colleagues, and students are reading. I make annual reading goals, and I keep track of my books on GoodReads. The other day, a friend and I were discussing books, and she shared that she wants to get back into reading. She asked me what my top ten books of all time were. I didn’t know what to say. Only ten?? How can I choose just ten? Ten of each genre, maybe, but ten total? It seems impossible. I’ve given it some thought, and while I know that I’ll be missing out a lot of good ones, here goes, my top ten books, as of March 10, 2022.

I first read 1984 in high school as a required reading book in one of my English classes. I was instantly taken with the dystopian future Orwell describes, thinking that in no way would this ever happen. I’ve since read the book a handful more times, and each time I read it, it becomes more and more true.

I will forever associate The Alice Network with quarantine in Korea. When I moved to Korea in the summer of 2020, I was required to do a 14-day quarantine at a hotel in Seoul. The only book I brought (weight restrictions!) was this one. I started each morning with a cup of tea, curled up in the chair by the window, while I read for an hour. I became enthralled by the story, on the edge of my seat as I learned more and more about the characters’ intertwined lives. Once the book was over, I mourned, wishing I could have had more time with them.

Mrs. Decell, my fourth grade teacher, first introduced me to the mystery From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I was instantly in love with Jamie and Claudia’s adventure, as they ran away from home to live in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I connected so much with Claudia’s character, which made this one of my all-time favorites. I have since read this book aloud to every class I’ve ever taught (and they have loved it too!).

I read The Things They Carried while living in Shanghai, so I would have been in my early 30s. O’Brien’s writing style, sharp and to the point, caught my attention. I’d never read much about war, but reading this book made me empathetic to the soldier’s plight- both physical and emotional. It’s a book I’ve carried with me since then.

I adore memoirs, especially the ones that are real. Angela’s Ashes is as real as it gets, and while I was appalled by so much, I couldn’t put it down. I read this one on a trip to Morocco in 2016, and I remember my friends telling me to put it away and enjoy the scenery, as I read it every morning on the balcony of our riad, but the story drew me in so much that I couldn’t put it down, even for Morocco.

The magic of Matilda is something every child should experience. This was another fourth grade read and another instant classic. Matilda’s powers, combined with her awful parents, hilarious antics, and the lovely Miss Honey, make this a book you want to reread again and again. It should be mandatory reading for all children.

I love a good novel in verse, and Brown Girl Dreaming is a perfect example. I remember reading this one in Hong Kong, during my trip to the Literacy Institute at HKIS. Woodson’s depiction of growing up as a brown girl in the South gripped me from beginning to end. My favorite chapter/poem was “what i believe,” which I have shared with countless others over the years. I have even written a couple versions of my own over the years.

The Joy Luck Club was another required reading book that I fell in love with. I still have my original copy, dog-eared, highlighted, and nearly falling apart. I enjoyed the many interwoven stories of these Chinese immigrant women and their American-born daughters as a teenager, and even more as an adult. When I reread The Joy Luck Club after living in China, it had so much more meaning to me. I was able to make connections to the culture (and I could pronounce the pinyin words correctly!).

If you can get through The Fault in Our Stars without crying, you have no soul. This YA book had me in its grips the entire time, and was one I both wanted to devour as quickly as possible and read slowly so I could savor every last word. I read this book on my trip to Egypt, and I can remember staying up late on the overnight ride across the country, reading by the light of tiny bedside lamp while the train car jostled us to and fro. I wrote lots about this book- my thoughts, quotes I loved- in my journal.

Shel Silverstein is brilliant, and while I grew up loving his poetry (Where the Sidewalk Ends was my favorite collection), I wasn’t introduced to The Giving Tree until I was in college. I babysat a family of three children, Josh, Jessica, and Luke, and one day Jessica asked me to read it to them. We all cozied up on the couch together to read. As I got to the end, tears poured down my face. Jessica, then four, innocently asked me why I was crying. I told her it was because I loved this book. A few months later, I was gifted a hardback copy with a birthday message scrawled inside by the three kids. When I asked Suzan, their mom, how she knew I loved this book, she said Jessica told her.

What books would be in your top ten?

Moved to Tears

Have you ever been so invested in the characters in a story that you’re moved to tears when something profoundly sad happens to them? As a reader, this has happened to me many times. It tends to happen with those books that you can’t bear to put down, the ones where you neglect other responsibilities, like cleaning or work or sleep, in order to continue reading.

Kristen Hannah is one of those authors whose writing draws me in, envelops me in the characters’ lives, and makes me say, Just one more chapter, even when I know I need to get some rest. I fell in love with The Nightingale and The Great Alone, and Firefly Lane was no exception. From the beginning of the book, I was enthralled by the story of TullyandKate (if you’ve read it, you know what I mean), and while they grew up a couple of decades before me, I connected with their struggles and experiences. As I read, I found myself remembering my childhood/adolescent best friend Nicole and our shared experiences. The book, structured in chronological order by decades, as opposed to the Netflix version, which jumps back and forth through time, allows the reader to grow up with the girls, bringing you back to a particular point of time (high school, college, first job, first relationships and heartbreaks, etc.) and the feelings that go along with it. This structure is what made me fall in love with Tully and Kate and connect with them so strongly.

Today I read the final four chapters of the book. I had wanted to read the rest of the book last night, but I’d already read for over an hour, and it was simply too late to read anymore. As I sat at Grumpy Baby, where I’d gone for brunch, I began reading. The world around me fell away, as I was once again sucked into the story of these two women. I won’t spoil it for you, but the end of the book is very sad, and I found myself moved to tears as the characters experienced real trauma and grief. Since I was in a restaurant, I tried to hold it together, but the words on the screen became blurry as my eyes filled with tears.

My Chai latte and Kindle as I waited for my brunch order at Grumpy Baby.

After I finished eating, I made my way home to read the final two chapters, and in the comfort of my home, sitting on my couch, I cried along with the characters at they endured heartbreak. When it was over, the story lingered, not quite ready to relinquish its hold on me. A fellow slicer wrote today that she had a “book hangover.” I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description for what I had, too.

If you are looking for a good book, I highly recommend reading Firefly Lane!

Time vs. Attention #sol18

I’ve been listening to the audiobook The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey for the past week or so. I usually listen while I’m getting ready in the mornings or while I’m on the back of a Go-Jek on my way to school or the gym. I’m about halfway through now, and I’m really getting into it. The author chronicles the lessons he learned in a year-long project on productivity, where he shares the various strategies that worked for him. Along the way he shares research on productivity as well as challenges for the reader (or listener, in my case) to try out.

Today I was able to listen for a much longer time than usual, as I got a much-needed mani/pedi after school. With my hands tied up, it was the perfect time to soak in more learning. The chapter that really hit home for me and made me think a lot was about time vs. attention. He shared that in the knowledge economy, we no longer need to manage our time, rather we need to manage our attention. Most jobs now aren’t the clock-in/clock-out, do-your-job-and-leave type jobs. Mine certainly isn’t. We are working outside of working hours more often and many people have the opportunity to plan their work around their own schedule (sadly, not us in education, but that’s another story). Because of this, we don’t need to manage our time as much. It no longer matters whether we work 50 hours or 20 hours, as long as we accomplish what we need to do.

This is where the managing of attention comes into play. According to his research, people are off-task almost 50% of the time, mostly due to interruptions from notifications and the habits we have of constantly checking email (the average is 50 times a day!), social media, or instant messaging services. The constant ding and pop-up draw our attention away from the task at hand, even if for a brief moment, but it takes us up to 30 minutes to refocus after an interruption occurs, meaning we are losing valuable time productively working on our tasks.

Bailey claims that if we can manage our attention, we can get more done. I have to say, I agree with him. One way he combats the constant barrage of interruptions is to simply turn off all notifications on his phone, tablet, and laptop. Everything from texts, Facebook, Instagram, email, What’s App, and all other notification-giving apps are turned off. He says this allows him to intentionally focus on his tasks. The only way he’s interrupted is when someone physically comes up to him or calls him on the phone, which he says rarely happens. About once an hour, or whenever he checks his phone for the time, he’ll scan his notifications to see if there’s anything urgent to respond to, and if not, he gets back to work. According to him, this focus on his attention has increased his productivity significantly.

As I listened, I found myself nodding along, realizing that this happens to me all too often. The constant ding of a What’s App message on my phone or the pop-up and ding of a new email on my laptop fight for my attention, taking my focus away from the tasks I’m working on or the people with whom I’m working. It’s so frustrating! But I feel like that’s the job I signed up for, right? A school administrator needs to be accessible, doesn’t she?

In this chapter, the challenge was to turn off all notifications for a week and track how productive you are. The whole ride home, I kept thinking…Can I really do that? How will my staff be impacted by me taking a step back? What would happen if I wasn’t available all the time? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I think I’d like to try it out for a week and see what happens. I’ve already made the conscious choice to not have my work email come to my phone. After living and breathing work in my previous two admin posts, I knew that to have any sort of balance, I had to draw a line in the sand, and work email on my phone was that line. But with the prevalence of What’s App, particularly in Indonesia, I find that the social communication app is often used for work-related queries, thus putting me in a dilemma again.

With my energy and thoughts concentrated on how I can focus more and get more done, I’ve noticed that I am much less able to focus on tasks than I used to be. The lure of the internet, constant connection, and being ‘busy’ and multi-tasking play a major role in my lack of focus and attention. I’m working on finding ways to intentionally focus and accomplish more, hence me listening to this audiobook. I’m going to try out the challenge and see how it goes. Afterward, I’ll reflect and see how much of a difference it made and whether it’s something I can continue long-term. If you have any suggestions for things that have worked for you, let me know. I’d love to hear them!

Click here for Chris Bailey’s website, A Life of Productivity, to learn more!

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