It’s been five months since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, shutting down schools and businesses and sending us to our homes like children being sent to their rooms to think about what they’ve done.
There is nothing good about COVID-19, but I’d be lying if I said the stay-home situation didn’t come with a few perks. For some, long commutes have been shortened to the walk from the bedroom to the home office, and although we can’t see friends in person, the switch to online meetings has allowed people to hang out in new ways. Some virtual gatherings have actually been larger than their real world counterparts because people who couldn’t attend due to distance can now participate.
For me, one of the benefits of this stressful situation has been the extra time to read.
Can’t go anywhere interesting? Read.
Got insomnia due to anxiety? Read.
Avoiding household chores? Read.
More walks mean more audio books.
Fewer friend gatherings mean more pages.
Ever-present bad news means greater need to escape reality.
I’ve finished thirty-two books since March 13th, reading eight in June alone. Although I wish my summer had included travel and swimming and brunch and kickball games, this time with books was time well spent. Here are a few of the standouts.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, finished March 28th
This is the book that bridged the gap between the real world and the pandemic world. I started it before everything shut down and finished it after. I spent a lot of time reading it in the porch bed I made for myself. (I spent a lot of time in that porch bed this spring and plan to recreate it in the fall when the weather is cooler.) Magpie Murders is a clever murder-mystery-within-a-murder-mystery that was a nice distraction during troubling times.
Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin, finished May 18th
This YA alternate history was much more engaging than I expected. I listened to the audio book, and I found myself taking longer walks so I could hear more of the story. Set in a world where the Nazis won the war, the plot is about a Jewish girl on a quest to kill Hitler. The experiments conducted on her as a child in the concentration camps turned her into a shape-shifter. Now she’s working with the resistance and using her unusual gift to masquerade as someone else in order to win (hopefully) a high-profile motorcycle race which will give her the chance she needs to assassinate the dictator. The book is fast-paced with ample twists, and the sequel is equally good.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson, finished May 25th
The universe is BIG. Like, blow-your-mind-and-make-you-want-to-crawl-under-the-covers-and-hide big. I love listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson talk, and he narrates the audiobook himself, so I highly recommend you listen to it. It’s not very long and is really interesting. I didn’t understand everything in it, but Tyson has a way of explaining things so that even non-scientists can grasp them.
*Funny story: I first started listening to this one night and accidentally fell asleep with it playing. I had the most irritating dream where my husband was following me everywhere talking about physics, and I couldn’t get him to stop. Walking the dog– talking about physics. Shopping at CVS– talking about physics. I kept saying, “Be quiet!” but he wouldn’t. I was SO annoyed with him! Lol. However, once I tried listening to book while awake, I really enjoyed it and did not fine Neil deGrasse Tyson annoying at all.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, finished May 31st
This novel about a man sentenced to house arrest in a Russian hotel is one of my favorite books. I read it and loved it in 2018 and then re-read it and loved it even more this summer. This funny, touching, thought-provoking story full of unique and lovable characters is the perfect companion for when you’re stuck at home and lamenting your inability to go anywhere. It wins for the most sticky notes I’ve ever left in a book.
The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths, finished June 26th
My mom recommended this book to me, and I’m glad she did. It’s a murder mystery about a high school English teacher who’s also a writer and who’s obsessed with a horror story written by a mysterious deceased author whose study was located in the attic of her school. Oh, and it’s also a ghost story. Um… check, check, check, check, check. This book was right up my alley! Despite all the gruesome murders, it still felt like a fun escape from the world.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, finished July 11th
This middle grade novel-in-verse about a Syrian girl who moves to America really grabbed my heart. The writing is excellent, the main character is clever and relatable, and the struggles she goes through are perfect for middle school readers who have had to learn how to straddle two cultures and for those who haven’t. I marked so many memorable lines, including:
Americans love labels.
They help them know what to expect.
I think labels stop them from
I’m starting to think,
might be the bravest thing a person can do.
I recommend this book to kids and adults alike.
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater, finished July 17th
On November 4, 2013, on a city bus in Oakland, California, a black teenage boy named Richard flicked a lighter at the hem of the skirt worn by an agender teenager named Sasha. Within seconds, the skirt went up in flames, severely burning Sasha and changing both of their lives. The 57 Bus tells the story of these two teens and their very different backgrounds and the consequences of a moment. This was a hard book to read but an important one that has me thinking about my role as an educator and a citizen and a human and how I can help create a society where the Sashas and the Richards of the world can both live safe, successful lives.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, finished July 29th
This slow, creeping, ultimately sad horror novel is full of atmosphere and subtle but persistent spookiness. Writers are told that their endings should be both surprising and inevitable, and Susan Hill nails it. This book is still on my mind weeks after reading it.
Love, Teach: Real Stories and Honest Advice to Keep Teachers from Crying Under Their Desks by Kelly Treleaven, finished August 3rd
I have been reading the Love, Teach Blog for years, and I’m so excited that Kelly Treleaven’s book is finally in the world! Her combination of humor, heart, and crazy competent teaching advice has gained her a huge following of tired, stressed, but fiercely dedicated teachers who are thankful for her unflinching honesty and welcoming kinship in a profession where it’s really true that anything can happen. Treleaven’s book has fewer funny stories about “whisper turtlenecks” and the time she was late for work because she got a squirrel stuck on her head (true– there’s a video), but it is jam-packed with super useful tips about everything from setting up your classroom to dealing with unsupportive administrators. But don’t worry. Even though the book is serious in its mission to help teachers through the rough parts of the profession, there are still plenty of quirky stories and embarrassing moments sprinkled throughout. It made me both laugh and cry (but not under my desk). The book is aimed at first year teachers, but I’ve been in the classroom for twenty years and still found so much of the advice inside helpful. I recommend it for teachers of all ages, all content, and all stages of their career. You won’t find a more honest and heartfelt guide to education anywhere.
What books have kept you from going crazy during the pandemic?
It’s fun watching learning occur.
My parents have a new kitten. She wandered into their yard, a tiny, scrappy, smart little thing, barely big enough to be away from her mother but somehow surviving on her own. They fed her and sweet-talked her from afar until she got curious enough to come inside the house. Since then, she’s been getting to know them on her terms, venturing out from her hiding spots a little more each day. They named her Spunkie, and it fits.
I visited them last weekend and spent hours playing with Spunkie. It was so fun watching her figure things out—how to climb on top of things, how to play with new toys, how to trust. You could practically see her little brain working.
That big cat is so cool! I’m going to follow him and see what he does! Ooh, he growled at me. Ok, I’ll watch from over here.
Being picked up is scary! But ooh! It comes with pets and belly rubs. Hmm, maybe this isn’t so bad…
By the time I left, she was trying out being a lap cat and eyeing the height of the kitchen counter for a future late-night scouting expedition.
My school has a green ag program, complete with chickens and goats. Last week, one of our goats had her first baby—an adorable little buck named Leo. As soon as I could, I made it my mission to go meet him. (New teachers, take note: Make friends with the green ag teachers!)
Leo was six days old when I held his wiggly furry body and watched him frolic around his pen, kicking up his hooves. While I was there, he jumped onto a big rock for the first time. I think it surprised even him! He looked rather proud of himself until he considered how to get down. The little goat walked to the edge, backed up, walked to the edge, backed up, then finally kneeled down on the rock, as if asking himself, Will this get me closer to the ground?
When I left, he was still there, but his mama was with him, and I have no doubt he found his way down eventually, learning all the way.
Teachers frequently expound on the joy of watching students “get” something. The look of comprehension, the sigh of relief, and the smile of finally accomplishing a difficult task are the rewards of our profession. But I think I enjoy watching adults learn even more.
Earlier this week, my principal held a meeting with the school leadership team in which she started every other sentence with, “As of this moment in time…” (I feel sorry for our administrators. They are working so hard for us and doing the best they can, but things change daily in the district/state/country, and so much is out of their hands.)
During the meeting, she practiced using various online tools for the first time, figuring things out as she went, working through problems as they came up—modeling for us, showing us she is learning and adapting too, giving us permission to try and fail and try again. I’m thankful for her leadership during this stressful time. Learning something brand new takes courage. Most adults choose to do it in isolation. I will teach myself this skill, and when I am good at it, I will let others see. It takes bravery to learn in front of people.
Regardless of what school or online school or homeschool or no school looks like this fall, learning will occur. Look for it, watch it, and when you see it happening, encourage it. Learning does not require a classroom or a bell schedule. All it takes is a positive attitude, curiosity, and a little courage.
What are you learning right now?
What lessons from this time will you carry with you into the future?