Happy New Year: A Look Back in Books!

I genuinely wish I read more books in any given year. Since my doctoral studies, I have not pushed myself to read as voraciously as I always intend. One of my resolutions this year is to change that and in general read more books for both edification and pleasure.

Still, I read my fair share of interesting books that I am sharing in my first post of 2019 along with a brief sentence review for your consideration. Read on to check out the books, and here is to all of us reading more this year!

Hector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith

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So turns out having a toddler changes you. Who knew? I wanted to start with one of the most charming children’s books I read to my daughter (over and over again) this past year. The artwork is unique and the story is a wonderful tale of how important friendships we may take for granted really are. I recommend this for any elementary teacher’s library and certainly for the home of anyone with a child to read to and with!

The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns

While I do not talk about religion or my own affiliations on this blog, I mention Enns’ book because it is the one that resonated me unlike anything else I read. In a nutshell, Enns argues readers, interpreters, and followers of the Bible have to see the text as one that had a very specific audience and context for its time as it was assembled, and that acknowledging that there is metaphor, symbolism, and borrowed cultural experiences in it does not diminish or invalidate Christianity. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a refreshing way to wrestle with what appears to be the Bible’s inconsistencies.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans

I know, I know, two books about the Bible in a row. What can I say, as a someone who considers himself a believer and someone who wrestles with doubt, Enns’ and Evans’ books were two of my most interesting reads. Evans has a similar take on discussing the Bible as Enns does; however, while Enns is a Bible scholar who blends history and scholarship effortlessly, Evans writes as a memoirist does, blending personal story telling, with contextual history, and re-imaging of some of the most brutal and difficult to reconcile stories in the Bible. I recommend this text really for the same reason as I recommended Enns’.

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Literacy Engagement through Peritexual Analysis edited by Shelby Whitte, Don Latham, & Melissa Gross

This will seem like a selfish plug, but it’s not. I genuinely feel this is a great collection of chapters showcasing the benefits of looking at, wrestling with, and leveraging peritext, or the text that surrounds the text proper (i.e. glossary, index, dedication, book jacket, etc.). I recommend this book to just about any media specialist, but also to teachers–ELA or otherwise–who want to help students make deeper connections to how text interacts and is informed by the text surrounding it that is often taken for granted.

Spider-Gwen Vol. 1: Greater Power by Jason Latour & Robbie Rodriguez

One of my favorite early reads of the year was the collection of comics that make up the first volume of Spider-Gwen comics. Now after seeing Into the Spiderverse at the movies, I have even more appreciation for the text and art created by Latour and Rodriguez. The collection is a refreshing take on Spider-man origin story with a unique, yet familiar heroine who has both depth and kick-ass qualities to keep you reading. I highly recommend for a high school or older audience, but especially anyone who loves the Spider-man or saw Into the Spiderverse and want to learn more.

Gnomon

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

This monster of a book ends my little list this year. Complex, compelling, and nearly impossible to finish my be the best way to explain my feelings about my one standout fiction text of this past year. The book takes on the survellance state in a way that is both jarring and, at times, unreadable. This is one of the most challenging narratives I’ve read in a long time, but it has elements of great storytelling throughout. I would recommend this for any reader looking for a challenging read, rife with diction not often used in fiction writing, and anyone who loves a good sci-fi detective story!

I wish I had more worth sharing, but beyond the texts above my reading this past year was both limited and maybe not as thrilling as I hoped. Here’s to a better year of reading ahead.

Character Trading Cards: ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All!’

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Okay, okay–I can’t take any credit for this idea, but it was so awesome when I saw it and it’s been so awesome in my classroom that I have no choice but to share it with the world! I originally saw this great website and activity while visiting a professor of mine’s master’s course. I was there to present a little bit on my zine exploration this past year, but I was lucky enough to participate in the activity they were engaged in, which centered around making trading cards of various characters from three texts they had read. What ensued were fun, engaging, and difficult small group discussions about each major character from the stories in an effort to be ready to participate in some friendly competition using their self-generated trading cards. Continue reading

On Reading: Changes in Practice

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If you haven’t picked up this so far by reading recent posts, I love me some Sheridan Blau. I didn’t know anything about him until I was told to read his book The Literature Workshop (2003) during my research in literature course this past fall. Reading about, discussing, and even practicing some of his workshops from that course has changed my teaching practice forever. Continue reading

Blogology: Lets Get Students Reading Again

Here’s my new brainchild–Blogology.

It’s an activity in getting students to buy into reading and then responding to that reading weekly and, in some cases, daily. I won’t fool myself into believing I’m the only educator who has thought of this, but when the idea struck me it felt like a true ah-ha moment. It was one of those moments where you feel like an answer has been under your nose the entire time but hidden just enough from view that you couldn’t see it.

I defined blogology for my students as the process of studying blogs, their writing, and media usage. In a nutshell, I’m allowing students to choose a blog of their interest (with guidelines and examples) and asking them to follow the blog faithfully for twelve full weeks. At the minimum, students are to read at least one post during the week and follow the reading up with a reflective post about what they’ve read. I’m using Google Docs to keep up with their own postings. They all have set up a document and shared it with me. They have until Sunday at midnight to give a thoughtful response to their reading each week, and I check the postings every four weeks to assess their progress and provide them with a formative grade. Admittedly, the process at its start can be cumbersome as students forget how to access their documents, don’t read instructions, or can’t settle on a blog; but after about a week of working the kinks out, students are going full steam ahead, reading outside of class, writing outside of class, and actually enjoying what they’re reading and writing about! Novel, right?!

I won’t know the extent to which this assignment is successful until after the twelve weeks are over, but I have a strong inkling that this will be one of my more successful efforts at independent reading. I also like that this causes students to be more aware of what is being written and shared on the internet. If all goes well, second semester we’ll take this activity to the next level and begin developing critical responses to the posts they read. The vision is to give students honest autonomy to critique, assess, praise, or condemn what they read using not only their sole opinion, but their knowledge of what they’ve been reading.

I’ll give a status update in a few weeks.

Here’s to reading outside the confines of what we label school. Cheers!

The Narnian

I wrote in a previous post on how my wife and I had made a renewed pact to start devouring books from our local library during which I also mentioned my intention of reading a biography of renowned fantasy/sci-fi and Christian apologetic writer, C.S. Lewis. The book, The Narnian: The life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, is written by Alan Jacobs a professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois, and paints a fascinating picture of a man whom I have always respected and enjoyed his fiction. It is not often that I pick up a biography and admittedly I digested this one rather slowly, but I almost had no choice as Jacobs pulled me into Lewis’ world in a way I had never known.

Jacobs doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to “Jack’s” life. You can certainly tell that the author is enamored by his subject, but he does a good job of balancing his praise of Lewis with the realities that plague many of us in this life. Lewis faced a great deal of hardship in his life, as we all do, but to read of his conversion from atheist to Christian and how he was able to rapidly develop prose using parchment and an inkwell pin (he never learned to type) when he had done nothing but struggle with his true love of writing poetry was nothing short of fascinating for me. I found myself empathizing with Lewis’ life as I felt so much of it mirrored parts of my own. My hopes to be a writer and be recognized for it, loving and loathing teaching at the same time, and balancing a life that we are not always prepared for.

The biography has re-inspired in me a desire to read and reread many of Lewis’ work as well as write more of my own. I highly recommend the book to anyone who has read and enjoyed any of his work.