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June 2017

Garret Keizer: Getting Schooled.

I'm having a little love affair this summer with the author Garret Keizer.

Originally I found him when I checked out a small book titled Privacy. I read a lot of that book while watching the CRjrs bike and shove each other around (and sometimes shove each other around on bikes), but then I put it away for a while because I want to read it all the way through, someday when I can fully concentrate on it.

Getting schooledSo then I went looking for something else of his I could read, and found Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher. I hadn't remembered the title, but as soon as I picked the book up at the library, I laughed: I recognized its cover. I'd actually had the book in my house last year when I wanted to write a list of good books to read on education, though I'd never gotten it read.

Well, this time I got it read. And it starts off with a bang:

"In the fall of 2010, after a fourteen-year hiatus from the classroom and at the unpropitious age of fifty-seven, I began a one-year job filling in for a teacher on leave from the same rural Vermont high school that I'd entered as a rookie thirty years before. I signed on mainly because my wife and I needed the health insurance."

Here's what I know about Garret Keizer: he lives in Vermont with his wife and has one daughter. By his own admission he is in his late fifties. Also, I've read enough of his writing now to know that he crafts a beautiful sentence. And his author blurb states that he is the author of several other books, he is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine, and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. So my only thought upon reading that first paragraph is really? Even contributing editors at Harper's Magazine have to work for the health insurance? This country is MESSED UP.

But I digress. This book is primarily the memoir of a teacher who liked teaching but who quit it because he liked writing more, and what he found when he went back to teaching in a high school. None of it is particularly earth-shattering or even particularly depressing (I find most things written and said about education these days to be depressing), but it is such a nice, thoughtful memoir. He covers such topics as the technology teachers have to use to keep up with student record-keeping; the technology they're expected to use in the classroom; his lesson planning; his outreach to students and his interactions with them; and broader educational trends.

I'll admit my enjoyment of this book was a very personal thing. Primarily because Keizer has a habit of writing out loud things that I am thinking, like this: "Citing statistics from a famous study, the superintendent notes that students from the lower strata of society reach the age of three having heard 30 million fewer words than their middle-class counterparts...In vain I wait for someone to remark that if our students are subject to such appalling inequalities, even before they enter school, then educational reform is a pathetic substitute for social revolution." (p. 39.)

I know from experience that saying anything like that (only less eloquently) around suburban mothers gets some odd looks.

So, Keizer worked his year, and he wrote this memoir, with each chapter given over to one month of the school calendar. It's a wide-ranging, incisive, and yet still strangely gentle look at the education system, our broader culture, and of course the individual high schoolers and courses that he taught. Yeah, I know it's summer vacation. But your homework this summer is to read this book.

Citizen Reading: 26 June 2017.

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary.

Pottermore's "Wizarding World Book Club" launches.

When "fan fiction and reality collide." I read that whole article and I didn't really understand one single, solitary bit of it. Pop culture has clearly moved on without me.

Melville House is running a contest to give away some of their books!

Now people are crunching the data on who the most important character will be in the next season of "Game of Thrones." I am officially tired of "Game of Thrones."

John Green: has a new novel coming out.

Nancy Pearl has written a novel!

Why James Baldwin still matters (and why you should still be reading him).

Anne Frank's Diary is 75 years old.

Shelving zen: Watch this time-lapse video of books getting re-shelved in the NYPL's Rose Reading Room.

Sarah Jessica Parker is picking the book for the national Book Club Central book club.

Amazon to adapt Jay McInerney's "Brightness Falls" series.

HBO is set to adapt Alan Moore's "Watchmen" series...but perhaps they shouldn't?

AWESOME: There's going to be a movie adaptation of the thoroughly creepy classic The House with a Clock In Its Walls, by John Bellairs.

"Game of Thrones" season 7: New trailer. (Yes. Still tired of "Game of Thrones." But no one else seems to be.)

"Thank You For Your Service" (based on David Finkel's nonfiction book): Trailer.

"American Assassin" (based on the Vince Flynn novel): Trailer.

A Downton Abbey movie is in the works.

This is not related to reading, but oh my God, the movie "Spaceballs" is now 30 years old. It's official: I'm old. To celebrate, here's a list of ten other SciFi comedies.

BookRiot: "LibraryReads So White, or Why Librarians Need to Do Better."

Going to ALA Annual? Becky at RA for All has some good advice to make your conference a better one.

I had never heard of this one before, but I like the Swiss Army Librarian's "Work Like a Patron" day suggestion.

How one library is using tech to engage and inspire.

Walter Scott Prize winner: Sebastian Barry (for the second time!).

OOooohhh so pretty: Lofty Libraries.


David Sedaris has a new book out, based on his diaries.

Roxane Gay has a new memoir out; so does novelist Sherman Alexie.

A new book about the "secret history" of the iPhone.

A new book explores racial disparities in organ transplantation.

New York Times: New books about the "sharing economy"; two new books offer advice for the "socially awkward"; a history of "residential segregation in America"; Helene Stapinski investigates her family's "criminal genes"; did Lincoln move so slowly on slavery because he was racist, as this new book contends?; a book examining the history of examining how babies are made; a book examining a condition which makes its sufferers meet the world with "unshakeable affection".


IndieBound: bestselling books the week of June 22.

Amazon's best 20 books of 2017, so far. This list includes nonfiction by Douglas Preston, about a lost city and civilization in Honduras, with a disease subplot? I MUST HAVE IT.

June 2017: Best new young adult books.

Summer Books of 2017 (as listed in The Financial Times): History, Science, Travel, Crime.

Forbes: Best books for summer 2017. Actually, I kind of want to read everything on this list. A super-interesting list of nonfiction, chock full of titles I haven't seen anywhere else. Well played, Forbes.

Ten more suspense-drenched tales for fans of Paula Hawkins.

The Guardian: "Top ten books about lies."

Standout STEM reads.

20 years of LGBTQ lit.


He will read the Cheesecake Factory menu aloud; the charity met its goal!

Be nice to your librarian this summer.

The other day I took the CRjrs to a different library in town, because sometimes the eldest CRjr likes to browse a new (to him) shark book selection. (This is what we do in lieu of taking a summer vacation.) The library we went to happened to be the one I worked at for many years; sometimes I'm still surprised to see that the staff has almost completely turned over since I was there.

Anyway. The jrs and I were browsing in kids' nonfiction; the eldest had found the shark books and the littlest had found the truck books, so they were happy. I took to tidying up the shelves, pushing in bookends, replacing stray books, just generally straightening up the collection, so I was happy. And I had exactly 30 seconds of feeling nostalgic for my old job when, from the public computer area, there came the noise of a disturbance.

Nothing terrible, mind you. No violence and no big deal. But there was definitely yelling and something going on that, had I been sitting at the reference desk, I would have had to try and "handle." And that would have been no good, as "handling" anything isn't really my strong suit.

So. Just a reminder today, in the midst of summer library reading programs, disturbances, and everything else public librarians have going on, to be kind to your librarian this summer.

Citizen Reading: 19 June 2017.

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary.

Another slightly truncated list...please bear with as things (hopefully) get back to normal soon. Thanks!

June is Audiobook Month!

What academic librarians can learn from retail's meltdown.

Philip Pullman has published a graphic novel.

Oh, my God, Harry Potter is twenty. Here's a fun story about how an early, uncorrected proof of the first book in series just sold for big bucks.

"How to read aloud to children."

I simply must see a movie that stars British actress Sally Hawkins and "is already a hit in Canada."

David Levithan's YA novel Every Day to become a movie.

Three books to read after you read The Handmaid's Tale.

Author (and Middle East expert) David Fromkin: Obituary.

So here's an interesting profile of Maurice Nat Hentoff...from 1966. I thought, why is The New Yorker running this (online) now? So I went to look up Sendak's birthday: June 10. Huh. Maybe for his birthday. Then I looked up Hentoff's (Hentoff was also a writer and journalist): also June 10. Weird, right?

Man Booker International Prize: Winner.


Well, I can't not tell you the Milo Yiannopoulos news, it's a continuing story in the book world. He's self-publishing his title Dangerous in July; EarlyWord reports that the draft Simon and Schuster was set to publish in January has been leaked. Okay, I've done my duty reporting on this story. Let's move on to happier subjects.

Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness dishes on nonfiction she found at BookExpo 2017!

Now here's a specific topic: how fast food places were easier to open in the inner cities than grocery stores.

Well, this just sounds like a heartbreaking book, but what else could a book about "early-onset dementia" be?

A new book about Vietnam, by Mark Bowden (author of the war/adventure classic Black Hawk Down).

New York Times: Was Machiavelli a good guy or a bad guy?; a new "history of the Cold War"; a biography of Johann Wolfgang van Goethe that also examines his career as a public official (as well as a writer); America's "collision course with China".


Popular Mechanics: The best science fiction books of 2017 (so far). 12 books that will "help you change the world." Wow, I haven't read any of those. That would probably help explain why I am not, at all, changing the world.

PBS Newshour: the 7 best books from indie publishers right now.


What will happen next in American Gods, season two?

David Shields's "Other People: Takes and Mistakes."

You know, a lot of times I'll read a book, and then it just sits around my house for a while until I can figure out what to say about it.

Lately I find that I've left some books go so long that I actually forget what it was I wanted to say about them, or even (gasp) really how I felt about them. In addition to various eye issues and other aging body wonkiness, this a sure sign that I am getting old (or that I am getting old and have two young children, meaning I haven't been able to finish a thought in..."MOM! Can I get a drink?!?!?"...wait, what was I saying?). Oh yeah. Getting old, and distracted. I used to remember everything about the nonfiction I read, and how I felt about it (my recall was never as total for fiction, because I just read fiction too fast). Now I'm lucky if I can remember broad outlines and any strong emotions a book inspires in me.

And so it is with David Shields's essay collection Other People: Takes & Mistakes. I read this book more than two months ago now, and it is time to take it back to the library. Now, because I do not have the wherewithal tonight to formulate in my own words what this book is about, I'm going to crib from the jacket copy:

"an intellectually thrilling and emotionally wrenching investigation of otherness: the need for one person to understand another person completely, the impossibility of any such knowing, and the erotics of this separation...

David Shields gives us a book that is something of a revelation: seventy-plus essays, written over the last thirty-five years, substantially reconceived, recombined, and rewritten to form neither a miscellany nor a memoir but a sustained meditation on otherness."

So there's that. What follows next is a transcript of my thoughts, as near as I can remember them, when I first read this book.

Why am I reading another David Shields? I don't like him.

Do I not like his writing, or do I not like him?

Do I always check out his books just because I'm dying to figure out, once and for all, what it is about him that bugs the shit out of me?

But I never figure it out. Why do I keep trying? Nothing he writes is so interesting that I need to go out of my way to find him if I'm not enjoying it.

So, Shields, you open your book with a section on "Men," which contains five loving essays to and about your dad, a hero-worship piece about your big brother and another one about one of your male creative writing teachers. Your section on "Women" contains pieces on: a female octopus and the genetic imperative for the herd to protect its most fertile females; an interview between Diane Sawyer and a woman in a halfway house who abused her children but wants to get them back; his childhood friend telling him he could hear [Shields's] parents having sex during a sleepover (they weren't); how his journalist mother edited one of his articles (and did not make him happy doing so); a woman whose personal journal he read while he was dating her; and three pieces about "desire" (among, to be fair, several others; he does not stint on quantity in the "Women" section of the book).


I don't like something about the way this guy writes about men and women and family members and friends and former lovers but I still can't put my finger on it.

The section on "Athletes" contains an eight-page essay that is nothing but sports phrases like "We just couldn't execute. We weren't able to sustain anything." etc. And this is an "emotionally wrenching" investigation of anything? (See jacket copy, above.)

Who buys David Shields? Why does he get a collection of his old essays put out in hardcover for nearly thirty bucks?

I don't get it. And I'm clearly never going to. And that is all, until David Shields comes out with another book and I will have to go through this process all over again. Do you have any authors like this? Authors you read, for lack of a better phrase, out of spite?

Citizen Reading: 12 June 2017 (truncated version).

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary.

Welcome to another truncated version of Citizen Reading, while I give my eyes a rest. The good news is, my retina guy (I have an issue with my right eye that I have to monitor--I almost said "keep an eye on," but I won't, woops, just did--so I have the pleasure of getting to see a specialized "retina guy") says my issue is not causing the problem, and the eye looks good. So what is the problem? Who knows. It is improving, and we're going to hope for the best, although that sort of thing doesn't come naturally to me.

In the meantime, I've been cleaning, getting ready to host a family party, gardening, doing other work, and watching the boys--in other words, living like a non-reader. And let me tell you...WHO CAN STAND TO LIVE LIKE THIS? I am making an effort to take it easy for a bit, but I am so hungry for text that anything that passes through my hands gets hungrily read by both my eyes--the backs of cereal boxes; the box the Miracle-Gro fertilizer came in; my credit card bill. I don't know how people live without reading.

So, this week, just a bit of news and some book lists. Hope your summer is starting off well.


Is the personal essay boom over? Long live the personal essay!

I don't really want to watch the Netflix adaptation of "A Series of Unfortunate Events"...but if they put Nathan Fillion in the cast, they're just not playing fair.

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction: Winner.


A new book from novelist Teju Cole that is a mix of text and photography.

A new memoir about death...and "handling it with humor."

New York Times: A book predicting doom for the advertising agency?; the Times's take on the memoir Priestdaddy, by a woman whose father was a Catholic priest (this book wasn't for me, but I knew I wasn't in the mood before I even started it); history about Russia and how Lenin came to power; about al Qaeda and the Islamic State by counterterrorism expert Ali Soufan.


Best Books of 2017 So Far.

19 of the funniest books coming out this summer.

PopSugar: Books for Dads.

Vulture: Seven books you need to read this June.

8 fascinating books about the Salem witch trials.

Pride Month 2017: 5 LGBTQ+ Books.

AND...that's it for me today. Have a great week, everyone.

Citizen Reading 5 June 2017: Wonky Eye Vacation Edition.

Hi! So sorry to report that one of my eyes is acting wonky and is completely bothered when I try to read or look at the Internet. (Evidently God is telling me to find some new hobbies.) No worries; I'm getting it looked at this week.

But in the meantime I am not really reading anything. And, let me tell you, that IS DRIVING ME NUTS. I never realized how much time I spend reading in a day, mostly in two- to three-minute increments, but still. So: I could not look at my Feedly list to find links for Citizen Reading this week; but I do have some reading notes. Hope you all have a great week and hope to see you with Citizen Reading links next week.


I've been reading some writing "craft" books--books meant to help you hone your writing craft. The last two I looked at were by Roy Peter Clark; a new one titled The Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing, and an older book of his titled How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times.

I actually liked the latter rather than the former. Especially if you have any kind of job writing or doing social media, this could be a good read for you. It's full of short chapters, each explaining one "write short" tip, like changing your pace, hitting your target, grouping concepts in twos and threes, etc. There's some good stuff there, but I wasn't really in the mood to read it. Same deal for The Art of X-Ray Reading book, in which Clark examines 25 classics to see what he can learn about good writing. I read the first three chapters on The Great Gatsby (learn "the power of the parts"); Lolita (wordplay); and Ernest Hemingway and Joan Didion ("words left out"), and they were okay, but I didn't really feel like continuing.

Weeks ago now I read Lindy West's Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. Then I had to take it back to the library before I could write about it, but I actually requested it back so I could write about it more clearly. And now my damn eye won't permit me the luxury of re-skimming this one to tell you what I thought. (Here's a review of it instead.) It was okay; I thought West was funny, and some of her essays here are very good (particularly the one about dealing with online trolls, which was so appalling on so many levels). Take, for example, this paragraph, when she talks about a particularly nasty (and targeting) troll who actually took the trouble to set up a Twitter account purporting to be her dead dad*: "It was well into the Rape Joke Summer and my armor was thick. I was eating thirty rape threats for breakfast at that point (or, more accurately, 'you're fatter than the girls I usually rape' threats), and I felt fortified and righteous. No one could touch me anymore." (p. 241.)

That's so sad, but I give her points for keeping on keeping on in the face of such vicious idiocy.

*I know, it's so stupid it defies belief. Where do these people get all the time?