summer reading

One week to go until my students arrive for the program that I’ve been working on developing for the better part of a year.  This program is like a black hole that draws everything into its gravity and bends time and reality around it.  I have a kind of paralysis of the mind; I am unable to think of anything else.  I am unable even to fathom thinking about anything that might occur after this program: what I might be doing next month or next year or what I ultimately want to do with my life, which in normal circumstances is something I think about often.  Now when I try to think about any of these, I draw a huge blank.

Thank goodness for books.  Reading is the only means by which I can entertain thoughts of anything unrelated to work.  I read a young adult book recently called “Princess Academy” by Shannon Hale.  I would never have picked up a book with such a stupid title if it were not a Newbery Honor book.  It turns out that despite the cheesy title and premise (a group of girls from a mountain village go to a school to be educated in the ways of royalty because a prophecy has been made that the Prince will choose one of them for his wife), it’s a lovely book with more depth and poignancy than I expected.  Having recently spent a lot of time working with young adolescent girls who have just the penchant for this kind of story, I think this book really speaks beautifully to the universal yearnings of young (and not-so-young) girls’ hearts.  It is also a really nice story with well-developed fantasy elements.  Of course, the thing that I find both lovable and frustrating about this and most children’s books is the tidiness of its resolution.  I turn to these kinds of books when I want to see emotions distilled with the clarity and purity of childhood, and when I want every character’s story to be concluded neatly with no loose threads.  It’s a nice respite.

A very different young adult book I’ve been devouring is “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation”, a historical novel about slavery during the Revolutionary War.  It is a lexical heaven, written in the language, style, and grammar of the 18th century.  Logophiles must read this with a dictionary and notebook close at hand.  I took down several pages’ worth of obscure words and archaic uses of familiar ones.  This is a great book that sheds light on the philosophical pursuits of the Age of Enlightenment and presents a quite appalling picture of the times, far from the romantic patriotism I usually think of.  From the brutal violence of colonial warfare to the sickening apparati used to subdue slaves to the gruesomeness of tarring and feathering, the Revolutionary War was a period I definitely didn’t want to witness.  There are two volumes to this story, and after I finished Volume 1 I immediately went back to the library and was appalled that they didn’t have Volume 2.


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