One-Book-a-Week in Review

This year, this lovely 2011, I made a New Year's Resolution: I will read one book a week for the entire year.  These are the stipulations:
  1. I have the full 7 days to read the book.  If I start on Wednesday, I only have until Sunday to finish.  No taking breaks and expecting a full 7 days to finish.
  2. If the book is longer than 500 pages, I am allowed to take two weeks if necessary to finish the book.  If I start on Monday with 700 pages ahead of me and finish the following Tuesday, I am still in the clear.  I will, however attempt another book that Wednesday in attempts to still get an average of one book per week.
  3. I must alert my students and blog readers of my choice of book at the start of each week.  This will serve to keep me accountable as I tend to start and never finish books.  My students like to pester so this works.
  4. Finally, not every book is game, but I will mostly read fiction novels.  No graphic novels or quick chapter books.  This is a 100-page limit but no maximum page limit.  (I do plan on tackling War & Peace sometime this summer because it's on my shelf, smiling through its cracking cover, saying, "You won't read me.  Watch.  You won't do it."  Oh, Tolstoy, you better watch your back!)
Here is where I will keep track of the books I've read and include quick reviews for all to share!

January 1 - January 7
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (Paperback, 110 Pages)

A very short read, Cisneros tells her story through a fictional girl named Esperanza.  In the preface, Cisneros explains how the characters in this book are a combination of many different people she met and loved while growing up in the Latino communities in Chicago.  I'm teaching it to my general ed freshmen early spring semester, and I hope they'll love it.  It is not life-altering, but it is truly a creative story with some bit of life thrown in there to really sit and chew on.  Definitely worth checking out.

January 8 - January 15
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (Paperback, 307 pages)

I used to be an HP hater to the core.  My sister read them shortly after they first came out and went to all the midnight B&N parties to get her first copies.  I watched the first couple of movies with her, but eh, they were lame.  I "thought they were evil" but really I think I just wanted to be cool by NOT reading them because everyone else was.  Since I decided to teach high school English about 7 years ago, I knew one day I would need to read them.  I read the Twilight series last year to be the "cool English teacher" (TEAM JACOB!!!) so I took advantage of this goal to try and tackle HP.  Loved it!  I ordered the rest of the books on Amazon this morning!  I know it's just the first one, but I liked it so much better than the movie!  It was more lighthearted and innocent than those epic pictures make it out to be.  Watch me, I'll be sporting the Gryffindor scarf come fall.

January 16 - January 22
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (Paperback, 352 pages)

Finished Book 2!  It's really a great series.  I started Wuthering Heights this week since I was waiting for the rest of my HP books to get here, but I just couldn't make it through.  Silly Emily Bronte, telling us how the characters end up within the very first chapter.  AND my copy comes with a family tree in the introduction so I already knew who marries and whom and who dies when.  Totally ruined the plot.  Now, I have seen the HP movies up through Year 4, but these are just great stories.  I'm excited to get started on the next one!

January 23 - January 30
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (Paperback, 435 pages)

Continuing on with the Harry Potter series, it took me a bit longer to get through this one.  Something I've noticed about Rowling's writing is that it takes about 300 pages for the story to really start; the rest is just clever 8th-grade-friendly banter about wizard pranks and broomstick sports.  Makes me wish I hadn't waited to get into these.  Moving right along!

January 31 - February 5
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (Paperback, 734 pages)

This one was much harder to get through with its 300-page jump from the previous  novel.  Harry's definitely starting to grow up, and the ending was very troubling.  I don't know if I'm quite to ready to let go of Harry's silly mishaps in Professor Flitwick's class and move on to fighting the dark forces that are now afoot.  This is the last I've seen of the movies, so for the next three books, I don't know exactly what's in store.  I'm excited to find out though.  It's interesting, though, how, in every book, there is always a character that you were led to believe is someone else.  There's always that "NO!  You were him all ALONG??" moment that Rowling wants us now 14-year-old readers to have, but sorry!  I teach 14-year-olds how to make predictions like these.  I'm sad though; I liked Mad-Eye Moody, but I am pretty excited to watch the movie again now that I know Dr. Who plays the evil Barty Crouch, Jr.  I'm taking the rest of the week off and starting Year 5 this weekend.  I've been neglecting my grading.

February 6 - February 12
Crank by Ellen Hopkins (Paperback, 544 pages ... but I only gave myself 200 pages for it because it's told in poetry form, so many pages are only 25% filled.)

*SPOILER ALERT!*   Crank is the story of Kristina "Bree" Snow and her summer of bad decisions.  She goes to visit her burn-out father in Albuquerque and meets a druggy Adam who hooks her up with her first tastes of meth and teenage love, which of course spirals into a drug addiction, unplanned pregnancy, and a whole new way of life.  Our school library has at least 10 copies of this book, and many of my students are currently reading it during their silent reading.  I picked it up so we could chat literature.  This book, which I still can't believe the kids like due to its poetic form, uses plenty more positive adjectives than negative ones to describe the meth experience.  The bad side of using meth is only seen in her need for constant sleep and her inability to focus during a subdued rape scene.  This is the incident where she conceives a child, which is completely heartbreaking.  It would be traumatic for any reader if it weren't for the fact that she "makes love" with the surprisingly smart and eloquent "bad boy" just a week later.  (I think we're all supposed to swoon and say "Thank goodness she found a decent guy.")  She then dips into other drugs like Ecstasy and only has good things to say about that experience as well.  After the pregnancy (and choosing not to abort it), her parents are forgiving, she sneaks two hits of meth during her pregnancy (though briefly pointing out that it could cause birth defects) and highlights all the wonderful things about the child-rearing experience.  Surely, any baby is a gift from God despite how he or she wound up there, but I felt this book did not downplay drug use NEARLY enough.  A few quick mentions about grades dropping down to D's (but no punishment), but the book does include a glorified story of a cheerleader who uses it to stay thin (and no negatives mentioned there), and sex becomes admirable now that the Shakespeare-quoting bad boy "loves her."   Needless to say, I didn't love it.  It didn't make me cry or want to hug all my students.  It does make me want to have a real conversation with them to see how they take things mentioned in the book.  Is it real enough for them?  Am I too desensitized in my old age of 23?  Maybe that's the case, but unlike Harry Potter, this is not a book I would make sure made it onto my child's bookshelf.

Of course, I'll read the sequel and let you know whether or not the message improves.

*UPDATE* I asked my kids about it within the same conversation about The Lovely Bones, a phenomenal book I read last year.  I told my kids my opinion on Crank and this is how I ended the conversation.  "See [The Lovely Bones] makes me not want to wander alone in the dark near a cornfield!  Crank kind of makes me want to try Meth.  I like sleeping."  ..... I made sure they knew I was joking.

February 13 - February 26
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (Paperback, 870 pages)

Ohhhhhh, Year 5.  15-year-old Harry is a pain in the butt.  This one was SO hard to get through because I have to sit and listen to 15-year-olds whine all day; I really do NOT want to go home and put effort into reading about another 15-year-old whine about his poor, pitiful life.  This is why it took me two weeks, and actually read the last 450 just this past weekend.  I understand that she had to drag the plot out to make it through Harry's seven years at Hogwarts, so I'm already a little nervous about the next installment.  I've started it though.  So close to finishing!  And the hubby volunteered to watch the movies with me (well, at least the first one) without me even asking!  Hooray!

February 27 - March 5
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (Hardcover, 652 pages)

I was prepared to hate this filler novel even more than the whininess that was the 5th book, but I was extremely surprised!  This turned out to be one of my favorites.  I am a girl, and I like the romance, but I think it was more because Harry finally matured past his angsty 15-year-old phase and started to take on serious life-or-death problems like the man he is becoming rather than the little boy he was still clinging on to.  Dumbledore becomes more real and personable than ever in this story, and I found myself glued to its pages just to see how this one unfolds.  Voldemort made no appearance and yes his evilness was alive and just as rampant as ever.  Not to ruin things, but I definitely teared up at the end.  It's an unbelievable thought for me, really, but I will have finished all seven Harry Potter books by the end of this week!  .... hmmm what will I read next?

March 6 - March 13
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Paperback, 759 pages)

[Insert magnificient fanfare here.] I did it!  It took me close to ten weeks but I finished all seven Harry Potter books!  I am certainly quite proud of myself.  This last book was full of all sorts of emotions as this epic battle of good vs. evil finally came to a close, but I am SO pleased to finally have a story with a satisfying ending (well, for the most part... I'd like to know more about how things ended up at Hogwarts, leadership changes and so forth.)  Graham asked me to rank the seven so here we go: 3, 4, 6, 7, 1, 2, 5.  Years three and four were the ends of Harry's more adolescently innocent years, and the stories were more complex than the first two but not yet so dismal.  Six and seven were exciting!  I like the adventure stories and don't mind spending nearly 2,000 pages watching Harry complete them.  One and two were the super innocent years where the trio were just discovering what they were capable of, and Rowling really got to have fun with names and places and plants and creatures.  Finally, five.  Bleh.  Hated it.  Way too much whining from Harry, which resulted in whining from Hermione, and of course then from Ron... and Sirius was a bit of a whiner, too.  Plus this is the beginning of the dark novels, which was uncomfortable for me and took some getting used to.  Can't get over how much Luna Lovegood is Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl.  I wonder if there's any research on this connection.  I'm off to find this week's read.  I can't believe it's all over.  I am actually a little bit sad.

April 17 - April 23
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Paperback, 348 pages)

Wow.  Just wow.

PREFACE:  I took about a month break from this book-a-week plan, which I am not very happy about.  I finished Harry Potter and decided to read Moneyball, which is one of my husband's favorite pieces - a nonfiction account of how manager Billy Beane transformed the Oakland Athletics into what they are today without hardly spending a dime.  If you know my husband, you are probably not surprised in the slightest.  I made it about 100 pages in and was not feeling good about my progress.  Then, on March 14th, I got a call from my sister that my grandmother had passed away.  She was 86, so it wasn't exactly a surprise, but it was shocking nonetheless as her health, for 86, was not too bad.  She went peacefully and I still miss her deeply, but I know she's in a MUCH better place.  After that loss and the time I spent focused on my family, adding the stress of work as it did get worse, much worse, I didn't feel like reading at all.  I did pick up a few sparkly books during that time in hopes that I'd jump on the wagon again, and now as spring break has arrived, I have.

This book was amazing.  It read really quickly, but the writing was superb, even for a book written in present tense, which I hate.  The contrast between 90 year old Jacob and 23 year old Jacob was so heartwarming; I loved that she told the story from the aged man's perspective.  This book could not have been more well executed or well written.  I don't want to dive into the story too much because you REALLY need to read it, but it has a great twist at the end, and it really is worth it.  PLEASE read it.  PLEASE.

April 24 - April 30
Emako Blue by Brenda Woods (Paperback, 124 pages)

I read this quick-read novel because 7 of my lowest readers are reading it for their final independent novel of freshman English.  They read for twenty minutes each day and on Fridays, they meet with their small group to talk about what they read and complete some worksheets.  I have 8 novels being read in my classes right now (9 if you count Tuesdays with Morrie which I'm still only halfway through), and I do plan to finish them all by the end of the year.  I don't think it will happen in the less-than-four weeks I have left (!!!), but I'm trying.  This novel was beautiful, though very sad and written almost entirely in what I now call "Samara-Speak" after one of my students, not as an insult to her but as simply stating a fact; she does speak this way, this hip-hop culture slang way.  The story focuses on the friends of 15-year-old Emako Blue after she is killed in a drive-by shooting in South Central LA.  It is very moving and a great read for students who are not all that interested in reading (it even won an award for that!).

May 1 - May 7
Of Sound Mind by Jean Ferris (Paperback, 124 pages)

Another read for my students, this a beautiful, often frustrating, tale of a 17-year-old boy in a special circumstance: he is the only hearing member of his family.  His mother, father, and younger brother are all deaf.  He meets the young Ivy, whose father is also deaf, and they strike up a frienship based on their similar life experiences.  As he travels through his senior year, he is forced to decide whether to go away to college and pursue a mathematics degree at  MIT or stay home in PA to take care of his EXTREMELY needy mother, slowly-deteriorating father, and younger brother.  It is another tear-jerker, but extremely interesting for those with an interest in the Deaf community like I have.  Good read for students for sure.

May 8 - May 14
Bossypants by Tina Fey (Hardcover, 288 pages)

Alright enough of those silly kids books. (WARNING: There WILL be more, lots more.  It will be a long summer of young adult literature preparing for my library credential.)  I was home sick during this week and cranked out this book in a day or two.  Tina Fey has always been a favorite since she popped up on Weekend Update six or so years ago now.  I've also been a big fan of 30 Rock since its second season in 2007.  I was disappointed with the humor of this AND especially the way she organized it.  It wasn't entirely chronological, so it was sometimes hard to remember if she's married at this point, a mom, in college, 8 years old, whatever.  It was clever, and I certainly laughed some, but not nearly as much as I do on Thursday nights.  It was really cool to learn so much about how she got started and how 30 Rock was born and developed.  I don't highly recommend this book if you just sort of like Tina Fey, but followers will get a kick out of it.

May 15 - May 21
Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin (Paperback, 352 pages)

May 22 - May 28
Something Blue by Emily Giffin (Paperback, 352 pages)

May 29 - June 4
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (Paperback, 192 pages)

June 5 - June 11
Baby Proof by Emily Giffin (Paperback, 368 pages)

June 2 - July 11
Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin (Paperback, 368 pages)

July 12 - July 18
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Paperback, 544 pages)

July 19 - July 20
Room by Emma Donoghue (Paperback, 352 pages)

August 14 - August 20
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Paperback, 384 pages)

August 21 - August 27
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Paperback, 391 pages)

August 28 - September 4
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Paperback, 400 pages)

At this point in my resolution, I found solace in life and love rather than words.  I still read, but it was no longer a crutch.  I still want to keep an account of all the books I have read, so instead of including dates, I will try my best to go in order.  Then, once I am back on track, I'll add in my time frames.