Summer 2016 To-Read List

For students, bus drivers, and teachers across the country, spring break has come and gone, Memorial Day is just around the corner, and summer break is cresting over the horizon. We can all comfortably begin our official days-until-summer countdown. For those of us who love to read, but rarely find time during the school year (unless, of course, you count student essays, research papers, journal entries, essay tests, etc.), this is also the time to begin officially making our Summer To-Read lists. To be honest, I’m hesitant to publish this just yet, as it will inevitably grow, but you’ll just have to keep your eyes open for addenda as I learn of more must-reads for the summer. Here’s my list as it stands now:

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, Rinker Buck

Why I Want to Read It:

I have to admit that I’m cheating just a bit with this one, as it’s actually the last book I started reading at the end of last summer. September caught me unprepared, and I hadn’t finished reading. Between the start of the school year and now, I think I’ve managed to turn something like a mere 12 pages. First and foremost, I intend to return to this neglected nonfiction work by author Rinker Buck, whose writing chronicles his trip tracing the original Oregon Trail across the prairie in a covered wagon pulled by three mules with his ornery but helpful brother and his brother’s Jack Russel Terrier, Olive Oyl.

 The plan: kick off my Summer 2016 To-Read List with a book that I never got to finish last summer, Runker Buck’s The Oregon Trail.

My interest was initially piqued because of my position as a high school English teacher, my primary course being American literature. In addition to my professional interest in this memoir of the American spirit, the review reminded me of one my favorite author’s works, John Steinbeck‘s Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Both books feature men traveling the country by unorthodox means, Steinbeck in his jalopy named Rocinante, alluding to Don Quixote’s horse, and Buck in a covered wagon. Both men are on a quest, in search of something they perhaps do not even know they want to find. Both books detail the historical, physical, and societal landscapes of America. And both books, of course, include a dog, the terrier Olive Oyl in the case of Buck, and the standard poodle Charley in the case of Steinbeck.

I was also interested because for a five-year period during my childhood, I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I have, on numerous occasions, visited the Oregon Trail ruts, Plymouth Rock, and Fort Laramie.

So far, I have learned an incredible amount about history, the American landscape, society, mules, the mechanics of covered wagons, and the particulars of wagon travel. The book has proven not only entertaining, but educational, informative, and thought-provoking. I am eager to read the pages the school year temporarily stole from me.

How I Heard of It:

I read a review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Read an excerpt from the book and highlights from a 2015 interview with the author on NPR here.

2666, by Roberto Bolano

Why I want to read it:

A few summers ago, I read Salman Rushdie‘s novel Midnight’s Children. I enjoyed it so thoroughly, that still I find myself often ruminating over its pages, though I have long ago returned them to the local library’s shelf. I conducted an extremely thorough and analytical reading of this particular book, as I wanted to use it as an example for the literature portfolio assignment I planned to assign to the upcoming year’s honors English students (more on that in a future post). My careful study of the book made it even more impressive and enoyable. Bolano’s 2666 sounds reminiscent of Midnight’s Children, as well as one of my other favorites, John Steinbeck‘s East of Eden.

How I heard of it:

Almost every morning on my way to work and almost every afternoon on my way home, I listen to NPR. Two of my most beloved programs are Fresh Air and All Things Considered. During a recent broadcast, I heard a story about a stage adaptation for 2666, and the complex characters, plot that spans continents, and its impressive 900 pages (I love a good, long book) immediately mandated I add this to my Summer 2016 To-Read list.

Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, by Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak

Why I want to read it:

When I was in first grade, my family moved across the country from Michigan to Wyoming with the help of my maternal grandparents, who assisted my mom in driving our family, which included four of us children, across the mid-west and west to our new semiarid prairie home. At one particular rest stop somewhere along the way, my little brother and I were horrified at what we saw on the other side of the fence from the rest area. Several cows were placidly grazing near the bloody dead body of an apparently trampled-to-death turkey. Traumatized, we went running across the rest area parking lot to fill our family in on the gruesome details of what the deceptively docile cows had done to the innocent bird. My grandfather calmly followed us back to the scene of the crime, where he pointed to a wobbly

Tomorrow’s Table seems a timely read when homegrown produce, farmers markets, and organic foods are all the rage.

calf nearby, its mother gently licking its slick coat. The cows had not trampled a turkey. What we interpreted as a brutally stomped turkey was actually the placenta and after-birth of a mother and her newborn calf. My grandfather gently explained everything, and from then on, I grew up knowing I could ask my grandpa anything–anything–about animals or plants, and he would know the answer. (This was also true of sports trivia, but that’s another story.)

Driving down the road and see an unfamiliar crop? Grandma will know what it is.

How can you tell if it’s going to rain all day? Grandpa knew that, too. It had something to do with the birds coming out and the cows standing (or was it not standing?) under trees.

He even helped my parents hand-build a horse fence encompassing six acres of pasture after we had lived in Wyoming a couple years.

My greenhouse, where throughout the winter, various flowers, fruits, and vegetables survived, and where I started watermelon and pepper seedlings for the spring.

Two years ago, I began to follow, albeit it with much smaller shoes, in his footsteps. I planted two cucumber and one zucchini plant directly into the dirt at my back fence line. Despite my husband’s skepticism, they grew and flourished and stocked us with more vegetables than we could eat alone. The following year, we started our own raised bed garden, and experienced success with grape tomatoes, watermelon, sweet pepper, carrots, lettuce, corn, cilantro, and strawberries. This fall, we just went right on ahead and built a greenhouse, where all winter long pineapples, grape tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries, along with some flowers, thrived. This year, we have expanded our garden by two raised beds and have added egg plant, squash, some varieties of tomatoes, and broccoli to our menu.

But my interest in agriculture and homegrown food is only one reason I am interested in this book.

Another is that I am currently taking a certification course to become a life coach, and this book seems as though it could help me become a more informed life coach in the area of nutrition, as well as stewardship, responsibility, and overall well-being.

Finally, a third reason this book fascinates me is the fact that shortly after I picked it up, one of my dual enrollment students began writing a research paper on GMOs. I loaned her the book, believing it might help her in her study. It did, and the quotes, facts, and statistics I read in her paper, attributed to this book, were enthralling.

How I heard of it:

Earlier this spring, I was proctoring a standardized test in our school’s library. As I pace around and monitor students’ test-taking, I also read the occasional book jacket. As I walked near our librarian’s desk, I noticed this book sitting on the top of a stack. Each summer, she and a few other teachers at our school lead a sort of scientific nonfiction book discussion club, and I inquired if this was the book they had chosen for this summer. It wasn’t, but it had been in the running, and she offered it up to me. Of course I wasn’t going to turn away a free book on a topic of interest to me, so I took advantage of her offer.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Why I want to read it:

Because it is absolutely shameful that, as an English teacher, I haven’t yet. And because I have never, ever met someone who has read it and not loved it.

How I heard of it:

Who hasn’t heard of it?

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

Why I want to read it:

Yes, I realize that as an English teacher, I should be absolutely ashamed to admit that I have yet to read this book. But aside from my burning embarrassment every time a colleague wants to discuss it, the polarizing effect of this book fascinates me. I have met very literary people who have been absolutely disappointed, particularly with the character of Atticus Finch, and equally literary people who have been absolutely delighted. I am eager to read it and make my own judgements.

How I heard of it:

Honestly, I have heard so much about this book for such a long time, I couldn’t tell you when I first heard of it.

The Curtain, by Milan Kundera

Why I want to read it:

I hope my reading of The Curtain will make me a better reader, writer, and teacher.

This book is a nonfiction work that explores writing fiction. I believe it could help me become a more adept reader, as well as a more skilled writer. I cannot wait to see what I will learn. I am hopeful for moments enlightenment and epiphany like the ones I experienced several times in my undergraduate English courses at Michigan State University.

How I heard of it:

Earlier this spring, my husband and I spent a weekend with my parents at their river house. I happened into my parents’ room for something, and found this book on the edge of the bathtub.

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