When I taught middle school Language Arts, I made a bulletin board called “Fall into Reading.” As students finished books, they’d make a leaf from construction paper, write the title, their name, rate the book up to five stars, then add their leaf to the tree. Other students would get ideas for book titles, and often chose books just because someone they knew read it.
So here’s a clutch of books I’ve read the past few months. Maybe you’ll want to add them to your own book tree.
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. True account of an American citizen from Syria who decided to stay in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. A painting and building contractor, he wanted to protect his home, office and several rental properties. He used an old canoe to rescue people and neighborhood dogs until Homeland Security agents arrested him. He was subjected to torture and prison, until his wife could amass character witnesses and get him released. An American dream story that proves not to judge people by appearances.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead have been paired together as new books addressing slavery and its legacy. I liked the Gyasi more but found the Whitehead intriguing.
Along that theme, there can’t be enough stories about how the legacy of slavery informs present day race relations and challenges. I heard Ryan Speedo Green interviewed on the radio and knew I had to get his biography, Sing for Your Life, written by Daniel Bergner. Green grew up in Virginia, rebelled at home and at school and spent time in juvenile detention. Thanks to a persistent teacher who didn’t give up on him, he discovered opera and declared as a teenager he would sing at the Metropolitan Opera one day, something not many African Americans have done. He’s since returned to speak to current inmates at the center, encouraging them to find an interest and pursue it. And he’s appearing at the Met this season in Puccini’s La Boheme. The book details his life and also shares a fascinating behind the scenes look at the opera world.
And finally, my cousin Alexander Weinstein’s debut collection of short stories, Children of the New World. Alexander is my mother’s first cousin’s son so that technically makes him my second cousin. We don’t know each other well but thanks to social media and a family wedding a few years ago, we’re in touch. I confess I’m not a short story lover but I read these at a rapid pace. Alexander applies futuristic technology to some disturbing scenarios. Yet most offer hope despite the fact that the technology doesn’t seem so far-fetched. He’s on a national tour and will be speaking in Brooklyn later in November. I look forward to catching up and hearing his inspiration for these stories.
I’m looking for new titles. Suggestions, please!