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The Omnivorous Reader - September, 2019


The Omnivorous Reader

September 1 · Issue #10 · View online

Recommendations, reviews, and assorted digital flotsam and jetsam

Hi, all:
It’s taken a year longer than expected to get this issue out–lots of change and upheaval in the last 18 months got me a bit sidetracked. I’ll be going back to a monthly cycle moving forward.
Why You’re Getting This: This reading list is going out to old and new friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. If you’re receiving this, I thought you might appreciate it.
Feel free to unsubscribe–obligatory reading is the worst.
If you know a fellow reader who might enjoy it, please forward it.

Summer Reading?
A confession: The only time I’ve actually completed summer reading was when I read the reading that I personally assigned to students when I was teaching 7th grade. And, even though I had a ton of latitude about the books I chose, I still resented having to read them.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t read in the summer or that I don’t enjoy reading in the summer. I just don’t like other people telling me what to read. Obligatory reading is the worst–it’s right up there with famine, genocide, and glitter.
I’ve (mostly) learned a while ago that my own idiosyncrasies should not guide policy decisions that I make as a teacher or as an administrator. There may be plenty of people–my wife seems to be one of them–who don’t despise summer reading with every fiber and sinew of their being, but not only am I not one of those people, I can’t even really empathize with what it might be like to be one of those people. It’s like trying to imagine what it might be like to communicate via echolocation: Not only is it utterly foreign to me, I question whether I even have the necessary apparatus for such an endeavor.
New City = New Library!
One of the first things that I do anytime I move is get a new library card–usually on my first day. Even if I don’t have the utility bill typically required to show proof of residence, there’s almost always a workaround.
So when I began working in Boston (during the week) last summer, I immediately went to the local library. There, they gave me a handy postcard to fill out with my local address. And, two days later, I brought it back in and was issued a library card.
A library is something to explore slowly and thoughtfully, much in the same way that you might walk up and down the rows of an apple orchard. From time to time, something catches your eye. Sometimes you sample it; sometimes you put it in your bag for later.
The graphic novel section of this library is amazing, however. No delicate sampling is going on there. I took huge bites and devoured whole series in gulps. Much more on that below.
The G.O.A.T. Report a.k.a. "It's Not You, It's Me."
Oh, boy.
All through last year I struggled mightily to read the 12 books that I felt most guilty for having never read. It was not a total success.
I spent a good chunk of time trying to read Moby Dick last summer. Honestly, I really tried this time.
First, I grabbed the small blue copy on my bookshelf at home. That time I went to shore while they were still signing up on the docks to set sail on the Pequod. Next, I grabbed a new illustrated version, and this time couldn’t make it out of the Spouter Inn.
It has occurred to me that I have read the opening chapters of Moby Dick at least twenty times but have never gotten any further. I think I’ve read those chapters more than any other G.O.A.T. on the list. The runner-up is probably A Tale of Two Cities, but it really isn’t close.
So it wasn’t a surprise when I abandoned the audio book version–something I was convinced would work after the audio book version helped me finally finish Stephen King’s Misery–after Queequeg returns after trying to “sell his head.”
Finally, I spotted the graphic novelization of it. It was largely wordless…but not quite. There were quotes and snippets from the novel, and that was enough to get the gist of the story. It’s hard not to know how Moby Dick ends, so there were no revelations at the ending, but at least I got to the ending.
Of the graphic novel.
Of the G.O.A.T.s on my list, I figure read four and ½ of them last year: Dracula, Frankenstein, Crime and Punishment, some of Walden and the graphic novel of Moby Dick. There were seven left: Ulysses, A Tale of Two Cities, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Name of the Rose, The Histories, Anna Karenina, and Middlemarch.
At one point or another, I picked up and read the first few pages of all of the remaining titles. But none of them truly spoke to me or seemed worth the time. It might be, perhaps, that I’m not ready for them yet.
There are plenty of books that you’re just not ready for as a reader. It’s the literary equivalent of the old line “It’s not you, it’s me.” It’s a refrain that I consistently tell myself anytime I feel even a tinge of guilt about abandoning a book.
It’s one of the nice things about books, though: They wait patiently for you to circle back around to them.
Don't Call It A Comic Book...
…it’s a graphic novel. Or you could call it a comic book, I guess. Just don’t dismiss it out of hand.
I’ve been a fan of graphic novels ever since someone loaned me a copy of a few Sandman comics in high school. I promptly devoured the entire series and then ended up writing one of my “junior papers” on the series in college. It was my introduction both to Neil Gaiman and to the fact that the medium sometimes disguised how serious, literary, and profound comics could be.
Library comic collections are often hit or miss, but the one at my Boston library is amazing–so much so that I spent a lot of time catching up on a lot of the titles that I had always wanted to read.
I read the three available Walking Dead Compendium collections and basically got current with the ongoing comic series. Just like the T.V. show, the series is gory and gratuitous at times, but it’s also entertaining. It’s like someone strung a narrative together around a series of utilitarian trolley problems. Each Omnibus might be the size of a phone book, but you can easily get through one in a day or so.
I also tore through 9 volumes of the Saga comic series. It’s an amazing title and definitely one worth picking up. It takes place in an unabashedly sci-fi world, so you need to get past the fact that the protagonists have horns and wings and that some of the alien characters are cyclopses or spider-people or have televisions instead of head. Once you do, though, it’s a riveting story.
My new favorite reading-related quote came courtesy of Saga: “Anyone who thinks that one book holds all of the answers hasn’t read enough books.”
Just perfect.
Audio Books
Living in Boston during the week but coming home to my CT-based family on the weekend means that, in addition to my 30 minute commute during the week, I have six to eight extra hours of time in the car per week.
I considered getting an Audible subscription, but then I decided to see what the library had to offer first.
I’m very glad that I did.
Yes, you can certainly get boxed CD sets of audio books from the library, but I’ve been far more interested in library streaming services. Both of the libraries I belong to have one, so I have several catalogs to choose from. The process is easy: Download the app and sign in with your library credentials.
I’ve realized a few things as I’ve made my way through some audio books: The narrator matters significantly. I’m a huge fan of the Neil Gaiman versions of, well, just about everything. He could read me the DSM-5, and I’d still be riveted.
So I definitely recommend the audiobook versions of The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere, and The House at the End of the Lane.
I also realized that audiobooks were a good way of getting through books that I’d abandoned in hardcopy. I read through some Stephen King (Misery, Desperation, Dolores Claiborne) that I’d previously abandoned.
Department of Shameless Plugs
My wife wrote another book!
I’m willing to bet it’s good, although her writing process doesn’t afford me a chance to read it in advance, so I can’t say I’ve actually read it.
It’s called Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness, (available for pre-order now).
You can also check out her blog here. That I have read. It’s enormously thoughtful. All kidding aside, I am very proud of her and feel lucky to have such a talented partner, friend, and mother. Pretty easy to start with joy when you wake up next to her!
Other Clicks and Links
Ebooks aren’t necessarily my cup of tea, but for those who enjoy them, this website has tons of them. Nothing like the public domain!
Standard Ebooks: Free and liberated ebooks, carefully produced for the true book lover.
I hope you’re all doing well and that you can find (or make) the time to read whichever of these books catches your interest. And if you know of a good book that you’d recommend, please pass it along.
Take care,
Chris Cunningham
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