Habits of Mind

Books I’ve Loved Recently

By June 27, 2015 October 3rd, 2018 3 Comments

My friend Lindsey writes a blog (www.adesignsovast.com) where she shares things she’s loved lately.  I thought I’d take a page out of her book and share some recent books I’ve loved lately.

You may think that I only read highbrow, but it’s not true. I read anything that’s well-written, honest, or entertaining. I sometimes push myself to read things that I think I’m not interested in because I know that’s one way to continue to grow, but in general I read voraciously within my preferred genres: fiction, historical fiction, literary journalism, true crime, adventure, sci-fi, poetry. I can’t help but read like a teacher, though; I’m always looking for that book that will push people to connect — with characters and cultures in books, or with each other as readers of a shared text. Here are a few that I think accomplish this well:

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is so good. I did have to start it three separate times, though, because the chronology is so confusing at first. A child, Ursula, is born on a terribly snowy night in England and depending on the page number, she either lives to become an astonishing variety of adult women, or dies at any number of points in time within her infancy and childhood. Atkinson’s creativity, her ability to immerse readers in so many different scenarios, all of which feel like “the true story,” is remarkable.

Ursula is a strange character because she lives outside of linear time and remembers events from the past; this makes her appear odd and somewhat of a loser to the world around her that doesn’t understand why she takes certain actions, like pushing a maid down the stairs in order to save a family from catching influenza. But given that in one of her lives, she kills Hitler before he has a chance to effectuate the Holocaust, we can’t help but cheer her on.

Alice McDermott’s Someone is the kind of book that puts you in a particular mood; it follows a girl and her brother through pretty simple lives in Brooklyn in the first half of the 20th century. The writing is so beautiful, though, and there are countless moments when you think, yes, this is exactly how life is sometimes. Marie has trouble with her vision, loses her father and ally, and is raised by her mother in a religious household.

She asks her brother, a top scholar destined for the priesthood, who will ever love her. “Someone,” he says. “Someone will love you.” And someone does, a good guy who gives her a family and a comfortable life. Yet there is never a sense of total contentment or happiness, for Marie or for her brother, and again, that just rings true to me.

Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls seemed to call to me from the bookshelf just this week. I don’t usually pick up graphic novels for young adults, but this one just wanted me to buy it. And I’m glad I did, even though the story was tough for me to read. Conor is losing his mother to cancer and so angry and confused about it that he lets himself be bullied and turns against his only true friend.

The book’s short, perfectly written chapters tell the story of Conor’s coming to terms with the truth of his mother’s illness as well as the truth within himself. A Monster, a timeless being that comes walking when called, pushes Conor to face all of what’s inside his heart. The Monster tells Conor that he’ll give Conor three stories, and expect one in return at the end. The only rule is that the story Conor tells has to be true.

Ness’s four stories within the overarching book are masterfully told, with the voice of the Monster so wise and harsh that Conor has no choice but to give into the inevitable storytelling he himself must do, and the acceptance that comes with that truth telling. Illustrated by Jim Kay, this little book is quite powerful and definitely not just for kids.

I always love to hear what other people are reading, so please send word. Happy summer!



Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.


  • Lindsey says:

    I haven’t read Life After Life because it so intimidates me. Maybe I will try, bolstered by this great review. I’ve been reading VERY lowbrow lately – legal thrillers and the like. Before that I was on a huge memoir tear! xox

  • jean hamann says:

    I am deeply involved with My Struggle – i just kept accumulating the volumes until I have all four – the new translation of the Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard is beautiful and flowing. I love this
    delicate writing and am totally absorbed.
    Would be interested in your thoughts. j.

    • jessflaxman@gmail.com says:

      I have not delved into My Struggle just yet, but I have it on my bedside table. I was so tired from the school year that I felt a book titled as such might be too much for my feeble brain. I just read Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief and thought it was beautiful.