Reading on the Bus

Preface: I owe a special thanks to the excellent Boston Public Library system for providing me with the vast majority of these books, not to mention a lovely place to sit and read, a chance to go the aquarium for free, and an exhibit on the neighborhoods of Boston that helped orient me to the city. Also, I’m just updating this list of books here as I continue to read. Let me know if you have book recommendations!

library pic

What I’ve read on the bus, grouped by year (most recent reads at the top):

Year Four:

  • Radical Candor — Kim Scott: Silicon Valley leader shares tips about how to coach; I’m left interested in how to be more candid with my direct reports and wondering how her advice squares with the LaLa Land of nap pods, three meals a day, and the summer camp atmosphere the tech industry seems (from the outside) to have acquired.

Year Three:

I created a book group with some of my friends in January; I’ll note those books with a *.

  • Fostering Resilient Learners — Kristin Souers: Useful for adults who work with people (big or small) who have experienced trauma though I would have liked more specific methods and fewer platitudes.
  • The Hate U Give — Angie Thomas: Page-turning YA book that tackles police violence, interracial relationships, black students in white private schools, riots, protests, and finding your own voice.
  • Crucial Accountability — Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, Switzler: Similar ideas in Crucial Conversations (see below) and always good to think through better approaches to challenging conversations. Will need to revisit.
  • Ishmael — Daniel Quinn: Incredibly timely — Donald Trump even mentioned by name in the book. A wise explanation of our “Taker” culture.
  • Disgruntled — Asali Solomon: YA novel deeply grounded in African American culture and history. A little disjointed but interesting. The main story of a girl growing up interspersed with her dad’s book is quoted and tells the violent story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s butler.
  • Born a Crime — Trevor Noah: Listen to the audiobook! In many ways a memoir of his mom, I’m still thinking about how it intersects with other personal narratives.*
  • The Moor’s Account — Laila Lalami: The imagined story of Mustafa (Estabanico), the man taken as a slave on the ill-fated conquest of the “New World” made famous by Cabeza de Vaca’s account I read in AP Spanish Lit.
  • Born on Third Base — Chuck Collins: Essay-like chapters on wealth: from charity to the estate tax, from trailer parks to board rooms, local author weaves his personal story of giving up a trust fund into ideas for limiting inequality and increasing opportunity.
  • For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too — Christopher Emdin: Read this with two of the people I coach and all three of us learned a lot. The idea of small group “cogens” or focus groups of students has the potential to be instrumental for them and their colleague. Made me want to try to teach again.
  • Devil in the Grove — Gilbert King: An account of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP’s attempt to bring justice for four black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Florida. Detailed and devastating. Despite King’s claim that this was the start of a “New America” similar stories today disprove that claim.
  • The Other Wes Moore —Wes Moore: What makes the difference in the stories of these two men with the same name? Mentorship, integrated schools, intergenerational financial commitment, luck? *
  • Crucial Conversations — Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler: Critically important to helping me think about the pivotal moments of dialogue with kids, co-workers, family, friends. Will need to reread or refer back to ensure I’m really applying its lessons.
  • Commonwealth — Ann Pachett: The characters feel really true in this focused novel on the lives of two intersecting families. Interesting read after meeting my own long-lost cousins.
  • Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage — Richard Stengel: Distillation of Mandela’s wisdom and profile as a leader. The importance of staying calm, learning how to say know, and playing the long game are all making me think.
  • Homo Deus — Yuval Noah Harari: Humanism is a religion like any other, and scientists are converging on the idea that organisms (including humans) are algorithms; combined with ever-improving data analysis by machines that learn leads to depressing prophecies. Very disheartening. *
  • Full Cicada Moon — Marilyn Hilton: Mimi, the narrator, tells her story of coming of age through poetry. A little too tied up in a bow at the end, but in this moment I enjoyed the reading candy with a moral message about equality, acceptance, and being good neighbors.
  • Rules for Radicals — Saul Alinsky: Somewhat dated (Vietnam! The Cold War!) but still instructive, particularly in our current political moment. Blog post here.
  • Hillbilly Elegy — J.D. Vance: If you’re going to write a memoir that young, be a better writer. The go-to book for white liberals in the wake of Trump’s election, he describes the Appalachian culture and issues with social capital accurately in my opinion but leaves out room for further examination. *
  • The Essential Conversation — Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot: Read with one of the teachers I coach, it was great to see her grow in her family communication over the course of reading it. A bit poetic at times, but some useful metaphors and ideas for teachers. 
  • The House on Mango Street — Sandra Cisneros: One of the 8th grade EL classes is reading this book so I thought I’d join them. Little prose-poems, similar to the work of Woodson’s Another Brooklyn in style and location, fill the pages. “A House of My Own” feels like Dean L’s dream and even mine too.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie: A mentor gave me this book with the note that it was full of common sense we all need to be reminded of. I’m considering how to apply the lessons to working with kids and navigating a “different facts” world.
  • Between The World And Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates: I read this last year and I don’t usually re-read. The second time around was just as profound, if not more so. I read “My President Was Black” concurrently which deepened my thinking even more. *
  • Homegoing — Yaa Gyasi: Each chapter is the story and perspective of a different character in two branches of a family, fully detailed, clear in voice, both intimately individual and broadly historical.
  • Heat and Light — Jennifer Haigh: Interweaving stories of the people from and brought to a town filled with fracking. Complicated: there are no true heroes.
  • Earthbound — Aprilynne Pike: One of the 8th graders at my school recommended this book to me. Classic YA. Tragedy, star-crossed love, magical powers. Apparently, it is a series.
  • Let the Great World Spin — Colum McCann: Written after 9/11 but set mostly before, a beautiful book of interweaving characters including the famous tightrope walker.
  • Beloved — Toni Morrison: Took me a while to get into but the magical realism and intensity of feeling and description, plus nuanced characterization make it one both I and the Pulitzer Prize Committee recommend.
  • Another Brooklyn — Jacqueline Woodson: One of the most poetic novels I’ve ever read, revealing the inner lives of girls, brown girls, Brooklyn girls.
  • Common Ground — J. Anthony Lukas: An epic tale of Boston desegregation in the 1970s told from the point of view of several families. Intensely detailed, it is the first time I could imagine the perspective of poor white families in Charlestown.
  • The Other Side of Dark –Sarah Smith: YA novel set in Boston complete with ghosts and racial-reckoning. Read it practically in one sitting, might have liked in part because of its location and because of concurrently reading Common Ground.
  • Our Only World — Wendell Berry: Series of essays by the Kentucky sage that focus his attention on our contemporary issues of climate change, capitalism, and concern for our fellow humans.
  • Leaders Eat Last — Simon Sinek: Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin are four chemicals that shape our brain, our behavior, and should shape how leaders build organizational culture. He argues that if leaders build a “Circle of Safety” and treat employees like their family, in the long run, it will pay off.
  • Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis — Robert Putnam: A comprehensive, readable synthesis of the research on inequity and the opportunity gap in America. The stories of kids and their families elucidate what the research shows — we are failing our kids.
  • The Sun Also Rises — Ernest Hemingway: Felt like I needed to read Hemingway but was disappointed. Bull fighting, drinking, wealthy people wasting time…
  • Practice Perfect — Doug Lemov, Erica Woolyway, Katie Yezzi: The way to implement the (in)famous Teach Like a Champion and any practice regiment. I’m looking to implement the ideas around coaching and my own practice.
  • State of Wonder — Ann Patchett: Drs. in the Brazilian jungle, engrossing quick read, makes me wonder if her other books are as fun to read.

 

Year Two:

  • Prodigal Summer — Barbara Kingsolver: Interwoven stories; sad, funny, warm, smart, well-written, and well-argued. I didn’t think pesticides or much hunting made sense before but I do have a new appreciation for processing premature death.
  • Picking Cotton — Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, with Erin Torneo: Couldn’t fall asleep because what happens to both of them is just horrifying. Jennifer focuses on mistaken identity and the importance of DNA evidence over eyewitness testimony while Ronald seems willing to understand a different layer — racism and fear of miscegenation.
  • The Lowland — Jhumpa Lahiri: Per usual, a beautiful book though not my favorite of her work. More grounded in the real world and a particular historical context (the Naxalite movement in Bangladesh).
  • Adulting — Kelly Williams Brown: Ok so I read half of the 468 steps and skimmed the rest. Didn’t feel obliged to read about cars and pets (though Miranda points out that bikes are like pet cars so maybe I should have).
  • Salt, Sugar, Fat — Michael Moss: Thoroughly researched, well-written account of the food industry and its methods. You know the big idea (obesity), but the details are compelling.
  • Ender’s Shadow — Orson Scott Card: A parallel novel, this one is more intellectual and more adult. Less plot-driven (maybe in part because the plot is known) and more about questions of ethics, humanity, and purpose.
  • Ender’s Game — Orson Scott Card: Speed-read Sci-Fi. Can definitely see why it is a NYT bestseller and YA favorite.
  • Thinking in Numbers — Daniel Tammet: Essays about math but also literature, history, relationships, etc. all from a math genius who brings average readers along. Really appreciate his descriptions of time, “how difficult, how exhausting, how impotent each event had struck me in the moment! And how impossibly distant, a lifetime away, these [five years].” pg. 248
  • Lost at School — Ross Greene: Why didn’t I read this a year and a half ago?! Essential reading for anyone working with kids about how to problem solve and address the skills kids lack (that cause misbehavior). Hoping it works on adults too.
  • Passionate Marriage — David Schnarch: Interesting insights into how to navigate relationships generally; to be able to hold onto oneself regardless of others.
  • Why Don’t Students Like School? — Daniel Willingham: Very readable account by a cognitive scientist peeling back layers on memory, interest, intelligence, practice.
  • A Walk in the Woods — Bill Bryson: From the comfort of my room I enjoyed the humor and hardship of this author’s stab at the Appalachian Trail
  • Open Veins of Latin America — Eduardo Galeano: Five centuries of pillage, as the subtitle says. From conquistadors to the IMF, Galeano explains the destruction of a continent in detail.
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love — Oscar Hijuelos: Memory, love, sex, loss, and Cubans in America. Surprisingly compelling given the misogyny.
  • The Underground Girls of Kabul — Jenny Nordberg: Interesting account of girls passing as boys in Afghanistan and the role of gender and sexuality.
  • Port Chicago 50 — Steve Sheinkin: Well researched book for mid-level readers profiling black Navy men who stood against injustice during WWII.
  • Paper Towns — John Green: Questions of identity, prom drama, road trip, Green does it again with another teen novel that is hard to put down. No tears this time, though.
  • Lost and Found in Johannesburg — Mark Gevisser: Includes a tale of armed robbery that I began reading right around when my apartment was robbed, a tale that is inserted in a book more about borders and growing up.
  • The Rosie Project — Graeme Simsion: A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime but with an adult as the protagonist. Reading candy; I finished it practically in one sitting.
  • The Opposite of Loneliness — Marina Keegan: Short stories and short essays that are really well written, and made all the more poignant by her death a few days after she graduated from Yale in 2012.
  • Citizen: An American Lyric — Claudia Rankine: “because white men can’t/police their imagination/black men are dying” Rankine explores racism and the embodiment of race in America through her poetry.
  • Between The World And Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • All the Light We Cannot See — Anthony Doerr: A Book Theif for adults, I couldn’t put it down. Beautifully woven prose that humanizes WWII, being blind, being young, and making choices. They don’t give out Pulitzers for nothing.
  • Mambo in Chinatown — Jean Kwok: Fluffy, predictable, quick read that would make a good movie. Enjoyed the dance references in this tale of ugly duckling turned swan combined with a theme of East meets West.
  • The Emperor of All Maladies — Siddartha Mukherjee: One of my friends, whose friendship with me spans seven years, was diagnosed with cancer this summer shortly after he moved to New England. In an effort to process the unimaginable, I turned to this book. A biography of cancer, the 470 pages are highly readable, detailed but not overly technical, beautiful, sad, and hopeful. As of this writing his cancer is responding well to chemo.
  • I’ll Give You the Sun — Jandy Nelson: Twins narrate this YA book, telling their story from different sides of cataclysmic family events. Reading candy filled with art, love, and (smart) teen culture.
  • The Devil’s Teeth — Susan Casey: Great White Sharks and the Farallon Islands in detail; human humility and hubris before nature.
  • All Souls — Michael Patrick MacDonald: Made me reflect on the experience of poor whites during 1970s integration, and the violence, drugs, and mental health issues of one of the poorest census tracts in America. Plus I just rode my bike through Southie the other day.
  • The Checklist Manifesto — Atul Gawande: Many professions uphold selflessness, excellence, and trustworthiness, but nearly all lack discipline. Checklists can help. From catching the little things that are essential but easy to forget to ensuring team communication, I’m looking forward to implementing checklists.

 

 

Year One:

  •  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil — John Berendt: Savannah, Georgia, and all its colorful characters, revealed in a book more about a particular southern culture than the murder trial at its center.
  • In a Rocket Made of Ice — Gail Gutradt: More a collection of journal entries than a fully fledged book; stories and kernels of insight from her work with children in Cambodia almost obscured by repetitive and amateurish construction.
  • The Next American Revolution — Grace Lee Boggs: This book is a call to action within communities to build the future we want — she reminds us of our past, analyzes our present, and urges us to build our future. “We are the change we’ve been waiting for.”
  • Brown Girl Dreaming — Jacqueline Woodson: Having heard her interview on Fresh Air I could hear her voice in the poems, heightening their power. An amazing memoir in verse. (My two favorite poems.)
  • Flight — Sherman Alexie: Summer reading for a few of my students so in preparation for starting the book with them I read it. Zits, the main character, struggles with revenge, trauma, and identity. But the English level of my students may be too low for them to get much out of it.
  • Boy, Snow, Bird — Helen Oyeyemi: Took me a while to get into the book but in the end, it left me with a lot to think about. Passing, in the context of both race and gender, made this book more than a novel with lots of allusions to fairy tales. Thanks for the recommendation, Kari!
  • How We Got To Now — Steven Johnson: Kept wishing for a more intellectual/detailed review of the history and science behind the inventions he highlights. But the idea of the “adjacent possible” has stuck with me.
  • Waking Up White — Debby Irving: Required reading for white people. Really great for helping me continue thinking about the work I need to do to understand my privileged and my whiteness and combat racism.
  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace — Jeff Hobbs: Very thought-provoking. Especially as I reflect on my work as a Freshman Counselor and the balance between individual choices and systemic obstacles. Why did Peace die? Who can I point the finger at? What can I do to prevent similar stories from repeating? Thank you to the guidance interns at my school for recommending the book to me and especially Kari, for providing it — we each point the finger at someone else and that has been instructive!
  • The Brief and Wondrous Like of Oscar Wao — Junot Diaz: My only regret is that I read it without a dictionary by my side. Update: my students went on a college visit and sat in on a class that was reading this book in Spanish (read Ten Hours posts about the trip). One of my students got really excited when she saw that she and the author share the same last name; the power of non-dead, non-white authors revealed!
  • Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood — Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar: This book profiles the work of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative for its first decade. An interesting look at an organization that has built coalitions, affordable housing, youth programs, political power, community gardens…I’d like to see this book updated for the last 20 years of DSNI’s work.
  • Bossypants — Tina Fey: Sort of like binge-watching 30 Rock; while it was very entertaining in the moment, I wondered where my entire Sunday had gone.
  • The Sixth Extinction — Elizabeth Kolbert: Depressing. Here in the age of Homo sapiens we have succeeded in creating an extinction that will shape which species inherit the Earth. Her journalism is highly readable with a dark humor and clear but not overly simplistic explanations of the science.
  • A Well Tempered Heart — Jan-Philipp Sendker: The sequel to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is just as beautiful and I read it just as quickly. Transported me to another world but also asks such important questions about life, love, and purpose.
  • The White Boy Shuffle — Paul Beatty: Part coming-of-age story, part cultural catalog for the literate and “urban,” this book is hilarious and depressing and timely despite its 1996 publication date. Still wrapping my head around it. Thanks to my roommate for letting me borrow it!
  • Happy City — Charles Montgomery: An interesting synthesis of research and anecdotes that connects New Urbanism to climate change to the psychology of commuting. I wish it had more concrete steps and better annotations because that would make the book more useful. But some ideas from the book gelled into a post anyway.
  • The Art of Hearing Heartbeats — Jan-Philipp Sendker: Pure novel. A love story set mostly in Burma. Couldn’t put it down and am waiting expectantly for the sequel to come in from the library.
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down — Anne Fadiman: A book recounting the story of a Hmong girl who has seizures and the efforts of her family and her doctors to help her survive. A great look at cross-cultural communication, medicine, and immigration.
  • The Men We Reaped — Jesmyn Ward: She took me into the Deep South but, more importantly, into the world of death that hangs over the black men in Ward’s circle of family and friends. It is beautifully written, heartbreaking, and so important for the way that it humanizes and grounds issues of racism, mass incarceration, educational equity, and socioeconomic opportunity. I would say that it was particularly timely but these issues have been “timely” for years. (Thanks for giving me this for Christmas, mom and dad!)
  • A Hope in the Unseen — Ron Suskind: The story of a young black man growing up in D.C. who makes it to Brown. Very interesting reporting (reads like a novel) and had me reflecting on a lot of my usual questions around educational equity, college access, and guidance.
  • Learned Optimism — Martin Seligman: A little pop-psychology for my bus ride. What stuck with me? When good things happen, make them personal, permanent, and pervasive; when bad things happen, make them impersonal, temporary, and limited.
  • The Best Things in Life — Thomas Hurka: A little pop-philosophy for my bus ride. What stuck with me? Your reach should extend beyond your grasp.
  • Black Girl Dangerous — Mia McKenzie: A collection of blog posts from the blog of the same name that focuses on QPOC and has one of the best things I have every read about being an ally. Shout-out to BPL for basically buying this book for me. They didn’t have it yet so I requested it, they ordered it, and I was the first person to get to read it!
  • Looking for Alaska — John Green: In keeping with the “read what my students read” theme, a wonderful frolic into teen-dom.
  • The Opportunity Equation — Eric Schwarz: Founder and former CEO of Citizen Schools explains the idea, model, and method through his personal narrative.
  • As I Lay Dying — William Faulkner: My first Faulkner and a trip back to the writing of the South, though I thought I would enjoy it more than I did.
  • What We Keep — Elizabeth Berg: Mothers and daughters figuring stuff out.
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery: Recommended to me by my high school junior English teacher (thanks, Mr. Hicks!) I finally got around to reading this quiet little book full of interesting and compelling characters.
  • Americanah — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: How had I not read her work before this?! This book is a heart-wrenching story that also manages to grapple with issues of race, class, and identity very intelligently. Can’t wait to read her other works.
  • The Farming of Bones — Edwidge Danticat: A book for younger readers about the atrocities committed on the island of Hispaniola as Dominicans slaughtered Haitians.
  • When Everything Changed — Gail Collins: The story of women in America during the 20th century written by a columnist I enjoy.
  • The Glass-Sided Ant’s Nest — Peter Dickinson: While waiting to move into my apartment I borrowed the book from the Fishmans (thank you thank you thank you for letting me stay with you when I first moved!)
  • The Book Thief — Markus Zusak: This was the first book I ever read on my phone which was a tedious experience and detracted from the drawings that are included. However, this book is amazing. Having a book for younger readers where the narrator is Death is audacious but I think it works really well.
  • Wonder — R. J. Palacio: A wonderful book for 5th grade readers that encapsulates different voices of children and young adults really well.
  • The Fault in Our Stars — John Green: I’m counting this book because I finished reading it on the airplane to Boston. Never has there been a more awkward flight — I was crying silently for much of the ride.

 

 

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