Joy Is Not Made To Be A Crumb
I set a 12 month Goodreads Challenge in 2017 to read 37 books – more than I attempted in 2016, and I’m proud to say that I made reading a priority of my be-here-now focus and completed 40 books in 2017! If you’d like to read the best books I read in 2016 click here, and for more best books recommendations click over to 2013 and 2014 favorites posts. I’ve also written a Books I Love post, and would love to connect with you on Goodreads to share more about reading in 2018. Goodreads is my favorite place to keep track of what I’m reading, and to look up reader reviews for new books I’d like to add to my ever-growing shelf of ‘to reads’. With each book, I’m linking to Goodreads reviews/descriptions, and if I’ve written individually about a book, I’ll link to that post, too. I’m also adding my favorite quotes from the books – just for a little bonus! I also share monthly reads on my Happiness Hacks blog series – October’s post has a few titles you might enjoy.
In no particular order, I’d love to share My ‘Best Books of 2017″ – and please respond in the comments if you agree, disagree, or have a title to share for 2018!
Another one of the best books by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott – she seems to be on my list every year! In Stitches, she shares her dry, witty, though-inducing words that enrapture me over and over again. I loved this book. Anne is who I’d love to be when I grow up – honest, unafraid, funny, outspoken and insightful. Her personal stories will ring true – I promise. Just check out her ‘secret of life’ below:
Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile
“How often, on this great spinning ball where we’re all just struggling to lead our tiny lives, do you get to see evidence of God’s grace and know, the way you know your name, that at least for a little while, maybe just a few seconds, you can stop worrying, and take a deep breath, because things are all right?” ― Natalie Baszile,
I ALWAYS read the book before the movie – but in this case, I’ve been watching the Queen Sugar TV series and decided to read the book. I liked the story and the main character, Charley, but felt like I was constantly comparing it to the OWN TV series instead of reading it on its own merit. I loved the TV series, and feel like the novel’s characters were much less developed than in the show.
Kid President’s Guide to Being AWESOME by Brad Montague
“When you joyfully rebel against your circumstances, against mediocrity or negativity, you invite others into something really beautiful.” – Brad Montague
If you can’t tell from the photo, let me say that meeting this author was a highlight of 2017. I’ve seen him speak several times (AMAZEBALLS) and his Kid President video series has been a staple in my classroom for years. He’s why my AVID classes do our Socktober sock drive for the homeless every year. He’s why we giggle and dance and think after watching Kid President videos. He’s why I proudly wear my “JOY REBEL” shirt, and this year, he’s why I’m reminding myself to find joy at home AND at school. This book is perfect for adults, kids, and would make a fabulous gift for anyone you want to share a little joy with. One of the best books!
“Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway.”
― Cheryl Strayed,
I loved Cheryl’s memoir Wild, so naturally, a book featuring her quotes on life caught my interest. It’s a fast or slow read, depending on how you want to use it – but the quotes will linger with you long after the last page. Another fun book to gift!
The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini
“Hope is never false. One’s hopes may not be fulfilled, but that doesn’t not mean it was wrong to hope”
― Jennifer Chiaverini,
I LOVE historical fiction. I’d say 85% of my reading is some sort of history related topic, especially when there are strong and intriguing female characters like in The Spymistress. This narrative, set in Richmond Virginia in the 1860s, shares the real-life story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a badass woman who stood up for what she believed in despite the consequences.
I like those kinds of characters. If you do, too, you’ll enjoy this read. You can read more about this book in my September Happiness Hacks post.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
“It is not biology that determines fatherhood. It is love.” ― Kristin Hannah,
Speaking of historical fiction: wow- what an intriguing plot line to this book! Hannah’s writing was immensely readable and intriguing. I loved the narration twist and applaud Hannah for pulling the reader through which an expansive view of WW2. I loved the relationships – especially between Isabelle, an amazingly strong young woman battling for justice during WW2 to present and her father, a complex character attempting to protect his daughters to prove his love. I wrote about this book in my November Happiness Hacks, as well as a few other titles I haven’t mentioned here.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
“He used to say we all had a compass inside of us and what we needed to do was to find it and to follow it.”
― Ann Patchett,
The closest I’ve ever been to the Amazon was hearing stories from my husband about his adventures canoeing there as a young man – that was enough to make me understand the power of the river, and the prominence it plays in Brazil’s geography and culture. That is until I cracked open Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel, State of Wonder. This perfect novel took me into the ‘now’ of the life of two female scientists and left a story that lingers in my mind months after reading the last page. Oh, I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. It’s the kind of book that I couldn’t stop reading, and when I was reading I couldn’t stop thinking about all the themes woven in and out of the narrative. 2017 was the year of Ann Patchett for me – I read four of her novels, so I’ve almost read her entire canon. Ann Patchett is such a master of language and characterization, as evident in this story of an adventure into the Amazon – it’s full of sensory lushness, vivid imagery, and a gripping, tragic tale. One of THE best books of 2017 – and one of the few I rated five stars. You can read my full book post here: http://jenniferwolfe.net/2017/08/state-of-wonder.html. Click here to watch a video chat with the author: https://www.goodreads.com/videos/24362-goodreads-live-with-ann-patchett
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
“If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.”
A powerfully honest historical fiction novel told in parallel voices about the abolitionist, suffragette Grimke sisters of Charleston, South Carolina living in the 1800s on their plantation, and the relationship between Sarah Grimke and her slave, Hetty “Handful” Grimke. This is Sue Monk Kidd’s first fiction in awhile, and it was entertaining and well-written.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
“He told her that every one of her enemies, all the masters and overseers of her suffering, would be punished, if not in this world then the next, for justice may be slow and invisible, but it always renders its true verdict in the end.”
― Colson Whitehead,
This was truly one of THE best books I read in 2017. An often difficult, yet breathtakingly written story to read that shares the brutality of slavery through the story of Cora, a slave on a Georgia cotton plantation, who decides to attempt the Underground Railroad passage after hearing of it from another slave, Caesar, who has just arrived from Virginia. This isn’t just another book about slavery – the author amazingly shares not only the story of slaves living in unbelievable oppression, but also ties into the reality of how this oppression has sculpted our American history and current society. You need to read this – there’s a reason it won the Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2017), Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2017), National Book Award for Fiction (2016), Arthur C. Clarke Award (2017), and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction (2017) to name only a few awards. Watch a clip of Oprah talking about the book here: https://www.goodreads.com/videos/106773-oprah-reveals-new-book-club-selection.
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo
When I read the first page of The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. Not only am I extremely picky about the novels I spend time with (have you seen my Instagram shelfie shots? It’s obnoxious how long my ‘to-be-read’ list is), but also I spend every work day surrounded by girls like the main character of the novel, Meredith Oliver. Meredith is a typically self-conscious eighth-grade girl. Now I love my job teaching 8th grade, but sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to escape into a novel nowhere near my real life.
I’m sure glad I didn’t give up on this one. The Fall of Lisa Bellow got under my skin – in a good way. That’s why I’m calling this one a ‘must read’ about mothers, daughters, trauma, and loss. You can read my full book review here: http://jenniferwolfe.net/2017/06/the-fall-of-lisa-bellow.html
Devotion: A Memoir AND Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro
“Oh, child! Somewhere inside you, your future has already unfurled like one of those coiled-up party streamers, once shiny, shaken loose, floating gracefully for a brief moment, now trampled underfoot after the party is over. The future you’re capable of imagining is already a thing of the past. Who did you think you would grow up to become? You could never have dreamt yourself up. Sit down. Let me tell you everything that’s happened. You can stop running now. You are alive in the woman who watches you as you vanish.” — Hourglass
The summer months are my best times for plowing through my stacks of books to be read – and I made a good dent in August. Two of my favorites were by Dani Shapiro – her memoirs Devotion and Hourglass. Wow – I couldn’t get enough of either one, finding myself wanting to shout out loud, “Hey, me too!” on nearly every page. Dani just GETS it. Motherhood. Marriage. Womanhood. She’s a sage, in my opinion. Watch for more on her writing.
Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman
“She truly believed that she carried her own fate in the palm of her hand, as if destiny was nothing more than a green marble or a robin’s egg, a trinket any silly girl could scoop up and keep. She believed that all you wanted, you would eventually receive, and that fate was a force which worked with you, not against you.”
― Alice Hoffman,
I was also on an Alice Hoffman binge this year ( I read three of her novels) – Here on Earth was a good read about marriage, love, motherhood and finding yourself – can you relate?
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
This book was another one of my RARE five-star reviews. This story was mesmerizing- I couldn’t read it fast enough. Weaving love and spirits and culture of St. Thomas with Paris and art and Impressionism and race….beautifully written, alive with color and bursting with the sights and smells and textures of place. If you remember your art history, the name Camille Pissarro might sound familiar. This story tells the life of his mother, Rachel, growing up in St. Thomas in the 1800s. It is a love story, a historical tale, a story about marriage and motherhood and love and beauty blanketed with the exquisite writing of Hoffman, who spares no detail in helping the reader feel like the magic of the islands has jumped into their own reality.
“He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.”
A surprise read was Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing In The Rain – it was one of those books I heard about when it first published but never got around to picking up a copy. Boy, am I glad I did – such an interesting narrative technique (it’s told from the point of view of Enzo, an almost human-like dog who seems to understand just what his owner needs), and if you’re a dog lover/owner, it’s a mmust-read Caution: it will make you cry.
“And I get up because it is the only thing I can do.” ― Jesmyn Ward,
This last title of my best books was another hard one. I found myself recoiling at the graphic imagery, yet leaning forward into the narrative. It’s the kind of book that really made me think. I originally I picked it up at the NCTE conference because I knew it was the precursor to Sing, Unburied, Sing, which I knew I wanted to read. This book, the winner of the 2011 National Book Award, takes place in Mississippi with a family struggling to prepare for Hurricaine Katrina – but remarkably the hurricaine dissolves into the background against the powerful narrative of Esch and her brothers, father, and the boy she loves who impregnates her early in the novel. It was a hard read – especially the parts about China, the family pit bull. I’m looking forward to the next part of the story in 2018.
That’s it for 2017 – I read dozens of excellent books and hope we can keep talking about life and stories and happiness all throughout 2018!
Woohoo! October is wrapping up! If you’re a teacher, October is THE LONGEST month, and ends on a lovely day/days/week full of sugar, hyped-up kids, costumes and MORE SUGAR! Plus, it’s the month with the lowest energy for teachers and students…I’m happy to see the calendar change for November. But to end the month on a positive note, I’ve collected some of my favorite tips to share with you – enjoy my Happiness Hacks For October 2017!
Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Happy At Home
I kept super busy in October – for teachers, the ‘honeymoon’ is wearing off and the grind towards the end of first quarter begins. For teacher-moms, it’s a double dose of stress – especially for me this year, when my ‘baby’ boy is writing college essays and applying early decision for his top school…trying to avoid overwhelm amongst all this goodness is huge.
I’m a huge list maker by nature, and with the launch of Google Keep a few months ago now I’ve got both digital and hard copy notes..but it was getting a bit much, I must admit. I love the Google Keep notes for on-the-go voice typing of things I don’t want to forget, but I’m most productive when I’ve got a paper to-do list right in front of me. But when that list is front and back….I needed to make a change. I decided to try my classroom workflow strategy of must do – should do – could do to help me prioritize at home, and it worked! I used the large, lined sticky notes to prioritize tasks and move undone lists to the next week without having to rewrite everything. I can’t say the lists are eliminated, but I can say that I’m not as overwhelmed with trying to remember what needed to be finished by when, and even dreadful chores like filing the FAFSA were somehow completed early! WIN!
Happiness Hacks For October 2017: A Bit Of Reading Time
I’m still determined to make my Goodreads 2017 challenge of completing 37 books…my free time is slowing down, but I still cherish my reading time. All screens are going off by 9:00 p.m. each night, and if I still have some brain power left I’m turning pages. In October I chose two books that had been languishing on my shelf for nearly a year – The Ladies of Managua by Eleni N. Gage and The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. In a fit of procrastination late one night, I decided to search Goodreads to see which of my ‘shelfie’ books had the highest ratings and start there. These two were tops – for good reason.
The Ladies of Managua by Eleni N. Gage caught me completely by surprise – I originally bought it because of my love of Nicaragua and wasn’t disappointed. Gage smoothly weaves elements of the Nicaraguan culture into her generational narrative of three independent women, connected by blood and history. At times I was comparing it to Isabel Allende’s great novel The Japanese Lover – the flashbacks blending in a historical narrative alongside contemporary Nicaragua deepened my understanding of the country’s disturbing background while solidifying my love for the joyful, loving culture I’ve come to adore.
The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, however equally compelling, was one of the hardest books I’ve read in years. Winner of the Dayton 2010 Literary Peace Prize, Night Women echoes the writing of Toni Morrisson’s Beloved (one of my all-time favorite books) in the telling of the story of Lilith, a Jamaican slave living at the end of the eighteenth century. This is not an easy read, and is definitely a commitment of time and spirit – but honestly, as difficult as James’ realistic, sometimes horrific, descriptions of life as a female slave were, forcing me to want to avert my eyes at the words on the page just to let the images flee my mind, I absolutely could not put it down. The Washington Post describes The Book of Night Women as ‘darkly powerful’ for good reason. In today’s turbulent times, this story sheds light on the history of slavery what we might not want to see, but must understand.
Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Wise Words
Have you heard of Brad Montague? How about Kid President? You really need to. Brad created the video series featuring Kid President about five years ago because he wanted to make the world a more awesome place, and I absolutely fell in love with their short messages. Three years ago Brad inspired me to engage my AVID classes in #Socktober – an annual drive we do to collect socks for people living homeless in our community. It’s such a cool thing. Last weekend I was near happy-tears while listening to Brad give the keynote at the fall CUE conference- his message to all adults about “how can I be a better grown up?” and becoming a “Possibilitarian” full of “Wisdom, Wonder, and Whimsy” hit just the right vulnerable spot in my heart.
So often lately we’re hearing about all the horrible, unkind, mean-spirited actions going on in our world. Daily I see kids coming in my classroom full of sadness, fear, and anxiety. Listening to Brad speak reminded me that it is my daily responsibility to “to create things the way they could be” – in my home, my work, and my community. Be sure to check out Brad’s website, Montagueworkshop.com/wonder, and see his joy-full rebellion in action! Here’s one of my favorite Kid President videos – I show it in my classroom every year:
Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Teacher Hacks
Teachers, I’m obsessed with Hyperdocs, and everything they’ve done for my students. Did you catch my post about teaching writing with hyperdocs? The more I learn, the better my teaching gets – and I wanted to share a cool hyperdoc I got from my friend Kevin Feramisco, who got it from the original creator, Heather Marshall (that’s how hyperdocs work, folks!). I’ve struggled with teaching 8th graders how to integrate quotes into their writing, adding intros and explanations, for years. Finally, this hyperdoc on quote analysis nailed it! I love how kids first take the quote and break it down – critical thinking about the speaker and audience, context, significance, literary devices, and connections, then ‘putting it all together’ with an assist from some academic language frames…brilliant! Then, I had students share their analysis paragraphs on Padlet and taught them about how to comment…by reading other people’s writing the magic began happening fast! I started with four quotes from the novel we were reading, (one quote per hyperdoc) and by the last one, they were writing and commenting like rock stars! You can #filemakeacopy of my adaptation of the hyperdoc here.
Feel free to adapt, change, adjust the hyperdoc to meet your needs – just keep our names there, and add yours!
Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Something Yummy
An amazing recipe for Pumpkin Bread, of course! from Alton Brown – found on my fave new app Food Network’s “In The Kitchen”. I’ve made this recipe several times using canned pumpkin and omitting the nuts – it’s devoured in a day! The link will also take you to a fun Alton Brown video showing how he makes this super yummy recipe!
Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Listen Up, Podcast Lovers
Oprah’s Super Soul Conversation Series has become my go-to podcast at the end of a long day, or when I just want to relax and not think about teaching or writing or parenting…it’s just soooo good! Her interviewees are so intriguing, the podcasts are fairly short (under 30 minutes) and it calms me down and makes me think about life in the big picture. I find myself jotting down ideas to delve into, or texting a link to my friends who would enjoy a particular episode. Check it out – it’s well worth your time.
I hope these Happiness Hacks help ease you into busy November!
Background on my Happiness Hacks series:
Years ago I started a gratitude journal – just a daily addition to my morning pages that documented the ordinary things that I was grateful for – simple things that made me happy.
During this time I read Gretchen Rubin‘s book, The Happiness Project – Gretchen’s writing and podcasts inspired me to create what I hope are monthly lists of ‘happiness hacks’ – small, simple acts or moments in life that bring me happiness and maybe they’ll rub off on you, too. You can read my essay inspired by Gretchen’s other book, Happier At Home here.
In June 2017 I started with my first set of ‘happiness hacks’, and loved the responses I received on the post and on social media. Turns out, you do things to make yourselves happy, too.
You can read my past “happiness hacks” posts below: