This past school year, I was part of a hiring committee for new English teachers in my school. In theory, our school would be a great place to work -- a lot of curricular freedom propelled by the mostly wonderful IB curriculum, mostly motivated students, a dynamic staff that includes several National Board-certified teachers and presenters at NCTE conferences. However, mostly because of Baltimore City (seemingly fueled by the Baltimore Teacher Union) rules about placing all displaced teachers (re: generally unwanted by their schools) before hiring the best and brightest outside the system, it turned out to be a fairly frustrating experience. We interviewed a lot of mediocre candidates and none that we eventually hired went through the pre-interview/demo-lesson/post-demo-lesson because the school year ended before all those displaced teachers were placed and before a new wave of hires for the system were allowed to be examined. I could not believe the restraints placed on schools for hiring.
Regardless, one of my favorite questions in the interview process is one that I learned from Jim Burke. I remember reading his English Teacher's Companion and him discussing that the most important question in his interview process is the question of, "What are you reading?". He says he didn't want to hire anyone who wasn't reading on their own, and didn't want to hire anyone who just was able to list a bunch of, say, Sydney Sheldon novels. He wanted English teachers who, in their own personal lives, actually took the time to read and remember the value of what good literature is.
The question always smarted a little bit, especially this past year, when I did all I could just to stay ahead of my students' reading. I am lucky to read 1 or 2 books for pleasure during a school year. Therefore, I made it a point of reading for pleasure this summer, and trying not to read everything just with a teacher's eye.
At least until at least August, that is. Now, I have a huge book that I assigned for summer reading, Wild Swans, that I have to start then so I can finish it and write a quiz. But, until then, I am reading for myself, and reminding myself what great literature can do.
With that being said, I just finished Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. It was such a wonderful book that I almost want to pick it up and read it again right now, just to see how all those characters fit together. In the middle, I felt a little like it was just barely chugging along, and there were a few characters who I just weren't interested in (there were eleven protagonists). But, by the last 100-150 pages, I was entranced. There is a section towards the back, narrated by a character named Gloria, that simply throttled me. I was reading with a choke in my throad and underlining lines that I wanted to go back to and savor. I had to hold myself from tweeting some of these lines, they were that beautiful. And then the ending -- which made me realize why one of the blurbs on the inside cover said it was the first great 9/11 novel -- was just so note-perfect. It wasn't note-perfect that it wrapped everything up tidily, but that it ended it in a way that just echoed the messiness of life that was within this book's pages. I cried. It was that good.
I'm now heading on to Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid, which has grabbed me early and might not let go. I wonder if I can go with a pace of about a book a day or two? I bet I could.
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