Some months ago, you signed up for my book club list. Since spring and summer seem like so long ago, you might remember that the book club had two phases:
- In spring, we read books on the equity-catapulting power of knowledge-rich curricula and learning experiences:
- In summer, we read books on an assortment of topics:
And then August hit… and things have been a blur since, haven't they? My work in my district and classroom proved far more intense than I anticipated, and the hopes I had for great discussions around these books — asynchronously on the discussion platform, synchronously via Zoom — remained wholly unrealized.
For that I am so sorry. I know that many of you were so excited about the August discussions. I did not adequately count the time cost of running the summer book club, and I was even poorer at anticipating the great costs in time and energy of The Start of 2020-2021.
(I did have one livestream with one of the authors, though — Matt Kay. The recording is here.)
Moving ahead: books that helped in October
What I'd like to do today is just share with you a list of books that have helped me this past month.
Make Time: How to Focus On What Matters Every Day, by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
When I was in the thick of the inner battle of starting 2020-2021, I saw Make Time on my shelf, pulled it off, opened it up to someplace near the middle, and started reading. (I love reading like this.) I was quickly reminded of the great qualities of this book — the frequent speech bubbles from the authors, which give the book's concepts and strategies proper nuance; the hand-drawn illustrations, which keep the topic of time management light and enjoyable; the divergent interests of the authors (one cares about time because he likes restoring sailboats with his spouse; the other cares about time because he wants to write novels and also be a good dad and husband); the way the authors have of naming concepts (e.g., any app or website that is capable of sucking in more of your time than you expected to give, or which has near-infinite content, or which is always refreshing is an infinity pool).
All lovely features. I've been grateful for the authors' ability to give me something to chew on, something that helps, no matter where I pick up and start reading from. Helpful for teaching, helpful for life: for these reasons, it's been in my teacher bag for most of the past month.
Sort of like the Make Time book, Housel's is one I picked up in a moment of stress and started reading right from the middle. (As you'll see, this has been a pattern.) When I picked up Housel's book, I was greeted with an explanation of what he calls “the man in the car paradox.” This is the idea that when we see a sweet car or a nice watch or a dashing outfit, what we want isn't the nice thing or the look but rather the sense of being liked, respected, and admired by others. The paradox, Housel explains, is that when we see people with these kinds of things, we don't actually like, respect, or admire them for what they have! Instead, we use the car/watch/clothes/look as a benchmark for where we are. “If respect and admiration are your goal,” Housel concludes the brief chapter, “be careful how you seek it. Humility, kindness, and empathy will bring you more respect than horsepower ever will.”
That's what I appreciate about Housel's book: it has helped me further disentangle finance and emotions, and it keeps me pointed toward the simplification of my life and the pursuit of what is good for myself and my neighbor.
Here's another one that's had me doing the pick-a-spot-and-reread thing this month. Holiday is perhaps the predominant popularizer of stoic philosophy in our day, and our colleague Gray Cooper's video for the #EducatorEncouragement project reminded me to pick this book back up. I can't describe the book's value much better than its subtitle does. During a time when every day of our jobs is steeped in unwanted trials, this book has given me more than a couple ideas that've helped. Holiday's signature style is that of the synthesizer: he brings examples from all across history to illustrate tactics and principles for turning problems into opportunities.
Lots of insights for teaching and for life.
If Holiday is my favorite contemporary, middle-aged popularizer of the philosophy of stoicism, then John Mark Comer has to be my favorite contemporary, middle-aged popularizer of the philosophy of Christianity. Mind you, I'm not talking about the culture war groups that call themselves Christian in the name of this issue or that one; I'm talking about the (often much quieter) people invested in apprenticing themselves to Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings. Comer places the wisdom of Jesus on full display in this book, and by juxtaposing it with the insanity (read: hurriedness) of our times, he makes Jesus' philosophy seem like just the thing for 2020. The first third of the book establishes the problem (our modern, frenetic pace of life), and then the rest of the book is a deep exploration of four practices (disciplines) of Jesus: silence/solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing.
Practical, deep, approachable, and well-researched (like Holiday, this guy reads a lot of books). It's helped a lot.
The Half-Acre Homestead: 46 Years of Building and Gardening by Lloyd Kahn & Lesley Creed
I forget where I learned of this book or how I happened to have it, but this past weekend during a 24-hour “ceasing” period for rest and celebration, I found myself with a rare moment of quiet (remember: I have four children at home, ages 3 to 10). I was fiddling around in our study and decided to pick this book off the shelf. Before I knew it, I had perused the whole thing with great enjoyment.
Why though? I'm not a homesteader, I'm not all that handy, I don't own any chickens, and I don't live on the fringe of the developed world. But my friend John has written a bit lately about the restorative power of working with one's hands and solving physical problems. And I've also spent more time walking and working outside in the last six months than I did in the six years before them. So… perhaps these are some reasons why Kahn and Creed's beautiful, picture-filled ode to craftsmanship, the natural world, and a way of living so foreign to my own was such a delight to me this month.
The Green Ember, by S. D. Smith
Per the recommendations of several friends, we've been reading the Green Ember series aloud at bedtime to our four children. We're 1.5 books in, and the kids (and mom and dad) really enjoy the story of a land filled with noble, sword-wielding rabbits. I mean, c'mon: rabbits with swords, read-aloud time with the kids. It's become a highlight of every week night.
With that, I hope that any of these books that catch your eye might be a boon to you as they were to me this past month. Whether today or in ten years, it makes no difference to me. I just hope you'll make space, no matter how small, for the taking in of books that provide you genuine enjoyment and learning.
You're welcome to email me questions or raise issues for discussion. Better yet, if you know of a good book on a related topic, please pass it along. And as always, if one of these books comes to mean something to you, recommend it to someone else.
Be in touch, and take care.
Teaching right beside you,