Identity Crisis in Progress: New Layout + A Reader’s Manifesto

If you follow this blog with any regularity, you’ll notice that it’s had some major cosmetic changes over the last few weeks. There are some goofy reasons for this (namely boredom and restlessness on my part), but there are also some good reasons. I want this site to be more than just a site where I can post links to the latest PEN events. I want to use this space to muse about everything I’m thinking about education-wise, which happens to be most of what I’m thinking about. So I’ve been looking for a layout that’s more conducive to browsing past posts and enabling readers to find the kind of content they’re looking for. Hopefully this new format enables that. If not, or if so, please do let me know–it’s nice to know what folks think.

Even more importantly, this new layout allows me to add a feature I’ve been dreaming about. I’ve added a new widget to the sidebar of this website that I hope you’ll enjoy: it’s a link to my “Currently Reading” list on a site called Goodreads. Goodreads is the other, other social media website that I frequent (other than Twitter and Facebook, I mean): it’s a gathering place for readers to share books that they’re currently reading, books that they’d like to read, and books that they’ve already read. You can review things you’ve read, made lists of books you’d like to read, share your reviews with friends and with strangers, and even connect directly to authors. I’ve gotten free books and posters from them (one graces Ms. Denny’s English classroom wall) and I’ve found new and interesting things to read via the site. The iPhone and iPad app for the site has improved by leaps and bounds in the last year and has made me love the site in a new way: I can scan a book’s barcode in real life and add it to my “Want to Read” list. This is an incredibly powerful way to capture new ideas for things I’d like to read.

Both Ms. Simpson and CES teacher Ms. Mullin witnessed my obsession with this feature at last week’s Learning and the Brain Conference: each time a presenter mentioned the new book she was hawking, I tapped the title into the Goodreads app’s search bar, found the book, and added it to my “Want to Read” list. Much faster than jotting down the title, and now I’ve got a full list of fascinating books to request from the SFPL in the weeks ahead.

I’m partial to Goodreads for a lot of reasons: it’s San Francisco-based and some friends of one of my close friends founded it, and it helps me connect to far-flung friends in a meaningful and immediate way. More than just seeing photos of what my Facebook friends had for breakfast, Goodreads lets me continue an intellectual conversation with friends and colleagues. I like to see what people are reading, and I like to have an entry point to discussing what I’m thinking about in terms of professional growth and supporting our  students’ learning. The same friend who knows the site’s founders is the director of student life at an independent school in southern California, and it’s exciting for us to be able to share our current reading lists and to bounce ideas off of each other. At the very least, it’s a fun conversation for two old friends; at best, it helps improve our schools and the things we can do for our faculty, students, and families.

So I want to share what I’m reading because it’s a fun way to have an intellectual conversation. I also want to share what I’m reading because I love to read, and because I read a lot of strange things. I’ve started reading graphic novels in the last year; Maira Kalman’s And The Pursuit of Happiness is a fascinating look at American history; I loved Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive about Marie and Paul Curie so much that I managed to talk our English department into putting it on the summer reading list last year. I’m currently reading an absolutely remarkable book called Building Stories by Chris Ware (read this review to get a sense of what’s awesome about this book) that is taking up half of my living room. I’m also reading an amazing sci-fi/historical fiction novel about time travel and World War II called All Clear, the sequel/second half of a novel called Blackout which I stayed up until 3 AM finishing last night.

All this is to say the following: I love sci-fi. I appreciate graphic novels. I read education books and popular science books and new fiction and nonfiction and everything in between. And I think that’s a good thing. We talk a lot in schools about how reading can help boost your SAT scores, help you do better in school generally, and help build a variety of academic skills. I believe that all of that is true. I also believe that there aren’t a whole lot of “bad” books out there, and that if you’re going to develop a lifelong love of reading, you’ve got to believe that it’s okay to read what you love. I love a lot of weird books, many of which are not terribly scholarly or impressive, but it’s not less-okay to love less-impressive books. Harry Potter is great. I loved The Hunger Games. I also love War and Peace.

If I can set any example with my “Currently Reading” list, I hope it’s to let you know that any reading and all reading is great. Explore sites like Goodreads. Find what you love. Read what you love. Don’t give up on finding something that you’ll adore–it’s out there somewhere, and it can make reading, learning, and discovery more exciting than you might have imagined.


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