The Fremd school sign says, “Summer is a great time to read books.” I completely agree, but really any time is a great time for a book! Here are the books I read this summer:
• Paula McLain: The Paris Wife
• Mark Siegel: Sailor Twain
• Ame Dyckman: Boy + Bot
• K. L. Going: Dog in Charge
• Kelly Bingham: Z is for Moose
• Katherine Applegate: The One and Only Ivan
• Susanna Childress: Entering the House of Awe
• Maggie Stiefvater: The Scorpio Races
• Julie Halpern: Get Well Soon
• Randy Wayne White: Tampa Burn
• Raina Telgemeier: Drama
• Steve Cotler: Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything
• Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
• Patricia Ann McNair: The Temple of Air
• Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver
• Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
• Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock: I Got A Name: The Jim Croce Story
• Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm: Babymouse Rock Star
• Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm: Babymouse Dragonslayer
• Jim Kirkpatrick: Before He Was Fab: George Harrison's First American Visit
• Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm: Babymouse Puppy Love
• Marie Lu: Legend
• Ellen Potter: The Humming Room
• Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm: Babymouse Queen of the World
• Jane Yolen: Lost Boy
• Laura Numeroff: If You Give a Dog a Donut
• Jenny Offill: 11 Experiments that Failed
• Paul Fleischman: Seedfolks
• Randy Wayne White: Deadof Night
As you can see, I like to read not only “grown-up books” but also a variety of books for readers of all ages. In this post, I’ll concentrate on three books that I found to be especially important and memorable: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock, and Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
The Paris Wife is Paula McLain’s beautifully written nonfiction novel told by Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. Set in 1920s Paris, Hadley’s story gives readers a deeply imagined version of the American expatriate scene and its most illustrious denizens, including the Buddha-like Gertrude Stein, the squirrelly F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the glamorous Pauline Pfeiffer, and Ernest Hemingway with all his bluster, machismo, insecurity, and artistry.
Hadley was a traditionalist in most ways, at least compared to those with whom she traveled, sported, and drank. As Hadley struggles to hold onto those values while surrounded by fast and frenzied living, we see a woman trying to find equilibrium between the wildness of modern life and the satisfaction of a stable home and family life. As Hadley says, “That’s what terrible, sordid situations did to you, made you act crazily, against your own truths, against your self.”
Although Hemingway’s biography and exploits are well known, they are usually rendered with a biographer’s objectivity. In The Paris Wife, however, we see his Paris years through the eyes of his more reserved partner. This perspective creates a sympathetic Hemingway who is at once charismatic and loutish, sensitive and thoughtless, and simultaneously focused on acts of both literary creation and personal destruction. Through Hadley’s voice, Paula McLain captures the complexity of Ernest Hemingway in language that only one who loved him could use: “The myth he was creating out of his own life was big enough to take it for a time—but under this, I knew he was still lost. That he slept with the light on or couldn’t sleep at all, that he feared death so much he sought it out wherever and however he could. He was such an enigma, really—fine and strong and weak and cruel. An incomparable friend and a son of a bitch. In the end, there wasn’t one thing about him that was truer than the rest. It was all true.”
I highly recommend The Paris Wife for its compelling story of a hot-mess relationship, and for bringing Hadley Richardson into the spotlight. I can easily imagine granddaughter Mariel Hemingway portraying her in a film version.
The second book also focuses on a marriage. I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story is the best biography of Jim Croce that we’re likely to ever get. Ingrid Croce, Jim’s widow, and her husband Jimmy Rock have given us the Jim Croce that most of us never knew. When we learn details about his relationships with his parents, his wife, and the blue-collar denizens of his working life, Jim’s songs acquire even more depth upon listening to them again. Ingrid Croce does an admirable job of straddling the line between objective biographer and key player in the events she writes about. In order to understand Jim, we have to understand Ingrid, and vice versa. This is not a sugar-coated story at all. Neither Jim nor Ingrid is presented as saintly, although both of them come across as complex and appealing.
For two years in the early 1970s, Jim Croce gave us hit after hit, and then he was gone, leaving behind three studio albums, one of them released posthumously. Croce’s songs—“You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” “Operator,” “Time in a Bottle,” “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” and many others found a corner niche where folk meets pop. Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and others were in the same neighborhood, but Jim Croce was earthier and funnier (when he wanted to be), and his songs crossed demographic lines that other folk-rock and folk-pop artists never approached.
Jim Croce’s blue collar persona was not an affectation. Blue collar is exactly what he was. Although he was a graduate of Villanova, he earned a living doing blue-collar work and playing music. When a photographer came to Jim’s house to take some pictures for his first album, he had two choices of what to wear: his wedding suit, or jeans, t-shirt, and denim jacket.
I Got a Name is not a story about a star. “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” becomes a hit about two-thirds of the way through the book. From that point on, the book details Croce’s quick success and its all-too-soon end. This is a story about living an artistic life—how one couple struggled to follow and develop their artistic instincts. We also see what happens when artists trust sleazy business types. Jim Croce had what must have been one of the all-time worst business arrangements in the history of popular music. For most of his two years in the limelight, Jim was receiving $200 a week, and Ingrid shopped in thrift stores.
The importance of Maury Muehleisen, Jim Croce’s “one-man band,” is also conveyed here. I’ve always been fascinated by Maury. He accompanied Jim Croce in virtually every appearance I ever saw. He is right there in all the videos, and he died with Jim. He was a brilliant guitarist and harmonizing vocalist, but I never heard him say a word. In I Got a Name, Maury Muehleisen finally gets his due as a sweet, sincere, humble musical genius. When Maury and Jim played and sang together, two voices and two guitars came together to form one tight musical entity.
Jim Croce has been gone for 40 years. He would be almost 70 years old. Am I alone in thinking it could be time for a stage musical about his life? The success of Once might indicate a market for a compelling story anchored by this kind of music.
The third book might just be the one that sticks with me the longest. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a powerful and important book.
Quiet heightens my awareness of how extroverted students thrive on group work and class discussion while introverts thrive on opportunities for quiet reflection and expression, either on their own or with a very small group of co-thinkers. I know plenty of educators and others who believe that group work and class discussion are more valuable real-world skills than those offered to the world by introverts. That belief is a myth, and Susan Cain proves it in Quiet through study after study explained in clear, engaging language.
The fact is that extroverts tend to dominate the spotlight and microphone as they shout the glories of their own attributes while introverts tend to avoid doing that. So the societal message that comes through is the extroverted version of things, and then it becomes a convoluted but self-fulfilling prophecy.
The ideas in Quiet also have enormous implications for teacher professional development. In order for introverts to contribute to meaningful collaboration with other teachers, a reflective design is needed. Introverts are likely to contribute more in-depth, nuanced ideas to collaborative efforts, but they need a different model than what we frequently see in PLC-based schools where teachers have no choice regarding with whom they collaborate, what they discuss, or how and when their “learning” is reported. (For teachers and professional development designers, Jane Kise’s Creating a Coaching Culture for Professional Learning Communities (Solution Tree 2010) can be a useful companion to Quiet.)
Quiet also delves into implications of introversion and extroversion for the business world, parenting, and relationships.
If any of what I’ve said here sounds remotely relevant, please do yourself a favor and read Quiet. I saw myself on almost every page.
I welcome your comments and questions about these three books or any others on the list!
(Full disclosure: Some material in this blog post is adapted from earlier reviews I posted elsewhere.)