Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Praise of Randomness

I’m constantly berating myself for not being focused enough.

Lately I’ve seen my attention span shrink to the size of a pea. There is, however, one instance when randomness can be a virtue.

When looking for something to read, I’ve found that hopping randomly from one subject to another, or even from one age level to another, can lead to wonderful discoveries.

On the surface, the reading I’ve done this summer has been completely random. Dig a little deeper, however…

…Well, dig a little deeper and it’s still random. But it’s all been so enjoyable I don’t care.

Here’s a quick recap of the highlights:

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. Best known for her widely anthologized (and super-spooky) short story “The Lottery” and for her equally creepy novels, including We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson also wrote these autobiographical sketches (published in 1952) about her move with her family from the city to rural New England. Unlike her more famous books, Savages finds humor—not horror—in the everyday. Half the fun is trying to guess who the “savages” of the title really are: Jackson’s four young children or the many Vermonters she encounters. I picked up the book by chance and ended up reading it on the flight back from New England to Minnesota—just after buying a new home in Massachusetts.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a truly economical writer. She packed tons of meaning and emotion into very few pages. The Bookshop is no exception. I found it while unpacking boxes of books in my new small-town home. Fitzgerald tells us what happens when a well-meaning woman decides to open a bookshop in a small English village. On the face of it, this shouldn’t sound like a tragedy, but, of course, it is. Beautifully written, this is a spot-on depiction of small-town life.

Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick. I’ve been recommending Sonnenblick’s books for years to middle school students at Twin Cities Academy where, until recently, I was the library aide. But I’d never read his novel about being the new kid in town. Where did I find it? In the town where I’m new, on a shelf at the general store (yes, there’s a general store here). Zen is a fun and fast-paced story of reinvention. A good read for the beginning of the new school year or the beginning of life in a new place.

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. I’ve also been recommending Zusak’s books to high school students at Twin Cities Academy, based solely on the great reviews and Printz Award honors that Zusak receives on a regular basis. When I saw I Am the Messenger on the shelf of a local public library’s YA room, I decided it was time to get reading. Messenger has an interesting structure: the chapters are titled after playing cards, all the way to the final chapter “Joker.” And it has a fascinating premise: someone is sending the main character on different “missions” all over his Australian hometown. Although he’s lived in one place his whole life, he discovers new facets of this old place—and gains new insight into himself—along the way.

Your mission: choose one of the above, at random, and begin reading.

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