Summer Reading: Cheryl Strayed, I heart you.

The summer is winding down and a new semester is upon me. What I should be doing is prepping for my courses that I’m teaching in the fall. What I am doing is reading like a mad woman, reading like a person whose time is running out, reading like someone is standing next to me waiting to gouge my eyes out if I were to stop. I guess it’s the looming paper grading, lesson planning, and reading for my classes that has me in this mode, but I am happily plowing through books in in my own little blissed out world in which summer lasts forever and work is not, I repeat NOT, sneaking up on me.

Oh, and my kids are in CT this week with my in-laws, making it oh-so-quiet around here all the time. That helps.

Here’s how I’m rounding out my summer:

I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It was recommended on New York Magazine‘s approval matrix this spring as a much better Eat Pray Love. Well, I didn’t like Eat Pray Love too much, but Wild is a memoir that pretty much punched me in the stomach, over and over, with it’s brutal familiarity. Cheryl lost her mom at age 22, when I lost my dad, and that’s the launching point for her story. As you might imagine, it resonated in me. I loved this book more than any other memoir I have ever read, and I have read a lot of memoirs. I wanted to have written this book. I want Cheryl to be my best friend. I want to talk to her about losing a parent at that age, about how it defines you forever, how making peace with that loss and all the ways you failed and fucked up while that parent was sick and dying is an eternal quest. But it’s like she knew, in some weird way–like she knew my story, although it’s different, because she writes in a way that made me feel included in her searching. All I have to say is the word AWE. I cried reading this book because it ripped me apart in a good, healthy way. I could feel my heart expanding for her and her journey. I could feel the Cheryl in me, in many of my friends who have also wrestled with loss and identity, and it felt comforting.

I would quote from the book for you, but I already loaned it to my friend whose dad also died when she was 22. But if she’s not done, I might have to ask for it back. I kinda want to hug it.

So, being a fan, I am now reading Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed as well. Also, because I am a total Momastery follower, lover of Glennon and her writing, a blogger who has got me thinking about and grapping with God/god, goodness, the roller coaster of parenting, etc. Glennon’s posts are blogging poetry and her heart is infinite. She has been my spiritual lighthouse lately, so read that blog if you’re a woman, a teacher, a do-gooder, a seeker, or any of the above. That is some good reading. I guaran-damn-tee. Yesterday, she posted that Cheryl (we’re on a first name basis now) had another book–a book I didn’t know about–and being totally rabid I went and got it. Today.

[Btw, I linked you above to the post that brought me to Momastery called “Don’t Carpe Diem.” Ithink of chronos/kairos post at least once a day.]

But back to Cheryl, my new BFF in text form. I started reading Tiny Beautiful Things while getting a pedi today and I was embarrassed because I kept getting goosebumps while reading and I was worried that the sweet Asian girl might either worry I was cold or getting turned on. To sum it up, it’s selections from a balls-to-the-wall yet loving personal advice column she wrote; the advice is beautiful, harsh, and spot on. Here is the definition of love she gives to a man who is afraid to use the word because of past hurt:

Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and “loaded with promises and commitments” (quote from man’s letter) that we may or may not keep. The best thing you can do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love. And, Johnny, on this front, I think you have some work to do (p. 15).

Oh. my. god. “Tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.” Amazing. I would tattoo that on my body if I weren’t such a wuss. I want to make a sign that says “Tackle the motherfucking shit out of love” and carry it with me, post if over my desk. hang it in my living room. Yes. YES!

If any of you out there have any book/reading time left before the school year kicks in, read Cheryl Strayed.

Some of you might be thinking, “How can these books be used in my classroom? How do these books relate to teaching young adults?” I have two answers for you:

1. While reading both books, I kept thinking that I could use sections as model texts for my students. There’s amazing description in Wild to emulate, or to practice visualization while reading. There’s great use of second person point of view in Tiny Beautiful Things. I thought of how fun it would be to do an advice column in a class with the students, to have them work on a well-constructed response that included personal anecdote and a response that was kind and honest and real. I had lots of ideas on how to use these “grown up lady books” in my classroom with inner-city youth. Tons. And sometimes it’s just nice to shock the kids with the fact a White lady wrote a sentence that included the word “motherfucker.”

2. As a teacher of reading, I need to read. It is my professional responsibility.  I need to read books that foster my love for reading, and I need to understand why I am attracted to certain books at certain points in my life so that I can explain that to my students with hopes that they will become readers for pleasure, not just for school. I read all the the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, even though they are the worst books I have ever read, because I know my students are reading them and I needed to understand what, exactly, that meant. And, quite honestly, I think all books are fodder for classroom use. Heck, I’d even use an excerpt from Fifty Shades of Grey to demonstrate what not to do as a writer! But, I’m sure my students would be quick to point out that the author is beyond rich now. And yes, I’d have to concede that bad, sexy writing can make you millions. I’m sure that would be a fascinating conversation!

So, read on, my teacher friends. The clock is ticking until September.

2 thoughts on “Summer Reading: Cheryl Strayed, I heart you.

  1. Pingback: World Book Night, 2014: Cheryl Strayed! | readwriteteach

  2. Pingback: Write like a motherfucker. « readwriteteach

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