Friday, October 08, 2010

Week in Review: Follow My Footsteps

Today I finished reading Lessons from Great Lives, a collection of pieces about famous people put together by Sterling W. Sill, and revisited by Dan McCormick. In the final essay, McCormick talks about Sill’s personal goal to read the complete works of ten authors who he felt could change him in a way that would be good for his career. I started to think about if I had a list of ten authors I wanted to learn from, to see more about how the craft works, to model my own writing if not in form or substance, at least in gaining an audience. I thought I’d share those names with you, not only to get you thinking about your own list of ten people you could use as models in whatever career paths you have chosen, but as a commitment to myself to follow through.

1. William Shakespeare – Hey, he’s my first cousin 14 generations removed, and it seems everyone reads his work at sometime or the other, so I guess I’d better finish reading the canon myself. Thankfully I got a good start in high school and college.

2. Richard Paul Evans – I’ve learned so much from Rick in the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with him, and I’ve seen his track record at being on the New York Times lists, so he must be doing something right and it’s time for me to learn.

3. Suzanne Collins – You can’t throw a dead cat without someone mentioning Collin’s highly successful series, The Hunger Games, in the past year. I want to see how this series shows her personal growth as a writer compared to her previous series about Gregor, which was popular with some of my students but not to the extent this new series has been.

4. Margaret Peterson Haddix – This woman can also write a great series that draws in those junior high-age kids. Since that’s the audience my own fiction tends to be written for, I want to analyze what she is doing that works.

5. J. Scott Savage – Jeff is in my writer’s critique group and I have never known anyone to be such a hard worker when it comes to perfecting the craft. And the ideas he comes up with! I can only hope to someday be as good as he is at developing plots and sub-plots in my head.

6. Carol Lynch Williams – I’ve been reading Carol’s books almost from the very beginning of her publishing career, and I’m still in awe at how she hits the voice of her teenage audiences dead on. Those who know her may says it’s because Carol never grew up, but I’d still like to learn how to give my characters a similar strength of voice that she gives hers.

7. Richard Peck – Speaking of voice, Richard Peck does a Hoosier flavor better than I do, and I was born and raised there. How does he do it? How does he take me home every time and remind me so much of my mother?

8, 9, and 10. Okay, so I just started thinking about this list the afternoon, so I only have 7 names so far. But I’m a voracious reader so I know I’ll decide on the other three names soon. I’ll let you know when I do, but in the meantime, maybe you could start thinking about your own list of mentors whose work you need to follow.

Now, on to the books I finished this week, pushing my page count over 5,600 so far this term.

Lessons from Great Lives - Sterling W. Sill & Dan McCormick
As I said, this is a collection of Sill’s thoughts about some very famous men and women who have influenced the world. Every one from George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Ghandi,  Booker T. Washington, Joan of Arc, and even Jesus Christ get a chapter explaining why we should study their lives and apply their tenants and principles to our own. This book is one to be read slowly, a chapter at a time, then allowing yourself to think about that person throughout the day.

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
The first time I tried to read this novel I stopped at the end of the first chapter. I just couldn’t get into the voice and the set-up seemed really contrived to me, but like I said, you can’t go anywhere without someone asking if you’ve read it, so I decided I’d better give the book—and eventually the series—another try. This time I found myself wanting to read, no matter how late at night I got to it. I even stayed up until midnight on a school night to finish the last 100 pages, so I guess you’d say I enjoyed it. Of course, I had to keep myself one step of distance away from the characters or the whole thing would be too gruesome to even consider, but I didn’t mind. I’m just glad I already own Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I think if I’d had to wait, I wouldn’t have even bothered.

The Fourth Nephite - J. Scott Savage
I can’t tell you how much fun it is to see a book in its early manuscript form, then read the final product to see how it all comes together in the end. This was a great read aloud for me and my 10-year-old son, and I learned a lot about what he’s been picking up from his primary class discussions. Our only problem now is that Jeff hasn’t written the second book yet and now we have to wait to see what happens to Kaleo!!!

The Reading Zone - Nancie Atwell
Years ago I read Atwell’s oft-quoted book In the Middle. A few years later I read her own revisionist methods in the new and updated version of that same book/ It was great to see where she had discovered her own problems or struggles within a reading/writing workshop for her students and how she solved them. This thin volume revisits those workshops in a way that should be required reading for ALL language arts teachers. Like The Book Whisperer which I wrote about a couple weeks ago, this book will change you mind about the real way we should teach reading. Too often administrators and the department of education forget that it’s not all about the test. Of course, they also have failed to recognize that the best way to raise test scores—and to build life-long readers—is to let kids READ! What a radical concept.

Mere Christianity - C. S. Lewis
Speaking of radical, I’ve heard much about this book, another which is also oft-quoted, so I decided to listen to the audio version as I commuted back and forth to school. I was surprised by some of Lewis’s ideas, especially the chapter on sex, but the entire book gave food for thought, even if I’m not sure yet how my mind and body can use it.

The Power - Ronda Byrne
In a follow-up to The Secret, Byrne reemphasizes the fact that the way to attract the things we want into our lives we must draw them in through love. Everyone knows you can catch more flies with honey that with vinegar, and the real secret to success is learning how to consistently use that knowledge in our lives.

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