August 30: School Freebie (In honor of school starting up soon, come up with a topic that somehow ties to school/education. The book could be set at school/college, characters could be teachers, books with school supplies on the cover, nonfiction titles, books that taught you something or how to do something, your favorite required reading in school, books you think should be required reading, your favorite banned books, etc.)
I decided to go with teacher characters here. I tried to stay away from children’s books (because there are a lot of teacher characters there!) but I had to include a couple.
11/22/63 by Stephen King – In this one the main character is a teacher and a time traveler. He has to stop Kennedy’s assassination, but he gets to the 60’s early so he spends two years teaching high school. To say that isn’t the most exciting part of the book is sort of an understatement.
Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman – I have a feeling that trying to teach in a classroom that’s falling apart, while buried under paperwork, with no supplies, is, sadly, timeless. This book is funny just as often as it’s sad though.
Matilda by Roald Dahl – Obviously Miss Honey is an example of teaching at it’s best, and the Trunchbull is teaching at it’s worst. As a adult though I do wonder: Miss Honey is so sweet, how does she handle kids when they’re disrespectful? It seems like they’d walk all over her…
The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole – Ms. Frizzle is, well, let’s call her a truly unique educator. Though, as an adult, I do have to wonder: who approves and funds those field trips!? What kind of an administrator does that school have?
The Magus by John Fowles – Nicholas Urfe is an Englishman who accepts a teaching position on a remote Greek island. He doesn’t spend much time teaching though. He spends far more time playing bizarre mind games with a local reclusive millionaire.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman – Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson left her girls private school after a tragedy involving her friend. So of course she accepts a teaching position at that school many years later. What could go wrong?
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson – Beatrice Nash is the attractive new Latin teacher in Rye in 1914. She’s also a struggling writer and a forward thinker, which means she may bring some change to the small town..
I did a list like this a while back, but I know we all need a laugh sometimes, so I figured I’d take on the challenge and make another! All different books of course!
One For the Money by Janet Evonovich- There are now 28 Stephanie Plum books. I’ve only read the first ten or so, and I’d say that the first 5-6 really made me laugh. When we meet Stephanie in this book, she’s unemployed and broke. She gets her cousin to give her a job as an apprehension agent (aka bounty hunter). Of course Stephanie knows nothing about apprehending criminals, but she can learn! When she learns that her first case involves finding Joe Morelli, a vice cop accused of murder, who also happens to be her ex, things get even more interesting. Truthfully, much of the time, Stephanie is a little inept as a bounty hunter. That’s what makes it funny. For the first few books in the series. I felt like it all went on a little too long after a while.
2. Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen- I’ve read the first three books in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, and while they’re not deep and meaningful, they’re good for a chuckle and a lot of fun. It’s set in 1932. Georgina is 34th in line for the throne. In other words, she’s distant enough so that she has no money, but close enough so that the queen will ask the occasional favor. When she gets home from her latest attempt to make some money, she discovers a dead body in the bathtub and her brother accused of the murder. Apparently getting away with murder is not one of the advantages of a royal bloodline… Georgie knows that her brother is innocent: he’s not smart enough to plan and pull off a murder. Unfortunately the police don’t consider this argument a valid defense. So Georgie is on the case! .
3. I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella- Most of the time, Sophie Kinsella is good for a quick read with a few laughs. I think most of her books could go on this list, but I chose this one because I remember the mental image of one of the scenes made me laugh as I was drinking, and spit everywhere. Poppy Wyatt had a bad day. She lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill, and as she’s panicking about getting it back, her phone is stolen. When she notices a phone in a trash can, she figures “finders keepers”: at least this way she can leave the hotel with a number to contact when they find the ring. But the owner of that phone, Sam Roxton, wants it back! He also doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and becoming involved in his personal life. Sam and Poppy spend the next few days communicating via email and text, and trying to get things sorted out as Poppy also tries to prepare for her wedding, and hide her now ringless finger from her fiancé and his family.
4. Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters by Susanna Fogel– Despite the subtitle, I’d actually call this a straight out “comic” novel in letters. The letters in question are sent to out heroine, Julie, over the course of three decades. They come from her father, a former child prodigy turned haiku poet; her stepmother, who attempts to help Julie find a husband; her mother, who overshares EVERYTHING; her free spirited sister; and assorted other family members. Julie also gets the odd missive from other things present in her life, such as her Nordic Track, a container of hummus at her grandmother’s deathbed, her boyfriend’s dog, and the gerbil she accidentally drowned when she was 10. Despite the fact that we come to know these characters over the course of three decades, this novel is pretty short, and the epistolary format means you can dip into it for a few minutes or read it straight through. However you choose to read it, chances are, you’ll laugh.
5. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite– This is a pretty dark comedy, but my sense of humor can sometimes be weird, so it made me laugh. The book opens with Korede, a nurse, getting a call from her sister, Ayoola. Ayoola is frantic, saying her boyfriend attacked her, and she killed him in self defense. Now she needs Korede to help her dispose of the body. Korede wants to believe her sister’s story, but it’s hard: this is the third boyfriend that Ayoola has killed in “self-defense.” Somehow Korede is always the one to drag out the bleach and rubber gloves, clean up her sister’s messes, and get rid of the bodies. Pretty soon, Ayoola has her eyes on another guy, and this time it’s someone Korede knows and cares about. How can she warn him of the danger her sister presents without exposing them both? This book has a wonderful contemporary Nigerian setting. It’s a quick read that packs a satirical punch.
6. At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald– Set at a children’s theatrical school in London in the early 1960s, “Freddie’s” is run by a woman who keeps her school running in spite of a complete lack of income. Over the course of a few months, the star pupil lands (and may lose) an important role, the most talented student gets some new opportunities, the school’s only two teachers flirt with romance and one another, and Freddie fends off the financial wolves. Nothing earth shattering happens in this slim novel, but we’re given an appreciation for the love these characters have for the school and the theater, so we’re invested in what happens to them. I’d describe the tone of the novel as “tragicomic”. It’s definitely witty and makes you chuckle. But some of the characters have an earnestness that pulls at the heartstrings too.
7. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman– This novel is told via letters, notes passed in class, interoffice memos, and scraps of paper taken from lockers, notebooks and trashcans. It was written in 1964 about a 1st year teacher in a NYC high school and what’s remarkable is how much (and how little!) has changed since then. Anyone who thinks that having summers off makes teaching an easy job needs to read this. Read it to appreciate the teachers in your life a bit more. Or just read it because it’s a fun (and funny) book.
8. Going Bovine by Libba Bray: Full disclosure: I bought this book almost solely on the basis of this interview. with the author. The book is more or less exactly what you’d expect from that. Our protagonist, Cameron, is a teen slacker, who just wants to get through high school with as little effort as humanly possible. When he learns that he’s dying of mad cow disease, he’s understandably depressed. When he learns from a possible hallucination/possibly real punk angel named Dulcie that there’s a cure, he goes off on a quest for it. His companion is a death obsessed video gaming dwarf and yard gnome (who may also be a Norse god) It’s sort of Don Quixote meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s totally weird and bizarre, but so am I, so it works!
9. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell– I read this book because I’m a fan of the TV series The Durrells in Corfu, which is based on Gerald Durrell’s Corfu trilogy, of which this is the first book. Gerald Durrell was a British naturalist and conservationist. At the age of 10, in the 1930s, his widowed mother moved him and his siblings (who include famous writer Lawrence Durrell) to the Greek island of Corfu to live. According to the author, this book was initially intended as a natural history of the island. But his family dominated every page. From their mishaps and experiences, to eccentric family friends to young Gerald’s endless procession of animals (including, but not limited to puppies, toads, scorpions, geckos, octopuses, bats and butterflies) this is a family you’re unlikely to forget.