Up Late with Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Up Late with Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

I enjoy reading female comedian biographies. For example: Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl ; Tina Fey’s Bossypants; Amy Poehler’s Yes Please; and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?  But Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo was my favorite of ALL of those books.  Probably because I have the most in common with her–we’re close in age, and we’re both introverts. I know, you’re probably thinking how is Amy Schumer an introvert (something I often hear). and her response is this: “Sitting and writing and talking to no one is how I wish I could spend the better part of every day.” Now that is something I can relate to for so many reasons.

What surprised me (and it shouldn’t have) was how much her life has colored her comedy.  After reading this, watching Trainwreck made more sense, as it was semi-autobiographical. Her honesty about how difficult it was to negotiate her father’s illness and other personal issues was authentic and really fascinating.

Also, this book is just so empowering for women of all ages.  Take, for example, this excerpt: “I know my worth. I embrace my power. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will… I am amazing for you, not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you.” While this is not a book I would hand to many students, there are a few seniors who would embrace this book a29405093nd I think it would speak to them. But it is also enjoyable as a read just for people who want to read about the experience of a single woman in our culture.

Posted by Kate, PCTELA Blog Editor

Up Late with Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Book Review: Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

So I still have that literary crush on Teju Cole, but it may have turned into full-blown fangirl status with his latest book, filled with brilliant essays, titled Known and Strange Things. I would argue Teju Cole’s work represents the voice of a generation–but more than that, the voice of our time, regardless of age.  His essays include personal narratives and travel writing and analysis of art and current issues and in each one I found myself scribbling notes furiously. Sometimes it was a turn of a phrase, somethings an insightful observation, and sometimes (most times) I found myself creating a list of authors, artists, and texts I needed to read/view/research immediately.

Teju Cole is like your super-smart well-read friend who always refers to books and ideas in a non-pretentious way and makes you wish you were as smart as they were. But you can’t be jealous of their brilliance, because without them, you wouldn’t know about all the interesting things they share with you.  Cole does not hold back on his criticism of those he finds lacking, but his work is fresh–unlike those he chastises here: “There are many standard formulations in our language, which stand in place of thought, but we proclaim them each time–due to laziness, prejudice, or hypocrisy–as though they were fresh insight.”

His credo is hard not to agree with: “What do I believe in? Imagination, gardens, science, poetry, love, and a variety of nonviolent consolations. I suspect that in aggregate all this isn’t enough, but it’s where I am for now.”

And his observations are compelling, and yet make sense–they are ideas we have not yet discovered we even had, until he utters them and makes us aware of our thoughts. For example, his comment that “All technology arises out of specific social circumstances” leads to his question “What is the fate of art in the age of metastasized mechanical reproduction?” And I want to know, what is the fate of art in this age?  You might find one answer by following Cole on twitter, which, I would argue is just as artistic as any of his full texts.  As he himself notes, “curation and juxtaposition are basic artistic gestures,” so the way he curates his social media is thus, by extension, a work of art. Sadly, he’s been on hiatus from twitter after his brilliant World Cup tweets in 2014.3e4c2106-58ef-11e6-89cf-11d50d057da5-300x464

You might find his thoughts about voting particularly important in this election year: “we participate in things not because they are ideal but because they are not,” or perhaps you might be transported by his idea that placing ourselves where our artistic forebears went before us can connect us in deep ways: “When I’m moved by something, I want to literally put myself in its place, the better to understand what was transformed.”

Finally, reading his writing was like immersing myself into deep water, trying to hold my breath longer in order to see the underwater delights: I had to keep surfacing, take a breath, take a break, take some notes, and then inhale deeply and dive back into the essays–which make this pausing a little easier than if this were a novel. Cole even writes about composing with a similar metaphor:”Writing as diving: an exhilaration, a compression, a depression.”

Reading this book, I found myself wanting to copy different essays to share with colleagues, students, and friends. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy to read immediately–you won’t regret it, and you’ll probably end up adding a bunch of books to your to-read list based on his recommendations.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

Book Review: Up Late with Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I lucked into reading this so soon after publication because our library has a lucky day program where they have certain brand new books available only if you walk in to the library. This has been a great opportunity for me to read books with insanely long waiting lists because it was good timing on my part.

Hope Jahren’s memoir Lab Girl is not just a memoir, it is also a study of plants, a window into the world of academic science, and a story of someone with mental health issues (a part of the book I found especially compelling). I found this book difficult to put down, only stopping because I fell asleep (I picked it right back up the next morning and finished it, so technically I read it in under 24 hours). Each chapter about her life and education and scientific endeavors is followed by a shorter chapter explaining something about trees or seeds or roots or plants. As a non-science person, I found these easily digestible and simultaneously fascinating. I could also think of about fifteen students who I wanted to email and tell them to read this book immediately. Also, her blog is pretty darn interesting, and her twitter is a must-follow.

My first thought after reading the first two chapters was that I need to use this for teaching how to write college essays to my seniors.  Jahren’s prose demonstrates her passion for plants, but also shows a playfulness and authenticity my students would do well to understand and attempt.  I was so glad to have had the opportunity to read this, and I know I’ll be using at least the first chapter in class and recommending everyone I know to read it. As usual, here are some lovely quotes that explain why I enjoyed the book so much:

  • “Love and learning are similar in that they can never be wasted.”
  • “Being paid to wonder seems like a heavy responsibility at times.”
  • About her father: “He taught me that there is no shame in breaking something, only in not being able to fix it.”
  • “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of use is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”
  • “My mother taught me that reading is a kind of work, and that every paragraph merits exertion, and in this way, I learned how to absorb difficult books. Soon after I went to kindergarten, however, I learned that reading difficult books also brings trouble. I was punished for reading ahead  of the class, for being unwilling to speak and act “nicely.” I didn’t know why I simultaneously feared and adored my female teachers, but I did know that I needed their attention.”


Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Book Review: Up Late with The Opposite of Loneliness


After asking students to make bookmarks with recommendations for next year’s students (see the post about Leaving a Legacy), Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness cropped up on more than one. I realized I recalled hearing about this text, but hadn’t read it, so a student lent it to me. The first essay, the title essay “The Opposite of Loneliness” was so compelling, I immediately ordered a copy of my own. I then photocopied that essay to share with all my seniors, as it was the perfect essay to say goodbye to them with and to remind them of Keegan’s words “we’re so young” as well as her sentiment that it is never to late to do the things you want to do.

Unfortunately, and ironically, Keegan died days after her graduation from Yale, and reading this book (a collection of fiction and essays compiled by Anne Fadiman, one of her professors at Yale) has a far more eerie sense when you realize the uncanny elements of some stories.  For example, in one story, a young woman loses her boyfriend in a car accident, not unlike how she died. It is clear why The New Yorker had hired her on after graduation, and it is a sad loss of a young life as well as a gifted writer.

I plan to use not just the title essay, but also an essay she writes about her car, “Stability in Motion” where she explains the relationship she has with her car. I first read this essay because Jim Burke shared it with me, and re-reading it I realized the value it could have in the classroom as a model of our relationship with objects.

As per usual, here are some favorite quotes from the text. I encourage you to put this on your classroom library shelf, or even gift it to a recent high school or college grad.

  • “What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.”
  • “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.”
  • “And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.”

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with The Opposite of Loneliness

Up Late with When Breath Becomes Air

A number of colleagues recommended When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi to me, and when I saw it online for a cheap price, I jumped on it.  Coincidentally, I happened to be teaching the Pulitzer-Prize winning play W;t, by Margaret Edson when I read this, and I discovered the two were excellent companion pieces–one looks at how becoming a doctor can dehumanize you, and one looks at how becoming a patient can dehumanize you.

This memoir tells the story of a deeply literate man who becomes a doctor.  I enjoyed the book for many reasons, one was how he wove his love of literature and curiosity about human nature and how the brain works into the story of his life. Early in the novel, he writes how as a teenager, he discovered books: “Books became my closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world.”

The writing absolutely sang, and I found myself underlining many parts of the book not just for the meaningful content, but for the style in which they were written:

  • “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
  • “There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”
  • “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”
  • “The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”
  • “Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”

88745374e75ec2048e0f6a706700cbc9Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Up Late with When Breath Becomes Air

Book Review: Between the World and Me

If you read one new book this year, make it Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Goodreads tells us this book has won the National Book Award for Nonfiction (2015), the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction (2015), the Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction (2015), and the Alex Award (2016).

Let me tell you why. This year, at NCTE, I attended/presented at High School Matters. As usual, Carol Jago had her bookmark with her recommendations. Usually, she puts this bookmark together a few weeks before, and by the time the conference rolls around, many of her choices are award-winners. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book, Between the World and Me was one of the books she recommended.

I attended the conference with a colleague, and she immediately procured the book, began reading it, and was profoundly moved. After we returned home, I bought a copy as well. I found myself wanting to underline every sentence in the book. I dog-eared pages, I underlined sections, I photocopied paragraphs. This book captures an important issue in brilliant writing. He writes in epistolary form–a letter to his son. The basic claim he makes is that black people don’t own their bodies.

Here are some compelling passages:

  • “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”
  • “You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.”
  • “I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”
  • “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”
  • “So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.” These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.”


I’ve already passed this book along to colleagues, and now I’m handing it to students.  It addresses important issues we’re talking about in our classroom–representation, the American Dream, power and oppression.   So if you’re looking for a new non-fiction book to read, to share, to teach, consider Between the World and Me.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Book Review: Between the World and Me

Nourishing NonFiction–Releah Lent’s Common Core CPR: What About the Adolescents Who Struggle . . . or Just Don’t Care?

Releah Lent will be a keynote speaker this Saturday, October 25, at our PCTELA conference. Check out her book description from Amazon:

Common Core CPR is needed. Urgently. Because if we continue to insist that all students meet expectations that are well beyond their abilities, these kids will only decline faster. We must cast aside what we know harms students and apply the teaching methods we know work.

Embracing what is best about the standards, Lent and Gilmore explicitly connect ideal outcomes to practical classroom strategies, including how to

  • Consider choice and relevance in every assignment
  • Plan and spot opportunities for success
  • Scaffold students’ comprehension of fiction and nonfiction
  • Model close reading
  • Teach students to use evidence


Nourishing NonFiction–Releah Lent’s Common Core CPR: What About the Adolescents Who Struggle . . . or Just Don’t Care?