Confessions of a Recovering Literature Teacher

What could these have in common?

I have a confession to make.  When it comes to my entertainment choices, I like fluff.  I like escapism.  I like the books, movies, and television shows that are just pure entertainment and not dark, evil, or frightening.  I like the ones that cause serious students of the arts scoff.  I don’t want monsters, torture, and cruelty.  I don’t want to see government agencies undermining each other, duplicitous bad cops or government officials, or conniving friends and family.  We already have a world filled with violence, hatred, double-crossing, lies, and disasters.  Daily we hear of shootings, murders, robberies, explosions.  Barely a week goes by without news of mass shootings, natural disasters, out-of-control fires, or genocide somewhere in our world.  We are inundated with horrors that are real.  It is all just too much!  

So I don’t want to spend my money in my local bookstore or a theater to feed my heart, mind and soul with even more of that even if it is fiction.  I don’t want to turn on my television and invite into my home gory images of murdered and dismembered bodies or to see the good guys losing or fighting supposed allies all in the guise of entertainment.  Thus my love of HGTV and the Food Network!

As a recovering literature teacher and theatre student, I know that I’m supposed to love War and Peace, A Hundred Years of Solitude, and the works of Hemingway, Melville, Hawthorne, Dickens and others.  I should eagerly anticipate the serious movies and series that delve into the European royal courts of history with their intrigue and plotting.  And obviously I should be enthralled by movies nominated for the Oscars that are meaningful and avant garde.  I don’t love them.  I am not enthralled.  Mostly I am just disturbed.  You see, I have found that I love books and stories but not always “Literature” (said with a snobby, looking-down-your-nose-at-someone voice.)

To me much of what is presented as serious, artistic works are troublesome.  They are just disconcerting and strange.  I’ve read some classic works and even enjoyed some.  I assigned them to be read by students as was expected at least until I was able to create the course of study.  When I first started teaching and was given a curriculum for a class in American novels, I dutifully assigned the books.  The kids hated most of the books we read.  One day my students asked if we were ever going to read a book that wasn’t depressing or one where the main character doesn’t die.  Luckily I had The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn coming up and (spoiler alert) Huck lives.  

Many of the books I shared were serious and obviously contained some sort of trial or problem to be overcome, but they end up “happily ever after.”  I also found my book suggestions coming from books that students brought to me.  I still smile remembering Krista running into my room on the first day of school waving a copy of Where the Heart Isand excitedly exhorting me, “Ma!  You gotta read this book!  Some lady has a baby in a Walmart!”  

I know that, unlike me, teenagers love what I call “disease of the week” topics.  They love horror.  So I told them about the books other teens had loved along those lines.  I told them about The Lovely Bones which I had to stop reading because it was too disturbing to read after having attended the funeral of yet another student the week before.  I even told them about A Child Called “It” which I couldn’t bear to read and had recoiled over the details as students just had to tell me all of them!  I never gave wholehearted, enthusiastic endorsements of those.  They were always couched in “others have loved” or “I can’t keep this on the shelf” instead of excitement.  

I got to thinking about this in the last couple weeks because I read a book that I was telling EVERYONE to read.  I touted it online and in person.  I talked about it to everyone who could listen.  The book is The Day The World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede.  Set against the horrors of that day is the heartwarming, life-affirming story of what happened to the airline passengers prevented from continuing their travels to destinations in the United States.  As US airspace was closed, planes were forced to land in a wide array of places.  One of those places was the small town in Newfoundland where the population more than doubled that day.  On a day that showed the degree of hatred and willingness to cause devastation, death, and pain to other humans, this book shows the lengths to which people will go to help their fellow man.  It is an uplifting story in a time when we hear so much about hatred on our nightly news and in our social media feeds.  It was what I needed to read right now.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I can enjoy a book that is serious and sometimes tragic.  But those books are the exception for me.  At this point in my life I read for three reasons.  I read to learn.  I love biographies, nonfiction and history.  But I don’t want to read any more about the horrors of the Holocaust.  I’ve been there and read too much about that.  I’ve read what I consider the two most heartrending books I’ve ever read: William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Elie Wiesel’s Night.  I also read to improve myself.  I read Brené Brown and Max Lucado.  I read inspiring life stories.  Many of the books I learn from do double duty and fall into this area as well.  But biggest reason I read is for entertainment.  I mostly want enjoyment and escapism when I’m being entertained. I want to read of everyday heroes, kindness, love (not romance but it’s okay if there is a little of that), and other things that leave me feeling better about the world.  I don’t need to have my depression fed when the news of the day gives me plenty of fuel for that.

I’ve already mentioned some good books, and as always could go on and on.  I won’t.  However, if you are looking for some lightness and warmth in your entertainment…If you want to be uplifted…If you just want some pure enjoyment, here are ten:  ten novels, ten nonfiction works, and ten movies (along with a few names of authors) I would recommend.

BOOKS — FICTION

  • The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan 
  • Christy by Catherine Marshall 
  • Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister 
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Anything by:  

  • Fredrik Backman
  • Dorothea Benton Frank
  • Louise Penny

BOOKS — NONFICTION

  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • The Color of Water by James McBride
  • The Day The World Came To Town by Jim DeFede
  • Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Joni: An Unforgettable Story by Joni Eareckson Tada
  • The Magnolia Story by Joanna and Chip Gaines
  • Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall
  • Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

Anything by:

  • Andy Andrews
  • Brené Brown
  • Liz Curtis Higgs
  • Max Lucado

MOVIES – Just a few oldies but goodies with a couple new ones thrown in because they made me smile and sing!

  • The Blind Side
  • The American President
  • The Greatest Showman
  • I Can Only Imagine
  • The King’s Speech
  • Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns
  • Moostruck
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • Red (yeah, they blow things up but the humor is what I love)
  • Sweet Home Alabama

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