As I get ready to talk to my eighth graders tomorrow about how to choose an independent reading book, it struck me that perhaps I am not a good role model in this respect. I will read anything and I almost always read every book all the way through. I am a book omnivore.
I devour historical fiction about people and places that I have probably already met in hundreds of similar books. I’m always looking for the next best book about my favorite kings and queens. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good book; I just love the subjects. For example, today I checked out Before Versailles, The Reluctant Queen, and Becoming Marie Antoinette.
I love trashy chick lit, especially when it is set in New York City or in London. The pinker the book cover, the better. I live vicariously through the plucky heroines of these books, since my generation was just starting to enjoy the professional and personal freedoms that young women take for granted today. I do wonder why I rarely encounter chick lit set in Chicago. Maybe that’s a hole in the market I should fill. Or are we just too wholesome in the Midwest to make a good trashy novel?
(Mr. Internet always knows the answers to my questions; a quick search on Amazon brought me to an author that I don’t think I know — Jen Lancaster. It looks like I might like her books, based on their titles, and it appears that I will recognize the settings.)
I love novels with food and chefs in them. Even when the protagonists are weakly developed and the plots are unbelievable, it’s still fun to read about people who love to cook and people who love to eat, not to mention when the author throws in details about table settings. You already know how I feel about dishes!
I especially love books that take a famous art work and create a fictionalized story around it. One of my all time favorites is Luncheon of the Boating Party, based on Renoir’s painting of the same name. Susan Vreeland wove a fascinating story about the creation of this painting and how Renoir used his friends and relatives as models for the scene.
That’s why I was so very disappointed when I tried to read The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra. My reaction was similar to some of the reviewers — I couldn’t relate sympathetically to the main character, a Papal Inquisitor in 1497 who is sent to Milan to ferret out a heretic. That Leonardo Da Vinci is painting secret messages into The Last Supper doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
Apparently the final reveal of the message comes at the very end of the book, but I didn’t get that far. This tale of politics and dissent in the Catholic church didn’t really interest me and —insert gasps of surprise here — I couldn’t finish it. I took it back to the library, but don’t let that stop you. There are lots of reviewers on Amazon who loved The Secret Supper.
Tomorrow I’m going to tell my students my own story. I’m going to tell them to try a book for about fifty pages. If they hate it, they should stop reading and return it to the library. There is likely to be someone else who will love it, since our school librarian only buys highly regarded or wildly popular young adult literature. And then — and here’s the kicker — I’m going to ask them to write about why they didn’t like the book. That’s the part that would usually separate me as the teacher from me as the reader, but here I am writing about books I liked and about books I didn’t. Perhaps I’m an okay role model after all.