Jumping Back In (with thanks to Julieanne Harmatz)

The problem with not having written a blog post for months (or in my case, over a year) is that the longer you go without writing one, the harder it seems to do. Where to start? What to say? How to explain—or not?

For me, the silence stems from some usual suspects. Work certainly played a part, but on top of that there’s the outrage, despair and exhaustion I suspect that many of us have felt about the state of our poor country—and our poor, precious planet. And all of that was compounded by some health problems that threw me for a loop and made the simple act of sitting at my desk and concentrating quite a challenge.

Fortunately, many months physical therapy and a handful of caring doctors have helped. But what I could do was walk and read, both of which offered much solace and joy. When it came to walking, I became obsessed with walking among trees, and almost every day for months on end, I’d head out for a walk in Prospect Park, Central Park, Riverside Park or the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, often with a book of poetry in my bag. And one day, I stumbled on this poem by Mary Oliver, which completely captured the kind of reverence and sustenance I’d feel as I looked up into the branches of a sycamore or a towering elm:

As for reading, while I read at least one poem a day, thanks to The Writer’s Almanac and The Slowdown, which each send a poem to my inbox every morning, I really gorged on novels. Some were mirrors, some were windows, but each one I stuck with and didn’t abandon (yes, it’s true, I’m a book abandoner) was marked by gorgeous language and amazing sentences. (FYI: I do love books with complex, nuanced characters, but when I took an online quiz to determine my reading personality, I was deemed an Aesthete: someone who “reveres writers whose words can exalt everyday experience into a shareable sublimeness.”)

I’m not sure if there are other Aesthetes out there, but here, in no particular order, are a few of the books that nourished and sustained me during those months of pain and discomfort. In addition to wonderful language, each has a powerful story to tell, with characters that might just break your heart:



Idaho by Emily Ruskovich: There’s a devastating event at the heart of this novel, but ultimately it’s about redemption, with characters who learn to bear the unbearable with compassion and grace.




Paris 7 A.M. by Liza Wieland, who imagines poet Elizabeth Bishop’s time in Paris in 1937, which was the only year in her entire life that Bishop didn’t keep a journal. Must read for any Elizabeth Bishop lovers out there.




Go, Went, Gone, by Jenny Erpenbeck, a German writer who tells the story of a retired academic whose life is fundamentally changed when he becomes involved with a group of African refugees seeking asylum in Berlin.




Prairie Fever by Michael Parker, a seriously quirky, but in my mind charming, historical fiction novel about two sister in love with the same man in Oklahoma in the early 1900s.



The Need by Helen Phillips, a novel about motherhood with a speculative twist that really unnerved me and got under my skin.





Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli about a family who embarks on a road trip from New York City to Arizona to try to find two lost migrant children and the ancestral homeland of the Apaches.



Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, is another road trip book, but here the characters are a drug-addicted mom, a dad in prison, a 13-year-old boy desperate for a role model and the various ghosts that haunt them.




Now that my body is finally on the mend and sitting just involves sitting, I’m hoping to share some of the work I’ve done with teachers over the last year, along with some new thoughts and ideas—which, for better or worse, I never seem to be in short of. But for now, here’s a link to an oldie but goldie blog post from 2011, the year I started blogging. Interestingly enough, it speaks to what I believe is the real reason why we read—which is often quite different from what some of children perceive the goal to be. And hopefully it sparks some questions and reflections about what kind of messages are we sending students about the purpose of reading.

“I hope I get to read up to Level Z,” from What Messages Are We Sending Our Students About Reading?

29 thoughts on “Jumping Back In (with thanks to Julieanne Harmatz)

  1. Welcome back, and thanks for all the book recommendations! Sorry to hear about the health challenges! Wish we would have had more time for conversation than just registration-line-catchup at NCTE.

    • So wish, too, that we’d had more time together in Baltimore. But I’m hoping to be in Denver this year and will definitely try to set things up earlier than I did in November. In the meantime, though, have loved the back & forth with you & Steve on twitter. Have missed you both!

  2. Vicki,
    I am so glad you are back and on the mend. I want to create a to-read file with these books. Did you listen to any of them? I am enjoying Audible in my car as I drive from school to school. I just finished James Taylor’s memoir and I want to listen to it again. HIs voice is like an old friend. I look forward to more posts. Remember that when you write, there are friends out there wanting to read. Blessings and Love, Margaret

    • Thanks so much for the best wishes, Margaret! Actually pulled up a piece by James Taylor in The Guardian this morning, which made me want to hear his music – and maybe read his memoir as well. In the meantime, know how much I value the community of educators I’m a part of. Gives me reasons to keep wrestling with those old writing demons!

  3. Hello Vicki,
    I’ve missed your voice. I’m so sorry to hear that on top of everything else you had to deal with some health issues. Glad you seem to be on the mend now, and I am also glad that during that time you still had the comfort of books, and trees.
    I wish you continued recovery and strength, and I look forward to hearing more of you wisdom and ideas when you are ready/able to share them.
    Welcome back.

    • I’ve missed you, too, Allison! And thanks so much for the warm wishes. In addition to reading & trees, this weird health thing has also prompted lots of reflection & gratitude. And I’m so thankful to have colleagues like you who I also consider to be dear friends.

    • Thanks! It was, indeed, a little scary. But perhaps it’s good to be reminded of how risky it can feel to put our hearts and our words out into the world. Want to remember that that’s true for kids as well.

  4. Ah, to read your words is such a gift! I’ve bookmarked this post so I can find my next read.

    You are that writer who I’ve found inspiration and my thoughts reflected. Today you give me both as I think about my students’ reading lives as well as my blogging and reading life. I’m honored and grateful for this post. You give me reason and purpose to think through blogging. Sending much love.

  5. Welcome Back yes! Your thoughts and wisdom are never far from my mind. I am a regular reader and have missed you; as the novels have nourished you, your blog nourishes me and I consider you a great friend. I’m sure all of your readers wish you the best of health!

    • And thank you for the nudge this summer & sharing your own struggles with writing. Not sure this one would have made it into the world without great colleague friends like you!

    • I have to confess that I’ve been a little overwhelmed and humbled by the responses to this blog. But it’s a reminder of how many of us actually crave intellectual stimulation in an educational culture that doesn’t always supply that. So thank you for this!

  6. So happy to read this, to reconnect on many levels. Healing comes in many ways. Glad for yours. I am always interested in what you have to share. It was good to say hello at NCTE.

    • Healing does come in many ways, Janet, and one of the strange but wonderful side-effects of health problems is that, for me at least, they prompted lots of reflections and gratitude, which included knowing I was part of a community of educators who’ve been become dear friends.

  7. Welcome back! I was delighted to see your blog post pop up in my Inbox this morning. I was so sorry to hear that you’ve had a year filled with challenges. Wishing you healing and many thanks for sharing these titles.

    • Thanks so much for your warm wishes! In the grand scheme of things, there are far worse health issues to have than nerve-related & back pain. I’m just glad too to be back to blogging, which has sustained me as well for many years.

  8. Vicki! Yours is one of my absolute favorite blogs and I’m so glad that you’ve jumped back in! Most of all glad that you’re feeling better! Much love, Kathy

    • Thanks so much, dear Kathy. Not 100% sure I’m fully recovered, but I have figured out how to better deal with it in a way that’s helping me live my life, which is definitely a good thing. And …I’m going to be at UNH this summer, July 20-31, and would SO adore doing another brunch (or lunch or dinner) with you & Shawna if you’re around!

  9. Ah, Vicki, I, too, am so glad you are back with the blog. I kept thinking I was just inept at finding it. Looking forward to seeing you at UNH again this summer. Hope we have time to sit on our deck and talk again, especially “among the trees.” Love that Mary Oliver poem also. So enjoyed that last time you were here. Stay well.

    • Thanks, so much Linda. And would so much love to sit on your deck again this summer and catch up at your lovely house, which I remember so vividly! Definitely something I’m looking forward to!

  10. Thank you for breaking the silence, Vicki. Your voice has been such an important one for me; I still hear its wise-words inside my own head as I think through what my next teacher-moves might be.

    I am sorry to hear that you have had some health issues but happy that you seem on the mend. It seems like you used that time as best you to explore, reflect, and heal. Like you, I’ve been “saved” by a regular dose of poetry reading. But I hadn’t read that Mary Oliver poem, so these gentle words were welcome this morning:

    and you, too, have come
    into the world to do this, to be easy, to be filled
    with light, and to shine.

    May the light continue to shine for you! (And thanks for a reading list!! 🙂

  11. Thanks so much, Steve. Mary Oliver never fails me and those final lines really resonated for me, too. Somehow this journey toward healing (I fractured my sacrum, with no apparent cause, and that seriously irritated and inflamed some of the nerves that run through there) has turned out to be really cathartic. Not sure where it will lead, but for now I do know there are some books I want to read, walks I want to take and blog posts I want to write for great colleague friends like you.

  12. I’m so happy to have a post of yours to read, and especially to find a list of books on your blog today that I’ve never read. I’m an avid reader who loved instilling the love of reading and the power of books to open unknown worlds to my students.
    Recently I read an incredible book from an author I had previously never -inexplicably- even heard of. The book was The Overstory by Richard Powers. His writing is beautiful, and the message of the unified system of all trees was inspiring to me.
    I’m glad you’re on the mend and hoping you’ll continue inspiring all of us with your blog.

    • I’ve read several books by Richard Powers, and adored The Overstory, which I’d read before all my health stuff started (which is why I didn’t include it in my post). But it definitely spoke to and strengthen my love of trees and my belief that they’re sentient creatures. So really glad to know that you loved it too. And, yes, I’m hoping to blog more regularly–and to continue being inspired by the thoughtfulness of my readers. Vicki

  13. So glad you’re back, Vicki! I was starting to worry that you had abandoned this blog. Your posts sustain and lift me. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a rough year health-wise. Walks and books are good therapy…thanks for sharing the titles.

    • So good to hear from you, Tam! I did have a hard year, but things are, indeed, looking better. I was able to do NESA’s Fall Training Institute in Bahrain in November and will be doing this year’s one in Abu Dhabi in November in case any of your Nairobi colleagues are interested. (It’s the foundational course in Readers Workshop that always gets some coaches and more experienced folks.) And I’m really glad I plunged back into blogging, if only to make sure I’m still connected to educators like you. In the meantime, though, hope Nairobi is working for you and that our paths cross again somewhere and at some point soon! Vicki

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