Thursday, July 15, 2010


As an English teacher, you can imagine I sort of like to read. Just a little. Nothing crazy. :)

I am actually super meticulous about books. I keep a running list of fifty books I want to read, most of which are classics I never got around to cracking (or didn't know existed) when I was younger. I log every book I finish, therefore, I know that I average around fifty books a year. I’m aiming for seventy-two this year. Six per month, if I’m doing my math correctly. So far, I’m on track.

I also keep a list of my top twelve most favorite books of all time. I read one per month. sometimes the list changes, but it generally stays the same. Twelve books. Twelve titles that read like a brand new novel each year. Twelve small renaissances each year. Love.

(Before you dive in, you should know that I and my students have a running joke about my favorite books. When I am truly slain by a book, I will inadvertently announce that one of my future children will be named after one of the characters. I have chosen a future baby name for each of these books. Be forewarned, however, that there are no actual babies.)

January: Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis

Everything I know and believe about love is mapped out in this book. The curious tension between admiration and obsession, care and possession, love and selfishness, is dissected and defined in the pages. It's just gorgeous, meaning that I gorge myself on it. I recommend this book to my high school students regularly, and when one actually takes me up on it, he or she comes back to me to talk about it and we are both always so amazed and happy. I have a particular penchant for Clive's mythological ancient civilization. What a genius. Everyone should read this book.

Future baby name: Psyche

February: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

I wrote my senior thesis in college on this book. I, or anyone else, could literally discuss its many merits for years and still barely scratch the surface. I've read it countless times, and beyond the perfect writing and the fantastic characters and the intense action, there is the mesmerizing tension of gender capital. Could Daisy Buchanan have been successful if she had been a male character? Absolutely not! Is Gatsby feminine in his obsession of Daisy? Somewhat. The interaction between the genders is just fascinating. That's kind of a horrible explanation of gender theory, but you get the gist, I hope. Super interesting, succinct delivery, altogether brilliant. Definitely my most favorite novel ever.

Future baby name: Daisy

March: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I hate winter. By March, the cold has entirely exhausted me. Enter Life of Pi, with its mouth-watering descriptions of Indian vegetation bursting into life, wild animals raring back in the fullness of their physical prowess, and Pi, in the middle, small but confident, claiming his place as God's servant. What an excellent novel. Furthermore, it reminds me of the reason that I love stories, and why the imagination is so essential to existence. Just FYI, the ending will kill you dead.

Future baby name: Ravi

April: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

This book sums up everything I love about modern literature. Four voices tell the same story, but the actual plot line fades in the pathetic, beautiful perspectives of this sad, fierce family. The novel takes place in Mississippi, where the Compsons are struggling to retain tradition and dignity in a world that simply does not acknowledge their values. Many fans of the book laud Faulkner for his spot-on characterization of Benjy, one of the Compson children who narrates a section of the novel. Benjy is retarded, which makes his perspective that much more weighty and tragic. However, my favorite character is Quentin, who goes to Harvard and can't go any further. Quentin's father gives him a watch, which only represents compounded pressure to Quentin. However, Quentin's father tells him:

"I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it."

That quote is worth wallpapering all over my house. This book is painfully pretty.

Future baby name: Caddy

May: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Ben knows when this one is coming. He remembers it because I spend the entire month squalling over the book and reading him long sections of it aloud. This is one of the more colorful books on the list in terms of language, but I just cannot bring myself to call it vulgar (although it's definitely not for children and probably not for teenagers.)

I love Owen Meany. When I imagine my children, I imagine them to be irresistibly tiny and speaking in a permanent scream. I want them to say things like, "IT'S AN UNSPEAKABLE OUTRAGE." and "GOD TOOK MY HANDS. I AM GOD'S INSTRUMENT." Owen is a dear; he is so inspirational that it is a little frightening.

Bonus: This book is hysterically funny. I know that I just said I cry all the way through it, and I do, but sometimes I cry because I’m laughing SO HARD. This is the only book that I would classify as funny on my list, but it more than makes up for the lack of humor in the other eleven.

(Side note: If you have seen Simon Birch, ignore it. Ignore anyone who tells you that movie is connected to A Prayer for Owen Meany. This is simply a LIE.)

Future baby name: Owen

June: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Oh, Sylvia. When I was in college, I made friends with a lot of girls who were English majors and just as nuts about literature as I was. We would literally sit around and listen to recordings of Gwendolyn Brooks read "We Real Cool"... from our ipods. (Yup, Poetry Out Loud is definitely loaded on my itunes. I’m a loser.) Anyway, we met Sylvia around the same time, and we all loved her, even though girlfriend is crazy. I read The Bell Jar in homage to those days of sensational literature and perfect friends. Just like Owen Meany, this is not a book I'd recommend to the young'uns, but oh, it is sublime.

Future baby name: Esther

July: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

My mom introduced me to this book and it is sheer deliciousness. It follows the journey of two parents and four girls from Georgia in the 1960s. The father is a Southern Baptist minister bound and determined to win the Congo for Jesus. (Spoiler: He doesn't.) The language is pristine, the story is fascinating, and the message is timely. In my opinion, the religious infrastructure that Reverend Price attempts to bring to the Congo is one that, ironically, lacks God in any recognizable form. I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that the book is anti-Christian since the proselytizing is "Christian" in name alone. Anyway, the story is just perfect, one of those novels that surprises me, yet I always find myself nodding in agreement with the author's choices. Gorgeous novel.

Future baby name: Anatole

August: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Remember when I said that Ben knows when I’m reading Owen Meany? He also knows when I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird, because I always beg him to let me name our first son Atticus Scout. (He always refuses, sometimes more gallantly than others.) This is another one of those novels in which the story is the point. Sure, the message of the book can be summed up in a sentence or two, but the story will absolutely catch your breath and knock your teeth out. I always cry when Jem invites Walter Cunningham home for lunch. Hungry people always make me cry. Again, this novel deals with adult issues, so beware, young readers. It is, in any case, a delightful, moving novel.

(And for Pete's sake, if you're from Alabama and over the age of 18 and haven't read it, shame on you! We only have two authors worth their salt from the state, and anyone can manage two books. So, get off your bootay and retrieve To Kill a Mockingbird from your library. Right now. Actually, wait, because the second great Alabama author is coming up. So read the next paragraph so you can pick up both books. I saved you a trip!)

Future baby name: Atticus Scout

September: All Over But The Shoutin' by Rick Bragg

I swear, my people are in this novel. My mama swears it too. This memoir is a fantastic set of stories about Rick Bragg, NY Times writer who came from Backwoods, Alabama. He writes beautifully and truly. It is a very refreshing thing to read a book from a living author who has such a distinctive writing voice. I could pick him out a mile away.

Read his description of my home state:

"This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven."

I recently listened to someone slam Alabama for its drug problem and its inability to ever elect a reasonable official. I understand those problems, and I worry about them. I, however, know that country like Mr. Bragg knows it. I am fairly certain that stars are holes in the floor of heaven, and I that certainty comes from my grandmother having whispered it to me when I was tiny enough to sit in her lap. Alabama is backwards and wrong, but it is also true and pretty and real.

Future baby name: Ava

October: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I love teaching this novel. I love watching the same masculine faces that scrunch up in DISGUST at a GIRL'S BOOK twist into laughter when they realize that Austen is far more interested in making you laugh than making you swoon. Witty, biting, fresh, and the complete opposite of what you'd judge from its cover, this is a book for the ages. It always makes me laugh in a satisfied way.

Future baby name: Darcy

November: The Great Divorce by CS Lewis

My father, who is brilliant (but very kind about it) is at his best when he is teaching. He has taught many Sunday school classes in many churches throughout his life, and they are always provocative and interesting and generally fantastic. He is good about asking interesting theoretical questions that expose our shortcomings and inconsistencies. My father taught me to be humble about my faith and my salvation. The Great Divorce teaches me a similar lesson, that I am being prepared for heaven, that my God doesn't send people to hell, but that they refuse to prepare for eternity with him. It exposes our sinful natures as pitiful, small, and wretched compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. While even Lewis himself cautions readers that this book is entirely fictitious, the messages are true and important. Read it.

Future baby name: Clive

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

This book is edgy. It pushes the limits of faith. I imagine some would find parts of it silly, if not offensive. However, I read it for two reasons. One is purely indulgent: Donald is a phenomenal writer. He is simplistic but rich, unpredictable, and true. I envy his easy tone, his nimble ability with words. But this reason to read is simply self-coddling. What I love about Blue Like Jazz, and what I always forget about Blue Like Jazz, is the section on love as currency. It smacks me down like the hand of God every time. I am always convicted of my manipulation, my pride, my inability to give as I have received. The frigidity of winter melts away in the moments of warmth this book indicts me to create. I also love these lines:

"The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. and that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands."

Future baby name: Penny

These are my twelve.


Saturday, August 8, 2009


well, we have moved to lexington. the move itself was fantastic. thank you to everyone who helped-it was awesome. i had no idea two people, especially two people who tend to think of themselves as conscious consumers, could store up so much stuff in less than a year. however, we did arrive with all of our essentials unbroken and useable, and for that we thank you.

now, on to the details of what we're doing here.

first and foremost, benjamin is sailing along beautifully in dental school. this past week was the official beginning of his classes, and so far he is knocking them dead! he is so happy to have finally found his niche, and his happiness, of course, is my happiness. **cue sappy music** no really, it's good to have him in the swing of things. it is a little unfamiliar to see his healthcare provider card in his wallet and know that his nametag barcode allows him into parts of the uk medical center that are restricted only to physicians. nevertheless, i'm terribly proud of him.

i will be starting work at trinity christian academy high school this week. i'm really excited to learn about my new school and meet all of the students. trinity is a classical school, but is very different from evangel. one of the main differences is that the school is broken up into three campuses. i will be working at the high school teaching ninth and twelfth grade. i do love the older kids, but i will miss seeing the tiny plaid-clad people very much. i'll be teaching ninth grade literature, which is ancient greek and a little roman towards the end. i'll also be teaching ninth grade history, a new venture for me, and twelfth grade literature. i am PSYCHED about twelfth grade. the first book we cover is to kill a mockingbird. hello, i'm from alabama, and i'm here to tell you about the only author worth reading from my state. :) ok, rick bragg is really good too, but there's just something about atticus, scout, calpurnia, and dill. d-i-l-l. what a great name!

we do think we have found a church. tomorrow will be our third week visiting, but so far we really love it. it was the first church we visited here, and that in itself is a miracle. the church is a little unconventional, but loves Jesus and seems to be really involved in the community and in creating social justice around the world, which is really important to ben and i. we are excited about the possibilities of this church and hope it will be a permanent fit for us.

ok, before i am out, here is a list of a few things we like about lexington:

1. no grocery sales tax: we consider this a ludicrous law in most places and were happy to see it abolished here.

2. new circle road and man o'war boulevard: these are two no-stoplight road that loop around lexington. main roads intersect these roads and lead you downtown and out of town (depending on the direction). this makes traveling much more efficient.

3. ramsay's: oh. my. word. ramsay's is a local chain restaurant that ben's aunt and uncle introduced us to last week. it is like eating at my grandma's house. PHENOMENAL. i have yet to order fried chicken because i know i will eat it all.

things we hate about lexington:

1. too far from home. too far from my people. i miss you all more than you can imagine.

recommended reading:

right up there with harper lee.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

just to document

i know it's been awhile, and this won't be long.

we are moving to ky. i'm sort of over it.

but i do want to just record this here for my own sake.

i am about to close annie. tonight is our last performance. i love these children more than i thought possible. they have gotten rave reviews, and they are excellent. i am tempted to load them in a van and ship them off to ky with me. :) they are so precious and i will remember each one singly and fondly for years to come.


Friday, December 19, 2008

mrs. w, can you just shrink and be our age again?

it's been a rough december. there's so much uncertainty about where we'll be next year. it makes working so urgent. there's so much i want my students to know.

last week, we had to address some character issues with one of my classes. it was very hard and personally disappointing for me on several levels. sometimes i wish older kids were more like kindergartners, young enough for you to take their little faces in your hands, shrink down to their level and say, "i love you and i know you're better than this so stopit!"

on the other hand, i was invited to our teacher/student sleepover with the tenth grade girls. love those kids. they wish i was sixteen, and i kind of wish it too when i hang out with them. amazing, beautiful, precious. i can take their sweet faces in my hands and tell them i love them. they don't mind.

this week was finals. i cried over some of the essays i read from my logic students. one girl wrote, "sometimes all i wish is that i can fit it." it's so easy to block out what i see on a daily basis and focus on my job more than i focus on loving these students. it's moments like these that remind me that my work is for something bigger than the correct use of commas.

and then we have days like today. finals ended yesterday and we wanted to give the kids a day dedicated solely to the celebration of christmas and a successful semester. we had our advent convocation, followed by three hours and twenty minutes of wii tournaments, christmas movies, card games, and a dance off. (this is just one of the benefits of attending/teaching at a high school with 80 students). it was fantastically fun.

what was more amazing was how affected i was by the gifts. having moved from grammar school to upper school, i really expected the teacher gifts to take a downward spiral this year. (not that i really care at all. my kids are my gift. and that's super cheesy, so you know that if i'm willing to post it, it must be true). anyway, in fifth grade i received gifts because i had 26 students who bought gifts for two teachers. in upper school, however, i only spend an hour or two with each kid. combined with their incessant need to be cool, the faltering economy, and the fact that they have eight teachers instead of two, i expected a couple of christmas cards and a bottle of lotion at best.


i have two boxes of fudge, turtle brownies, peanut butter balls, various assortments of cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered peanut butter, peppermint bark, hershey kisses, cinnamon roasted pecans, four bottle of lotion, two bottles of soap, ornaments, a really pretty christmas candy dish, a starbucks card, a jason's deli card, and a three foot long box (no joke) of cadbury chocolate fingers. (courtesy of drury, who i am sure gained immense amusement not only from the size of the box, but also from the thoughts of his teacher eating fingers.) i think there's even more stuff i'm forgetting, but trust me, it took four trips to the car to load up.

the best thing was that the kids don't change much from fifth to tenth grade. they approach you a little shyly and hand you the gift. some of them run away immediately (boys) and some of them stare at you in anticipation. for the latter, you open the gift and gush. i gush even when they're not there, simply because i like them all so much and am so pleased to know they like me back. now i know some of their moms went to wal-mart, bought eight identical ornaments with eight identical bags, lined them up, dropped them in, filled out eight labels and gave them to their child with stern instructions for their delivery. i'm not stupid. but not everyone did that.

and sometimes, i get notes like this:

Dear Mrs. Wortham.
Thank you for being a great teacher. Your literature and history classes are always fun. I hope you have a merry Christmas.
Your student,
Student D

i know it's standard, but it's amazing to me, and i'll keep it for always.

sigh. love those kids.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Love, actually, is all around.

And sometimes love is tough.
I love my job. I can't say it enough. I feel incredibly blessed and honored to spend my working days reading my favorite pieces of literature and then forcing other people to talk to me about them. It's a sweet life.
Along with that, however, comes an aspect of the job that many people fail to remember, understand, or appreciate. It's the part that makes me say no when kids ask:
Can we just abbreviate Alabama with AL?
Do we have to write in cursive?
Can't we just have Free Speech Friday today? (On Fridays, the kids get five to ten minutes as a group to tell me what's going on in their lives, etc.)
Why do I say no? Do I fail to understand that it's much easier to write AL than Alabama? What's wrong with a little free time? Do I think Satan writes in print? No, but I do understand that laziness has to be squelched out of the hearts of these precious, sweet children. The part of my job many people don't like is the occupation of character building.
To be honest, I hate it too. I don't like policing their conversations for gossip and inappropriate language. I don't like carefully checking their work for thoroughness. And I hate having to ask a student to read out loud so I can stare down the miscreant who has chosen to talk to his or her neighbor instead of listening to me read. I'd rather just be their friend.
But I have come to understand that because I love these wonderful creatures, because I know that they are insanely smart and beautiful and gifted and lovely, I cannot allow them to waste their potential or slack off on their responsibilities just because I want to be well-liked. That would be awfully selfish of me. They have to understand that their intelligence is a gift, their beauty a liability, their gifts an investment, and their loveliness, a choice. I have to expect the best in them.
I tell them all I love them every day. And that is no stretch. I can't wait to share them with the world, for them to take the reigns of adult responsibilities and scatter their talents among mankind. My seventh graders are translating The Aeneid from Latin to English. My ninth graders are analyzing Julius Caesar as they read the biography from which Shakespeare created the play. These children have been given the opportunity to be great, and great will they be.
I can't wait. Love them so much!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Someone in 08!

I love election days. Ben and I honestly celebrate them like it's Christmas. We always make brownies or popcorn for the big debates and voting days. Today's been a bit of an exception since Ben won't be home until 8:30ish, but we are still psyched about the returns and will be watching them with excitement.

So the question weighing on everyone's mind is who we support. Let's get our stats straight first. Benjamin is a future dentist. Out of the eight people in his family, five are either working in healthcare or are training to work in healthcare as doctors, dentists, and pharmacists. Benjamin's degree is in International Relations, so he knows a few things about politics. My family owns a terribly successful smalll business. I primarily teach lit, but I did minor in political science and have taught (and am currently teaching) a few history classes. Needless to say, we followed the elections pretty closely since they were so relevant to our families.

In the beginning, we loved one of the candidates. We went to rallies, we bought tshirts, and we fought, pleaded and argued with those who opposed him. Then the candidate started changing his tune about some important issues. Simultaneously, the opposing candidate made some decisions that I thought were sings of terrible judgment. Those decisions resulted in a massive amount of publicity for said candidate, but also cost him my respect. Plunged into an unhappy time of disgust and general disenchantment, I began strategizing to vote with the aim of damage control. As the current Congress is largely comprised of Democrats, I attempted to reign in the government and, with much anxiety and reluctance, voted McCain.

In this election and in the last one I have wished that this country was just a democracy rather than a democracy within a republic. I disagreed vehemently with both candidates on many issues, and in the end the candidate who won my vote did so only because I feel he will be least powerful in his office. How pathetic. How I wish the ballot had a list of issues for which I could cast my vote rather than a list of men.

All and all, however, it was an exciting day. I was able to discuss the electoral college system with my seventh grade history students. They believe they should be allowed to vote, and after listening to some of their ideas, I must agree with them. I believe some of them are more informed than the majority of adult voters. I was also able to congratulate my ninth and tenth graders, as this is the last election through which they must sit out. Some were excited, some were surprised, and some didn't care, but I personally can't wait for them to cast their ballots. How exciting!

I love this country.