The third year of CRWP’s Secret Book exchange had a lighter mood than ever before. Many of us are leaving pandemic life and some of the pandemic traditions developed the last few years behind us. Some, we are keeping around because they still bring us joy and fit into our lives. One of those traditions is this book exchange. For many of us, the comfort of books and their use as a way to understand the world will never change. And no matter how they are shared, they are an important part of our lives.
This year during our post exchange meeting in the beginning of February, a member of our group said that some of the books that were exchanged were what she called “top shelf books.” When we asked her to explain, she told us, “Some people have top shelf alcohol, I have top shelf books.” We all laughed, but I haven’t been able to get that sentence out of my mind.
At the risk of running down the rabbit hole of a metaphor, this idea of “top shelf books” resonated with me. Moving aside from the ongoing complex debate of who and what is left out of the canonical literature and book banning, when I first began this tradition in November of 2020, I wanted us to share favorite books with each other. I wanted us to share in those moments of complex emotions that reading brings us. There is often a joke where people ask book lovers to pick their favorite book, their “desert island books,” or their top ten favorites. I would struggle making my list for a variety of reasons and it would change weekly. Good books hit us in the soul differently at different times of our lives. It’s impossible to pick just 10 – 20 titles. Books aren’t like a favorite drink, favorite restaurant, or favorite pair of shoes. They are a lot more complex.
Some books we love because we remember how the book made us feel the first time reading it (though we know we will never be able to read it again as a first time reader). Other books we love because of how they are written or a character that we wish we could be or were. Some books make us question and think in new ways and reveal a truth about the world we hadn’t been able to see or put into words until reading it. And yet, there are other books that break our hearts and put them back together by the book’s end. Even thinking about continuing with the similarity of top shelf books and alcohol, some books age well with us and others don’t age well at all and we wonder what we saw in them or how we missed certain realities in them.
However, for me, the common thread among all these reasons we love books is because they give us hope. Hope in the future, hope in the quality of a person or a person themselves, or hope that just for a brief respite. Sometimes books will make the world make sense or make it so we can keep going after just one more chapter. I hope you find that hope in our list of “top shelf books” from the 2022 exchange!
Wool by Hugh Howey
Beartown by Fredrik Bachman
Under the Whispering Door by Klune TJ
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Fairy Tale by Stephen King
Trust by Hernan Diaz
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The FireKeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Dreamland by Nickolas Sparks
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Recursion by Blake Crouch.
The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay
She Persisted in Science by Chelsea Clinton
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
The Only Women in the Room by Eileen Pollack
Learning First; Technology Second: The Educator’s guide to Designing Authentic Lessons by Liz Kolb
BlackSoftware: The Internet and Racial Justice from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter by Charloton D. McIlwain
Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Becky Schwartz is an English, Social Studies, and AP Computer Science Principles teacher for Springport High School in Springport, Michigan. She has been a teacher consultant for CRWP since 2015.