This was a weird reading month for me. Back-to-school season has a new meaning for me, as a part-time teacher — now in my second year of doing this, I’m learning that just because my kids are back in a routine and there’s technically more time to do my own thing, that doesn’t mean I have more time to read what I want. That used to be the case.
I’m not complaining, though, because my side-gig as a high school English teacher “forces” me to read and re-read some of the world’s great classics. This, along with some work-related non-fiction and a good nightstand bedtime read are on display in what I read this month.
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Most of us had to read this in high school, myself included — and I truly did not like it the first time around. As an English major in college, I liked it just a notch more the second time. Twenty years later, and I really loved it. Was it me who changed, or the book? Probably me.
In 1640s Puritan Boston, Hester Prynne is accused of adultery and has to spend the rest of her life wearing a red A on her bosom. Menfolk in her life avoid the truth, her daughter is part-demon, and all-around hijinx ensues. Hawthorne is a long-winded writer, but he’s still a good one.
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
Yes, we followed the first book with this one in my class for comparable reasons. Arthur Miller wrote this play in the 1950s as an allegory to his present-day Hollywood surroundings involving the Red Scare and McCarthyism, and the point wasn’t lost on the public, then or now. I loved this when I first read it as a high school junior, and I still do.
Also set in 17th century Puritan New England, Miller took actual historic figures and fashioned them into characters in his fictional (but with a lot of historical truth) play. I teach that it’s okay to see a reputable movie of a play before reading it, because plays were meant foremost to be seen, not read — we read it first anyway, but this week in class we’ll watch this version with Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis (his father-in-law? Arthur Miller).
You Think It, I’ll Say It, by Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld surprised me when I liked Eligible more than I thought I would, so I picked this up this new collection of short stories with some birthday money last month. I love short story collections; they’re great for reading before bed, and sometimes I find a story-in-a-whole-chapter more compelling and page-turning than a full novel.
This collection was just okay. Sittenfeld has gotten better as a writer, but I found it hard to root for quite a few of her protagonists. Most, actually. It wasn’t a downer, it was just a bit scattered. If you’re new to the short story collection genre, maybe start with Tom Hank’s Uncommon Type, which I read a few years ago and really enjoyed, or one of Maeve Binchy’s classics, like This Year It Will Be Different.
Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz
I’d heard of this book, but you know how something you’ve heard numerous times doesn’t connect with you until it needs to? That’s what happened here. I heard this book mentioned on a work-related podcast while I was sitting in traffic, and I ordered it the minute I got home. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be a game-changer in my work.
Here’s the ten-peso version: instead of using the traditional accounting model of Income – Expenses = Profit, businesses (especially small ones) should flip the script and use Income – Profit = Expenses. Basically, always set aside first the profit margin for your work, then spend on expenses with whatever is leftover. Most self-employed types and small business owners do the opposite, which causes constant stress and workaholism just to keep the lights on. Author Mike Michalowicz gets into the mechanics and specifics, and delivers case studies to show this concept is proven to work.
If you’re a small-business owner or solopreneur, like me, get this book. It’s so helpful.
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