Tag Archives: Reading

Creating Hospitable Spaces

I love books. I love books and independent bookstores and used bookstores. I love reading and learning. I love being challenged by what I’m learning, or feeling my horizons expand. I love getting so deep into the notes and references and traveling wherever they take me, to other books and other authors. I love when books I’ve read are sources for other books, when writers I respect mention other writers I respect.

It was that love that drew me to BooksActually last weekend, one of Singapore’s independent bookstores. BooksActually is particularly special because it also operates its own publishing house, making it the go-to destination for books that are truly Singaporean and might not have a significance audience elsewhere. This is where I found I Will Survive, an anthology of stories from Singapore’s LGBTQ community. While much in the book touched me, it was a line in the foreword that first got me thinking. Juliana Toh writes, “I was left thinking of Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out, in which relationships are viewed as contexts for the creation of hospitable experiences.” This particular way of defining relationships was new to me and I found the idea of “hospitable” really compelling. Maybe it was because we’d just started school and my students were on my mind, or maybe it was because I was reading about LGBTQ young people, but I immediately extrapolated from Toh’s statement and began to wonder what our schools would look like if we moved from creating “safe spaces” for young people to creating “hospitable spaces” instead.

The word “hospitable” has two definitions:

  1. friendly and welcoming to visitors or guests
  2. (of an environment) pleasant and favorable for living in

It seems reasonable that a hospitable space would inherently be a safe one because anywhere that is “pleasant and favorable for living in” implies safety. I think this idea fits really well in the context of school settings. After all, school is where young people spend most of their time and we know that we all do better when we feel comfortable.

Take a moment to consider what we want for the young people in our care. We want them to learn, to grow, to explore. We want them to feel good, at ease, and valued as individuals. We want them to connect to each other, to create, and to become their best selves. We want them to see and care for those around them and we want them to make the world a better, more peaceful place.

Doing this work requires that our students feel more than safe, which is currently what we tout as a goal for our schools and classrooms. A learning environment in which the above aims can be realized would be closer to “pleasant and favorable” than safe.

In my eight years teaching, my classroom has always been a place where students wander in and out during breaks and before school and where they stop by after school to chat about a variety of things. Like the rest of us, students spend time in places that they enjoy, places that are welcoming and pleasant and where they feel affirmed, or perhaps part of a community.

So what would schools look like if we explicitly focused on creating hospitable spaces rather than safe spaces? The biggest difference, I think, would be in the ways we approach students as individuals. The goal of safe spaces is to provide a protective, inclusive environment that embraces diversity on a range of levels. I wonder, though, what would happen if we started emphasizing the need for welcoming, pleasant spaces instead of merely safe ones. A space can be safe without being welcoming, pleasant, and favorable, but places that are favorable to us, places we want to be, will more than likely also be safe.

As a reader, I’m a believer in the power of language. George Orwell’s 1984 does a better job illustrating this than I could, so I refer you there. Now, let’s pretend “hospitable space” was a common phrase used to talk about schools, an idea accepted and embraced by the school community.

Creating hospitable spaces would require all involved to treat one another, at the minimum, as individuals with dignity. It would require authentic communication and connection, which would foster an environment in which adults and young people work together towards common goals and in which each learns from and guides the other. A hospitable space would be positive, energizing, and a place where we all enjoy spending time. It would be flexible, open-ended, exploratory, creative. It would be a space where we grow as individuals and as a community, a space where we’d recognize first our common humanity and then the diversity that makes us each who we are.

Imagine the learning that would happen in this hospitable space.

Moving Forward
Of course, not all of us work in school and with students. But we all develop relationships with others, whether friends or colleagues or romantic partners. We all want to feel loved, affirmed, and valued. We want to grow and help others grow, to become better tomorrow than we are today.

All relationships take on colors, flavors, and textures. All relationships are built inside a metaphoric space. So let that space be hospitable. Let yourself be open to others. All of our lives are better when we can take a breath and know that someone else is doing the same.

My 2017 Reading List

Another year gone and more books in the, well, book! My list of 2016 reads sparked some conversation with people in my life and finally convinced me to get on Goodreads, so I wanted to share this year’s list, too. The lists are in alphabetical order by title and grouped into nonfiction and fiction categories.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
Robert Sapolsky

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
Steven Pinker

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Blended: Using Disruptive Education to Improve Schools
Michael Horn and Heather Staker

Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
Dacher Keltner

Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education
Nel Noddings

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror
Thomas Ligotti

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers
Kwame Anthony Appiah

The Courage to Be
Paul Tillich

Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education
Martha Nussbaum

Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education
John Dewey

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life
Susan David

Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
Chris Hedges

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A Fragile Life: Accepting Our Vulnerability
Todd May

Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society
Thich Nhat Hanh

The Hero Handbook
Nate Green

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Margot Lee Shetterly

A History of Reading
Alberto Manguel

A History of the World in 6 Glasses
Tom Standage

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari

How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place
Bjørn Lomborg

The Importance of What We Care About
Henry Frankfurt

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Max Tegmark

Machine Learning: The Ultimate Beginners Guide For Neural Networks, Algorithms, Random Forests and Decision Trees Made Simple
Ryan Roberts

Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future
Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tails
Oliver Sacks

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
Richard Thaler

Modern Romance
Aziz Ansari

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think
George Lakoff

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them
Joshua Greene

Moving Toward Global Compassion
Paul Ekman

On Dialogue
David Bohm

On Tyranny: Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Timothy Snyder

One Student at a Time: Leading the Global Education Movement
Fernando Reimers

Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind & its Challenge to Western Thought
George Lakoff

Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy
Francis Fukuyama

The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever
edited by Christopher Hitchens

Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs
Henry Carroll

Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Joseph Aoun

A Room of One’s Own
Virginia Woolf

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari

The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction
Mark Lilla

Simone Weil: An Anthology
Simone Weil

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
Nick Bostrom

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman

The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Chogyam Trungpa and Francesca Fremantle

We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
Cathy O’Neil

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Haruki Murakami

What’s Worth Teaching?: Rethinking Curriculum in the Age of Technology
Allan Collins

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
Nancy Isenberg

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
Robert Wright

The Wisdom of Insecurity
Alan Watts

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries
Kory Stamper

World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students
Yong Zhao

2 B R 0 2 B – Kurt Vonnegut
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
Last Night in Twisted River – John Irving
Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami
The Nun’s Story – Kathryn Hulme
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
The Three Muskateers – Alexandre Dumas
Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller

As the year turns over, I wish you a 2018 full of peace, joy, and good books. Happy reading!


Pages of Intimacy

A friend was recently telling me about a book he was reading and we both agreed that the author (who is well-traveled, multilingual, knowledgeable, funny, and articulate) would be fun to spend time with in real life. In conversation, I expressed how nice it was to find a good “book friend” to spend time with regardless of real life.

Book friend.

That’s how I generally think about authors or even characters in novels. I love Haruki Murakami, for example, because he describes the world in ways that make it both bigger than it is and also so uncomfortably close and personal. Reading his books, I see my world through his eyes and I learn from it. I enjoy Robert Sapolsky because he’s funny and engaging, which is not always common practice for scientists writing for lay people. In the fiction world, Hermione Granger remains a favorite female protagonist for her unashamed love of books. Importantly for a book character, she rarely disappoints. If there’s a fact to find and a book to find it in, she will.

Book friends, unlike real people in unedited daily existence, are manufactured. They’re predictable, omniscient where appropriate, developed in a certain way to achieve certain ends. They weave bits of plot together into a neat story that is literally bound and sealed. And that’s what makes them safe. That’s what keeps me coming back to books I’ve read before, authors I’ve spent time with, characters I’ve learned to love or hate. Book friends are there to be heard and I’m here to listen.

There’s a feeling of excitement when I read something that is just so perfectly, stunningly, eloquently true. There are passage from books that I highlight, write down, keep track of, and return to over and over. Often I find myself looking to share whatever I’ve just found with someone who will appreciate it as I do. I want to share why I’m so thrilled by what I’ve read or what makes me laugh or cry. I want to share what fills me with awe, dread, or horror. If I’ve learned something new, something that I think is important, I look for people to show it to because it’s too special to keep to myself.

I’m cautious, though, because I see sharing passages from books as an intimate action. I’m handing you a piece of my mind in the form of something that has stood out to me as beautiful, honest, and true. I’m telling you, “This resonates with me.” Sometimes, you haven’t seen that side of me. You didn’t know I was looking for those things, believed that, or had come to such understandings. And here I am, holding out something that excited me and hoping that you’ll accept it, meaning that you will also accept me and who I am, what makes me tick. And I am always hopeful that you’ll return my share with one of your own or with conversation about your own found truths, your own beauties.

But sometimes, the people we share with don’t respond in the ways that we hope they will. Sometimes we try again, we ask again that they take us for who we are. Sometimes they surprise us and they do. And other times, we learn to stop asking.

I admit that I am cautious. I love talking about books and hearing what others are reading, but it takes time to feel comfortable enough sharing so much of myself with anyone else. I want to know you and I want you to know me. But I don’t want to overwhelm you. I don’t want to scare you away. Vulnerability is at the forefront in any interactions when we allow ourselves to be seen by others, but vulnerability comes with a balance. We cannot immediately demand that others see us, hear us, let us breathe. We need to give them time to decide that they want to engage in the same way.

We ask for a lot when we say, “These are the words that are meaningful to me and through them, you see my scars. These are the words that I find true, so I am fragile in showing them to you. And these, these are the words that are dark and unspoken and through them, you see what I keep hidden.”

Thought about like this, sharing books with others is intimate in a way that most shared activities are not. It’s a revealing of oneself, a taking off of clothes of sorts. We are unprotected and therefore vulnerable to whatever might be thrown at us. Sharing our inner lives with one another is an act of courage.

But now you know me. Now you see me. And hopefully, you let me see you.