Report from Louisiana: Tragedy at Mardi Gras

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Mardi Gras season this year has brought both raucous, bacchanalian festivities true to our “laissez les bon temps rouler” mantra, as well as terrible tragedy.

In New Orleans another terrible accident claimed the life of a man attending the Endymion parade Saturday night. As with the accident the previous week in which a woman was killed during the Nyx parade, this accident also involved a tandem float. For the unfamiliar, tandem floats usually belong to large super krewes and are multiple floats joined together by some kind of hitch. Some can be several sections and be as long as 300 feet.

In the accident Saturday night, Joseph Sampson, 58, jumped up to catch a throw, landed on some beads, slipped and fell, and somehow ended up under a float. His friends tried to grab him and pull him out while another tried to alert the driver to stop, an impossible task over the noise. As with the accident the previous week, the parade was terminated.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has now issued a directive that no more tandem floats will be allowed, thus causing krewes with tandem floats to scramble and make adjustments so they can roll in these last few days of Mardi Gras season.

Of course, some people agree and others disagree with the order. Everyone recognizes the tragedy of the deaths but contend that accidents are bound to happen and perhaps error in judgement should be considered. The woman the previous week was supposedly attempting to cross over between the two floats, got tangled and tripped over the hitch, and went under the float. No safety studies have been done or formal reports on either accident and tandem floats have been in use for many years. The disgruntled are calling Cantrell’s order a “knee jerk” reaction in an attempt to bolster her low popularity rate.

Here in Shreveport, in northwest Louisiana, we have three large parades over two weeks. Some portions of the parades have barricades but it would be almost impossible to place barricades along an entire parade route and it is unclear whether that would have averted the situation in NOLA. Many of these parades wind through neighborhoods. At some point you can’t legislate complete and total safety.

Mardi Gras is a major money maker for NOLA and Louisiana tourism. It is unlikely, as tragic as these events are, that any significant changes will take place; tandem floats may be back next year after safety studies, or whenever there is a new mayor.

In the meantime, roll on.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Governor Edwards breaks promise to teachers

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Really, who is shocked by this?

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is giving pay raises to his staff appointees but not to teachers. During his recent campaign, Edwards promised teachers he would bring their pay up to the Southern regional average; he even gave teachers a $1,000 per year raise, the first in over a decade, to show good faith. But when his new budget proposal came out, nada. Nothing. Except for his political appointees.

From The Advocate:

The Democratic governor’s chief financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, mentioned the raises in his presentation of Edwards’ budget recommendations for the upcoming 2020-21 year, describing it to lawmakers as a “small increase.” The AP received the list after asking Dardenne’s office for specific details.

Dardenne said the “unclassified employees” across Louisiana state government hadn’t received pay raises over the governor’s first term, even as other rank-and-file civil service workers did. He said most of the increases are 4%.

So, for example, Edwards’ attorney’s salary will bump from $180,000 to $187,200 and his deputy chief of progams and planning goes from $125,000 to $150,000. 

If I, as a teacher, got a 25K pay raise, I’d be pretty satisfied.

Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said the pay hikes represent a “tiny fraction of the overall state budget.” She said they “were included as part of the governor’s budget proposal only after two years of budget stability and an improved economic outlook for the state.”

Teachers across Louisiana are livid. 

Teachers turned out for Edwards across the state, well, some of them did. Not all of us were fooled.

Instead, Governor Edwards is sending more money to local districts and telling them to fund their own pay raises from that, however, the amount for local districts is not nearly enough to fund pay raises.

The Advocate:

 A Louisiana teacher makes an average is $50,359 per year compared with $52,178 in the 16-state region, according to 2017-18 tabulations, the latest available. That’s about what a manager at McDonald’s makes. But managers also get cash bonuses, profit-sharing and stock options. Plus, teachers need a college degree. And the average college student graduates with a debt of $29,800.

Relying on public school math, it cost Louisiana taxpayers about $101 million for last year’s raise, meaning another $200 million is needed to bring this state’s teachers up to the regional average of 2018. But that’s a moving target. Texas boosted salaries by up to $9,000. Teacher pay rose by $3,000 in Georgia and $2,000 in Florida, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.

Louisiana radio host Moon Griffon pointed out last week that teachers are 10-month employees, and that a family of two teachers makes 100k a year, if they both make the average 50k. “That’s not bad,” Griffon said.  In Caddo Parish, one of the larger parishes in Louisiana, beginning teachers make $44k and don’t approach that $50k figure until about year ten. It isn’t that different in neighboring Bossier Parish, where a teacher with a BA degree with thirty years experience will max out at $59k.  In DeSoto parish, a beginning teacher makes $49k – zero years experience. By year ten, that teacher is up to $54k and by thirty, $61k.

None of these salaries are anywhere near what a staffer for John Bel Edwards is making, yet Edwards loves to point out how valuable teachers are.

Apparently only as long as he needs our votes. Then our value goes down.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Book Report

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’m an avid reader and am often reading at least two, sometimes three, books at one time. We do independent choice reading in my secondary ELA classroom, and so I am often reading along with my students; that’s usually some kind of YA novel that I might be reading so I can discuss it with my students, or recommend it to someone. At home I usually have two books going: one on the Kindle which I read right before bed, and often another physical book that I might read when sitting outside, or when I’m ignoring the Law and Order reruns on television. 

I recently joined NetGalley which is one source of my reading fodder. In return for a fair and honest review I can get advance reading copies of books. This is right up my alley! I joined NetGalley because I discovered a new author that I enjoyed a great deal: Kelly Harms. It’s “chick lit” primarily, but she’s always got some kind of twist that I wasn’t expecting and her characters are usually engaging; I dislike a lot of chick lit characters because they are often insipid and silly, but with this author I don’t really see that. At any rate, I was so anxious of her next novel that I joined NetGalley for the sole purpose of getting my hands on an advance copy.

Harms is the author of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, which is a fun read. After I finished that book I went back and read her previous novels, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The new book, coming out in May, is called The Bright Side of Going Dark and explores the world of social media influencers from both in front of and behind the lens. It gets a little vapid at times, I mean, we spend a lot of time focusing on a woman who makes her living as an Influencer, staging perfect pictures of her perfect life, and of course most of it is not real. But, overall, it was a fun, light read.

I’ve just finished reading Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown, which came out in January. This book disturbs me a little bit, in part because I see missed opportunities with the story. It was a good book and the initial premise is engaging.  Alice and Nate leave New York and purchase a 1950s era home in the suburbs The house is sold “as is” and includes the previous occupants belongings, old floral wallpaper, Formica kitchen table, and overgrown garden.  Then we meet the previous owner in a dual storyline: Nellie and Richard lived in the home in a stereotypical 1950s marriage with Nellie in pearls and June Cleaver skirts preparing dinner before the successful Richard gets home from work. Nellie spends her days gardening, baking, and attending Tupperware parties.

When Alice discovers a box in the basement containing Nellie’s favorite cookbook, complete with annotated margins, and boxes of 1950s Ladies Home Journal magazines, she begins to learn a great deal about the life Nellie and Ricard led, which of course was not necessarily as perfect as it seemed.

I found myself much more engaged in the Nellie and Richard storyline and wanted to throat-punch Alice most of the time. She made many self-destructive and irrational decisions which often made no sense. The ending of the book left me with the impression that it was rushed and just needed to end. Alice needed one more chapter, for example.

I’m glad I read the book, and I ended up giving it four stars in my review, only because I couldn’t give it 3.5 

I’m enjoying my NetGalley experience so far, as I think it will expose me to new authors and force me into some genres I may not normally explore. And hey, I’m always open to recommendations so if you’ve got one, drop it in the comments!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: on Reading and Education

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – With the resignation of Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, effective in March, many Louisiana educators are closely watching the process and the candidates for the post.

Personally, I shed no tears over John White’s exit. Under his tenure we have moved into Louisiana’s version of Common Core of which I have been a vocal opponent.

I am on year twenty-four right now, in my career, and plan to do one more and then leave the profession.  I have no desire to teach from a canned, scripted curriculum that assumes one size fits all in the classroom. The education profession has become something I no longer recognize; it might be better, it might not, but it’s left me behind.

As a secondary ELA teacher, it hurts my soul that my students no longer read novels. In tenth grade, only the PreAP, or honors kids, are assigned an entire novel and that is a summer reading assignment. In the classroom, my curriculum is based around two “anchor texts,” Macbeth, and then The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We do actually read all of Macbeth but with Lacks, we only read the Prologue. We are required to read many, many scientific articles about ethics. We read a couple of short stories. We do a whole lot of graphic organizers.

So, it is my hope that the new Superintendent of Education will put an end to this nonsense and bring back actual textbooks rather than copied articles. But, it is also true that the new superintendent could double down and make this all worse.

The one thing that has made all of this bearable to me is that I am still fighting for my students. A couple of years ago I started a classroom library and in my classroom every child reads for fifteen minutes at the beginning of ever class period. Their reading is from a book of their choice and I’ve built a nice collection of both fiction and non-fiction.

My school is a high-poverty school and is Title 1. Most of my kids are not on grade level and many don’t have books at home. And you know what? The buy-in for my reading initiative has been awesome! It is pure joy to me to look out at my kids during that fifteen minutes and see every kid buried in a book, reading.  I hold them accountable only by their Friday reading response journals: every Friday each student writes a letter to me about what they’ve been reading all week. I often respond back, with a couple of sentences, and we have a sort of dialogue about their books.

Whenever a student finishes a book they’ve really enjoyed, they tell their friends and through word of mouth, interest spreads.

I now have students that have left my class and moved on come back to my room asking to check out a book. We have a school library as well, and some go there. But many of these kids now trust me to recommend a book they will like, or they know that I will order the next book in a series they’re reading. We’ve built a relationship around books. It’s pure joy!

I started out building this classroom library by going to thrift shops and pillaging every Little Free Library near me. I went to garage sales and estate sales. I ordered a lot of books with my own money, I wrote a grant and a local television station gave me money to buy books. I used my own blog and social media accounts to beg for donations and I set up an Amazon Wish List. Books flooded in. I was amazed! People I didn’t even know were sending me books. Many came from readers of this blog!  I still have my Amazon Wish List and I currently have a Donor’s Choose project running to add current titles to my shelves that kids have been asking for.

When I retire I’ve promised to donate my library to two other teachers in my department.

I will be closely watching the search for our next Superintendent of Education. It is my sincere hope that he/she also believes in independent reading, student choice, and teacher autonomy. Teachers know their students and know what they need. And what we don’t need is a one size fits all scripted curriculum implemented with an iron fist.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Reading List

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It seems like January lasts forever, but one thing these long, cold months are good for is to catch up on some reading. My reading tastes range far and wide, and I tend to binge read when I discover an author new to me that I enjoy. I’ll generally read almost anything, from chick-lit to serious non-fiction. I’m not a big fan of fantasy.

I did read, and loved, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus a while back, and now that her long awaited second book is out, The Starless Sea, I picked it up, but I couldn’t get into it. I’m going to try again, maybe in the spring. It’s getting nice reviews, but just was not resonating with me at the time.

I’ve been on an Elizabeth Strout binge; I loved Olive Kitteridge, so when Olive, Again came out, I snapped it up and loved it. I relate to Olive. The older I get, I seem to get crankier. Cantankerous. I’m not as bristly as Olive, but I can relate. And now that I’ve seen the HBO adaptation of Olive Kittridge, I can’t help but see Frances McDormand as I read. Such fun! Now I’m on to My Name is Lucy Barton, also by Strout, and am enjoying that. Strout is sort of like a female version of Fredrik Backman, to me. Both authors are so adept at character development and in creating characters we become sympathetic to even though we may not want to.

In that same way, consider Steph Post’s final book in her Judah Cannon series, Holding Smoke. Post is an author who should be on your radar and who is not as well known right now as she will be.  Her Judah Cannon series has been referred to as “grit-lit” as a nod to its gritty, Florida noir setting and characters, some of whom are truly inspirational in their evil deeds. I received an ARC of Smoke a few weeks ago – its release date is next week, and I immediately jumped in and could not put it down. I would recommend reading the first two books in the series so that you are more invested in this one, plus, the story arc is fabulous. Post is a versatile writer and her last novel, Miraculum, might be my favorite of her works; that’s hard to say because I dearly love the Judah Cannon series.  Miraculum can hold its own with Night Circus any day, all day long.

In the non-fiction realm, I’ve recently finished Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, which is a memoir about growing up in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath. It is more than a story about her family and Katrina, however. It reminds you that so many people around us are living lives that are ignored and unseen, forgotten, misunderstood. Broom’s skill in wrapping complicated themes around her family’s little yellow house is what makes her the gifted writer she is.

I just finished reading The Silent Patient, the much acclaimed new book by Alex Michaelides. It was a page-turner, and I couldn’t put it down, but in the end, I felt manipulated. I’m not sure how to explain that without spoilers, but let me just say the book was a good read, I enjoyed it, but the ending left me irritated. I’m not sorry I read it, and I’ll read this author again, but ….  I guess the last time I felt irritated by the conclusion of a book was Stephen King’s Elevation. I don’t want to give spoilers on that either, but at the end of Elevation, let’s just say there was a lot of profanity involved on my part and a huge reluctance to contribute to King’s bank account any further.

Next on my reading list is American Dirt. What are you reading? Give me some recommendations!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: A sampler

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – A sampling of news items from Louisiana this week:

John White:  Louisiana’s long-time State Superintendent of Education, John White, has decided to move on to other endeavors. I wish I could say I was surprised, but alas, Mr. White has been working without a contract for the past four years.

White became Superintendent in 2012 and his tenure has never been without controversy. He immediately instituted sweeping reforms, came under criticism for his position that the fault that Louisiana ranks so poorly in education is the fault of the teacher, and the fact that there has always been discussion as to whether or not he ever taught in the classroom.

One of the most controversial aspects of White’s tenure has been his implementation of the Louisiana version of the Common Core curriculum. White and Governor John Bel Edwards have always had a contentious relationship although they have managed to grudgingly work together; one of the Governor’s initial campaign promises was to replace White, but he could never quite get the votes of the education board to do so.

Personally, the current curriculum situation is one reason why I’m retiring at the end of the 2021 school year, and I’m not sorry to see White move on, however, I have real concerns about who comes next. I believe it will be critical for Governor Edwards and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to listen to teacher voices and input as the next superintendent is selected.

Storms: Northwest Louisiana experienced an unusual violent weather system this past weekend as strong storms and tornadoes swept across east Texas, Louisiana, and on toward the east coast. Here, in our area, we had three fatalities and much property damage.

The storms rolled through just after midnight Friday, and into Saturday morning.

Benton Middle School lost part of their roof and classrooms were inundated with water.

We are counting our blessings that this did not happen during the school day.

National Championship:  New Orleans is rocking right now as Mardi Gras season is underway and LSU is in town to take on Clemson for the National Championship. LSU has had a beautiful, perfect season and quarterback Joe Burrow has been a joy to watch. Very exciting.

President Trump with be in attendance and will be watching the game in a suite with the Louisiana delegation. Security is amped up right now, obviously. Trump figures in to sever of the current prop bets, which you can see here, including whether or not he will wear a red tie. (I’m going with yes on that one).

I’m making gumbo for game day, of course.

Geaux Tigers!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Happy New Year!

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As this decade comes to a close, we are headed to south Louisiana to spend the last week of the year on Bayou Teche, quietly amongst our books and cats. I can’t think of a better way to bring in the new year.

It’s been a pretty cool year for football fans around here: our Number Nines (Brees and Burrow) have given us much to be excited about. This is a topic of conversation almost everywhere you go.  I know people who are really excited that LSU will face Clemson in the championship game, but I’ve talked to others who really wanted to face Ohio State. It’s going to be a great game on January 13!

Carnival season will be in full swing right about then and as the game will be in New Orleans, we can expect a lot of revelry and excitement around the event. Really, we don’t need much of a reason to have a bacchanalian party around here, but this one will do just fine.

I’ll leave all of that to others; I’ll be watching from the comfort of my couch.

Looking back at 2019, I guess I can say it’s been a really good year for me. I didn’t win the Lotto or anything, but I did get to travel all over the state to speaking events and book signings with Cane River Bohemia. That’s been a real kick! I’m really grateful for these experiences

I’m also really grateful that this blog, through the patience and perseverance of Pete and you, our readers, is still here and has recovered from the technical glitches that plagued us so through the year. Be sure to hit the tip jar if you get a chance.

So this is just a short post to say thank you for being here, for reading, and I hope every single one of you has a safe and prosperous New Year!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Christmas Cards

SHREVEPORT – One of the small joys I get from the Christmas season is receiving Christmas cards from friends and family spread across the country. I love the colorful envelopes, the pretty Christmas stamps, and the cards themselves: glittery snow, red Santas, cherubic angels, foil stars, the works.

I find in years when Thanksgiving is late and Christmas seems so quick, there are fewer cards in my mailbox: people run out of time for the task.

One of my childhood memories is of my mother going to the stationery store, selecting the annual Christmas card, and having them imprinted.  When they arrived, ready for addressing, she would pull out the address book and sit at the dining room table with stamps, pens, and get to work. Some recipients would get a brief message or note, and then she would address each envelope in her beautiful, perfect script. That handwriting got shakier through the years and eventually she quit sending cards altogether with the exception of a very few. Mom had a red and white felt Santa, trimmed in sequins, that hung on a door and we tucked all the cards inside Santa’s beard, which was a pocket.

With my own cards I am less formal. I select a box or two at the store that reflect my mood of the moment and in each I usually write a brief message. My cards this year reflect Santa in a pirogue as he poles up to a wooden swamp cabin, Spanish moss hanging overhead. Some years I opt for the traditional Christmas scenes, other years Snoopy.

I’ve never been one to send the generic Christmas letter but we do have some relatives who write three page epistles to tuck into their cards about every doctors appointment and children’s report card that happened through the year.

And it seems that almost every year there around this time there is a touching story of a terminally ill child who only wants Christmas cards and then the hospital is inundated with thousands of cards.

In more recent years, it seems Christmas cards have morphed into cardstock covered with photos of the sender’s beautiful and prosperous year. Many of these include photos of people dressed in khaki and white standing on a beach somewhere, everyone in matching shirts and color coordinated. The selfie-card is a close relative of the three-page Christmas letter.

The tradition of Christmas cards began in 1843 with Henry Cole according to The Smithsonian and has evolved through the years:

Cole hit on an ingenious idea. He approached an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, and asked him to design an idea that Cole had sketched out in his mind. Cole then took Horsley’s illustration—a triptych showing a family at table celebrating the holiday flanked by images of people helping the poor—and had a thousand copies made by a London printer. The image was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches in size. At the top of each was the salutation, “TO:_____” allowing Cole to personalize his responses, which included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.” It was the first Christmas card.

As we celebrate Christmas with our families and friends this week, I wish you all a Merry Christmas from Louisiana and I hope you have a wonderful and blessed Christmas.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Quick Roundup

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Since I was on the road last week doing book events and unable to post, this week I’m bringing you a roundup of all things Louisiana; while I may not often love Shreveport (it’s in decline), I do LOVE Louisiana and this has been both a good and bad week to be in the Bayou State.

The Bad

Ransomware Attack: the state’s DMV was crippled early in the month by a ransomware attack. No one likes to go to the DMV, but for the last two weeks nobody has been able to go to the DMV!  From The Advocate:

Two weeks ago, a ransomware attack – triggered by what officials suspect was an employee opening a sketchy link – hit several state servers including at the Office of Motor Vehicles. The state quickly shut down network traffic to prevent the spread, and have subsequently brought most of the state’s offices back online. Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state did not pay a ransom or lose data, and he said the effects could have lasted weeks or months under a worst-case scenario. Ransomware attacks typically lock users out of their computers until they pay a ransom, and the attackers threaten to delete the data if they aren’t paid.

Edwards activated the state’s cybersecurity response team after the attack. He also declared a state of emergency, allowing OMV and other agencies to forgive fines and fees for people unable to take care of business because the computers were down.

As of close of business Friday, only DMV offices were still closed. 

I can’t even begin to imagine the lines and wait time after such an event. 

The BP Oil Spill (2010):  Nine years after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, new lawsuits are hitting the courts.  This will never end.

Recession: There is talk of a coming recession in the state, but some officials refuse to believe it. There is a sort of wait and see attitude. Much of our revenue is of course tied to the oil industry and as prices drop, tensions rise.

The Good

LSU: Oh, baby! What a beautiful season!   Championship bound!

The Saints: Not always pretty but not too shabby.  It’s certainly been worse.

Christmas: I love Christmas in Louisiana!  The bonfires on the levee on Christmas Eve, the community parades and concerts, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival, it’s all fabulous, as it is all across the country. Every community has its own traditions and celebrations – take part in those. Explore something new.

Christmas was really hard for me after my mother died a few years ago; I’m still overcome at the most unexpected moments with sentiment and tears. I think I’m all past that, and then I walk past the candied fruit in the grocery store and am weeping. You never see it coming.

It helped a lot though when we decided to develop some new traditions. When you have a very small family, Christmas can be lonely.  Our friends adopted us into their traditions and families, and it has helped. As you celebrate this year, take a moment to check on those who may be struggling.

Coming Soon:  76 days until Mardi Gras.  And we are starting to see live crawfish available in local places!  Few things are more celebrated than crawfish season.

Here ends the short roundup. I’m off to a Christmas concert!

Pat Becker blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (LSU Press). Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: The 2019 Reading Challenge

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I caved to peer pressure in January and took the Goodreads Book Challenge; I vowed to read 100 books in 2019.

I have fallen short.

Right now I’m at 54 books.

I think Goodreads should amend this challenge from books to pages. A lot of the books I read were long books. Some of the people on my “friends” list at Goodreads vowed to read 100 books, but upon closer examination, many of those were children’s books.

I failed to think of that.

I could cheat, and go back, edit my stated goal. But, that hardly seems fair.  And 54 books isn’t a bad total, really.

After all, it’s not really about how much you read, is it? 

I’ve read some really thought provoking books this year, and I’ve read some fluff. I’ve almost read my way through the entire Tana French oeuvre, as well as a large body of non-fiction.  French’s The Witch Elm was excellent.

Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s The Institute, and it’s not exactly a small book. After reading Elevation, I swore I’d never read another book by Stephen King, but I changed my mind. The verdict is still out on The Institute, but so far I’m still with it.

I guess my favorite book that I read this year was The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it. So unusual.

Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House was an excellent book.

Early in the year I read all of the books by Rebecca Wells, I had never read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood before now. She was the featured author at the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival this year and I wanted to read her work before meeting her.  In 2020, the featured author at this festival will be Osha Gray Davidson who wrote The Best of Enemies about race and redemption in the South. That book is standing by in my “to be read” stack.

And while I have not resorted to picture books to meet my 100 book pledge, I did read a fair bit of YA books, but since I count that as research for my classroom library I figure that is ok. Some of them were pretty good and some not so much.

In the non-fiction realm, I read Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou about the eight women in Jennings, Louisiana, who were murdered. The book offered a ton, literally a ton, of more information than the mini-series, and made things a lot more clear. It was a good read.

I also read that Marie Kondo book that advises you to throw all your stuff away and wish I hadn’t. I didn’t throw one single thing away, for the record, that I wouldn’t have whether I’d read her book or not.  Thankful for that.

Ernest Gaines died a couple of weeks ago and that broke my heart. He was such a great writer and a true gentleman. I’m reading his short stories in Bloodline now. (Yes, I’m reading more than one book at a time.)  His book, A Lesson Before Dying made me ugly cry when I read it last year – such a great book.

Like most readers, my stack of books “to be read” is staggering and I’m not sure I will live long enough to read all of them. I might have a book buying disorder.

As for the book challenge, I have no idea why I did such a thing. It’s not like me at all.  Peer pressure is a powerful thing and looking back at the books I’ve read this year is humbling. Did I measure up?  (To what?!)  I probably won’t do the challenge again next year. Why am I on Goodreads in the first place? Who is tracking what I read and why?

It can make you a little paranoid.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.