A Peek Inside Your Teachers’ Bookcases

Michelle Ki and Eric Hong

As students, we generally only read when we are forced to or are genuinely interested. However, many of us fail to seek the true eye openers among billions of books due to perhaps the lack of experience or our inherently lazy mentality. So which books are the must-reads, you ask? The answer lies in Diamond Bar High School’s English teachers. Through many years of intellectual exposure and observation, Deborah Clifford, Daniel Roubian, Lisa Pacheco, Connie Chen, Nan Kirkeby, Denise Mesdjian, and Stacy Tenace have narrowed their vast collection of favorite books down to their most valued and treasured novel.

During Clifford’s exploration of various novels, she came across a book that impacted her life greatly. The novel, “Fugitive Pieces” by Anne Michaels, tells the story of a young Jewish boy hiding from the German army. The boy, who is later found by a man who adopts him, grows up to experience love and the beauty of abandonment.

“‘Fugitive Pieces’ is confection. It’s magic realism—it’s absolutely stellar. It is a book I remember often with fondness and it’s just beautifully, beautifully told. The book is intriguing to me because it gives me a sense of direction. Anne Michaels’ use of language is one of the best out there—[the book] reads like a long poem so it impacts me on a really emotional level,” Clifford said of the novel.

After reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee in college, Roubian got the chance to revisit and further analyze his favorite book to date, thanks to being an English teacher. The novel consists of kids whose eyes are opened to the racial discrimination of the time due to their father’s decision to defend a black man charged with rape.

“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is true to life. The characters are so very real. It shows human discrimination— not just against blacks but also discrimination between whites as well. I love how Harper Lee, the author, never sought the limelight. She wrote a classic and left it at that,” Roubian said.

Amidst teaching about a decade ago, Pacheco discovered “Princess” by Jean Sasson and was remarkably touched by the empowering non-fiction work. The book mainly revolves around Princess Sultana, a daughter born into the Saudi Arabian royal family. Although her family is exceedingly wealthy, Sultana has very few rights as a woman. She had a turbulent childhood and an arranged marriage, and experienced the horrors of sex slavery and honor killings.

“The reason I love ‘Princess’ is because it really enlightened me to [realize] how privileged I am to be a woman living in America and how limited women are in other countries,” Pacheco said.

As for Connie Chen, “Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen was the reason the teacher is able to read for enjoyment today. The book was the first among a list of others she was forced to read over one summer, and what seemed like a grade-school nightmare turned out to be an invaluable turning point in her life.

“I liked it so much that it reversed my opinion on reading, which had mainly been more of a chore than anything else.” Chen said.

“Pride and Prejudice” tells the story of the struggles of a young woman, Elizabeth Bennet, and her four sisters living during a time of social restrictions for women. Unable to inherit anything after their father dies, the sisters are forced to marry to save themselves from poverty.

Nan Kirkeby may have read all the Nancy Drew books many times over as a child, but she never would have imagined the “fine-tuned” taste she has reached with mysteries and detective fiction now.

She was first introduced to the Perry Mason book series, written by Erle Stanley Gardner. After gradually developing her sense of sophistication through series after series, Kirkeby eventually became hooked on P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh series. She pinpoints “Death of an Expert Witness” as her all-time favorite.

“It was a progressive interest that started off very generic and fine-tuned itself to some quality characters with intricate plots,” she said.

With Denise Mesdjian’s fascination for Paris and romance stories, it is no wonder that her favorite novel in her curriculum is “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens. Situated during the French Revolution, the book tells the story of aristocrat Charles Darnay and his pursuit for love and righteousness.

“I love the way Charles Dickens begins the book with several pieces that don’t seem to connect, but in the end all the pieces come together like a beautiful collage and it all makes perfect sense,” she said.

Through her extensive study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” in college, Stacy Tenace gained her appreciation for the book after analyzing its characters and underlying themes. The book highlights the corruption behind the hollow pursuit of the American Dream through the experiences of Jay Gatsby, the protagonist.

“The fun thing about ‘The Great Gatsby’ is getting into the layers of it and seeing the different aspects that were included. There are lots of symbols and the characters are very involved.”