Yes, I realize it’s February and a little late to be talking about goals and challenges for the year. (It’s really going to mess with your heads later this week when I talk about my running challenge on Declare It Day, isn’t it?) But even though I started this challenge at the beginning of the year, and I’m just now getting around to talking about it, I want to say that I think anytime is a good time to set a goal or begin a challenge! Who cares if it’s January, February, or November? Get yours! Forward is a pace!
Okay, now that I’ve rah-rahed you to a frothy crescendo of DO ALL THE THINGS!, let’s talk reading challenges!
This year I’ve decided to participate in Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge. I love the stuffing out of Book Riot for many, many reasons. One is that they’ve focused a lot recently on purposely filling our reading paths with stories writing by people of color. Even though it’s something I’m very much aware of (and support), I’ve found to my dismay that my reading list isn’t very varied when I look at what I’ve read for the year. I do really well at reading female authors – my reading total has been split 51%/49% men/women over the last three years without any effort from me. But authors of color? I only hit 15% last year. I think one of the reasons, even though my TBR is chock-a-block full of people of color, is that my reading choices are very organic. What I read next is what is loaned to me by friends, what I find on clearance at the used book store, or what the library has in-stock. Once in awhile, it’s a pre-order from a favorite author. Books by people of color, already a huge minority in the publishing world, very rarely stumble into my life. I need to do a better job of actively seeking them out. Reading them on purpose. Reading with purpose.
And that’s where the Read Harder challenge comes in. It’s like a scavenger hunt of mini-challenges: Read a book written by an author under the age of 25; Read a collection of short stories; Read a book that takes place in Asia; A microhistory; A book by a person who identifies as LGBTQ. Isn’t it fantastic? I love how all of these differences are identified and set up as smorgasbord to be sampled. Who knows what dish someone could fall in love with? Even better, if you click over to the actual challenge that I linked to above, the pretty, pretty Book Riot folks have linked to reading suggestions for each item on the list. So if you’re not sure where to start looking for books written by someone older than 65 – they’ve got ya covered! Aren’t they awesome?
Curious to see what I’m planning for my reading scavenger hunt? Here you go…
Read Harder Challenge 2015:
A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25: I’m planning to read either Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi or Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65: There’s a new Toni Morrison coming out this year. She’s so accommodating!
A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people): Here’s where the challenge is already working, because I am not a fan of short stories. I say that, and I’ve already read one this year – Phil Klay’s Redeployment, which I HIGHLY recommend! – and I’m reading another right now.
A book published by an indie press: Tiny Hardcore Press has published Roxanne Gay, but I’ve read her already. (And I’m not counting re-reads for my own challenge, but you guys make your own rules.) Greywolf Press is another that I tend to read a lot of. Marie Calloway’s what purpose did i serve in your life? was published by an indie, so that’s a possibility…
A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ: I’ve read Ariel Schrag’s Adam, about a straight teenaged guy who moves to New York to spend time with his sister and gets caught up in her LGBTQ community. I’d also highly recommend Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine that I read last year, about a lesbian teen in Iran who considers sexual reassignment surgery to legally (and publicly) be with the girls she loves. It’s an amazing YA book that read well for me, as an adult reader. Farizan isn’t as well known as she should be.
A book by a person whose gender is different from your own: I crossed this one off with my first read of the year – The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, by Graham Joyce. Joyce is a British fantasist (although the book doesn’t read like fantasy – more like a hardboiled crime/noir story with creepy undertones) who is listed as one of Stephen King’s favorite writers. I can see why – Electric Blue Suit reminded me a lot of King’s Joyland.
A book that takes place in Asia: I have my eyes on Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball, which takes place in Tokyo. I read the chapter sample and adored it. Doesn’t hurt that it’s on the Tournament of Books short list and I’m frantically trying to finish that by March.
A book by an author from Africa: I bought Half a Yellow Sun by Adichie last week at the used book stores. I may have done a little dance right there in the aisle! I tore through Americanah…twice…and reading her backlist is definitely on my list of things to do this year.
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.): I’m reading a short story collection by Sherman Alexie right now called The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and let me just say it’s killing me! That first story… Oof. I read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and it was superb. I didn’t even realize it was a YA book until I’d finished it. Oh, and Louise Erdrich’s The Round House is one of my favorite books.
A microhistory: Anything by Mary Roach would make me happy, but I particularly have my eyes on Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
A YA novel: I read one of the books Gracie got for Christmas, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan and OH MY GOD MY HEART. Read it, you guys, so you can be broken like me.
A sci-fi novel: Ugh. I am not looking forward to this. I wish 10:04 would count, but I don’t think it was sci-fi enough. I have no idea what I’m going to read.
A romance novel: Again, no idea. I have an idea I’ll have fun romping through, but the problem is finding something with writing that won’t make me roll my eyes. I don’t even care if it has plot – just not tripe-ish writing, please. Hit me with your best recs, mkay?
A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade: I just finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I liked it…but maybe no as much as everyone else did. Is it just me, or do you guys wonder what in the world you missed when that happens. Hunh.
A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.): I have my eyes on Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns. It’s a memoir, but I have hopes. If it doesn’t fit, there are plenty others I have in mind! If you guys haven’t read Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, read that instead! It takes Snow White, turns it on its head, and makes you wonder how it ties in until BAM! you see it!
An audiobook: I’ll do it, but only cause I have to. I am NOT a fan.
A collection of poetry: Not something I usually pick up, so you guys hit me with your favorites!
A book that someone else has recommended to you: I finally read Bossypants by Tina Fey, that my little sister has been trying to get me to read forever. I like Tina Fey (I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler collectively), but I was a lil leery of reading her memoir. Mostly because I hated the cover, though, so… And I found that it fell a little flat. It wasn’t as funny as I wanted it to be, although I really thoroughly enjoyed the chapter about her dad. That was funny enough to make me laugh out loud, and well written enough to make me want to talk Mr. Fey into adopting me. I much preferred Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please of the two. (Yes, I put a comma in Amy’s title that isn’t there. She did it wrong, what can I say?)
A book that was originally published in another language: There’s another novel in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series being published later this year, completed from a partial manuscript found after Stieg Larsson’s death. I am all over that!
A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics: Can you believe I haven’t yet read Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi? I’m thinking it’s time…
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over): First – how much do you love the little instruction they added? Right?! Second: all of my reading is guilty pleasure, without the guilt! This is gonna be easy! But mine for this year is extra guilty – The Best of Me, by Nicholas Sparks. NICHOLAS SPARKS, you guys! And seriously, don’t read it. The ending was AWFUL. Like, throw the book across the room kind of awful.
A book published before 1850: Oooh, I’m going to get in a classic! I could do Candide, by Voltaire, or Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher, or Gustave Flaubert’s Memoirs of a Madman.
A book published this year: This was easy – I devoured Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, a YA book reminiscent of Eleanor and Park, except with the tears of Fault in Our Stars. Trust me – the warning is necessary.
A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self improvement”): I have my eyes on Dear Sugar, since it’s come so highly recommended by reader friends!
So there you go. I hope you play along with me and let me know how you’re doing along the way! And send me those recommendations!