Read Harder: A Challenge Update

For those of you who follow along, you know I’m near the midpoint of my reading year: I read approximately 200 books per year, and my midpoint – 100 books – usually falls towards the end of May. (My pace slows considerably during August, when I’m vacationing and Kim is here, and during the holidays, when I’m busy doing all the things.) Since I’m also about to hit a challenge in Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge that I thought I’d leave til the bitter end  (Read an audiobook), I thought it was time to check back in on how I’m doing.

Read Harder Challenge 2015:

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25: I’m still planning to read either Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi or Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Seems funny to me know that I haven’t hit either of these, considering how much I loved other novels by these fantastically talented ladies.

A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65: I read the new Toni Morrison, God Help the Child, in a single sitting. Easily one of the best (and most powerful) books I’ve read this year. It was so fitting that I was reading it as things were unfolding in Baltimore and one of the many themes Morrison explores is walking a mile in others’ shoes before you get all judgey. Take note, humankind.

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! I also read Ground Zero: Nagasaki by Yuichi Seirai, which was good but had a few translation gaps for me.

A book published by an indie press: I did indeed finally pick up Marie Calloway’s what purpose did i serve in your life?, which was published by an indie by the name of Tyrant Press. It examines the meaning of sexuality, intimacy and connections, and whether shame and intent behind the acts affects the labels we place on them and the meaning of it all. It packed a very strong emotional punch and reminded me at times of Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes.

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 girl 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: Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball started out amazing and I loved the premise – a man takes the fall for someone (we’re not sure who, though we have our suspicions) and refuses to speak in his defense or for any other reason. The second half of the book fell apart a little, and finding out I was right about puzzling out the answers was a bit of a letdown, but still a good read.

A book by an author from Africa: Half a Yellow Sun by Adichie wasn’t half the novel Americanah was, even though there are plenty of critics who disagree with me. Maybe it was the immediacy of the themes in Americanah that made me love it more than colonialism and the sorts of love and politics centered in Yellow Sun, it just wasn’t as much in my wheelhouse.

A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.): I highly recommend the short story collection by Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. It didn’t let go until the very end and is solidly on my list of recommendations for teen or tween boys who are looking for something beyond Harry.

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: I read some stupid, ridiculous, cowboy/hot mamacita-recovering army doctor book I got from the library and it was just as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe I’ll give this one another shot, but oof. You guys. So hard to find one that it’s dripping with bad writing and cliched themes.

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’m reading Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns. It’s a memoir, but I have hopes. 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! I also tore through Sassafras Lowrey’s Lost Boi, a steampunk queer reimagining of Peter Pan. It was a bit heavy-handed, but still so well worth my time and there were bits so well constructed that I wrote in the margins.

An audiobook: Here’s that challenge I’m unexpectedly hitting early – though I am bending my rules and doing a re-read – Gerald’s Game for my Stephen King re-read project. Except I kinda sorta updated my iPhone and now I’m having trouble getting my apps back. Like Audible. So maybe I’m counting this chicken before it’s…um…read.

A collection of poetry: Juls recommended the incredibly hott Tyler Knott Gregson and I read his new release Chasers of the Light. Talk about hott language! Gracious! I needed to fan myself as I worked my way through it. Didn’t hurt that I was falling for a certain guy I know, at the time. Heh.

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. I’m also reading Flora and Ulysses with the girls right now, and that definitely counts!

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”): Dear Sugar was so good I read it twice, straight through. The second time I highlighted and took margin notes, and marked the ever-lovin’ hell outta it. And have made several other people read, too.

So there you have it – I’m nearly done! Seven out of twenty-four challenges left, or about a third. Not bad for being halfway through my reading year, especially when you consider how reluctant I was to dive into some of these!

What about you guys – any recommendations for those spots I have open? How are you faring on your own challenges?

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