Baby-Sitters Club 4EVA! Or: My Read Harder Challenge Progress
I mentioned in my post about letting bullet journaling into my heart that I've taken on Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge. In just the first two months of the year I've made a fair bit of progress and I thought I'd share how it's going (and perhaps give a few updates throughout the year). For the full list of challenges, click here. Book Riot has also done a few posts recommending books for individual challenges, and I got some ideas from this New York Public Library blog post. Now for how I'm doing on my quest to expand my reading horizons in 2017.
2. Read a debut novel: How Not to Fall by Emily Foster
This was my book club's pick for February. Emily Foster is actually the pen name of Emily Nagoski, who is an incredibly accomplished sex educator and bestselling author of nonfiction books on women's sexual health and wellbeing. She has a Ph.D., which means that she passed on the pen name Emily Foster, Sex Doctor, showing a level of restraint I can only dream of. Foster wrote How Not to Fall as a response to 50 Shades of Grey in an effort to portray an older man/younger woman dom/sub romance that was consensual and, well, based in actual facts and not repetitive nonsense. We have a couple of romance novel experts in our book group and according to them this novel is more erotica than romance, so if you're interested in picking this one up, be prepared. Also note that it's almost necessary to read the sequel, How Not to Let Go to finish Charles and Annie's story and get your HEA (that's romance speak for happily ever after, which I learned from Love Between the Covers).
4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author: The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka
This is a short novel (less than 200 pages) that follows four characters and their responses to illness. Some are sick themselves, others are helping the sick, some are observing helplessly as their loved ones are succumbing to illness. I was very intrigued when I read synopses of The Sickness, but overall I wasn't too interested in it while I was reading it and it didn't stay with me when I finished it. I don't know if something was lost in the translation, or if it was something else (while reading, I often felt like my disconnect was because of the author's often hyper-masculine attitude). One thing I was reminded of while reading though, was that in college I took a class on Brazilian literature, which I had completely forgotten about until now. Here's the one thing I remember from the class: I once made a reference to Sweeney Todd and no one in the class knew what I was talking about. I seriously considered walking out and never coming back.
6. Read an all-ages comic: Kristy's Great Idea: Baby-Sitters Club Graphix #1 by Raina Telgemeier (and Ann M. Martin)
When I was a kid I was super into The Baby-Sitters Club. My public library had dozens of BSC paperbacks on those tall, thin rotating racks and I'd pull them out by the handful and work my way through the whole series. I was obsessed with the TV series (I still find myself singing the theme song regularly) that I watched so, so many times I can't believe there were only 13 episodes (I figure I must have watched each one, oh, six or eight times then?). When I saw that there was a comic book series of the first few Baby-Sitters Club books I knew I had to read at least one. Not only does the series hold up, Raina Telgemeier's adaptation is fantastic. If you loved BSC as a kid or if there's a kid in your life who would love the series but maybe isn't ready for the chapter books, these comics are practically essential.
15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by a LGBTQ+ author: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
I had seen If I Was Your Girlon quite a few book blogs I follow and I had put it on my to-be-read list at some point in 2016, but I didn't get around to reading it until January of this year. Once my turn came around on the library hold list I read the novel very quickly. I was very interested in the story, which is essentially about a girl who moves from her mother's home to her estranged father's after being assaulted at her former school, and how she adjusts to being the new kid at school and suddenly being popular and attractive where previously she was an outcast. But she's trans. That's why she was abused at her old school, why her relationship with her father is strained, and why at her new school, where she's only ever been Amanda, she's immediately considered pretty and popular. I was both interested and confused by Russo's novel as I read it, because Amanda's story seemed so singular. She passes at her new school like it's nothing. She has completed her transition by age 16 with seemingly no financial impact on her family. She, nor any members of her family, are in therapy, despite the fact that Amanda's move to her father's house was precipitated by a suicide attempt. Russo addresses this at the end of the novel, explaining that she wanted to tell a trans story that was easily accessible to those who were unfamiliar with trans people. If she told a story that was essentially a classic YA tale of a girl moving to a new town and falling in love with a boy, but with the added element of her being trans, it would be easier for readers unfamiliar with trans people to realize, "Oh, right, she's just a human being." Fair play, Ms. Russo. (Russo also writes a separate letter to trans readers, telling them that if this fairy tale bears no resemblance to their own story, that's perfectly ok, they're perfectly ok. In many ways I wish these notes were at the beginning of the book rather than at the end.)
16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I decided to reread The Handmaid's Tale this year, partly because I'd read a few articles on how eerily prescient it felt reading it this book from 1986 in today's political climate, and because I wanted to refresh my memory for the upcoming Hulu series. First of all, "eerily prescient" doesn't even begin to cover it. Reading The Handmaid's Tale in 2017 completely freaked me the fuck out. A story about the government being taken over by religious fundamentalists who want to control women's bodies? Why, that's what I worry about every month when I go to get my free birth control and wonder how long this sweet deal will last! An example of the heebie-jeebies I got while reading The Handmaid's Tale: I like to read before bed, in the dark, on my iPad. I was just recently reading a horror novel, and I'd read some scary scene and be like, "Yaaawn! Okay, time for sleep!" and put my book away and drift off to dreamland. While I was reading The Handmaid's Tale I'd keep looking toward my door like a boogeyman was going to come get me. I wasn't necessarily scared, but I was totally spooked. I had already picked out my next book club pick (more on that in a minute) but I came to our next meeting and basically insisted that we read The Handmaid's Tale at some point this year (it's the book for March, don't fret). And now I'm going to tell you too: You must read The Handmaid's Tale this year. YOU MUST.
21. Read a book published by a micropress: Try a Little Time Travel by Natalie Lyalin
I had a rough time figuring out micropresses. Before the Read Harder Challenge I didn't even know what a micropress was. I would have probably guessed what was actually just a smaller press, but a micropress is teensy-tiny. We're talking like four people, maybe in someone's living room, usually hand binding books. I was sure I was going to have to trek out to some person's house in Atwater Village to buy a chapbook (another term I learned from the Read Harder Challenge! This is why I'm loving this quest!) In my research I ended up finding Ugly Duckling Presse, a micropress that has online archives. I decided to read Try a Little Time Travel, and I ended up loving it. Lyalin's poems are dark and bleak and just my style. The challenge that I thought would be the most challenging and weird turned out to be fairly easy (the internet does it again!) and incredibly fulfilling.
24. Read a book wherein all point of view characters are people of color: We Love You Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
We Love You Charlie Freeman is another book I bought last year but I didn't get around to reading it until 2017. I didn't know too much about it beyond that it was about a Black family that knows ASL and because of that is chosen to live with a chimpanzee and teach him language. In college I was really interested in linguistics, particularly ASL and children's language development (I even worked towards a degree, but didn't finish it), so that quick synopsis grabbed me right away. I think I was about a third of the way through We Love You Charlie Freeman when I knew I wanted to choose the novel as my next book club book. There's so much great material to discuss and unpack. And this is Kaitlyn Greenidge's debut novel! I can't wait to read every book she writes in the future. (I've already referenced Greenidge's writing in book club once this year, and we've only met twice. She penned an article in the New York Times about which writers are allowed to write what, and I think I've told every person I've met to read it.)