Hops and Skips

Book Riot’s 2019 “Read Harder Challenge”: Complete!

I’m a Librarian; Colin is a former English teacher, current Literacy Coach. To say books are a big part of our lives is an understatement – they are, without a doubt, the top way we fill our time outside of everyday responsibilities. And that’s actually a HUGE RELIEF to me! One of my biggest fears in having a kid was that my free time, attention, and motivation for reading would disappear, but – whether through luck or determination, or probably both – that hasn’t been the case.

I posted a few months ago about my big reading project of 2019, the Book Riot’s annual Read Harder Challenge, and I’m proud to update that I did it – completed in full and on time! Here is the continuation of my progress for the challenge. I hope something on this list will pique your interest and inspire a trip to the library!

#14 A cozy mystery
The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

If you haven’t read any of the Flavia de Luce series, I highly recommend you start! They are smart, fun mysteries with a precocious narrator and a wry, witty sense of British humor. This is the 10th installment; Flavia’s older sister is finally getting married, but an unexpected discovery puts a damper on the day. While I loved the development of the characters, I thought the mystery itself was rather weak. I never felt strong motives by the crime’s perpetrators; connections seemed loose; there were details left open without satisfying justification or conclusion. It also seemed light on the Flavia witticisms, the most enjoyable part! They tend to roller-coaster in terms of quality and satisfaction (#9 was fantastic), but they’re all worth reading.

#5 A book by a journalist or about journalism
All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

I picked this because it’s a classic, but I think it was probably more impactful back when it was first released simply because people were probably more invested as it was unfolding. It told the whole Watergate saga in great detail, but was sometimes a bit boring – you kept waiting for the ball to drop, since now we know how the story concluded. When compared to the present day, though, it was a fascinating read. The cynic in me believes this kind of intense, thorough, investigative journalism is nearly dead. Our news cycle refreshes every second; who has the attention span to search so deeply for a story – and who is going to sit still long enough to read it, and follow it? Our attention is harder to capture because today’s story will quickly be replaced by tomorrow’s; our society is OVERLOADED with information, and I can’t imagine anything – ANY story – in present day being so impactful to so many people as to cause something like the resignation of a President.

#16 An historical romance by an AOC
Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

The author totally admits to writing this after seeing Hamilton with her daughter, so it definitely plays on that already-existing hype. The story is entertaining enough, as I already love historical fiction. It was just TOO LONG. It was sometimes hard for me to stay engaged, because there were too many extraneous scenes that made the story drag; I can’t imagine how younger readers would fare. Aside from that, it’s a pretty good story and premise. Maybe I just had the wrong expectation for it being more of a teen romance than it actually is.

#11 A book of manga
Yotsuba&!, vol. 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma

I’ve never read a manga before, but my students are addicted to them. I’m unfamiliar with the style and tone of manga, in general, but this one was so humorously weird, and I’m not sure if that’s a norm of the genre or not. I don’t even really know how to define what makes it “weird”…but most likely it’s the dialogue. The interactions between the characters, and particularly the lack of behavior difference between adult and child, are so strange! Like, you’ve got an adult father calling a young neighbor an “idiot” to her face. And then in certain moments, the tone will shift drastically, like when said dad’s friend nearly attacks him for hitting on a girl who is “too young for him.” He wasn’t actually hitting on her, but isn’t that a strange scenario to exist at all in this otherwise-kid-toned story??? SO strange, yet I kind of want to read more of it!

#8 An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
Chappy by Patricia Grace

The story follows a young man uncovering his own family history, specifically an enigmatic Japanese grandfather known as Chappy. Though Daniel is doing the digging, we don’t end up knowing much about him—he, instead, gives voice to his grandmother and Chappy’s history. Told through multiple first person perspectives that, though alternating through chapters, sometimes changes within a chapter as Daniel retells a story. It can be confusing, but also each voice gives new insight to an elusive character. It’s fascinating to read the social politics that exist in other places, in other moments of time, that are not everyday to my 20th/21st-century American perspective. A quiet, thoughtful narrative of one family’s history in a place different than my own.

#15 A book of mythology or folklore
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

I chose this to branch out from the easy thread of the Greeks or Romans; this story is based on Nigerian mythology. I enjoyed it as a story and the magical/fantastical world that the author is building, but it also didn’t feel detailed enough to paint such a vivid picture that I’m hooked to it. It feels like the characters all have secrets left to tell, which is exciting, but I don’t know that I trust the payoff would be layered and complex. I’m interested in where the story takes Sunny, but I probably won’t seek out the next with any real urgency.

#9 A book published prior to Jan. 1, 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads
The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker by Maeve Brennan

This is definitely not a book intended to be read as a consecutive effort; these brief essays on NYC would blend together and lose their meaning were you to read it straight through. After making this discovery, I let it sit and draw me in with a few stories here and there as I worked my way through other books. Brennan’s essays speak to the New York from the 1940s-60s. She hates tall office buildings and one-way avenues, especially one in particular. (Check out the essay entitled “Sixth Avenue Shows Its True Self” for a humorously scathing beat-down.) I had so many moments of pleasant chuckle as I considered what her thoughts would be on the New York of present-day; most of the trends and frustrations she voices continue on, having evolved for the 21st-century.

#24 A collection of poetry published since 2014
milk and honey by rupi kaur

I remember a 7th grader checking this out through our public library several years ago, so I knew it had “younger” appeal. (Apparently the author is Instagram-famous.) After reading it, I know it’s definitely NOT for your average 7th grader. The topics Kaur speaks to are heavy – sex, love, abuse. It’s very self-indulgent in the sense that it seems like her writing is for the sake of her own coping and mental health. And that’s totally fine, because why does anyone write for an audience – to give words to those that don’t have them, to share common experience, to find or create community? But to me, the most enjoyable of her poems (following my general poetic preferences) are the ones that give words to the small moments in life, or small feelings, that are rarely given much attention. She uses deeply descriptive comparative language to describe a feeling or a setting; it’s like the perfect lesson in using strong adjectives, and to me, was the perfect example of how powerful words can be.

#6 A book by an AOC set in or about space
Chasing Space by Leland Melvin

This is very much a middle school memoir. Melvin shares his road to becoming an astronaut – following your interests, being open to new opportunities, working hard indefinitely. Fun fact: prior to working for NASA, he was signed to the NFL. It reads similar to a speech he’d give on a school visit – inspirational, if a bit clichéd. A very straightforward memoir.

#20 A book written in prison
Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Like The Long-Winded Lady, this should not be read straight through. It’s a series of essays the author has penned since his imprisonment in 1982, when he was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. These words speak to the seemingly never-ending wrongful deaths or convictions of black Americans by racially-motivated violence, police brutality, or unjust legalities. Abu-Jamal’s words are strong and opinionated; this is his manifesto against violence that’s proven to be inherent in the system. In his words: “The media offer the episodic, while they ignore the systematic… Until the system is changed, nothing is changed; we’ll just be out in the streets again chanting a different name.” There is chilling truth to that. A powerful read, and especially important for those of us not of color.

#23 A self-published book
Split-Level by Sande Boritz Berger

I was drawn to the setting and premise of this story – a struggling housewife of the 1970s is much less commonly used than the trope of the repressed one of the 50s. This woman in question, Alex, lives in a world that is breaking down those traditions and barriers of the past – but it’s a society still in transition, with a lot of contradictions and unknowns. Most of the plot centers around Alex and husband’s adoption of an open marriage, and I have to say – for a topic that reaps frequent reference in pop culture, it’s hardly ever given attention of very much depth. It was refreshing and entertaining to see this plot line actually developed beyond just scandalous commentary.

#10 A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

The second book on my list by a Japanese author, and there’s definitely an understated elegance to the writing. It’s simple, never flowery or verbose. There’s a definite quirkiness to the main character, Keiko – I could even argue she’s probably on the autism spectrum – but I like that the novel is not about that; she is who she is. She knows she’s different and hasn’t met society’s expectation of “normal,” but it’s not about her fitting into that mold; instead, it’s about how she navigates her world and challenges the people in it by following her own expectation of living. I found myself quickly caught up in Keiko’s life and mind. It’s very short and was satisfying, despite wanting more.

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