Read Harder: Getting Outside of my Comfort Zone

Given the fact that I am currently not working, I wanted to challenge myself to read outside of my comfort zone. Knowledge of other genres outside of supernatural/horror/fantasy/weird fiction might also help me in my future career as a bad ass librarian. So I decided to see if I could make some headway on Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge.

Not all of the challenges were actually challenges for me. In fact, when I went through the list, there were at least four challenges I could immediately cross off – and probably more if I wanted to push it. For instance, while I’m not sure I would say I hated the cover of The Prey of Gods, if I was judging by its cover, I probably never would have picked it up. Also, it was sci-fi written by a female author, but it had multiple protagonists, some of whom were female. Does that count for #17? I erred on the side of caution, and decided one book shouldn’t count for more than two challenges.

My running list as of August 2018

  1. A book published posthumously
  2. A book of true crime
  3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance)*
  4. A comic written and drawn by the same person*
  5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa) : The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
  6. A book about nature: The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
  7. A western
  8. A comic written or drawn by a person of color : Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu
  9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature*
  10. A romance novel by or about a person of color
  11. A children’s classic published before 1980
  12. A celebrity memoir
  13. An Oprah Book Club selection
  14. A book of social science
  15. A one-sitting book
  16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author*
  18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image*
  19. A book of genre fiction in translation*
  20. A book with a cover you hate
  21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author*
  22. An essay anthology*
  23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60*
  24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

*extra credit

The Assignment

Even though I already read a lot, I wanted to use the challenge as a way to direct my reading – so I decided to concentrate on a few of the challenges that would actually be kind of hard for me.

#7: Western

Maybe it’s because I tend toward the weirder genres, or maybe it’s because it’s always seemed like such a manly genre, but I never thought of westerns as books that were “for me.” Still, I know there are a lot of good Westerns out there – classics and otherwise.

Picks for this challenge:

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryDaughter of Fortune by Isabel AllendeAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyUnder a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

I’ll level with you, I’m probably going to read Under a Painted Sky for this challenge. It’s the closest to what I normally read for fun: YA/middle grade, dealing with issues of race and/or gender. But I DID want to add the others to my reading list, given that they’re classics and written by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors.  Also, I’ve seen Daughter of Fortune around for quite a while and I’m sure I’d like it. Still, I’m not sure I’m ready to ruin the image of Cormac McCarthy that was given to me by Mike Tyson’s Mysteries

Update on the western: Did you know that Lonesome Dove is almost 1000 pages? Oh man. “Unfortunately,” I couldn’t find it at the library when I went. Maybe next time? 

#10: Romance Novel by or about a Person of Color

This book is going to be even harder for me to read than a Western. It’s probably got something to do with internalized misogyny – I mean, romance novels are stupid girly things, right? I know that’s not true, but it does mean I’m reluctant to go looking for titles that might appeal to me. Luckily, because I like reading diversely, this is more of an incentive for me. Plus, Book Riot had tons of queer suggestions! 

Picks for this challenge:

Update on the romance: I picked up Tailor-made from the library. I’m only about 100 pages in, and it’s not, like, bad. But it’s just a story about two normal people meeting, and they’re into each other, and there are some barriers, but they’re definitely not insurmountable. It’s cool to read a story where gender non-conforming people are just going about their lives, being regular people. But it’s just not super exciting to me to read about regular people. There’s got to at least be some kind of crazy shit happening in their lives. Preferably it involves ghosts, magic, or monsters. Maybe I should have gone for a supernatural romance?

#12: Celebrity Memoir

I’m not really a non-fiction person, but there have been a few memoirs that I’ve wanted to read over the years. Also, Michelle Obama’s memoir is coming out, so there’s that. I do already have Yes, Please, so it’s highly likely that’ll be the book for this challenge.

Pick for this challenge:

#14: Book of Social Science

Aww, non-fiction. A constant struggle. I’ve been meaning to read these two for a while. I really enjoyed Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity a few years ago, and I am interested in different understanding of intimate relationships. I actually started The State of Affairs about a year ago, but must have been distracted by some shiny new supernatural horror that crossed my path. Still, committing to at least one book of social science feels like a good challenge. 

Everyone was talking about Daniel Pink’s When in the Bay Area (including Daniel Pink that time he was on KQED’s forum). I sort of feel like everyone in the Bay is obsessed with productivity, and I have a sneaking suspicion this book just reinforces that. Also, I’m resistant to super-prescriptive guidelines for how people should live, even if they’re backed by research. I might be a little bull-headed. Still, there is something to the assertion that naps are a really good idea at 3 pm. So there’s got to be some good stuff in there.

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#24: Assigned Book You Hated (or Never Finished)

Uggggggh. I know. This book might have been ruined for me by the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow movie. I was very impressionable in 1998. Also, Francesco Clemente’s art is gorgeous. Reading the book in high school, I remember getting through the first chapter and just thinking “WILL THIS PARAGRAPH NEVER END?” The only word I can think of to describe my 14-year-old impression of this book is DRY. I get it, Charles Dickens is a great, famous, important author, blah blah blah. But there is a reason that I gravitated toward non-canon English lit classes in college (shout-out to Tanya González’s Women in Lit course at K-State). I am not very compelled by the writing of dead white guys, except for a select few. I mean, no one could call Shakespeare or Chaucer dry. And if they did, they aren’t paying attention. But I am completely willing to admit that my 14-year-old self might have been fallible. Still, I think I’m going to get super pissed reading Miss Havisham. SPOILER ALERT, DICKENS: WOMEN ARE NOT DEFINED BY THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO MEN, AND NOT ALL UNMARRIED WOMEN ARE BITTER AND VINDICTIVE. Wait, does writing it in all caps contradict that statement? 

Extra Credit Picks

While all of the preceding challenges will be hard for me, there were quite a few that I was surprised I couldn’t check of my list – or that I thought, huh, I should really read a book like that. So these are my “extra credit” assignments. If I get through my “REAL” assignment, maybe I’ll spend my holidays reading some of these.

#3: Classic of Genre Fiction

I did not pick out this book. My partner, Mr. Printz, recommended this book. And since he’s not really a reader, I thought his recommendation was worth taking. Finally, a book we could talk about! 

#9: Book of Colonial or Post-Colonial Literature

I have wanted to read Wide Sargasso Sea since I found it on my brother-in-law’s shelf right after graduating high school. Jane Eyre was one of the assigned books I finished (and loved), but it’s definitely got some issues. Particularly its romanticization of abusive behavior and not-all-that-subtle racism. I would definitely appreciate a counter-point.

#17: Sci-Fi Novel with a Female Protagonist by a Female Author

Have you ever started reading a book and been like, “I just can’t right now”? Not because you didn’t like it, but because man, that’s some heavy shit. I have powered through books like that before, and at least once I definitely had to take a mental health day. I’m looking at you, Bitterblue. But this is a book I really, really want to read, not least because I feel like I can’t start Okorafor’s other series Binti and Akata until I finish this one. I don’t make the rules, my weird brain does. Also, she’s giving a talk in my hometown, so I might just have to finish this book before then. Upgraded to “real”? Probably.

#18: Comic not by Image (or Marvel or DC)

I read a lot of comics, but when I went through all my favorites, I realized they were MOSTLY released by Image. Nimona is both NOT by Image (or Marvel or DC), and it’s written and drawn by Noelle Stevenson. Two-fer?

#19: Book of Genre Fiction in Translation

HORROR. WANT THE HORROR.

#21: Mystery by a Person of Color or LGBTQ+ Author

#22: Essay Anthology

#23: Book with a Female Protagonist over the Age of 60

 

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