2020 Read Harder results and year-end wrap-up

2020 is finally coming to an end. This was one of the most miserable fucking years ever and it can piss right off. While my life wasn’t really impacted all that much by any kind of quarantine – I’m practically a shut-in in my daily life anyway – I did miss traveling. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I have a job that allows me to work from home and that my daughter and I have remained healthy. So has my mom, though the rest of my family didn’t come through the pandemic unscathed. Everyone is doing ok so far, though, and I am happy for that. I feel terrible for the many millions of people who have lost their jobs, for the over 300,000 Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 (and the more than 1.6 million worldwide), and everyone who is struggling in ways large and small during this very strange and awful time. My grandmother would have said, “This, too, shall pass,” and I know she is right. Sometimes it is hard to see that, though, in the middle of events.

Of course, even the worst times have some bright points. Or, as Emperor Georgiou quoted in “Terra Firma part 2,” “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” The BEST thing has to be Biden kicking Idiot Hitler’s fat ass. A related bright point to Biden’s election is that we also get Kamala Harris as our first Madam Vice President. I can’t wait! Having a compassionate, intelligent, engaged, literate President and Vice President in office will surely be a sea change after the past obscene four years of the sub-literate, cruel, anti-science, racist, misogynist, corrupt excrescence currently squatting in the Oval Office. Can’t wait for that creature to become irrelevant again, and likely imprisoned. 

For me, books and reading are always a refuge and solace. I can travel by way of books, even if I am physically stuck in Arizona. I can go to other parts of the world or to new worlds entirely. I can encounter people who are facing the same struggles I face, or I can learn more about others who face completely different challenges in their life. I always aim to read 100 books a year. According to my Goodreads Year in Books, I didn’t get to 100 this year, though if I were to add up all the articles I read for research, I would probably get to 100 books total easily. But I didn’t count articles. I’m done researching now, though, and my manuscript is in to the publisher and I hopefully never have to think much on it again! Never thought I would be sick of medieval Europe, but here we are.

RH 2020 complete

Also, as anyone who spends any time with me at all knows, I love reading challenges because they stretch my comfort zone. I love learning about authors and cultures I’ve never been exposed to before. I am passionate about supporting and amplifying the voices of women and authors of color. So to try to do all of these things, I always participate in Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge. I don’t always get through the whole list, depending on what all is happening, but I did this year! I even reviewed almost all of them. I try hard to write a review for every book I read, but sometimes I don’t get around to doing it. But at least I finished it, even WITH all the research and work I was doing to write my own book. I’m pretty proud of me. How did you do on your various reading goals this year? Mine are below the cut.books

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Reading Women 2021

Heyyyy, this year I decided also to outline what I might read for the Reading Women challenge. I tend to complete that challenge most years, too, but rarely write about it. I don’t know why, especially considering how hard I try to amplify women’s voices, work, and literature. Probably it’s because many of the tasks here overlap a little with the Book Riot Read Harder challenge so I don’t focus a lot on this one in its own right. Here’s what I’m thinking of. Where possible, of course, I am going to overlap with the Read Harder tasks. Every book listed is written by a woman, which makes sense because it’s the Reading Women Challenge. 

A Book Longlisted for the JCB Prize: A Burning by Megha Majumdar, which I already own, so bonus! Or Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara sounds really good as well.

An Author from Eastern Europe: Maybe Seeing People Off by Jana Beňová. Or There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Eastern European literature seems really fucking long, depressing, and boring from what I can tell. These two seem tolerable. There is a reason I’ve never read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, or The Brothers Karamazov. Is it just because it’s frigid winter for like 10 months out of the year there? Is there not enough vodka? Too much vodka? I mean, FFS, I could hardly get through The Death of Ivan Ilyich and that wasn’t too bad, relatively speaking. But by the end of it, I wanted to swim in a barrel of vodka. Is vodka made in barrels? Whatever the fuck it’s made in, I wanted to swim in it.

A Book About Incarceration: Affinity by Sarah Waters! That should be awesome. Sarah Waters is awesome.

A Cookbook by a Woman of Color: Caribbean Potluck by Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau. I will need to track down a Caribbean restaurant near me so I can also eat all the food.

A Book with a Protagonist Older than 50: Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman. I love Alice Hoffman.

A Book by a South American Author in Translation: Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac.

Reread a Favorite Book: Jeez. So many could go here.

A Memoir by an Indigenous, First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal Woman: Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot. This has been on my radar forever. 

A Book by a Neurodivergent Author: Maybe Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (autism) or All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Sensory Integration Disorder). I think I own the Anders book, so probably I’ll read that.

A Crime Novel or Thriller in Translation: The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I don’t know how this is really a crime novel, but it is listed as such on the Pan Macmillan site (Our Favourite Crime Novels in Translation) and I’ve had it for ages, so I’m gonna go with that. 

A Book About the Natural World: The Long, Long Life of Trees by Fiona Safford, Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison, or To The River: A Journey Beneath the Surface by Olivia Laing. 

A Young Adult Novel by a Latinx Author: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo.

A Poetry Collection by a Black Woman: Audre Lord seems popular, so I will try her writing. Or There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker.

A Book with a Biracial Protagonist: Caucasia by Danzy Senna. Probably there are a ton of books I will read that can cover this one, but on the off chance none of them do, I will try this one.

A Muslim Middle-Grade Novel: Shooting Kabul by NH Senzai. I got this for my daughter a while back because I wanted to read it.

A Book Featuring a Queer Love Story: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.

About a Woman in Politics: The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney, or maybe Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. Or, because she’s fucking awesome, The Truths We Hold by Madam Vice President Kamala Harris!

A Book with a Rural Setting: Real Queer America by Samantha Allen from my RH list can cover this. So can The Round House by Louise Erdrich. 

A Book with a Cover Designed by a Woman: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (cover design by Abby Weintraub).

A Book by an Arab Author in Translation: Women of Sand and Myrrh or Only in London, both by Hanan al-Shaykh, or Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea.

A Book by a Trans Author: Red, White, and Royal Blue will also work for this one. So will Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

A Fantasy Novel by an Asian Author: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong because I own it, but OMG there are so many I want to read! 

A Nonfiction Book Focused on Social Justice: When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele or White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

A Short Story Collection by a Caribbean Author: The Pain Tree by Olive Senior seems like a great collection. 

BONUS READS:

A Book by Alexis Wright (Waanyi Aboriginal): The Swan Book

A Book by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwean): Nervous Conditions 

A Book by Leila Aboulela (Sundanese): The Translator

A Book by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese): The Memory Police sounds awesome. 

Read Harder 2021 is here!

For the past several years, I have eagerly awaited the posting of the new Read Harder Challenge by Book Riot. I think it was posted earlier than usual this year, which is awesome, or maybe my sense of time is just thoroughly fucked up. Either way, it’s here! And also as usual, I am going to try to complete the tasks by reading books by women and/or authors of color. Half the fun for me is to see what books are out there that can cover one or more of the tasks and make my list. Then I like to see, at the end of the year, what I actually read. 

Here is what I’ve come up with for my 2021 RH list. What books do you have on your list?

  • Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read: OK, so I don’t quite understand this. I don’t think there are any books that intimidate me. So I will read a book I have put off because it is very long and I didn’t want to take the time to read it before. I’ll go with Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Or 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Or I could actually start AND finish Possession by AS Byatt. I’ve lost count of the times I have started and then DNF’ed that book!
  • Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism: The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander; When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele; White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo; or How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
  • Read a non-European novel in translation: Untold By Night and Day by Bae Suah; or The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha (this one looks super interesting: an Indonesian sci-fi choose your own adventure!).
  • Read an LGBTQ+ history book: I’ve wanted to read Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen for a long time, so I’ll probably go with that one. 
  • Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author: This task was made for Stephen Graham Jones’s novels! I’ll probably read The Only Good Indians. Or the Indigenous SFF anthology I have will also cover this.
  • Read a fanfic: hello, fanfiction.net, my old friend. 
  • Read a fat-positive romance: There are more books that check this box off now than there were even just a couple years ago, which is great. I will probably do either Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade (heroine who is into fanfic and cosplay, yassss!) or There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon. Or Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert.
  • Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author: This one is kind of hard to track down a book that is even remotely appealing to me – I really don’t like romance. There are plenty of books by trans or nonbinary authors, and TONS of LGBT romance books, but I don’t see as many written by trans or nonbinary authors. Maybe I’m not using the right search terms. In any case, I will pick up Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston for this task. At least it’s sort of British.
  • Read a middle grade mystery: I mean, I could read Bunnicula for the millionth time. I read the fuck out of that book when I was little. And maybe I will still go ahead and read it since it has been about 30 years since I last read it. Or I could read Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. Or Dr Who: The Secret in Vault 13 by David Solomons. Or Top Secret by John Reynolds Gardiner, another childhood favorite.
  • Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color: Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction edited by Grace Dillon (Anishinaabe tribe). This will also work for the genre novel by an Indigenous etc task.
  • Read a food memoir by an author of color: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson, or The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty.
  • Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color: I’ll probably do Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry or How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi
  • Read a book with a cover you don’t like: WTF? I think this is a repeat from a previous year. I still think it’s a weird task. I’m sure there will be one cover from the other books on my tentative list here that I’ll hate.
  • Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Iran). Or Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (New Zealand)
  • Read a memoir by a Latinx author: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Read an own voices book about disability: On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (autism) or Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (eating disorder)
  • Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain: The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow. Not sure how Own Voices that can possibly be since it’s SFF. Maybe American Street by Ibi Zoboi would be better. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, though I don’t think that’s YA.
  • Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader: The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney. Or Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Madame President by Helene Cooper, Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, or The Accidental President of Brazil by Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
  • Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist: I’ve never read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Or Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley.
  • Read a book of nature poems: I mean, lots of things by Mary Oliver. Also intrigued by Dear Midnight by Zack Grey, so I’ll probably go with that since poetry really isn’t my jam. At least that one is about the night and darkness, my favorite.
  • Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability: So here’s the thing. I don’t know that you can write a book about a disabled person without their disability being part of it. It’s part of their identity, like a person’s race is. I feel that ignoring a disability or race – saying you’re blind to color, for example – totally invalidates a person’s experiences and identity surrounding that part of themselves. No, of course I don’t think a disability is the only way to define a person. But I think it’s also rude to ignore it, so I’m not going to. There are plenty of books that have disabled characters who are strong and amazing characters who are not defined by their disability. I think Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin will work. So will Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. This site has some excellent suggestions, though, as a note to myself in case I change my mind.
  • Read a book set in the Midwest: The Round House by Louise Erdrich, which I’ve had forever and haven’t read yet. I suppose I could also read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and see what all the fuss was about, but multigenerational sagas tend to bore the hell out of me. Yeah, I think I’ll stick with Erdrich for this one. I love her writing.
  • Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Apparently, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is also about mental illness. I own that one, so I’ll use this as the excuse to finally read it.
  • Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die: Let’s see. Maybe The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, The Lady by Anne McCaffrey, Dirt by Denise Orenstein, or a million other horse books for adults, please. 

20 Books about Fire

fireI often enjoy reading groups of books that are thematically similar, or pair well together. For one thing, I find it easier to remember titles if I group them. Sometimes I even remember plots! I swear I do a memory dump every time I finish a book and couldn’t tell you a single plot point or character name, even if I loved it. I really hope I don’t ever meet an author who wants me to tell them my favorite part of a book just on the spot. I’ll be reduced to screaming, “I loved your book! I READ ALL THE WORDS!!” Then, of course, I would just melt into a puddle of embarrassed flaming goo. 

So because embarrassed flaming goo is apparently on my mind, I thought I would give a list of books that are, in some way or another, about fire, burning, explosions, etc. Maybe it’s in the title, maybe it’s related to the plot, maybe both. Who knows. No, I am not going to list any of the Game of Thrones books. Do you have any other recommendations?

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Seemingly perfect lives all go up in flames! Literally and figuratively.
  2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Necessary reading regarding racism in America.
  3. A Burning by Megha Majumdar. Three people trying to rise in life, connected by a shared catastrophe.
  4. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. A medievalist takes a job at a crematory and learns about the culture of caring for the dead.
  5. The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward. Using James Baldwin’s narrative, several writers offer essays and poems on race.
  6. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. A galactic war brought about because a person’s potential is determined by its location in space, known as regions of thought.
  7. The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon. A young woman at an elite university is drawn into domestic terrorism by a cult with ties to North Korea.
  8. The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan. A bomb in a market in Delhi impacts the life of a survivor in ways that may seem impossible.
  9. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao. Two girls in India find a friendship that helps them survive a life of crushing poverty, abuse, trafficking, and immigration.
  10. Smoke Signals by Sherman Alexie. Two Native American boys, Victor and Thomas, on a journey and the lessons they learn along the way.
  11. Smoke by Dan Vyleta. In an alternate Victorian England, people who are sinful are surrounded by smoke and soot while the virtuous are clean and pure. 
  12. A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger. In 1380s London, a seditious book predicting the assassination of Richard II is causing a lot of problems. So bureaucrat Chaucer asks poet and information trader Thomas Gower for help.
  13. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. A hyperbaric chamber at a specialized treatment center explodes. Layers of mystery and secrets lead readers to discover who is behind the explosion.
  14. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. A woman loses her entire family in one horrible accident. She drives across the country to get away from the memories, and finds connection in shared heartbreak with others.
  15. The Fire Line by Fernanda Santos. The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team of firefighters, and the Yarnell firestorm tragedy.
  16. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. Lillian and Madison, best friends from college, drifted apart after they left school. Years later, Madison contacts Lillian, begging her to come and take care of her twin stepchildren who spontaneously combust when agitated. Lillian figures why not. 
  17. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. Short stories by Neil Gaiman. What else do you need to know?
  18. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center. Cassie is one of the first female firefighters in Texas, she is great at dealing with emergencies. And then her mother asks her to move home to Boston to tend to a different kind of emergency.
  19. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. Astronomer Sagan discusses why scientific thinking is necessary both for the pursuit of truth as well as for the health of society. Because how can you make good decisions if you don’t know the difference between myths, pseudoscience, and actual testable scientific fact?
  20. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In the future, all entertainment is on the TV and literature and books are forbidden. Firefighters are those who seek out and burn books. One firefighter, Guy Montag, begins to question everything he thought he knew.