Category Archives: 2017 Reading Project

The 2017 Reading Project – February

In the January post, I indicated that I’ve added layers to my 2017 Reading Project (books I’ve “always” meant to read). The layer I added in February is: all fiction by writers of color. I allowed myself one exception since I was in the middle of re-reading a novel by a white British author when February 1st came around. As soon as I added this layer, dozens of books came to mind, books I’ve read reviews of recently, or have been meaning to read.

Some highlights of my February reading:

Clover, Dori Sanders – I heard about this book, originally published in 1990, because of Call Number, a CrateJoy book subscription box created by a librarian named Jamillah in order to help readers build a personal library of books by black authors. This book was the first selection. Clover’s voice is so compelling as she experiences the death of her father, living with her father’s new wife, a white woman, and her extended family’s grief. This is a coming-of-age story, as well as a story of a family coming to grips with death and a new family member at the same time. Clover’s relationship with her Aunt Everleen, especially as she butts heads and then becomes allies with Sara Kate, her stepmother, was moving.

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The Hilda series, Luke Pearson – These large-sized comic books are mad and amazing. Hilda cannot resist an adventure and I love that best about her. What I also love about her (and this is going to sound weird) is that she’s not drawn or depicted as stereotypically “girlish.” She’s got blue hair and gigantic boots. She’s just this little being who’s very compassionate and curious and always saves the day (after she messes everything up). The art is incredible.

kindredKindred, Octavia E. Butler – This is my always-meant-to-read selection this month. Butler was recommended to me a few years ago, and of course her novel Parable of the Sower has come up recently (alongside Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Orwell’s 1984) as being particularly relevant in our current political environment (/crisis). I listened to the audio version, narrated by Kim Staunton. My experience was similar to The Handmaid’s Tale in that I really enjoyed Staunton’s narration, even while wishing I’d read the book on the page (next time). Kindred is the story of Dana, a 1970s writer in California, who is somehow yanked back in time to a plantation in Maryland, where she saves the life of a young white boy. She returns back to her own time and her husband Kevin, only to return again and again to the plantation and the boy, Rufus, as he grows, each time protecting and saving him. Kindred reminded me of Outlander a bit, except set in more recent times (both the “present” and the “past” storylines are more recent), and of course the story of American slavery is still all-too relevant. Dana’s 1970s didn’t feel much removed from my 2017: her life felt very modern and distant from the past she journeys to. As Dana spends longer stretches of time on the plantation (as a slave, though she has special standing in the house because of her relationship with Rufus, the boy she saved), I was horrified by how she adjusts to slavery, how she is able to justify the actions of the plantation’s masters, even as she’s horrified at this herself. I was so scared for her, sad and angry for what she was suffering as a slave and what she was losing in her “real” life back home, and it was terrifyingly easy to imagine an 2017 version of Dana, of myself, in the story.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling with illustrations by Jim Kay – Here is my one exception. New large-sized editions of the Harry Potter series, illustrated anew by Jim Kay, are being released and I figured it was a great excuse to re-read. Mary GrandPre’s original illustrations have set a really high bar – so much of what we see in our head is because of her! – but Jim Kay has done a really fascinating job of adding new
dimensions, a slight twist to scenes and characters. It’s really remarkable.

Rad Women Worldwide, Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl – No princesses this mont28502749h, just rad women. I think the subtitle says it all – Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. This book is so visually arresting that I recommended it to several people just by reading it publicly (which I did on purpose), but I’ve also recommended it to a lot of people – friends and teenagers, boys whenever I can. Girls and women need to know about these amazing women, but so do boys and men. I’ve been loving what I’ve been thinking of as “kick-ass women encyclopedias” and I’d included Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (read in December) and Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath (January) in that list, if you’re looking for more.

Mooncop, Tom Gauld – This graphic novel just showed up randomly, so I read it. It is literally about a cop on the moon, though I’d say it’s also about loneliness and human nature. This Goodreads review by Jan Philipzig says it best: “Sparse, subdued, existentialist, melancholy, wryly humorous, and maybe even a tad romantic: I liked it quite a bit. 3.5 stars, I’d say.”

Kick-Ass 1-3, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. – A friend recommended these and I’d liked the movies a. I have to admit: I’m really conflicted. The art is incredible, of course. The story is unique, compelling. There’s a Kill Bill-level of violence that’s just insane. But. Two things. One – these books should really be called Hit Girl. They’re really about her. She’s the interesting character, the one who keeps rescuing Kick-Ass over and over. There would be no story without her. And two – something happens in Volume 2 that angered me so much, because it involved casual and devastating violence that was entirely unexplored in the story. And it should’ve been explored. It just seemed lazy to me that it wasn’t, and also a damn shame. I finished the series, but I could never quite recover from that disappointment.

The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward – Using James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time as lens, or a seed, the essays in this anthology meditate on race in America now. I was moved – angered, inspired, saddened – over and over as I read one essay each day. I was finishing the anthology when I saw I Am Not Your Negro, so the essays I’d read inspired by Baldwin were literally in conversation with Baldwin in my head as I watched the film.

Zombillenium Vol 1-3, Arthur de Pins – Not entirely about zombies, this trilogy of comic books about a theme park run by monsters for human guests is funny, weird and often really, really dark.

Queen Sugar, Natalie Baszile – I listened to the audio narrated by Miriam Hyman. Audio books are really making my commute so much more pleasant. I loved living with these characters for a few days. Charley Bordeleon moves from California when she inherits a Louisiana cane farm, feeling alien in a place that is fairly familiar to me. Not entirely, since I don’t have experience on cane farms, but it was still a cool experience to “know” some of the characters from my own experiences in Louisiana. It would be easy to view Charley’s brother Ralph Angel as “the bad guy” in the family dynamics, but since we get chapters told from his point of view and we know his intentions and his struggles, he’s impossible to dismiss. The idea that some family can’t be reunited or see each other’s side really resonated, but of course it was so sad. Charley’s struggle to work the farm and the way she gathers support and partners was probably my favorite aspect of the book.

Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel Jose Older – I’m a big fan of Daniel’s, having read both his young adult novel Shadowshaper and Long Hidden, the anthology he co-edited last year in preparation for a panel at the Louisiana Book Festival and his appearance at the library. I’ve been anticipating diving into his adult fantasy series, Bone Street Rumba, the third of which was just published in January. This first book does a ton of world building, offering a glimpse of an otherworldly and gentrified Brooklyn, and introduces a fascinating cast of non-corporeal and somewhat-corporeal characters. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, considering where this first book left off.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead – I loved Whitehead’s novel Zone One (another zombie book that’s not really about zombies) back in 2012., so I’ve been wanting to read his newest novel since it was published. The tension in Zone One was unreal and Whitehead definitely used his skill for tension in The Underground Railroad. I read it in about two days, completely gripped by the story of Cora, a slave who escapes a Georgia plantation and her desperate journey for freedom after that escape. I was entirely captured as a reader, and as a writer, I was just in awe of the skill with which Whitehead delivered this masterful novel. [He came to New Orleans shortly after I read the book, so I got to see him read from the book and discuss it, which was an incredible experience.]

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah – I listened to the audio of this memoir, which was a little less than 9 hours, during a spring cleaning binge and I was completely blown away by Noah’s narration. There’s just nothing like hearing someone tell you their story. And Noah is incredible at accents and voices. He says in the story that he picked up numerous South African languages during his childhood and this ability to speak to people in their language got him in and out of a lot of experiences. He uses that skill here, speaking and even singing in a variety of languages and accents. He’s an incredible writer, too, invoking scenes so vividly that I felt like I was sharing my house with a host of people whose lives were foreign to me, but who felt so familiar by the end of the story.

I read (or listened to) 32 books (and one issue of a comic book) in February, and these are the highlights.

 

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The 2017 Reading Project – January

This year’s reading project is pretty ambitious. So, first, I decided that I wanted to focus on books that I’ve always meant to read. Several books came immediately to mind. I own copies of a lot of them because in a strange bit of irony, I tend to ignore books I own in favor of library books. It’s not something I do consciously, though I am aware that I do it. Something about due dates just keeps me honest.

So. The plan was to read books I’ve always meant to read (and “always” means different things in each case). And I *am* doing that, but I’ve added layers to the 2017 Reading Project. More on that when I write about February’s reading.

For now, some highlights of my January reading:

The Winter Circus, me – The first book I read this year was my own. I finished a cover-to-cover re-read. It’s pretty good, in my very biased opinion. 


between-the-world-and-meBetween the World and Me
, Ta-Nehisi Coates – I’ve been wanting to read this book, a letter from Coates to his son, since it was published in 2015 and I decided that I would listen to the audio, which Coates narrates. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, especially when it comes to non-fiction, because there’s nothing like hearing someone tell you their story in their own voice, as if it was just the two of you having a conversation and you’re listening with everything you’ve got. Then, Tubby and Coo’s Book Shop selected Between the World and Me as the first read in the Brave New World Book Club, so I knew this was the right time. The book is slim, and it’s powerful. It’s a 3-hour listen and there’s no excuse not to read or listen to this book. If you don’t understand what people are talking about when the issues of police violence, microaggressions and systemic racism come up, you owe it to yourself, and to our shared world, to listen with everything you’ve got. If you do already know what’s up, I still recommend you listen to Coates’ academic, personal, rational and passionate letter to his son because there’s always something to be gained from hearing someone tell you their story in their own voice.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – This book’s been on my list since it was published, but what really cinched it for me was when several friends raved about the audio book, which is read by Wil Wheaton. As I mentioned, I’ve come to really love audio books over the years (since a job in 2011 where I drove 12 hours a day for a few weeks). The best ones are like old-school radio plays, and this one is very good. The book itself is really intricate and detail-heavy, with callbacks galore, which doesn’t usually make for good audio listening. However, it was such an immersive story and Wil Wheaton did a tremendous job with the narration. For a couple weeks, listening to this audio book made my daily commute go so much better. Plus, there’s a cameo where Wil Wheaton narrates a sly reference to a fictional version of himself and that was a treat for an 80’s girl to hear.

Revival Volumes 1-7, Tim Seeley and Mike Norton – I’ve been obsessed with zombies for a while and I came across this comic book series that is not about zombies, but a more mysterious version of what would happen if some people didn’t die when they died. It’s pretty bizarre and fascinating. The art is gorgeous, even though I found it confusing sometimes (two of the main characters are sisters and it was sometimes hard to tell them apart, as well as some of the other [mostly female] characters). I decided to chalk this up to my being a comic neophyte and I just trusted that I’d figure it out and I always did.

Feedback, Mira Grant – I’m a big fan of the original Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant (which *is* about zombies, well, as much as any zombie story is ever really about zombies). This is the fourth book in the series, but it follows different characters and a parallel story to the original trilogy. It was fun to return to this world and to see the protagonists of the original series and their journey from a different perspective, mostly as characters waaaay in the background. Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-style.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger – I read Junger’s essay “The Bonds of Battle” last November, in The Best American Essays of 2016 and I was really moved and obsessed with the ideas raised. Couldn’t stop thinking about the essay, which was the seed for this book, so I had to read it. It’s another slim title, but like a lot of short and focused books, it’s pretty devastating and captivating. I refer to it all the time in conversation because it covers a lot of ground. But really, the subtitle tells you everything – this is Junger’s extended mediation (with research) on why people need each other, need to belong to units (families, communities, etc.) in order to thrive. That humans are communal beings is information that is more important for us to recognize and reconcile than ever before.

Princess Princess Ever After, Katie O’Neill – This is a cute, quick juvenile graphic novel that matter-of-factly tells a fairy tale about two princesses being themselves exactly as they are, adventuring and falling in love, which is pretty cool. It reminded me a bit of the Princeless series (and I’m not the only one, from the Goodreads reviews), but this is a much simpler and streamlined story for younger readers, perhaps, which is cool. It also reminded me a bit about the lovely Three Thieves series, which I read last year (along with Princeless). I should also mention that I read Cleopatra in Space Books 1-3 by Mike Maihack this month, too, and it’s a pretty great companion series to the others mentioned in this paragraph (a time-traveling Cleopatra is teleported into space! makes friends and has adventures!). And Compass South, the first book in a new series about twins in 1860 who adventure (with a pit stop in New Orleans), by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, which I also read this month. As far as I’m concerned, there can never be too many comic books about adventuring girls who are entirely themselves.

handmaids-tale-audible_The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – When I initially conceived of the “always meant to  read” project, this was one of the first books that came to mind. I have been meaning to read this one for years, long before the new tv show and American politics took a sharp right turn toward the Republic of Gilead. But, once again, the time was finally right. I listened to Claire Danes’ narration of the book on my commute to and from work and I was entirely engrossed and enraged by the story. However, while I really enjoyed the way Claire Danes read the story, part of me wished I’d read a physical copy first because the structure of the book is intricate and there’s a lot of word play and subtly in the language that I think would’ve had more impact if I’d seen it on the page. So, I’m thinking about re-reading the book almost immediately. Like maybe next month, in March.

The Dark, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen – True story, my co-workers and I are all fans of Jon Klassen’s “Hat Trilogy” of picture books, which are darkly funny and sly. So when I stumbled upon this one, I insisted one of my co-workers read it out loud to some of us and he did an amazing job without ever having read it before. He did wonderful voices for both Lazlo (the little boy) and The Dark.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg – This graphic novel is stunning. In the vein of (responding to?) A Thousand and One Nights and set in the world of her earlier book The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, this book is a story within a story within a story, so very meta. While looking up the book in Goodreads, I found this amazing quote from reader Chihoe Ho: “The moral of this story is: Tell stories to get out of dangerous situations. But not just any stories. Smart stories. Stories about brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.” That pretty much says it all. I was so moved reading this book.

awesome-9781781083246_hr  The Awesome, Eva Darrow – A friend and co-worker recommended this book last year and it sounded, well, awesome. The premise: a teenage girl is an apprentice to her monster hunter mother, but can’t get her journeyman license (particularly for vampire cases) until she loses her virginity. But I didn’t pick it up right away, for some reason. Once I did, I adored Darrow’s incredible sense of her world and characters. Maggie and her mother’s relationships is one of the best in fiction, and Maggie’s sense of her self (as well as her doubts) felt very real and very special to me. I wish I’d had this book at 16, but I’m glad it’s in the world now. Also, I should say that the book is very striking – the cover art, the black-tipped pages, the cover material, the size of the book, all of this made the book feel good in your hands and also very unique.

The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George (translated by Simon Pare) – Another great audio book, this time read by three people – Steve West for the bulk of the story, as well as Emma Bering and Cassandra Campbell. Something about the multiple readers added to the radio play feeling. I’m always fascinated by books in translation (this was originally published in German), especially when there’s so much emotional nuance, like there is in this story. It’s hard not to love a story that features a “book apothecary” on a boat and a querulous bookseller who refuses to sell books people want to read, insisting they buy the books they need to read. But then the story becomes an adventure tale, as the lonely main character goes on a journey and ends up forming a family of sorts from strays and lost causes he meets along his journey. This book had so many unexpected layers.

Rejected Princesses, Jason Porath – This is one of the coolest books I’ve ever read – a heavy encyclopedia of animated princess-like illustrations to accompany biographic entries about kick ass women through history. It took me about two months to read, because I read it at work and purposefully let people “catch” me reading, so I could tell them about it. It started so many conversations and a lot of folks of all genders and ages wanted to read this after I told them about it. The book started as a website and gets updated every Wednesday, so there’s side stories about the badasses in the first volume and articles about current amazing women. It’s the best. Can’t wait for Volume Two.

Welcome to Deadland, Zachary Tyler Linville – I read this book in about 10 hours. I picked it up and read the first page on a whim and just didn’t stop reading. I basically got no sleep that night. It’s a zombie book that follows two sets of characters both before and after an illness starts infecting people. Like a lot of zombie books, it’s not really about zombies, but more about people, how they form groups and survive, but also what they suffer *before* the apocalyptic event. There were a few engrossing mysteries to keep me reading obsessively, but it wasn’t very gory.

Full disclosure: I read 33 books this month (well, one of those “books” was an issue of a comic book and another was a script, but still). Also, “read” is used whether I listened or read. But, the point is that I haven’t written about everything that I read in January.

I seem to be reading a lot of books about princesses and zombies. Or, I should say “princesses” and “zombies.” But basically, kick ass women (both fictional and real), as well as monsters. Plus, some very timely, long-awaited reads.

 

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