February 2018

Read Harder 2017 Challenge – My Finished List

Read Harder 2017 Challenge – My Finished List

I did Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge last year (okay, fine, and the first two months of this year), and I can’t recommend it enough. For me, it was a way to keep my adult brain at least intermittently online during our Planet Baby year, but it also pushed me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to a lot of stuff I might not have encountered otherwise.

You should try it (2018 tasks here).

There are plenty of normal ways to track your progress that don’t involve, say, personal blogging like it’s 2007 for a total of some 22,000 words, but here we are, if you have some time to kill and a high tolerance for lengthy tangents.

  1. Read a book about sports: My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
  2. Read a debut novel: American War by Omar El Akkad
  3. Read a book about books: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author: The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci
  6. Read an all-ages comic: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Volume 1: BFF
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950: Cane by Jean Toomer
  8. Read a travel memoir: An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
  9. Read a book you’ve read before: Maus by Art Spiegelman
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location: Lightning Bug by Donald Harington
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location: Touching My Father’s Soul by Jamling Tenzing Norgay
  12. Read a fantasy novel: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
  14. Read a book about war: On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill on War and Society by Dave Grossman
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+: Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  17. Read a classic by an author of color: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead: America Volume 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey: Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel: The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin by Colette Moody
  21. Read a book published by a micropress: Beneath the Surface of Things by Kevin Wallis
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman: A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love: Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
RHC 2017: <em>The War of the End of the World</em> by Mario Vargas Llosa

RHC 2017: The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa

This post is part of a series in which I describe the twenty-four books I read in 2017(ish) for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

Task: Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.

Okay, technically I finished this in February 2018. But this challenge isn’t graded, so I’m counting it. No one can stop me.

The War of the End of the World is a kaleidoscopic novel about the War of Canudos in the sertão region of Brazil near the turn of the century. It includes a staggeringly large cast of characters, a slippery timeline, and rich, dense writing. The translation I read was beautiful, but man was it chewy. I shot myself in the foot by being in a hurry to finish this in order to finish the 2017 challenge (which literally no one asked me to do, and no one even more emphatically ever asked me to write twenty-four term papers while I was at it). This isn’t the kind of book you can read in a hurry, and I wouldn’t recommend tackling it on a deadline.

In case you’re as unfamiliar with this history as I was, the War of Canudos was a bloody civil war fought between the thirty thousand or so followers of Antônio Conselheiro and the nascent Brazilian republic from 1895-1898. Antônio Conselheiro, simply the Counselor in the novel, was a charismatic religious figure who managed to amass a huge following by wandering around rural and extremely economically depressed regions of the state of Bahia. From there, an armed encounter between a small group of soldiers and a band of the Counselor’s followers led to a rapidly escalating conflict between the government desperate to quash anything remotely monarchist-leaning and a huge doomsday cult waiting for a prophecy involving King Sebastian of Portugal returning from the dead to be fulfilled.

RHC 2017: <em>Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry</em>

RHC 2017: Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry

This post is part of a series in which I describe the twenty-four books I read in 2017 for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

Task: Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. 

Okay. This selection of fifteen poems each by three of the most prominent modern Arab poets is wonderful. I’ve read it several times since I ordered it in May 2017, but I haven’t had any idea where to even start with this post.

I’m going to try to write out some of my thoughts about this, but I feel a little bit like a gerbil trying to explain Shakespeare (and working from a translation of Shakespeare’s English into Gerbish, for that matter). Oh, and in this analogy I’m a gerbil that knows absolutely nothing about the social context of Elizabethan England, or, like, what a stage is.

But here’s what I’ve got. The poems of Mahmud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim, both Palestinian, ache all over the page. Both poets tackle personal and cultural displacement and shattered identity. Darwish’s imagery is very physical – soil, seas, sky. The phrase “the country” is frequently repeated. He also repeatedly uses the land as a medium for birth and death, and several of his poems call forward and backward across generations.

al-Qasim’s style, on the other hand, is incredibly spare. Several of his works are extremely short–some are only two lines long. While the dominant emotion I picked up on from Darwish was profound grief (“We Are Entitled to Love Autumn”), al-Qasim’s work read to me as defiantly hopeful (“Don’t Waste the Tickets”).

Adonis appeared to me to be the most formally adventurous of the three, and the most (technically) challenging. Dreams and mirrors are frequent figures, and several poems are structured as dialogs. His range also includes very brief poems (“Worries” was one of my favorites) and one quite long poem “The Desert” that reminded me a bit of Walt Whitman.

Most of the books I read for this challenge made me really chatty. This one didn’t. I strongly recommend it–it’s powerful stuff. But this was a listening read for me rather than a talking one, if that makes sense.