Unintentional Month of Memoirs

You ever do that thing where you're really proud of yourself for getting something accomplished and you're patting yourself on the back, all chuffed on a job well done, and then you realize that you haven't actually done the job you think you have? No? Just me? Well, that happened at the beginning of February. I had been working on an abstract for a call for papers that a member of my dissertation committee sent to me, and I was polishing it up, ready to turn it in, when I realized that the CFP hadn't, in fact, called solely for an abstract, but also for an actual 6,000-8,000 word completed essay. Upon this revelation, I promptly drove to the library, picked up a book I'd put on hold (and, as usual, bought several books from their ongoing lobby sale), came back home, poured myself a glass of wine, and drowned my sorrows in a paranormal mystery set in the Reconstruction era. I'm generally a careful reader of instructions, but somehow this CFP outwitted me, and it's a darn shame because I would have been perfect for the book, given my particular research. Such is life, though. Guess I'll hafta look for a window to make up for that closed door.

No, I definitely needed these, you guys.
Anyway, at the library, I discovered that they do a yearly adult reading challenge, which I suppose I never noticed because I generally use self-checkout instead of waiting in line at the circulation desk. Also, while I am a careful reader of instructions, I am not, in my every day life, a particularly observant woman. I worked in the same office at USC for several months before asking my managing editor, "Hey, is that painting in the hallway new?" No, no it wasn't. It had been there the whole time, and was actually quite spectacularly hard to miss. I once texted a friend I'd known for several years to ask if his eyes are green or blue -- which is a romantic thing to forget if you're in an Elton John song, but a strange question to ask of a good friend. All that to say, every winter the library does this challenge, and this is the first time I've noticed. Just for signing up, I got a $5 gift card for some chocolate shop and a discounted ticket coupon for the local movie theater. From there, I was handed a stack of bookmarks. The idea is that, for every book you read, you fill out a set of questions about it on one of the bookmarks. Then you drop the boomark into a bowl at the front desk and you're entered into a raffle. I didn't even question what the raffle was for. I heard that I could be rewarded for my reading habits and was basically like, TALLY HO! before she could explain any further.

Actual photo of me signing up for the reading challenge.
All that said, since I wasted my January working on notes for a currently unusable abstract (which will, at least, be useful for my dissertation), February meant it was time to get down to reading business. Here are some of the books for which I'll be throwing bookmarks into the mystery raffle bowl for the month of February. I have no idea why I've only been reading memoirs. It was a completely unintentional theme.

Nerd Do Well | Simon Pegg
It's uplifting, it's funny, it's wicked crass. Nerd Do Well gives insight into how totally happenstance success in the entertainment industry can be (the story of how he met Nick Frost being an excellent example), while also demonstrating the importance of perseverance and hard work. Plus, it's Simon Pegg, so it's self-deprecating and tinged with whimsy. This memoir features an entire alternate storyline in which Pegg imagines himself a super spy with a robot butler. It's delightful.

Between the World and Me | Ta-Nehisi Coates

Oof. This book is important. Trying to explain why everyone should read it feels futile. You have to read it to understand why you need to read it. What I will say is this: Coates has a way of articulating black consciousness and reality that is unmatched by nearly any other voice in 2016. 

Why Not Me? | Mindy Kaling

Mindy's first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, was alright. It had some good tidbits, including giving a name to the exit strategy I have used to avoid saying goodbye to people for pretty much my entire adult life ("the Irish exit"). Why Not Me? is a far better book. It's relatable and inspiring, and not in the typical Hollywood starlet memoir way, where for two weeks you think a juice cleanse, hot yoga, and the power of positive thinking will totally transform your entire life. Instead, this is a book about hard work, being honest about strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when you damn well SHOULD feel entitled.

United | Cory Booker

This is absolutely the book you write a decade or so before you run for President. It does all the things it politically should do in order to introduce him to people who have never heard of him and answer questions about his life for those who have been following his public image for a while. If you've read Barack Obama's books, you'll recognize a lot of the same techniques for painting a picture of a flawed, but overall good man. Booker casually confirms his oft-questioned heterosexuality with an anecdote about a woman he briefly and unreasonably fell for. He explains the ineffectiveness he showed on Newark's city council, as well as Mayor Sharpe James's vendetta against him (which is effing BANANAS, btdubs). He is appropriately critical of his own ego and shortcomings. He name checks God and the Bible. He accentuates his idealism, showing how it could be a weakness at times, but ultimately pointing to how much he cares about people.  Having followed Booker's life and career for a decade or so and not really needing to be persuaded of his politics and character, mostly, this was an interesting glimpse at the events and ideas that led a fairly privileged kid from the 'burbs to intentionally move to the wrong side of the tracks and become a politician. #CoryBooker4PresidentWheneverHeFeelsLikeRunning

BTDubs, I finally caved and made myself a bookstagram, so if you have Instagram and want to see constant updates about what I'm reading, follow me @agoodlibrary! And also on the Twitter!

Ta-Nehisi Coates photo by Brett Simison | http://archive.brettsimison.com/?url=/#!/index/I0000BW5D1WSzA6o 

Embarking upon the Read Harder Challenge

I love reading. I love challenges. If you put the two of them together, I'm basically in heaven. This is why I set seemingly unreasonable goals on Goodreads every year. This year, I've set it at 60, because the scramble to hit 52 at the end of last year apparently wasn't harrowing enough. 

At the beginning of January, my friend Joy alerted me to the existence of the Read Harder Challenge from Book Riot, which is apparently in its second year, and which consists of 24 different reading tasks that you can either complete individually, or complete by finding books that meet multiple criteria at once. Natch, I feel the need to find a different book for each requirement. After all, I'll still be less than halfway through my yearly goal, so what they hey, right?

I like the idea of this challenge because, while I don't necessarily stick to a specific genre or type of book, I am always of the conviction that I have some rather glaring blindspots that could stand to be addressed. My reading in 2015 included, among others:
  • 27 books authored or co-authored by women 
  • 6 audiobooks 
  • 7 memoirs 
  • 2 books by Jon Krakauer 
  • 13 books published in 2015 
  • 5 thrillers
  • 5 books about religion/philosophy
  • 5 books about war
  • 9 YA/children's novels
  • 1 diet book
Notably, though, not one Asian author made my list, nor anything set in the middle-east. I read nothing with an LGBTQ main character. Historical fiction was not on my radar. I didn't touch a single play, which is particularly disappointing as my friend Wes, upon his brief return from his life abroad in China, had hoped to reconvene the cast of our Whedon-esque A Midsummer Night's Dream table read from the summer before to take on another Shakespeare tome, but we forgot.
Just how Shakespeare intended his plays to be read.
I'm going to fix some of these shameful shortcomings this year. I've filled in my goals and I'm ready to roll. Anyone else doing Read Harder or another challenge? Let me know! Let's bookworm together! And as always, add me on Goodreads so I can obsessively follow your progress.