Do The Reading I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges

I read 125 books in 2020 and this is what I learned…

  1. I’ll never stop finding books I want to read.
  2. Reading in this volume made me evaluate writing styles, plot directions, and stock characters in a new way.
  3. There are always new areas, regions, genres, sub-genres, publication forms, and other exciting things to be found. If you think “you’ve read everything”, you’ve not opened your mind to all the possibilities around you.
  4. Having a small community of avid readers in my space has made the world of difference. Especially as my reading family come at books in entirely different ways.
  5. I love talking and writing about books and I want to do that more.
  6. I enjoy giving books as much if not more than I enjoy buying books for me.
  7. Emotionally, I delineate between (1) “books I read for me”, (2) “books I read because I’m worrying about what other people think”, and (3) “books for work”. Sometimes, the intellectual pressure pile yields a gem, but I’d like to focus more on my joys in 2021.
  8. My learning disabilities are present rather than separate in my reading habits. I now understand better what does/does not hold my attention, when in the day I read most comfortably, what kind of writing asks me to find pictures in words rather than offers images easily, which fonts to avoid, that I get anxious reading books with very tight spines, etc.
  9. My triggers and gore thresholds have changed.
  10. I hate conventional book clubs but “buddy reading” – where I read at the same book around the same time as one or two other people – is great.
  11. There is, actually, a balance to “books bought” vs. “books read”. I do not enjoy being surrounded by too many books I haven’t read but I do need a range of choices.
  12. Shock realisation: I don’t want a big library of books unless I love them all. I am really unromantic about a book once it has been read. I’d like to think more about where the books I get rid of go to. I’d also like a designated “unread” bookcase (a small one), so I don’t keep finding things I haven’t read and stressing out.
  13. I am very fussy about the “Young Adult” literature I read and need to keep space between the different YA options I read to have the greatest enjoyment of them.
  14. I still love self-help books and I’m going to try to confront my internalised snobbery about the fact that I like reading about cleaning, wellness, and spirituality.
  15. I still need and love audiobooks. I wish my local library had a richer range of content.
  16. Long books can be a relief as well as a chore. I will definitely keep an eye out for a 500+ page novel in 2021.
  17. If a “classic” or venerated book doesn’t speak to me, I need to move on and not feel emotionally or intellectually negligent.
  18. I need to keep up my non-fiction reading because I value it but…
  19. I should maintain a 1:4 ratio of non-fiction to any other form because I read a lot of fragments of non-fiction when at work.
Do The Reading Reading Challenges

Recommend Me a Book

If you are reading this, you have probably volunteered to help me find new books and read new things.

The task: Recommend/Buy* me a book you think I should read or you think I will like. Any format: prose, poetry, non-fiction, graphic novel, or anything else.

Rules (some can be broken):

  • Books under 350 pages (dyslexic friendly)
  • Avoid American authors unless you don’t want to
  • No anti-Islamic terrorism stories
  • No disposable sexual assault plot lines
  • Less keen on YA (because I read a lot). Avoid contemporary school settings
  • Only your most unusual or particularly special crime thrillers

Authors I have read a significant amount of work by/everything currently in print by:

Han Kang; Akwaeke Emezi; Arthur Conan Doyle; Octavia E. Butler; Toni Morrison; Dorothy L. Sayers; John Le Carré; George Orwell; F Scott Fitzgerald; Becky Chambers; Truman Capote; Neil Gaiman; Jane Austen; Anthony Trollope; Agatha Christie; Lisa Kleypas. Alice Oseman; Natasha Ngan; Sue Grafton; Patricia Cornwall.

Favourite books that I have read recently:

  • The Emperor’s Babe – Bernadine Evaristo
  • On a Sunbeam – Tillie Walden
  • Dawn – Octavia E. Butler
  • You Should See Me in A Crown – Leah Johnson
  • The Deep – Rivers Solomon
  • Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds – adrienne maree brown
  • The Death of Vivek Oji – Akwaeke Emezi
  • Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
  • Jazz – Toni Morrison
  • The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
  • The Unspoken Name – A.K. Larwood
  • Asha and the Spirit Bird – Jasbinder Bilan
  • Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan
  • Trans Power – Juno Roche
  • Pet – Akwaeke Emezi
  • Heartstopper Vols. 1-3 – Alice Oseman

*Budget will be supplied by me or I’ll buy the book on your recommendation. Please use independent booksellers.

Books That Changed My Life Do The Reading I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges The Isolation Reads

What do you get if you read 100 books in nine months?

Perhaps the most interesting side effect of lockdown for me has been returning to reading in a big way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been an avid reader forever, but I encounter extreme slumps as well as periods where reading just isn’t my preferred way to pass time. Unlike some people who didn’t feel like reading over the last few months, I have (perhaps counterintuitively) found getting back into books has helped me navigate living alone in a (relatively) new city where most of my friends live away. More than that, it helped me to understand the value of moving from computer screens to paper for me as a dyslexic person. I experience screen fatigue (including the TV) a long time before I experience word fatigue. The nights I have gone to bed at 21:00 with a book, I have almost universally slept better. Why? Because I ditch my phone and am really present in a low energy state, generally feeling chilled. I do audit what read before bed, but I also have very familiar audiobooks I listen to at night to counteract any triggering content.

            I would love to tell you that this reading spurt has made me more decisive about what I read but that would be untrue. As we speak, I am “stuck” with a book I want to like, but find dull, and can’t quite commit to abandoning. This is really silly given that, when this happened during the alphabet challenge, I immediately picked up pace when I accepted that I was never going to “get” Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. The writing is beautiful but after 15 minutes I would be fidgety and disengaged. In fact, it put me to sleep for one of my two naps in the last 18 months. I wanted to love it and be immersed. Almost all of my reading pals speak very highly of it, but truth be told, it just wasn’t for me. Maybe after writing this post, I will commit to hiding the volume by my bed, removing it from my Goodreads “currently reading” list, and see if I experience any inclination to return to it.

            What else have I learned? I really, really enjoy a reading challenge that has very open parameters. I set myself a monumental task when I took on my own “Reading The Alphabet” challenge. I wanted to tackle my 100+ book To Be Read (TBR) pile and so I committed to read a book by authors with surnames beginning with every letter of the alphabet. I had to supplement here and there. (Thank God I did, because The Autobiography of Malcolm X was a standout read.) But I also got caught up in reading (1)in alphabetical order, (2) at least one fiction and non-fiction entry, and (3) [DON’T DO THIS] as many entrants per letter as possible. What should have been 26 books could have become fifty-two books plus any bonus “extra” reads. The problem here came when I hit A Brief History of Seven Killings. I had read lots of “heavy” books at this point and was really looking forward to a graphic novel a lot of letters away. Finally, I decided to “break” the order and read what excited me, which is perhaps the best lesson of this year. I also committed to skim the James in a 90-minute speed read and move on.

            Not so long ago, I wrote a blog about my trepidations in approaching The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel because it was such a big book! All of my neurodivergence warning bells go off if I could hurt myself dropping a book, the word fatigue means it could take weeks, and it’s a dense story. HOWEVER, I am so glad I started my lockdown reads with it because (1) I loved it, (2) I managed it in a weekend, and (3) it prepared me to try out “bigger” books. I pre-ordered some hardbacks and for the first time in my life, am almost entirely on top of them where I would ordinarily reach for a paperback first. I have no idea how many more books I will read this year. I am loving doing The Black Book Challenge with Leighan so that is pushing me along. I have so many exciting unread titles in the house that I am on a real book buying ban for a while.

            I thought I would end with a list of my highlights of 2020 so far. Note: these are books I have read in 2020, not necessarily books published in 2020. I hope you enjoy some of them, and I look forward to writing up many pending reviews.

P.S. I went to look at my Goodreads to compile this list and got very overwhelmed by how many of these books I really loved.

Hannah’s Reading Highlights so far:

  1. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
  2. The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo
  3. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
  4. Trans Power by Juno Roche
  5. Asha & the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan
  6. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  7. Heartstopper (Vols. 1-3) by Alice Oseman [ALL of the volumes are great]
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  9. Flèche by Mary Jean Chan
  10. Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe
  11. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  12. The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin
  13. The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
  14. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
  15. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  16. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
  17. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  18. Jazz by Toni Morrison
  19. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
  20. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  21. Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown
Books That Changed My Life Do The Reading The Isolation Reads

The Isolation Reads: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

It’s a really strange time and we are all processing #SocialDistancing differently. Friends and colleagues will have noticed my increased presence on Twitter. I am mindlessly checking my email many, many times an hour and perpetuating my underlying anxieties. As a result, I have set myself some digital check out time every day. Sometimes I’m going to spend that time attacking my To Be Read pile. This is a (possibly short) chronicle of what I finish or abandon. Wherever I can, these reviews will be written immediately after finishing the book. These are not measured reflections. They are gut reactions.

Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings [audiobook]. Hachette Audio UK. 2014.

I have really odd relationship with Dr Maya Angelou’s work. I can’t remember not knowing who she is. We had posters with her poem “Still I Rise” on all over my primary school walls. I read excerpts of a lot of her work at uni. I sat on a bench outside my current workplace listening to her read her poems as I hyperventilated before my job interview. But as with many academics, I have only accessed parts of Angelou’s prose when I have needed to rather than appreciating her works in their entirety.

I didn’t know about the controversy about the Caged Bird in American schools or about the content warnings of sexual abuse and accounts of racism that are associated with this book. As a survivor, I found the accounts of Angelou’s PTSD incredibly powerful. I found her way of describing sibling love really touching. I also related strongly to her account of re-finding her voice through reading and through reading aloud. There are so many beautiful passages, so many moments of tension and release, and many laughs in among lots of profound sorrow. I can’t wait to read the next one.

As a person with specific learning difficulties, I advocate for audiobooks a lot. I specifically recommend listening to anything read by Angelou. She has such an expressive but mellow voice. You hear her humour and vivacity but also her pain and fragility. I adore her  recording of her collected poems and I know I will debate about whether to listen to more of her books or to read them. I have copies of the other five autobiographies at my mum’s but in the current circumstances, I may end up using our Audible credits to plough ahead. We will see. I don’t really know what I thought this book would be like but it was even better than I imagined. I am grateful to Dr Maya Angelou for writing it so we can all explore and cherish it.

Do The Reading The Isolation Reads

The Isolation Reads: Children Of Blood and Bone

It’s a really strange time and we are all processing #SocialDistancing differently. Friends and colleagues will have noticed my increased presence on Twitter. I am mindlessly checking my email many, many times an hour and perpetuating my underlying anxieties. As a result, I have set myself some digital check out time every day. Sometimes I’m going to spend that time attacking my To Be Read pile. This is a (possibly short) chronicle of what I finish or abandon. Wherever I can, these reviews will be written immediately after finishing the book. These are not measured reflections. They are gut reactions.

Tomi Adeyemi. Children of Blood and Bone. London: MacMillan. 2018.

Good lord. When I started this book this morning, I was fairly ambivalent and to be honest, I nearly abandoned it. I wasn’t really caught by the story or the characters until over halfway through. I only persisted because someone I love really enjoyed it and by the end I could see why. I read the last 150 pages in less than an hour.

I wonder if I have read too many dystopian Young Adult (YA) novels because I think Children of Blood and Bone comes most alive in its happiest scenes. It has some pockets of compelling actionbut the dances, laughing, parties, and moments of belonging landed most with me. The book’s most beautiful detail is the slow reveal as Zélie’s hair returns to a natural state while she is coming into her magic. That’s not something I’ve seen in a book like this before.

I read YA and children’s books because I enjoy them but I’m also always scouting for things for my godchildren that incorporate Black and neurodiverse characters. I never saw myself in a book when I was young but I try to surround them with stories featuring people like us as much as possible. I think that Children of Blood and Bone fills a vital gap. I definitely didn’t read a story set in Nigeria when I was young, and truthfully, I was introduced to “African Literature” as a “genre” of book by pretentious white teachers at school: “you must read Things Fall Apart.” What we needed was more books by authors from across the continent and from the diaspora. Stories of all kinds. I am going to buy the audiobook for my oldest godchild right away. He’s just seen Black Panther. He’s slowly watching Avatar: the Last Airbender with his dads. He will LOVE this book.

As for me, I know I will read the next one someday. Unlike Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire, I don’t feel like I need to read the sequel right away (although I totally would if I had it). However, I know I’ll be happy when I do read Children of Virtue and Vengeance. For some unknown reason, I am entirely on Team Inan and I need to know where he ends up.

Do The Reading How the Blog Works

Intro: Do the Reading!

Although this might sound like a chore to some folx, I am probably most excited about this part of my reading challenge. I am on a mission to get familiar with a ton of literature that I feel I should have read. In almost all cases, these are also titles I want to read. You will not find the complete works of Dickens here (although The Pickwick Papers is on the To Be Read pile). We are looking at everything published by Toni Morrison and Bernardine Evaristo, authors on the Jhalek prize, essay collections by Juno Roche and Roxane Gay, autobiographies and collections of letters.

Often I have read a chapter of the book or listened to the author in interview but have had to put aside “personal reading” for urgent/important research. This will be a balance of recently published or “new” work and literature that I have arbitrarily decided is essential for me and my thinking.

Disclaimer: I will be listening to audiobooks as well as “reading”. Audiobooks are books as far as I am concerned. I am dyslexic and dyspraxic and will not have my love of books contained by word fatigue after a week at work. I will “declare” when I have listened to an audiobook