Read Harder 2017: Finally Over

For this month's Read Harder challenge Karen read a book of poetry in translation (other than love) and a book where all point-of-view characters are people of color.

Karen: This was a challenging year, and this month was just as hard as the previous months, but I did it!  I will freely admit that I'm not the hugest fan of poetry - I was a science major in college so that's my excuse.  Luckily, I found a slim volume, Zen Haiku, translated by Jonathan Clements that I could handle. It seems to me a perfect match - an overall theme of being here now, noticing your surroundings, being mindful put together matched with a very short form of poetry - seventeen syllables, two or three lines.

If seen by day

A firefly

Is just a red-necked bug.    Basho

That is poetry for a scientist at heart!

I had a completely unexpected journey with Sandip Roy's Don't Let Him Know. This is actually a novel told in a series of short stories - there are a few times where the gap in time doesn't work, and I think I would be left wanting if I read any of these chapters on their own, but as a whole this works.  Romola's son Amit was cleaning out some books and found a letter that he believed was written to his mother (Romola) from a lover in her past, written after she was married to Avinash.  What Amit doesn't realize is that this letter was actually written to his father and his mother kept this secret throughout their marriage.  The stories move back and forth between the United States and Calcutta.  While I have read plenty of novels about feeling torn between traditional life in India and the lure of a different way of being in the US, this is the first book I read that also adds in the tumult of being gay into the mix. It's a book I'll happily share at the first Rainbow Reads book chat the library will be holding during Analog Hour on January 21st.

I'm glad I stuck with the challenge this year even though it was difficult.  I discovered new authors and realized that I enjoyed some genres more than I originally thought.  Hopefully the topics for 2018 will be a hair easier though!

Betsy:  The two books I read during December seemed very fitting as the year came to an end. I started with a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey. I chose Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, a beloved classic and some say her best work. It takes place on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation just west of Albuquerque, where Tayo has returned after World War II. Tayo had been a prisoner of war and spent several years in a mental hospital suffering from what we’d call PTSD today. His doctors had given up and sent him home to his aunt and grandmother. His cousin Rocky died in the war and Tayo blamed himself for the loss. Before they left, Tayo had promised his uncle Josiah that he’d protect Rocky. So when he came home and realized Josiah died while they were gone, Tayo holds himself accountable for this as well since he believes the deaths are linked. After several failed attempts at healing with medicine men and lots of drinking, Tayo sets out to redeem himself by bringing back the cattle stolen from Josiah years ago. Silko’s descriptions are masterful and I found myself understanding why the trials themselves are necessary to healing, especially on a path to self-forgiveness.

The The End We Start From by Megan Hunter served as my debut novel, the perfect read leading up to a new year. Hunter examines another spiritual journey, that of a new mother surviving the first year of her child’s life. The good, the bad, the changes in sleep patterns and bodies and relationships, the feelings of deep anxiety in the middle of the night, the realization that you’ll never be able to think of yourself first again – all of these struggles are set against the backdrop of London, recently flooded at biblical levels. The unnamed narrator refers to her baby as Z. They end up separating from the father to seek refuge up north and spend the rest of the book trying to get back to him, another metaphor not lost on the reader. The protagonist meets other mothers and steals moments of joy watching Z change and grow. Hunter’s writing is sparse and deliberate, not a word is wasted. It’s a book you can dive into and read in one sitting. I can’t wait to read more from this new novelist in the future.

Reading this year has been hard for me, as well. I miss reading some of the things I normally turn to, but like Karen, I've discovered some new authors and subjects I enjoy. I was debating whether or not to take up the 2018 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, but I'm going to go for it. You should too!

Our new 2018 post with guides to each of the new categories will be up soon, as well as more blogs by staffers who are attempting it!