Read Harder Challenge – Keeping it Local

This month's challenge for Karen was to read a book set within 100 miles and to reread a book that you've read before.


Finding a book set within 100 miles was easy, especially when I checked out this list a colleague had put together. I decided to try a few from author Mark Poirier  and one from Aurelie Sheehan.  My final book was a cheater and counted as a book I reread as well as a book set in Tucson.

The Tucson that Mark Poirier's characters live in in Naked Pueblo is a harsh one - people living on the edge financially, emotionally, physically. This collection of short stories has interconnected characters and sometimes I had to page back to remind myself what had happened with these characters previously (although I can tell you it wasn't anything healthy). Next I tried his novel Modern Ranch Living. This set of really quirky characters mostly fare better, but it's still a harsh read. Next I moved on to Sheehan's Demigods on Speedway, another set of short stories with some interconnected characters. This book reads more like a creative writing professor was involved with the collection (which is true). That said, the lives and stories involved are only marginally less traumatic than those in Poirier's collection.

At this point I was horribly depressed and needed something a little more uplifting. Luckily, the book I was going to re-read is also a book set in Tucson. I read Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees when I first moved to Tucson in 1993. It was the perfect welcome to this city and at 25 years old, a perfect age to read this novel. Rereading it now was a gift - the story definitely withstands the test of time, plus I'm more familiar with the locations she describes in the book. So many people have read and written about this book, there's nothing new to add, just a reminder that everyone gets to create their own family wherever they may be.


In May, I read a book about technologyHidden Figures by Margo Lee Shetterly. If you haven’t heard of the book, you’ve probably heard of the film about three female African American mathematicians – “human computers” – who helped America solidify its place as a leader in aeronautics. I was drawn to the book because I’m intrigued by the role of gender in the workplace and was curious about how these brave women faced multifaceted issues around gender and race and working in a field largely held by white men. I have to admit, the detailed description of the internal structure of NASA in the 1940s and the lead up to all the women converging into a coherent storyline was a little dry for me. I imagine the movie might be better equipped to portray the intricate nuanced expressiveness of thoughts or feelings in a face or a gesture. This is what I wanted to get close to and found difficult in the book format. However, if you’re into the science part of space technology and aeronautics, this book is for you!

I also read a book where all point-of-view characters are people of color. In Swing Time by Zadie Smith, you meet two biracial girls growing up in the 1980s in lower class London who take to each other at dance class. Tracy is a natural, but her dad is in jail and while her mom faces her own struggles, she makes sure that Tracy’s talent is noticed and supported. We never find out the narrator’s name. Her father is kind and loving figure, but her mother has plans of her own to save the world from racism, sexism and everything else that keeps people from reaching their true potential. She is always studying and expects more activism from her daughter who ends up taking a job as a personal assistant to an Australian pop star and travels around the world. They end up in West Africa to build a charitable girls' school and the protagonist tries to make sense of the sharp contrasts of wealth and poverty.

I discovered that this is Smith’s first novel written in the first person. The book bounces between the present (when the narrator is around thirty) and the years growing up with Tracey as their relationship takes many different turns. You begin to wonder if they were ever really friends at all. The characters are hard to like, and yet there are many insightful moments scattered throughout the book. It’s long, but I think it’s worth the effort and I look forward to picking up some of Zadie’s other novels.

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Here are some handy links to help you follow this challenge all year long.

Find out about the Read Harder Challenge and print out your own form to keep track of your reading:

Get reading ideas for each of the challenges from library staff and the Tucson reading community: