Readathons take me back to college: entire days spent curled in a comfy chair, surrounded by novels and blankets, declining every attempt at conversation with a terse “Can’t. Gotta finish by tonight.” Hot food, sunlight, showers (yergh)…everything was ignored in pursuit of the final page.
At my peak English-major potential, I was reading 3-4 books a week, a number that now seems frankly astronomical. I’ve gotten lazy! My eyeballs, once able to saccade with the best of them, are slow and ponderous. I stop reading every few pages to check Litsy or Snapchat. I wander off for a snack and find myself, hours later, emerging bleary-eyed from a YouTube bender. Readathons are like a juice cleanse for my reading brain (she says as if she’s ever had the willpower to do a juice cleanse): a chance to detox and push myself.
The Dumbledore’s Army Readathon (#DAReadAThon) was created by Aentee at Read At Midnight, and it runs from January 1 – January 15. Each of the seven prompts is inspired by a spell from Harry Potter, and they are all diversity-themed. (Read At Midnight says she’s using the term “diversity” to mean “any book that features a diverse experience such as LGBTQIA, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender diversity, indigenous, neurodiversity, [and/or] people with disabilities.) The prompts also lend themselves very well to cross-listing with Book Riot’s Read Harder 2017 Challenge and the Litsy Reading Challenge 2017, both of which I’ll be attempting to complete this year!
There are ways to earn points (you can see the specifics over at her post) for your chosen Hogwarts house, and you can make a cool badge for yourself (she has templates on her post) to put on social media and your blog! Here’s mine:
I thought I’d post what I want to read for each challenge, as well as a few suggestions for alternate choices. All of the beautiful prompt headers are borrowed from Read at Midnight’s original post!
This one was a tricky prompt for me. I first thought of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, since my extended family is from Appalachia, a region of the country that is certainly marginalized. But to be honest, I wanted to stay away from white guys for this prompt (just as an additional challenge, since a large percentage of the books I automatically grab seem to be written by white men), so I decided to choose White Girls, by Hilton Als, which is a collection of “culture-crit-as-autobiography” essays (as John Jeremiah Sullivan put it). His subjects are not literal white girls, as the New York Times states:
A gay black man, Als portrays gay black men’s longing to cherish what they cannot sexually love, the putative opposite of themselves, yet the emblem with which they deeply identify: white girls. Als admires and loathes white girls, mocks and mimics white girls, is ignored by white girls, is depended on by white girls, is perceived to be a white girl. “White girls,” he shows, is not just literal people. It’s a state of mind, an art of being.
As an actual white girl (and probably one in state of mind as well), I really want to see how Als uses this lens. The only essay I’ve already read from this collection, “A Pryor Love,” is about the comedian Richard Pryor who, as Als says, “was a confusion of female and male, colored and white, and who acted out this internal drama onstage for our entertainment.” This is one of the heavier choices for the #DAReadAThon, but I think the format (essays) will help me move through it efficiently.
Crosslisted Category for Read Harder/Litsy Reading Challenge: LC#2: “A book with ‘girls’ in the title”
Alternates (obviously, these won’t work if the issues aren’t significant to you!): Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon (super long, but you do get 1 point for every 10 pages you read, so you’re rewarded for reading long books, which I love!)
I had a lot of fun with this one, although maybe it’s a bad sign that there were so many books I could have picked for this prompt.
I’ve been wanting to read The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez since it came out, but when I heard Liberty Hardy discuss it on Book Riot’s All the Books podcast I knew I’d move it way up my TBR– it just sounded so fascinating. The novel follows the Rivera family, who moves from Mexico to the United States in the hope of acquiring better medical care for their daughter. What’s most interesting to me, however, is the way Henriquez interweaves the stories of other immigrants who live in the same apartment building as the Riveras. Each resident gets their own chapter (based on what I remember hearing on the podcast).
Crosslisted Category for Read Harder/Litsy Reading Challenge: LC #7: “About Immigration,” Book Riot: “Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.”
Alternates: One of the things I love about this challenge is how personalized it is, but it does make it difficult to give recommendations. I did, however, just finish a book I think would work for almost everyone: Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger And Mourning On The American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Hochschild is a renowned sociologist who spent five years interviewing rural whites in Louisiana to find out what she calls their “deep stories.” A deep story sets aside fact and statistics: it is how someone feels about their situation. Obviously, facts, statistics, evidence, and scientific studies are all incredibly important, but they can also preclude us from relating to other people. Strangers In Their Own Land was also, incidentally, an extremely fast and engaging read (only about 250 pages, minus endnotes). I read it leisurely in two days, and it was one of the best books I read this year.
An #OwnVoices book is one where the author and the main character are from the same diverse identity group (race, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, etc.).
I decided to read The Vegetarian by Han Kang, who is a female Korean author. This novel, about a woman who subverts all society’s expectations by going vegetarian and reclaiming control over her body, won the Man Booker Prize this year. It’s supposed to be weird and a little scary, and I’m looking forward to reading a novel set in Korea. The description reminds me a little of Ruth Ozeki’s My Year Of Meats, which was one of my favorite reads of 2014. I’m pumped!
Crosslisted Category for Read Harder/Litsy Reading Challenge: LC #14: “2016 Award Winner,” Book Riot: “Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.”
Alternates: The Mothers by Brit Bennett, Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (with an audiobook narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda, by the way!), Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Kindred by Octavia Butler– the list goes on!
This one was actually the hardest category for me to fill, and I’m still not sure I did the best job at choosing a book that empowers women from all walks of life. All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women And The Rise Of An Independent Nation seems to focus mostly on the United States, but it does cover a wide variety of “single ladies,” since Rebecca Traister interviewed women across boundaries of race, class, and sexual orientation. I’m excited for this book, not least because of all the love it got on the Reading Women podcast.
Crosslisted Category for Read Harder/Litsy Reading Challenge: Nope! I just really wanted to read this one.
Alternates: Most writing by bell hooks, but especially Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics; We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (also good if you want a shorter book– this one can be read in under an hour); Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl (a beautifully illustrated book filled with mini biographies of women who changed the world).
I love Maggie Nelson so much– her book The Art of Cruelty was the first piece of cultural criticism I’d ever found on my own. I remember reading it in college and being completely baffled that you could write a book that talked about art and literature and television and celebrities and personal experience and…it felt like a real conversation.
When Nelson came out with The Argonauts earlier this year, I bought it immediately and put it on my “New Arrivals” shelf– where it languished for six months, then got put into a box so I could move 250 miles north, then got shelved next to the other books of hers that I’d read, Bluets and The Art of Cruelty. I honestly just forgot about it, although how I could forget about it, I have no idea: it’s about her relationship with fellow artist Harry Dodge, who is gender fluid, and the family they’ve built together. It sounds like absolutely nothing I’ve ever read before, and I can’t wait to finally get to it!
Crosslisted Category for Read Harder/Litsy Reading Challenge: LC#18 :”With An LGBTQ Relationship.”
I could have used Brit Bennett’s The Mothers for the other challenges (I’m pretty sure it works for every single category). I’m also thinking of using Sorcerer To The Crown by Zen Cho, or The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (only if I’m feeling ambitious though– it’s 416 big ol’ pages). I guess it depends on what I feel like I want to read– if I’m in the mood for contemporary fiction, I’ll go with The Mothers, but if I’m all tapped out on reality after my other reading choices, maybe I’ll dive into some fantasy or science fiction! I think it will be good to have variety.
Crosslisted Category for Read Harder/Litsy Reading Challenge: The Mothers and Sorcerer To The Crown fulfill LC #3: “Author is a woman of color” and Book Riot: “Read a debut novel.”
Alternates: It’s hard to offer alternates when I haven’t picked my actual book yet!
I think all these books (except for White Girls and The Argonauts) would have fit in this category, so it’s nice to know that I have some wiggle room if some other books rear their fascinating heads. I picked Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which is, unfortunately, the only book on this list that I don’t have in hard copy (I bought the Kindle version when it was on sale months ago). It sounds like it’s going to be a heavy read, since it follows two sisters, one of whom is sold into slavery while the other marries a white slaver, and their descendants. I think this might be the book I’m the least “excited” to read, since it sounds so intense, but I am very interested to learn more about Ghana’s history. The narrative style (each chapter is in the voice of one member of the family) also sounds very fast-paced.
Alternates: Like I said, almost all these books were recommended to me at some point, whether personally or through a blog or podcast, so they’d all work for this category. I’d also like to recommend N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, the first in the Dreamblood duology, if you haven’t read it yet. Non-euro-centric fantasy? Yes yes yes yes yes. Totally unlike any fantasy world I’ve read before.
Crosslisted Category for Read Harder/Litsy Reading Challenge: LC#5: “A book set in Africa,” Book Riot: “Read a book wherein all point of view characters are people of color.”
Welp, that’s it! I’m so READY for January 1st, when the readathon starts! Creating this TBR list is a great way to jumpstart my year’s reading, especially since I’ve set some lofty goals for myself (I’ll write a post on my bookish New Year’s resolutions soon). I can’t wait to try to complete both Litsy’s Reading Challenge and this year’s Book Riot Read Harder, and readathons like this one will help me stay motivated!
Thanks again to Aentee for creating this challenge. I’m so excited!