My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows

This is one of the challenge books I’d already gotten from the library before I realized I was going to need to focus on HAES/fat activist reading for a while. It’s sad enough to know I’m likely to “fail” these reading challenges in 2019: it would have been exponentially sadder to return unread books to the library. So I vowed to complete this book.*

I did not know how personally challenging it would be to keep that vow. Almost every night as I finished some section of reading and set the book down, the same thought played through my head as is playing now that I’ve completed all the book:

What the fuck did I just read?!?

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Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

  • Around the Year #9: from one of the top 5 money-making genres
  • Book Riot #6: by an author of color and set in or about space

For the record, the five popular genres I could have chosen from were:

  1. romance/erotica
  2. crime/mystery
  3. religious/inspirational
  4. sci-fi/fantasy
  5. horror

Most of these choices are not my bag, though if there’s ever a future year where I have to take on both these “big 5” genres and the 1 Mil+ Goodreads thing again, I may finally just put a clothespin on my nose and read 50 Shades. But for this year, sci-fi was definitely the best choice for me. I don’t follow the genre nearly as well as I did back in high school, but I have more of an interest in sci-fi than in the other 4 types of book.

As, in fact, evidenced by the way I’ve collected a wee small collection of sci-fi books along the way through my addiction to Kindle daily deals. I purchased Binti because it was listed as a big award winner in sci-fi—like Hugo and Nebula awards, which are legitimately a Big Deal. I was also looking to widen my understanding of contemporary sci-fi by grabbing a title written by an African-American woman.* And I am very glad to have been introduced to Okorafor’s body of work.

Still, I have so many mixed feelings about this book.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I mentioned last night that I have some hefty books coming up in my March and April challenge schedule. However, my first March book is a wee one, so I’m trying to knock out a couple more non-Around the Year titles in this liminal time when February turns to March. This novel by Rainbow Rowell is one of those quick reads I’ve squeezed into here.

As a fan and frequent-enough reader of YA, I’d heard Rowell’s name along the way, some years ago. I’d even heard of her debut novel, Eleanor & Park, and how incredibly well-loved (and critically well-received) it is. But I never got around to reading any of Rowell’s work until last year,* when an ampersand challenge category led me to pick up the famed debut.

Alas, I ended up being a bit of a contrarian with Eleanor & Park. I really enjoyed Rowell’s authorial voice and her references to 1980’s pop culture. But there was a lot in the core characterizations and plot motions that rang a bit too false for me. Still, I enjoyed Rowell’s authorial voice enough that I was perfectly happy to select her second novel to fill one of 2019’s categories.

Turns out I like the slightly less popular book more than the super-popular one.

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Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

After a couple of thematically challenging reads, I will freely admit that it was nice to spend a few days back in the land of Kindle popcorn.

I know it may not be the most usual approach to deliberately spread out the books in a series like I’m doing with Meyer’s Magic 2.0—I imagine the more intuitive choice for most readers would be to read the series all in a clump together. But this approach is working for me. In part because it allows for the occasional popcorn palate cleanser when I need one. In part because I remain sufficiently lukewarm on the series that I wouldn’t want to read only these books for any particular length of time.

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

  • PopSugar #5: 1Mil+ ratings on Goodreads

I hope these challenge creators quit their obsession with the number of ratings books have on Goodreads. It seems like I have had one of these “more than 1 million ratings” categories every darn year, and based on this Goodreads list, most of what fits this criterion falls into one of two categories:

  1. Books I’ve already read (e.g., LOTR, Harry Potter, various classics)*
  2. Books I have no earthly desire to ever read (e.g., Twilight, 50 Shades)

Luckily for me this year, there are still a very few exceptions to that pattern, including one I was able to crosswalk over to the infamous bucket list. And that is how I came to check The Kite Runner out of the library.

The book has been vaguely on my radar since back when it was a book club phenomenon in the early-to-mid aughts. However, I’m enough of a contrarian that I often stay away from the big popular books like that.** Now, I’m not so much of a contrarian that I’ll let my latent snobbery and non-conformity keep me from reading something I’m legitimately interested in—I was more than happy, for example, to devour the final few Harry Potter books as soon as they were released, just like the rest of the world. But if there’s nothing else about a book that catches my interest aside from it being super-popular, I’m more likely than not to bypass that title in favor of something calling to me in a more personal and authentic fashion.

As such, I never got around to reading this book, until it became a way to check of a challenge category and a scratch-off square.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I do what I can to fill out my reading categories using books I already have, whether they’re on Kindle or physically on the bookshelves. But there’s always a few categories that don’t readily lend themselves to that approach. PopSugar’s call-out to ghost stories this year is definitely one of those outlier categories, so I did what I usually do to make a selection: crawl the challenge discussion boards on Goodreads to get some ideas.

Between the good reviews (both on the boards and in the press), the National Book Award, and the resonance with my ongoing desire to keep reading more books by African-American authors, this seemed a book well worth the choosing.

And indeed it was.

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Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

(So far as my Around the Year plan goes, this book was read a tiny bit out of sequence: I jumped to it while waiting to get off the libe waitlist for category #6. Considering how sick I was this past week, it’s probably just as well that I had a non-taxing title like this one to be working through.)

Based on my experience with the PopSugar challenges over the past few years, I would postulate that the staffers over there* are kinda obsessed with the notion of literary genre.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say that as a slam in the tiniest bit. After all, I spent all my grad school years being obsessed with literary genres, their categorization schema, their overlaps, and so on. But the notion of genre–especially obscure and unusual genres–has definitely been a recurring theme in their construction of topics. I found it most challenging last year when we were asked to read a book in a genre we’d never heard of before: several google searches on the topic only uncovered genres I had heard of before. Too bad I didn’t know about this year’s list while making my 2018 strategy, because 2019 PopSugar names not 1, but 2, different genres I had never heard of till looking at the categories list.

Including “LitRPG.”

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