Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016

I do have to admit the reason I started this challenge was thanks to Diana Gabaldon. I love her books and I still have some level of obsession when it comes to reading them. Since 2010 I have been getting through the series and it was one book after another after another. Then I would start all over again focusing on my favourite scenes. Especially as this was all through my university years, Gabaldon ended up being some of the only fiction that I read during this time. What I was reading was very similar in genre to Gabaldon.

Then came 2014. I was finally out of university and knew I needed to move on and read other things. Finding this challenge was a godsend because it brought me out of my comfortable reading rut and got me reading other things.

There was only one concern when it comes to starting this list; I love to read but I admit I am a slow reader.

So when given a list of 24 books to read in a year, initial thoughts of ‘no problem’ and ‘I’m going to kill this’ went unheeded until September.

It was in September that I realized how many I had yet to finish, which wound up being half the list. This was also when I got stuck on a book that I was not enjoying but continued to flounder on. I learned something else about completing the challenge; even though the list is diverse in their requirements, that does not mean that you have to read something that you are not enjoying.

The unheeded joy came back to me after realizing this since the remaining 12 books became a piece of cake to finish. Thinking about why I started the challenge in the first place, I accomplished what I set out to do whether I finished the list or not. I got out of my comfort zone but the books I picked were still ones I enjoyed or at least got through with minimal discomfort and a quick turn around time.

That was the best thing about this list. They do not kid around with the title “read harder”.

I am very excited for 2017 be because that does mean a free start and new books to discover and I want to challenge myself even more by completing the 2015 list as well. What the hell, might as well.

The 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

Read a horror book – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson: Told from a third person point of view, which is the typical colonial British stuffy POV, was not what I expected but the narrator did seem to have a solid grasp on Jekyll’s personality. What threw me was the transformation from Jekyll to Hyde. They are treated like two sides of the same coin but really it is Jekyll himself who is trying to escape into the character of Hyde. Age and propriety are two things that Jekyll ceases care about when he transforms into Hyde and he likes the fact that he is free of these things. This is why he continues to drink the potion even though he knows the terrible things Hyde has done. By the end of the book I have little sympathy for Jekyll as he comes to a conclusion of his own making.

Read a nonfiction book about scienceSlow Death by Rubber Ducky, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: I saw this one first in University and of course was draw to the cute rubber ducky on the cover, only to discover the more sinister meaning behind the book. Maybe to the untrained brain, the science behind the book is sound and I took enough biology classes to know how controls and the scientific method works. According to some, there are some problems with the science but the reasons behind the studies are prudent in our plastic driven society. I did not look into later editions to see whether the science was fixed but the book does what it should and that is start discussion on what plastic does to the body.

Read a collection of essays Why I’m a Journalist, Mark Bulqutch: As someone who has just joined the journalism industry, it was amazing to read about the stories that have affected journalists that I aspire to be like. I actually took this book into a local school to discuss the journalism and media industries and why I do what I do. Even being new to a small newspaper in Saskatchewan, I have stories that I hope I have made an impact with already and that have pushed me to do the best job I can. This book provided stories of professionals who are doing the same thing. These stories are about the reasons they push themselves to be better.

Read a book out loud to someone elseLorax, Dr. Suess: This was read to my 5 year old niece and I loved reading it to her. This one I am going to share with all my nieces and nephews because the message is so relevant, especially today. It’s a simple message that I don’t think people understand until they are affected by environmental degradation. Especially in Canada, we have a very heavy divide between those who have things like safe drinking water and proper waste disposal and those who do not. People often miss the fact that there are others who go without these things because we do not have that reality to face day in and day out. Where I am living right now, people are angry anytime there is a day long boil water advisory. Some places in Canada have been on a boil water advisory for years. If we constantly have something, we rarely see the people that do not have it at all, and the people who are forced into silence about their conditions minorities who have little power to change things. What the Lorax tries to get across is the fact that we need to fight to ensure that everyone has a healthy place to live and access to fresh air and clean drinking water, from the Brown Barbaloots to the Swomee-Swans to the Humming-Fish. At five, this reality is yet to sink in.

Read a middle grade novelBlubber, Judy Blume: I grew up on Blume’s Fudge books and I was not expecting something like Blubber. Even with hearing that the book was banned, I was still shocked to read how far Blume actually took the bullying. I am not one to support banning books anyway but this one especially should be taught in schools to discuss bullying. I understand the language can make some parents uncomfortable but I think parents in this age underestimate the language that kids are comfortable with themselves. Like any of Blume’s books she takes on the challenges of being young and different and really gives insight into how bullying works; not through any fault of the child but as a way of psychological warfare that kids feel is their only ammo against a cruel world.

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography) –  Without You: a Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical, Rent, Anthony Rapp: This was Anthony Rapp’s (Mark in Rent) own story about his life as well as the affect that Rent had on him. I was a little disappointed in the amount of Rent that was included in the story since it is even in the title but Rapp does tells his own story quite well. This behind the scenes look at things that happened to him while he was involved with Rent give a new light to one of my favourite musicals.

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood: I always felt it a shame that I have not read Atwood until I was 28, especially as an English major at a Canadian university. I did not go wrong by picking the Handmaid’s Tale as my first Atwood exposure. This was one I could not put down but it was worth noting that I feared the ending long before the end came. I did not think a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel could have a satisfactory ending. I was surprised to finish the book and be quite happy with how Atwood tied up the many loose ends. Atwood effortlessly weaves in and out of past and present so the reader fully understands how society dropped into a world of third class women and forced breeding.

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born – A Wind in Ciaro, Judith Tarr: This was another one suggested by my mother-in-law and it was quite good if a little difficult since Tarr keeps as much Middle Eastern authenticity as she can when it comes to names and places. For a novel published in the 1980s Tarr writes an amazing female character that moves beyond what is expected of her to become a warrior and a free woman in a time where she “belongs” in a harem. The best part of the book is the fact that she is loved for who she is, her strength and caring, rather than shunned and ignored and she is a character that deserves this love.

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award – Longest Ride, Nicholas Sparks: I told my mother I was listening to an audiobook and she asked me if I was sick. It made a whole lot of difference because, obviously, with the fact that they have won and Audie Award it was something special. It is something completely different to listen especially since it is not just someone reading the book to you but performing. If the character cried, the performer cried too. If they were angry, you could hear the anger in their performance. The book itself is I think one of the best Nicholas Sparks has written and judging from what I read about the movie, I think they changed Luke’s character way too much to make his action believable. For Luke and Sophia, it was never about fitting into each other’s worlds. They never even discussed that in the book. They always knew they belonged together. Luke’s character in the book fits with the actions that cap off the ending and they are all the more believable by the character that you love from the beginning. It is not just a magical ending were things just suddenly became alright (I hate those). Everything happened the way it was supposed to and all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Read a book over 500 pages long – Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin: I have been saying for a long time that I would not watch Game of Thrones the television series until I have read the books. I was a bit apprehensive about starting the series when I did considering I started it in October and had four books to finish as soon as I was done. In all honesty, I got through it no problem because I had to force myself to put it down each night. As an GoT fan knows, I am pissed at Martin for killing off my favourites. My husband who has watched the series is keeping things under wraps but sometimes, when I get complaining about certain characters, I can get him to tell me things that happen in the series, i.e. Sansa and Arya. Going to do a couple of reading lists this year and definitely have to find some way to fit in Clash of Kings.

Read a book under 100 pages – Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling: I loved the total immersion that JK brings to the Harry Potter world. She acts like a conduit between the wizarding and the muggle worlds and that adds a completely new element to her writing than I have ever found in other fantasy books. Not only does JK create her own wizarding fables and culture, she becomes Dumbledore to discuss the moral implications of the stories. It is not even a matter of JK as Dumbledore but the book is completely written as if Dumbledore himself had a hand in writing it. Reading outside the Harry Potter Series, JK does that with all the stand-alones and it adds another level of magic to a magical world.

Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender – Being Jazz, Jazz Jennings: I am not a fan of TLC and I started reading this book not realizing that Jennings has her own show which probably would have made me overlook the book itself. I am glad I read this one since Jennings is an interesting teen just trying to make it in the world. Oh, and by the way she is transgender. The work she has done in her advocacy for trans rights is nothing short of mind boggling, especially at her age. It is a quick read since it is written for Young Adults but it is a good read if you want to see a transgender story from the view of the person themselves.

Read a book that is set in the Middle East – A Thousand Farewells, Nahlah Ayed:Ayed is my biggest influence when it comes to why I became a journalist, besides the CBC in general. Even with her history as a Canadian born woman growing up in a Turkish refugee camp, even she admits the problems in the Middle East go so far beyond a native understanding. She works her way through the thick history of not only her home regions but also other areas she worked in as a CBC corespondent so help the reader understand the complexities that make up Middle Eastern politics. Her open and honest discussion of the physical and mental pressure that she is under, not just from the CBC but also the pressure she puts on herself, is eye opening to those who are just starting out in the journalism field. It is not a bed of roses and never tries to paint it any differently speaking about all she loses in the process as well as all she has gained. 

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia The Road of Lost Innocence, Somaly Mam: Nothing was sugar coated and I commend Mam for that. This was her life and she held nothing back in telling the disgusting truth of the international sex trade that originates on the streets of Cambodia. Consider she lived it, that must have been hard to go through that all over again for her book. The book will make you hate and love the human race all at the same time consider it documents the horrible things that are happening but also the people who are willing to fight against it.

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900 – The Fort, Bernard Cornwel: For some reason I find Cornwell very hard to read but still enjoyable. It is one of those authors that I have to be fully awake to take in. Reading a chapter or two after an eight hour shift does not work. The Fort was no different as I enjoyed the stories, was frustrated by the turn of events ie. the worst American naval disaster before Pearl Harbor, but the story was an interesting yet dense read. Cornwell is skilled in telling both sides of story since I read this book without any mentality of who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Both sides were going through the same experience. Both sides had men who missed their families, were clear on what they were fighting for, they were just opposite sides of the same coin.

Read the first book in a series by a person of color – Indian Ernie, Ernie Loutitt: I apologize if I stretched the requirement a bit for this one but my definition of “color” is someone who is not Caucasian so I felt Loutitt fit the category. He provided a new insight into crime and police in Saskatoon which I think is the main reason for this category. I had the pleasure of going to a book reading done by Loutitt and for all the man has been through, it has not made him bitter or jaded. He used humor to talk about things like First Nations issues in Saskatoon, PTSD, and taking on the Saskatoon Police Service during the late 1980s/early 1990s to fight for better police/civilian relationships within Saskatoon. Though the book itself is poorly edited, the stories themselves are real and passionately told. Loutitt holds nothing back in describing being the first on the scene of a violent sexual assault, child endangerment cases, or a backyard murder in the middle of Saskatoon. The fact that Loutitt was willing to share these stories with the rest of the world is an amazing feat and he does not seem afraid to paint the Saskatoon Police Service, or even himself, in a bad light. This opened the door for him to speak about how much he and the Saskatoon Police Service has improved over the many years in the service and the good that he sees in the world that lives among, and which often gets overshadowed by, the bad.

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years – Death of Archie: I have not read an Archie comic in a while so I was happy to pick this up and see how they have changed over the years. Not only is Archie’s death discussed but this is part of an anthology called the Life of Archie which also discusses the life Archie would have in the two separate realities of marriage to Betty and marriage to Veronica. In death, he saves a friend who was targeted for being LGBTQ+ and forfeits both realities. In true Archie fashion, he dies for something greater than himself. I heard when they wrote Kevin Keller specifically to introduce LGBTQ+ issues into the comics but I never got the chance to pick up a comic to read it. I am glad this gave me an opportunity to read the comic in full.

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better – Relative Happiness, Lesley Crewe: I cannot say enough how much I loved this book and it is much better than the movie. I finished one book from this list and dove into this one thinking that all I was doing was reading a few chapters. Finished the book at three am. It was a one more chapter night until I had 30 pages left then there was no point in stopping. Between the book and the movie, the book goes so much more in depth into Lexie’s life and personality that it goes beyond her just being a fat, single woman with low self-esteem and a self-depreciating sense of humor. Even though I loved the movie as well, after reading the book you realize that that is all there is to the Lexie in the movie, just a fat woman dealing with love and loss. As to her first love interest, Adrian, same thing. In the movie he is just the man who sleeps with Lexie’s sister. In the book, he is likable and deep and going through his own stuff which makes the reader understand him better.

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes –  It’s What I Do, Lynsey Addario: Kuddos to this woman who is just the epitome of a hardcore, bad ass photographer. She is not afraid of anything, is adventurous, and does not let her own kidnapping keep her from being herself. The work that she has done, which is included in the book, is fantastic and readers hear the heart and soul she puts into her work. As for the feminist part, her fearless travels as a working woman through an ever changing Middle East show a strong female character within a harsh sociopolitical reality. Throughout the novel, she is also constantly dealing with the balance of her work and personal lives as she questions whether she can really have it all. As a journalist, I can related to the question of being a good wife and a good journalist. Feelings of being negligent to your husband because of the job and of being negligent of your job over your husband. Thank you, Addario, for discussing the plights of a working woman so openly and candidly.

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction) –  Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman: Bad ass women are a theme of mine and Hoffman’s Rachel is no exception. As an outcast among a tiny Jewish community in the Caribbean, she remains strong in the face of societal pressures that keep her from love while being able to take care of herself and her family. She fights social convention but knows when to back down for the sake of the well being of her family. I could not get enough of the character and the book was amazingly well written.

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction) – The Fear, Peter Goodwin: This was the book that surprised me the most since I read it in about 36 hours. Even in university I could immerse myself in non-fiction that fast. Subject matter wise it was a difficult read since it was about Robert Mugabe’s desperate hold on Zimbabwe after his loss in the 2008 democratic election. He was not willing to give it up and innocent people suffered.

Read a food memoir –  Prairie Feast, Amy Ehman: I love reading books about home and I could not have picked a better Saskatchewan book than Ehman’s adventure in a year of Saskatchewan eating. Ehman’s adventure took a lot of work but even she was surprised at what she could find in Saskatchewan. Ask anyone from Saskatchewan about it and they honest think that what she did is impossible. In the final chapter she also took on the eating local debate and had this amazing view on it going through the experience she did.

Read a play – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, JK Rowling: I am surprised there is not more JK on my list but there is always 2017. I would love to see this live and come on, it has to become a movie eventually. If we thought the boy who lived had it hard, just think of how hard it would be for the child of the boy who lived? Especially if that child was put into Slytherin. JK did an amazing job continuing the story of Harry Potter, just be warned it is a different medium.

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness – I Am Not A Monster, Dan Wells: This was one my mother-in-law suggested and though it was well written, I will not be continuing the series. Instead of having a psychotic boy dealing with his dark urges, they add a supernatural element that gives him justification to kill. It would have been more interesting with just a 15-year-old boy finding a way to fight a serial killer without turning into one himself which is always the danger. Sorry Wells, it was ruined for me.

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