Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #19: Read a Horror Novel by a BIPOC Author

Alright. I’m just going to come out and say it. Horror is the best genre out there. Good horror is thought-provoking, emotional, propulsive, and unforgettable. And I just can’t get enough of it. It was hard to narrow it down when it came to choosing which books to share with you for this challenge. But these are some of my personal favorite horror novels for this Read Harder 2022 Challenge: Read a Horror Novel by a BIPOC Author.

What was the first horror novel you read? For me, it was Stephen King’s It. For a lot of readers, King was probably one of their first introductions to the world of horror fiction. And that’s great and all, but there’s so much more horror fiction out there, and so many incredible horror books from BIPOC authors. Here are eight horror books that do all the good things that horror books should—they’re thought-provoking, emotional, propulsive, and unforgettable. Even if you’re a person who normally shies away from horror stories, I promise these are worth the risk of being a little scared.

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

the only good indians

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Speaking of unforgettable reads, Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians is one that I’ll never be able to get out of my mind, and one I can’t stop recommending to people, which is why it’s #1 on a list that’s otherwise in no particular order. When four Blackfoot Indian men go hunting, they end up doing something that will haunt them forever. Quite literally. Now there’s a supernatural entity that’s hunting them, hellbent on revenge.

White Smoke cover image

White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson

If you love YA horror, please do yourself a favor and read White Smoke. When teenager Marigold moves with her family from California to the Midwestern city of Cedarville, everyone thinks it’s a chance for them to start over. But in horror language, we know what moving to a new house for a chance to start over means. It means the house is haunted, right? As soon as Marigold and her family move in, things seem off. The neighborhood is practically deserted, and they keep hearing weird sounds (and smelling weird smells) throughout the house. Is it just Marigold’s mind playing tricks on her, or does the house really want them out?

cover of Sorrowland

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Sorrowland is horror meets sci-fi meets Afrofuturism meets wilderness survival tale. Vern is seven months pregnant when she escapes from the strict religious compound where she was raised. Now she finds herself alone in the wilderness, caring for her twin children, unable to trust anything in the world around her. But the religious compound she fled from isn’t willing to let her go that easily. And she feels herself going through unsettling changes.

Cover of The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching is a dark fantasy/horror novel set in the puritanic lands of Bethel where Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy because she is proof of her mother’s tryst with an outsider of another race. But her mother was hiding even more secrets than Immanuelle could have imagined, and something is calling her out to the woods surrounding Bethel.

cover of empire of the wild by cherie dimaline

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Empire of Wild is inspired by the traditional Métis story of the Rogarou, a legendary werewolf-like creature. Joan’s husband Victor has been missing for over a year, but Joan refused to give up hope and keeps searching for him. Then one day in a Walmart parking lot, there he is. At first she’s relieved to see him, but he insists he is not her husband and that he does not recognize her at all. He says he is the Reverend Wolff and that he only wants to bring people to Jesus. But of course, it turns out that’s not his only mission.

white is for witching by helen oyeyemi

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

Looking for more haunted house-y type stories? Okay, you’ve got it. Here’s White is for Witching, a story about the Silver family, who moves to a mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover in the hopes of starting up a bed-and-breakfast. The matriarch of the family has gone missing, and the daughter, Miranda, feels the spirits within the strange house and the women who haunt the walls. And they are quickly pulling her in.

cover of fledgling by octavia butler

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

What would a horror novel list be without at least one vampire story? Although I guess calling Fledgling a vampire story is oversimplifying things… by a lot. Shori is 53 years old, but on the outside, she looks like a young girl. When we first meet her, she has no memory of who she is and she’s exhausted and hungry. But when she’s picked up by a man named Wright, together the two begin to uncover the secrets of her past and a world of vampire-like creatures that are unlike anything you’ve ever read about before.

Beloved Book Cover

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the most haunting ghost story you will ever read. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the story of Sethe, who was born into slavery but escaped to Ohio. Still, eighteen years later, living with her daughter Amy, Sethe still does not feel free. She’s haunted by the memories of her past and the horrifying things she had to endure to find freedom. Then a teenaged girl who calls herself Beloved shows up at her doorstep, and all of Sethe’s horrors of the past come to meet her in her present.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

And those are my recommendations! Want even more? Here are 20 horror books by authors of color. I’m so excited to read some good horror with everyone this year. Good luck with the Read Harder challenge!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #18: Read A “Best ___ Writing of the Year” Book for a Topic and Year of Your Choice

“Best Of” collections are a fascinating thing. It’s an age-old discussion: what does it mean to be the best? Who gets to decide? Best at what aspects of writing? I have gotten in fights about this, and also have strong feelings about all “best” judgements being subjective, which makes me either the best (see what I did there) or the worst person to be writing this. But here we are! And I have a big love for “Best Of” collections, even as I have big feelings about what those words even mean.

For this task, start with a little strategic planning: what do you hope to get out of reading one of these? Do you want to read amazing examples of writing from a genre you already love? Or perhaps you’d like to give a genre you’ve never read a try — collections are a great way to dip your toes in and test the water. Perhaps you have a particular reading goal you’d like to further, like reading more internationally. Maybe you want to get some perspective on how a given genre has changed. Or maybe, like me, you just want to see what’s considered “the best” so you can fight about it. All of these are valid, my friends! 

Whatever your answer, I’ve collected various series here for your perusal, with some suggestions as to particular years worth your consideration.

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

The Best American Series, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Possibly the best-known of the category, this series has been in publication since 1915 (!). It’s grown to cover a wide variety of topics; currently, you can get collections dedicated to Short Stories, Mystery and Suspense, Essays, Food Writing, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Science and Nature Writing, and Travel. Each year has a regular editor and a guest editor, and as you’ll see once you start looking, those guest editors are typically highly-regarded authors in their own right.

cover of Best American Travel Writing 2021

Discontinued categories include: Nonrequired Reading; Comics; Sports Writing; Spiritual Writing; Infographics; and Recipes. I don’t know why they stopped or if they’ll ever come back, but since this task lets you select your year, don’t let that stop you!

If you think I’m not eyeballing Best American Travel Writing 2021 edited by Padma Lakshmi and Jason Wilson, you’re very wrong. If sci-fi and fantasy are more your bag, N.K. Jemisin edited the 2018 edition alongside series editor John Joseph Adams, and it was glorious. And if you want to go a touch further back and get visual, Roz Chast of New Yorker fame guest-edited The Best American Comics of 2016.

International “Best Of” Series

cover of Best European Fiction of 2010

The Best European Fiction series from Dalkey Archive Press ran from 2010 to 2019, with a few different editors, and it was my first exposure to a “Best” series outside of Best American. This is a good one if you’re looking to broaden your literary horizons; some of the stories in question hadn’t been translated into English before their inclusion. The first one I encountered was 2010’s, which also happened to be its inaugural year. Editor Aleksandar Hemon assembled stories originally written in Gaelic, French, Dutch, and more, from many different countries, and for someone relatively new to translated literature it was an eye-opener. 

I just recently became aware of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror; a look through the 2015 edition’s table of contents reveals stories from Garth Nix, DK Mok, and Angela Slatter, all of whom I’m a fan of, plus a whole host of other writers that I’m itching to learn more about. 

Also new to me and newer to the world, with its first collection published in 2019, is Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy. Volume 3 was published this year, edited by Marie Hodgkinson, and I did not recognize a single name on the table of contents. This is a glorious moment, my friends! 22 new writers to explore, plus two more volumes after! 

Despite a lot of poking around, I was unable to find other regional series, but I’m betting they’re out there or in process, and I cannot wait for them. It’s also notable that the ones I did find skew towards the SF/F genres; confirmation bias, since that’s my most beloved wheelhouse? Or are SF/F editors just more motivated? Who can say…

The Best Erotica

cover of Best Women's Erotica Vol 4

You didn’t think I’d leave my fellow romance/erotica readers hanging, did you? There are series for that too! Cleis Press has a few different iterations, including Best Women’s Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, and Best Bondage Erotica. We actually have a Book Rioter in Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 4 (2018), edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel! Patricia Elzie’s story, “Breathe,” takes kink in a silly-sweet new direction. This collection also includes Alyssa Cole’s “Essential Qualities,” which is a must-read for fans of her book The A.I. Who Loved Me.

Then there’s sex-educator Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica series, which is predominantly on audio and goes back to the 90s (!). If ever there was a moment to find out how a genre has changed over the past 30 years, it’s now.

The Year’s Best, Potpourri

cover of Transcendent: Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction

Various publishers put out other “Year’s Best” collections, from Night Shade’s Best Horror with Ellen Datlow, to Lethe Press’s Wilde Stories: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction from Undertow Publications. Da Capo’s got their own Best Music Writing series! Search for “Year’s Best” in your library’s catalog and you’ll find a bonanza of options.

An exciting new-to-me find was the Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction series, edited largely by Bogi Takács. There are four years available currently, 2016-2019, and it’s another “many of these authors are new to me” situation — my favorite.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

Whatever route you decide to take, may your journey into the Best Of landscape be full of surprises, and full of excellent stories!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #17: Read a Memoir Written by Someone Who is Trans or Nonbinary

While there’s never a bad time to read a memoir by a trans or nonbinary writer, this year feels like a particularily good time to elevate these stories. As book challenges in schools and libraries continue, many which specifically target books by LGBTQIA+ authors, it’s even more important to read and share stories by people from across the gender spectrum.

There are many (many!) potential books to choose for this particular challenge topic. This list covers a range of familiar and unfamiliar titles that discuss gender from many different perspectives. It also includes some that have been frequent targets in book challenges across the country. Once you’ve read and loved a title, be sure to share it!

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

book cover all boys aren't blue by george m. johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

This work of young adult nonfiction is a series of personal essays about growing up as Black and queer, and the complexity of those intersecting identities. In interviews, Johnson has said they wrote the book as a way to help other teens see themselves in stories in a way they didn’t as a kid. They write about their relationship with their grandmother, early sexual relationships, joining a fraternity in college, and more.

book cover fairest by meredith talusan

Fairest: A Memoir by Meredith Talusan

Meredith Talusan was born with albinism in a rural village in the Philippines. Raised by a grandmother, Talusan eventually came to the United States on an academic scholarship to Harvard – providing a strong education, but also a complicated relationship with race, class, and sexuality. After college, Talusan transitioned and came out as a woman and continued on a career as an artist and activist. This memoir explores love, identity, gender, and more.

book cover real queer america by samantha allen

Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen

A decade ago, Samantha Allen was a Mormon missionary. At the time of writing this book, she was a reporter for the Daily Beast and married to a woman. In it, Allen heads out on a cross-country trip to experience “something gay every day” in places where queer communities full of people opting to stay where they’re from instead of fleeing to potentially friendlier territory. I love the way Allen is able to tell stories about people from all walks of life, emphasizing tales of chosen families trying to make the world a better place.

book cover unicorn by amrou al kadhi

Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen by Amrou Al-Kadhi

There’s just so much to be excited about in this memoir about growing from “a god-fearing Muslim boy enraptured with their mother to a vocal, queer drag queen estranged from their family.” In the book, they write about how a teenage obsession with marine biology helped illuminate their nonbinary gender identity, discovering the power of drag in college, learning to understand Islam with a queer lens, and finding a way back to family with this new perspective.

book cover I'm afraid of men by vivek shraya

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

In this book, trans artist Vivek Shraya explores “how masculinity was imposed on her as a boy and continues to haunt her as a girl.” As a child, Shaya had to learn to perform masculinity to survive, while as an adult she must push in other ways to be recognized as feminine. Shraya explores what the cumulative effect of that misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia has been on her, and offers ways that we can cherish and celebrate what makes us different.

Gender Queer cover

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

This autobiographical comic is about Maia Kobabe’s journey of self-identity and an attempt to explain what it means to be nonbinary and asexual. Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, writes about early crushes, coming out, connecting with friends, and more. The result is a book that is both a guide to gender identity and a personal story about what it means to be a nonbinary person.

book cover tomorrow will be different by sarah mcbride

Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride

In 2016, Sarah McBride became the first transgender person to speak at the Democratic National Convention, a giant leap on her journey as a transgender activist. In this memoir, Sarah shares how she came out to her family, friends, and community and how that led to her political activism. The memoir is also a love story about Sarah’s relationship with her first husband, Andy, who passed away from cancer in 2014 shortly after they were married. This is a good book for people newer to reading about the issues transgender people face and who want to understand those discussions better.

book cover something that may shock and discredit you by daniel lavery

Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery

More essays! This final book on the list is a collection of witty essays about gender and identity through the lens of pop culture, with everything from The Addams Family to Captain Kirk to Lord Byron. It’s also a book that talks about what it is like to transition genders and the complexities of family can bring to that experience. If you loved The Toast, grab this one.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

If you’re looking for more ideas, check out these posts on Book Riot featuring other trans and nonbinary authors. They’re not exclusively memoirs, but will give you some other authors to consider:

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #16: Read A Book Recommended By a Friend With Different Reading Tastes

I am a firm believer that there is nothing more simultaneously exciting and stressful than receiving a book recommendation from someone whose reading tastes don’t exactly line up with your own. If this is someone you care about, then of course you don’t want to disappoint them by hating their recommendation (or worse, not reading this book at all). But part of being a reader is also the thrill of the discovery, and who knows…this recommended book that you’d otherwise never discover on your own could be your new favorite thing. Or a gateway to a new reading obsession. Or…at least be a really enjoyable way to pass a weekend!

The Read Harder challenge is all about stretching yourself, and I personally love it when someone convinces me to read a book not on my radar and I enjoy it. It makes me want to believe in fate, and I get overwhelmed thinking about all the amazing books out in the world that I just don’t know about yet! It’s enough to bring on a small existential crisis!

At the same time, if you’re thinking, This challenge is all well and good, but my friends and I read the same stuff, or, My friends don’t even read, then don’t panic! I’ve got a few ideas to help you approach this challenge. And please remember, no one is policing your picks! Do your best to fulfill the spirit of the challenge, whatever that means for you!

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

Just Ask a Friend For Recs

First off, the idea that someone has different reading tastes from you can mean a lot of different things, from you liking completely different genres, or liking the same genres, but different things within genre. That’s totally fine and it counts! For example, I read widely in YA and I enjoy fantasy, but I admit I’m super picky about my YA fantasy reads. I could ask a friend, who reads a lot of YA fantasy, for a recommendation on what book I should pick up next. Because she reads way more in this particular subset than I do, I would count this as a challenge fulfilled. But if I wanted to go wayyyy out on a limb, I might ask my dad, who loves John Grisham books, to recommend his favorite Grisham novel to me. Which leads me to…

Ask Anyone In Your Life to Recommend a Favorite Book

As much as book nerds hate the question, “So what’s your favorite book?” I think that what people’s favorite books are say a lot about them! You can ask your friends, family members, even coworkers what their favorite book is…and then pick what sounds most interesting to you! One thing an acquaintance did once that I think is really cool is ask everyone in their life to gift them with a copy of their favorite book for an upcoming birthday. This acquaintance said the copy could be new or used, but they promised to make an honest effort at reading whateve they received. They ended up with a pile of books they might not otherwise have tried, and many gifts even included a note about why the gifter picked the book they did and the book’s significance, making for a really personal point of connection.

Reading someone’s favorite book or even just a memorable or influential book is a great way of deepening relationships and getting to know the person better. However, it is sometimes fraught, because the better you know the person, the higher the stakes if you don’t like the book. If that happens, chalk it up to experience (and a challenge checked off the list) and check out our guide to talking about the books your friends love, but you hated.

Try a New-to-You Genre

You can use this challenge as an opportunity to try a new-to-you genre by either asking someone in your life who reads a lot in an area you’re not familiar with for a recommendation, or by visiting your local library and chatting with a librarian. You can be as broad or as focused as you want by stipulating that you want to try historical romance, or science fiction in general, or try reading one of the many Civil War history books your dad has on his shelf. Librarians in particular are an excellent resource in this area, because they’re trained in reader advisory and they might be able to help you find a book in a new-to-you genre that still has elements of other books you enjoy reading, to ensure the process us still enjoyable! And if that doesn’t work, check out Book Riot for a myriad of posts on different genres, or our whole stable of podcasts on everything from YA, mysteries, SFF, and more! We will happily be your friends for the purposes of this challenge!

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

Just remember: Have fun, and don’t overthink it!

Happy reading!
Tirzah Price

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #15: Read a New-to-You Literary Magazine (Print or Digital)

I am drawn to literary magazines for the range of writing styles they typically showcase. As a poet, I tend to move toward the prosaic, writing that interrogates, is sometimes playful, and that often blurs rigid genre lines. While I like to think that I read widely across the literary landscape, when it comes to magazines, as I take an inventory of what is stacked on my nightstand right now, most of what I currently subscribe to are publications where I have either submitted or been published (and thus received the requisite annual subscription).

So basically, much of what I read is in the style of how I write. At the moment, this stack includes the latest issues of the better known Ploughshares, a journal published by Emerson College, and American Poets Magazine, of which I am a member, alongside smaller publications, such as Ruminate Magazine, a beautiful contemplative magazine where one of my first poems found a home, and Fourteen Hills, the West Coast centered literary magazine out of San Francisco State University.

All that to say this challenge task is perfect for me! I’ve started out the list with some of the more popular literary magazines (which, admittedly, I consider new-to-me) and have also included other publications that have been on my radar. Enjoy!

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

Zyzzyva magazine cover

Zyzzyva

A longtime San Francisco-based journal with over 35 years in publishing that prides itself on focusing on West Coast poets, writers, and artists. I appreciate their editorial mission which includes “risk-taking and egalitarianism […] focus on inclusivity and excellence.” Notable contributors include Kaveh Akbar, Tommy Orange, Amy Tan, Rebecca Solnit, Adrienne Rich, Ursula K. LeGuin, and others.

Issue of Granta Magazine cover

Granta

One of the more “seasoned” literary magazines, Granta was founded in 1889 by students at Cambridge University and was named after the river that runs through the town. In its early days, the magazine published works by writers such as A.A. Milne, Michael Frayn, Stevie Smith, Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath. Its latest issue (at writing, Fall 2021) features a focus on travel writing.

Threepenny Review cover

The Threepenny Review

Don’t let its outdated webpage deter you; The Threepenny Review, based out of Berkeley, is according to Louise Glück, “as lively and original a literary magazine as exists in this country.” It is a quarterly magazine that, in its Fall 2021 issue, featured contributors such as Wendell Berry and Sharon Olds, among others.

Glimmer Train book cover

Glimmer Train

Best known as a short-story print journal, Portland-based Glimmer Train ended its nearly 30-year run in December 2019. But that doesn’t mean you can’t access its well-respected collection of curated stories. Archived issues can be found at the Library of Congress and select libraries. Definitely worth tracking down for literary buffs!

Prairie Schooner journal cover

Prairie Schooner

This journal has been publishing stories, poems, essays, and reviews since 1926, as part of the University of Nebraska Press and the Creative Writing Program of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department. In addition to their print issues, Prairie Schooner has also started a new online series working with “interesting, innovative online literary entities from around the world that seek to create dynamic fusions in literature and art.”

Art by Catriona Secker (2021)

Southeast Review

Founded in 1979, the Southeast Review is a literary magazine managed by graduate students of the English department at Florida State University. They publish literary fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, interviews, and art in their biannual print issues, as well as online. In the past, contributors have included *some of my favorites* Carl Phillips, Danez Smith, D.A. Powell, Denise Duhamel, and more.

Northwest Review cover

Northwest Review

Okay, I didn’t purposefully arrange the list by ordination (from southeast to northwest haha!), but I did want to mention this literary magazine, as they are, like me, also based in the PNW (Northwest Review is published by the University of Oregon). While I have been following their work for some time, admittedly, I have not had a chance to dive into the issues since their new inception in Fall 2020. I look forward to reading more in 2022!

Lantern Review cover

Lantern Review

As a writer who also identifies as Asian, I am drawn to work by writers across the diaspora, as it includes such a wide range of writing (style/genre, life experience, perspective, etc). An online magazine that publishes 1-3 “micro issues” per season, Lantern Review showcases poetry and art specifically written by Asian Americans… I’m eager to see what’s in store this coming year.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

If you’re looking for more literary magazine suggestions, check out the Read Harder task for 2020: Read An Edition of a Literary Magazine (Digital or Physical). Or this comprehensive list of 2021’s 20 Must-Read Online Literary Journals!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #14: Read a Book Whose Movie or TV Adaptation You’ve Seen (But Haven’t Read the Book)

Welcome, friends, to another fun Read Harder task. Honestly, I think I got the easiest one of the bunch: Read a book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen (but haven’t read the book). Of course, the recommendations I’m giving you today are subjective, because they’re based on my movie/book experiences, and not everyone has read/seen the same things. But I hope you’ll find something fun you’ve seen and been meaning to read, or perhaps you feel inspired to pick up one of these books again.

Personally, 9 times out of 10, I wait to watch the adaptation until I’ve read the book, because I love being able to compare them as I watch. But sometimes it gets away from me. Maybe you’re the same. We all have gaps in our reading! You might find that there are movies you’ve seen that you didn’t realize were books (Die Hard!) or classics that you just never got around to reading (Emma!) or newer adaptations you’ve been meaning to pick up (The Underground Railroad!).

Sometimes (well, rarely), a movie or television show turns out to be better than the book. One of my favorite movies, Jaws, is based on a terrible book—but I’m glad it was adapted! It’s fun to know Spielberg decided that Chief Brody’s wife would be faithful to him and that Richard Dreyfus survives the trip to sea. This is why it’s fun to compare the book to the film! (Oh yeah, spoilers, sorry.)

So think about your favorite movies and shows, and maybe you’ll unearth a book, too. (Scratch a movie, find a book? I think that’s the expression.) And most of all, have fun!

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

movie poster of the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, featuring images of Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

While I’ve only ever read Emma by Jane Austen, I’ve seen this adaptation with the all-star cast, including Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. I imagine this version is very close to the book. Although, who knows! Maybe I’ll read it and discover everyone is eaten by giant pandas at the end. (Awww, so cute.) That’s one of the fun things about adaptations—they’re not always faithful and sometimes the changes are for the better!

movie poster for the remains of the day featuring emma thompson and anthony hopkins

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is about head butler Stevens, who works in a stately manor in house post-World War II England. UGH. I still feel sad thinking about the unspoken love between butler Anthony Hopkins and housekeeper Emma Thompson. (Although nothing made me sadder than when his dad fell down.) Do they get a happy ending in the book? WAIT. Don’t tell me, I want to be surprised.

movie adaptation cover of hidden figures, featuring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

This is the only nonfiction pick on my list today, but it’s a good one, because it highlights the criminally overlooked contributions to the race to space by four Black women mathematicians. Our place among the stars would not have been possible without their three decades of dedicated hard work while traversing a sexist, racist work space. The film is excellent, with a stellar cast, and I know I’ll be picturing the actors in my head as I read the book.

movie poster for the 2000 adaptation of the house of mirth with gillian anderson, eric stoltz, dan ackroyd, and laura linney

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Like Wharton’s Age of Innocence, this is a story of societal niceties, class, and scandal, where people can’t do things or be together because of appearances. I would watch Gillian Anderson in anything, which is how I ended up watching this film. Dan Ackroyd is the cartoonish villain and is not nice to poor Gillian, who must *shudder* get a job to work off a debt.

cover of oil by upton sinclair featuring image of daniel day lewis from there will be blood

There Will Be Blood by Upton Sinclair

There Will Be Blood is my second-favorite movie of all time. (Yes, I keep a list, and the first is The Lives of Others, which is not based on a book but OMG watch it now.) Despite not having read it, I have heard that the film version is verrrrrrrry loosely based on the book. Seeing as it is one of my favorites, I’m not sure why I waited so long to read the book. Perhaps because I know it will not be as fun as watching Daniel Day Lewis chew up every scene and spit it out.

movie poster for crazy rich asians, featuring Constance Wu and Henry Golding

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

And somehow I missed reading this wildly popular story of a woman who discovers her boyfriend is a member of Singapore’s wealthiest family. I’ve heard the book is quite funny, and a funny novel is a hard thing to find, so I should should definitely pick it up soon. (And why is funny so much harder to pull off than sad?)

poster for to all the boys I've loved before featuring Lana Condor

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

This is the story of how younger siblings ruin your life. Well, sort of. Laura Jean is in over her head when her younger sister mails the letters she wrote (and never planned to send) to the boys she loved. I haven’t seen the follow-ups to this first film, but I did think this one was extremely charming. (And the soundtrack is fantastic!) And since I own a copy of the book—story of my life tbh—I have no excuse not to read it. Maybe I’ll watch the other movies first, lol.

movie poster for Breakfast at Tiffany's, featuring audrey hepburn

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

And finally, this classic! This uber-famous film, about a young woman from a small town trying to live a glamorous life in NYC, is based on a novella. I hear that the book is quite a bit darker than the legendary adaptation. So, Holly Go-not-so-lightly? (Sorry, not sorry.) Related: I am firm in my opinion that the film contains one of the best cats in cinema, whose inspired real name was—wait for it—Orangey.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

Those are my top picks to help me fulfill this task! I look forward to hearing about yours. 😊 – Liberty

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #13: Read an Adventure Story by a BIPOC Author

For this task we’re reading an adventure story by a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or person of color) author.

Out of curiosity, I googled “adventure novels” just to see what would come up. The results would have been entirely lily white if not for the inclusion of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both by Alexandre Dumas, who was Black (and is my personal favorite classic author).

But what qualifies as an adventure? We typically think of adventure as a person or people going on a journey, usually a physical one, encountering new people and places, and accomplishing something — whether that something be finding an object, returning an object, finding a person, or learning something. I’ve compiled a list of ten adventure stories written by BIPOC authors, all of them written recently.

These books cover all sorts of adventures and span genres from contemporary realistic to historical, from second world fantasy to science fiction, and so much more. They’re all adult or young adult, and I’ve added a few suggestions for younger readers (or adults looking for a quick read) at the end. Reading an adventure story by a BIPOC author is as simple as opening one of these books and going on an adventure with the characters.

Cover of Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Based on pre-Columbian peoples of the Americas, Black Sun takes place in the holy city of Tova during the winter solstice. There is a ship heading for Tova whose captain believes her only passenger to be a villain, and an eclipse is on the horizon.

Cover of Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation (and its sequel Deathless Divide) follow Jane, born into a United States where zombies walked off the battlefield at Gettysburg and young Black and Indigenous women are trained to fight them.

cover of The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The world is ending and a woman must find her kidnapped daughter while grieving her murdered son. The first book in the Hugo Award–winning Broken Earth trilogy.

gods of jade and shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In Jazz Age Mexico, overworked Casiopea Tun dreams of adventure, and that’s just what she finds when she opens a trunk and finds the Mayan God of Death, who needs her to help him take back his throne from his brother.

Cover of Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Grieving her mother, Bree Matthews attends a university program for teenagers where she witnesses a magical attack and learns that there is a secret society fighting demons, and she might belong with them. A modern day Black Girl Magic retelling of the King Arthur mythos.

cover of Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Fatima finds an alien artifact and loses her memory, becoming Sankofa, the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Now her touch can destroy. She wanders with her fox companion, seeking the artifact that changed her life.

cover of Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Yumeko’s adoptive family is killed and she runs away with part of a scroll the killers were looking for. She forms an alliance with samurai Kage Tatsumi, who is trying to recover the scroll. Book 1 in the Shadow of the Fox trilogy.

cover of that time I got drunk and saved a demon by kimberly lemming

That Time I Got Drunk And Saved A Demon by Kimberly Lemming

Look, if you save a demon in a wine-drunk stupor, you might be stuck helping him kill an evil witch and set his people free. Or so I hear.

cover of Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

When Samantha’s father is killed and their home burned to the ground, she runs away with Annamae, an enslaved girl, both of them taking on boy’s names for protection. They join a group of cowboys on their way from Missouri to Oregon.

the wangs vs the world

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

When the Wang family loses everything in the financial crash, father Charles packs up his only un-repossessed car and, with his wife and two of his children, sets off across the country to the home of his oldest daughter.

Prefer a quicker read? I cannot possibly speak highly enough of recent middle grade portal fantasy, especially those inspired by real world cultural mythology. Give Aru Shah and the End of Time, The Serpent’s Secret, or The Gauntlet a try. Or for a quieter, contemporary adventure, try The Vanderbeekers!

Happy reading!

—Annika

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #12: Read an Entire Poetry Collection

Contributing Editor Kendra here to chat about poetry collections!

Whenever my book club reads a poetry collection, someone in the group expresses being self-conscious, that they’re not a “poetry person.” But one of the great things about poetry is that you don’t have to be a poetry person to read, enjoy, and appreciate great poetry. Of course, there’s a lot of options out there. So how does one even know where to start? Don’t worry—I’m here for you!

The 21st-century is a great time for poetry, with dozens of incredible collections coming out every year, including works from current poet laureate Joy Harjo and former Poet Laureate Tracey K. Smith. I love the Harjo collection American Sunrise and Smith’s Wade Into the Water. But beyond national poet laureates, there’s so many great poets to discover.

To help give you a headstart in your research, here are ten of some of the best poetry collections that I’ve come across in the last few years. There are award winners and debut poets alike, but whatever their experience, they are proving to be masters of their craft. So what are we waiting for? Let’s jump right in!

A graphic of the cover of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability

Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen

Beauty is a Verb features a range of disabled authors using poetry to write about their experience living in an able-bodied world. The editors of this anthology have ensured that the collection features writers with many different perspectives, giving the reader a well-rounded view of disability, beautifully expressed through each poem.

A graphic of the cover of This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt

This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt

Queer Indigenous poet Billy-Ray Belcourt writes these autobiographical poems in such a way that it’s like we get a glimpse into his mind as he ponders aspects of his life. From interracial love to the effects of living as an Indigenous person in the wake of colonization, Belcourt covers a range of topics in the collection.

A graphic of the cover of Perfect Black

Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson

Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson published her first full-length poetry collection, Perfect Black, in 2021. Written from a semi-autobiographical perspective, these poems focus on Wilkinson’s experience growing up as a Black girl in Eastern Kentucky raised by the generation of women before her.

A graphic of the cover of The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Jamaican British poet Raymond Antrobus makes his American debut with The Perseverance, a collection that describes what it’s like to live in the gray spaces of the world. Many of the poems circle around the theme of grieving the loss of his father, feeling like he never could entirely understand him before he passed. Antrobus also writes about the d/Deaf experience based on his life living as a d/Deaf person in Britain.

A graphic of the cover of English Lit

English Lit by Bernard Clay

One of the most glorious hidden gems of 2021, English Lit is the first full-length collection from Affrilachian poet Bernard Clay. These poems center around themes of Clay’s experience growing up and living in Kentucky and being Black in Appalachia. Clay’s use of rhythm and precise word choice make these poems stand out in the reader’s mind.

A graphic of the cover of The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

Palestinian American writer Hala Alyan might be more well known for her novels Salt Houses and The Arsonists’ City, but she’s also an accomplished poet. Her collection The Twenty-Ninth Year features memories from her life as she’s traveled in various places throughout the world. Each recollection stands out, each poem with its own place as we look through Alyan’s memories.

A graphic of the cover of Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

In some of the most gorgeous writing that I’ve read in the last several years, Night Sky with Exit Wounds examines how the body keeps the score of the myriad of traumas. Vuong informs his poetry with his experience as a queer Vietnamese refugee, returning to these parts of his identity again and again.

A graphic of the cover of The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell

The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell

Disability advocate Jen Campbell released The Girl Aquarium a couple years ago, and I immediately fell in love with her work. She possesses the ability to perfectly capture the disabled queer experience that’s deeply relatable. But whether or not you personally connect with her work, each poem communicates an understanding of language and the depth just a few words can have on the reader.

A graphic of the cover of Reparations Now! By Ashley M. Jones

Reparations Now! by Ashley M. Jones

The first Black and youngest poet laureate of Alabama, Ashley M. Jones possesses incredible talent. Her latest poetry collection, Reparations Now! is out from one of my favorite indie presses, Hub City Press. It makes an argument for reparations for Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States.The poem chronicles the violence inflicted on Black bodies, but also celebrates Black joy in the face of systemic racism.

A graphic of the cover of Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

A finalist for the National Book Award, Whereas by Layli Long Soldier stands as one of my favorite collections that I’ve read in recent years. Long Soldier plays with form, the sound of language, and narrative elements in her poetry, illustrating an incredible range of skill.

I could go on, but this newsletter might become twice as long! But I think these fabulous poetry collections will give you some great options as you look for the perfect book for you to read for this Read Harder task.

We’ll be back soon with even more recommendations for another of the 2022 Read Harder prompts. But until then, happy reading!

~ Kendra

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #11: Read a Book with an Asexual and / or Aromantic Main Character

Ever wondered what that all-important A in LGBTQIA stands for? Well, now you don’t have to, because A is for Asexual and Aromantic. If those terms are entirely new to you, they refer to people who experience no to little sexual and/or romantic attraction. There’s a spectrum, with some people identifying as demisexual or gray-ace feeling attraction after getting to know someone. And, of course, as with any sexuality, there’s a lot of nuance and variation in people’s experiences and how they would describe it. But there’s a very basic introduction for anyone who needs it.

Why should you read a book with a main character on the asexual or aromantic spectrum, you may ask? Well, in addition to the fact that many of these books are just really dang good, ace and aro rep is far less common in fiction than a lot of other LGBTQ representation so you might not be familiar with it. And whether you’re looking to be seen or trying to learn about new perspective and experiences, reading books with ace / aro representation is important.

All of these books include main characters on the asexual or aromantic spectrum. And, much like in real life, each of their experiences with their sexuality and romantic attraction is different. From teens and young adults questioning their feelings for the first time to out and proud asexual adults trying to find romance, these books are full of all the ace and aro feels.

Young Adult

Summer Bird Blue Book Cover

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

In this novel about grief and recovery, a girl who has recently lost her younger sister is sent away to live with an aunt in Hawaii as her mother recovers from the loss of her daughter. Rumi can’t imagine ever picking up a guitar again, especially not with the last song she and Lea were working on unfinished. But she finds help in the most surprising of places–a surfer boy next door and an elderly neighbor who succumbed to his own grief long ago. Slowly, Rumi begins to realize that letting music back into her life might actually be the only way to heal.

Though sexuality isn’t the primary focus of this book, it is made clear that Rumi falls somewhere on the asexual and aromantic spectrums.

Loveless Book Cover

Loveless by Alice Oseman

This is a lovely book about a teenager struggling to figure out her identity in her first year of college. Why does fanfic-obsessed Georgia find romance so tricky when for everyone else it seems so effortless? She’s always wanted love, but with new terms being thrown at her like asexual and aromatic, she’s beginning to fear that might not be in the cards. But is it possible she’s just been looking for all the wrong things in all the wrong places? The author of Heartstopper and Radio Silence crafts a heartwarming story of identity and the many forms of love.

Speculative Fiction

Firebreak Book Cover

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace

In a corporate -un future America, Mallory makes ends meet by streaming a popular VR war game. The company controls everything, from the water she drinks to the very game that is her livelihood; but when she discovers a horrifying secret behind the origin of the celebrity super soldiers in virtual reality, she knows she has to do something about it, even if it brings the world—and the wrath of corporate America—crashing down on her.

Mallory is implicitly depicted as aro / ace as confirmed by the author.

Elatsoe Book Cover

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

This wonderful YA novel explores a slightly different, slightly more magical America, where a Lipan Apache girl with the ability to raise the ghosts of dead animals searches for answers about the death of her cousin alongside her best friend. And it’s particularly wonderful to see a YA novel about an ace teen with a male friend who understands and respects her sexuality.

Adult Romance

It's Always Been You Book Cover

It’s Always Been You by Elin Annalise

Courtney Davenport runs a phone service for fellow asexuals worried about coming out. When her sworn enemy phones the helpline, Courtney is totally thrown for a loop. Courtney and Sophie grew up together in a boarding school that always pitted them against each other. And now Sophie is coming out to Courtney, not knowing it’s her on the other side of the phone. Even worse, she’s apparently moving into the apartment next door. After trying to scare Sophie away by making her apartment seem haunted, the two are roped into a reality-style TV game show playing off of their rivalry. The two of them just can’t seem to get away from each other, but Courtney’s beginning to wonder if that’s such a bad thing. After all, love isn’t always that far from hate.

This book does include a good bit of acephobia, but also a lot of intro to asexuality considering one of the main characters is running an ace helpline. So just keep all that in mind going into reading it.

The Charm Offensive Book Cover

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Charlie is an unlikely contestant for a dating show. He’s closed, distant, and doesn’t believe in love. It’s all producer Dev Deshpande do to even get him to talk to the twenty women he’s supposed to be romancing. The more he tries to get Charlie to open up on TV, the more the two of them connect behind the scenes. But this is reality TV, and Dev isn’t the one Charlie’s supposed to be falling in love with.

This adorable rom-com features a demisexual lead falling for a gay man.

The Romantic Agenda Book Cover

The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann (April 2022)

This year Claire Kann, the author of Let’s Talk about Love and If It Makes You Happy, is gracing us with an adult romance novel with ace representation and this one includes not only an unabashedly asexual protagonist, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream-level complicated love quadrangle, and fake dating—all set on a weekend getaway. Sounds perfectly dreamy to me.

More Ace / Aro Book Recs

I hope some of these ace / aro books connect with you or bring you a new perspective on romance. Happy reading, Riot Readers!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Categories
Read Harder 2022

Read Harder Task #10: Read a Political Thriller by a Marginalized Author

What do you think about when you think of political thrillers? You usually think intrigue, espionage, and unstoppable action. While you are not wrong, what would it mean if we expanded the definition of political thrillers? Where every aspect of life was political, and politics generally included challenges around social justice and breaking binary ideas of gender and roles that people can occupy. If you think yes, then follow along for some reads that will challenge your understanding of political thrillers. Consider one of these for this 10th Read Harder task.

cover of while justice sleeps by stacey abrams

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

Abrams utilizes her political and legal background to great effect in this fast-paced, compulsive, and suspenseful thriller. The story centers around Avery, a young law clerk who is thrust into a world of international intrigue and investigation into genealogical warfare. Her employer and mentor slip into a catatonic state just as his status on the Supreme Court proves immensely important to a merger of a technological and biological firm. The sequential events that follow take the reader on a ride filled with unearthed secrets, and a trail of dead bodies to account for as Avery tried to dodge the chaos to find the truth and secure democracy.

Book Cover for The Opium Prince

The Opium Prince by Jasmine Aimaq

Set in 1970s Afghanistan, this tells the story of Daniel Sajadi, who decides to return to Afghanistan to reconcile his identity. After years in Los Angeles, he is returning home to Kabul at the helm of a US foreign aid agency dedicated to eradicating the poppy fields that feed the world’s opiate addiction.

But on the drive out of Kabul Daniel runs into an accident that has him crossing paths with a powerful opium king, the one whose business he has set out to disrupt. This is a unique literary thriller that treads the line between suspense and political commentary and what it means for the people involved to exist in a state of anarchy.

Book Cover for A Case of Exploding Mangoes

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammad Hanif

The death of the dictator of Pakistan General Zia alongside all his high-ranked officers plus the US ambassador has intrigued people since the day it happened. The cause for the fall of the plane is still a mystery, becoming excellent material for a writer. This novel depicts the reasons behind those events, having as a narrator a young soldier who has a grudge against the government. The narration takes place as a series of events building up to the climax, making for a unique blend of satire and thriller.

Book Cover for The Little Death

The Little Death by Michael Nava

Lawyer Henry Rios won’t stop until he has solved the mystery surrounding the death of Hugh Paris. Hugh was his lover and also his friend, and he won’t be deterred in his quest for justice—even when the bodies begin to pile up, even when the evil seems to be emanating from the wealthiest and most powerful enclave of Old San Francisco Society. This thriller in particular takes into account the institutional systems of justice in place and who they aim to serve, and those that go without justice.

American Spy cover image

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

As the novel opens in 1992, Marie encounters a violent incident in her home, forcing her to take her boys and escape to Martinique to live with her mother. Afterward, she decides it is important to recount her life history and the years leading up to this moment so that her boys understand not only the racial and gender divide in this country but also her choice of profession—why she got involved in working for the FBI and her decisions afterward. The narrative has many page-turning events, and it is peppered with literary and poetic allusions along the way, and truly reinvents the genre of a political thriller.

Book Cover for All her little secrets

All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris

Ellice Littlejohn is a middle-aged Black woman working as a corporate attorney at Houghton Transportation company in Atlanta. One morning, she discovers her boss, Michael Sayles, dead in his office. When the police suspect that she was involved in the murder, she takes the investigation into her own hands. To her surprise, she uncovers corporate secrets that threaten to upend her new promotion as an executive and reveal the past she wants to forget. Another different take on the political thriller, disrupting it from the usual white man’s genre and diverting the focus on themes of racism.

Book cover for her name is knight

Her Name is Knight by Yasmin Angoe

This dual timeline story is about a highly trained Miami-based assassin who learns to reclaim her power after having her entire life ripped from her as a teenager in Ghana. It is equal parts love story, social commentary, and action thriller.

book cover for a study in honor

A Study in Honor by Claire O’ Dell

This is a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes featuring two Black queer women instead. It follows Janet Watson, a military surgeon who during the Second Civil War loses her arm on the battlefield. With an ill-fitting prosthetic arm and severe PTSD, Watson arrives in DC and tries to get her life back on track; there she meets Sara Holmes, and her life soon becomes threatened when soldiers begin dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous. This truly challenges political ideas in all spheres including gender and racial justice, and also leaves you wondering about the kind of privilege Sherlock Holmes moved around with, and how so many are denied that privilege.

The thriller genre in general is a malleable genre undergoing constant reinvention, and it is time that it was reinvented with everyone in mind. Reading a non-mainstream political thriller is just the way to do it.

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.