Looking back at my previous blog post from earlier this year, An Introduction to StoryGraph and the Genre Challenge, I chuckle at how incredibly accurate yet contradictory my first statement is. “Despite being a millennial, I’m not inclined to navigate new social media platforms.” This is entirely true, but then I go off on a tangent about joining this new social media platform. Granted, I don’t feel like The StoryGraph is the typical social media platform. Mainly since I don’t engage with other users. I’ve become such a loner, ha!
Using StoryGraph this year has been an absolute blast! I can see a breakdown of the number of books I’ve read, page numbers, genres, the pacing of said novels, and everything else. But the one feature I probably love the most would have to be the ability to do different reading challenges.
During that earlier blog posting, I mentioned I was doing The Genre Challenge, ten prompts that would encourage me to read outside my usual parameters. And in doing so, I’ve read some truly incredible novels. Today, I’m happy to report that I have finished the challenge and want to discuss my reading selection!
Prompt One: Read a romance novel written by a Black author.
Book Read: Open Water
Written by: Caleb Azumah Nelson
Published: February 4, 2021
Open Water is a remarkable debut novella written by Caleb Azumah Nelson, who perfectly crafted every word carefully and purposefully. The writing is intimate, introspective, and lyrical, all told in the second person. Initially, I thought this was only a love story; however, I quickly realized it is much more than that.
Billed as a romance, Open Water doesn’t meet the typical stereotypes that fit into the genre. It’s more of a character study and exploration of what it’s like to be a Black Man while also showcasing how they navigate the world around them and how they process their emotions.
Another uncoincidental rule broke is that while going on this character exploration, we are NEVER told the names of the two characters we follow throughout the novel. We do, however, learn that both are artists. She is a dancer, and he is a photographer. This aspect of the book I didn’t so much care for. I felt I would have connected with them even further by knowing their names. But maybe that’s the point that Nelson was trying to make.
Prompt Two: An essay collection by a new-to-you author.
Book: The White Album
Written by: Joan Didion
Published: In 1979
Initially published in 1979, The White Album is a collection of essays that examine key events, figures, and trends of the 1960s. Charles Manson, The Black Panthers, and shopping centers appear in this collection. While this collection was written six decades before, vital tones, trends, and elements apply to this very day. During the read, I kept saying, “hmm, we’re continuing to mess it up like all the generations before!”
Prompt Three: A classic written by an author of colour.
Book: Giovanni’s Room
Written by: James Baldwin
October marked a first for me. I finally read a Baldwin! Which, if I do say so myself, was about time.
Giovanni’s Room introduces us to David, a young bisexual American living in Paris who is engaged to a woman named Hella, who is off exploring Spain. David’s denial of his sexuality is an interesting character study. His characteristics and behavior are troubling, and as a gay man and the reader, I was rooting for him to get it together, yet I found him to be a very self-centered character. I’ve stated before that when discussing Evelyn Hugo; the story made me take a step back and reevaluate my behavior towards bisexuals; however, this book is an excellent depiction of how those who identify as gay have some appreciation and prejudices against those who are bisexual.
That said, Giovanni, my heart will always break for you.
Prompt Four: A memoir or autobiography by a trans/non-binary author
Book: All Boys Aren’t Blue
Written by: George M. Johnson
My Thoughts: “Be bold and brave and queer.”
With a 4.27 rating on Goodreads, it’s safe to say that my opinion of this book is unpopular. That being, this book was a significant letdown. In full transparency, I don’t typically read Young Adult; however, the only thing I found to be YA about this novel was the writing itself. The content, however, had graphic depictions of sexual encounters. One that involved incestuous rape.
The book touches on heavy topics; however, keyword touches lack complexity or depth. With this read, I was hoping it would provide a window into the perspective of the non-binary community primarily since the author identifies as non-binary with they/them pronouns. However, it failed to do that, which was yet another disappointment.
After reading this memoir/manifesto, I learned about its controversy. Specifically, parents want it pulled from their children’s school libraries. Media compared this equivalent to book burning. That comparison is laughable, disgusting, and ultimately a form of gaslighting the public. Who are we as a society to tell a parent what is or isn’t appropriate for their very children?
Would I give this novel to my goddaughter or friends whose children are in high school? No, major pass for me. However, I do wonder if this hadn’t been written/marketed towards a YA audience and was written for adults how I might feel about it.
Prompt Five: A play published after 1980.
Book: Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
Written by: Bert V. Royal
Published: March 22, 2007
With multiple appointments today, I decided to bring Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, written by Bert V. Royal, along for the ride. I initially read the playback in 2008 for a class I had while getting my first degree and hadn’t picked it back up until now. What I have found particularly interesting is that despite the fourteen-year gap in time, several scenes were burning into my being.
To best describe, Dog Sees God would be the Peanuts Gang on an acid trip. No seriously. This is an unauthorized continuation of the Peanuts comic strip.
The story begins with the death of our beloved, Snoopy, and continues to spiral, focusing on themes such as friendship, sexuality, homophobia, and suicide. The characters themselves are complete caricatures. They are cruel to one another, do harmful things, say dangerous things, and most lack emotional depth. But really, isn’t that the point?
Prompt Six: A non-fiction book about nature.
Book: Into the Wild
Written: by George M. Johnson
Published: January 20, 1997
I finally dove into, Into the Wild! The story of Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp’s journey to Alaska. This is an incredible piece of journalism detailing what we know happened to McCandless and why he left while offering snippets to others who tracked similar journeys. That said, it made the empath in me incredibly sad and broke my heart several times, even though I knew what would happen! That said, I may return to this book to learn more.
Also, minor detail, but I had no idea Christopher went to Emory College in Atlanta. A campus I have visited several times while in Covington, GA.
Prompt Seven: A cozy mystery novel.
Book: Death in Her Hands
Written by: Ottessa Moshfegh
Published: June 23, 2020
“Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.”
Death in Her Hands is the fourth Moshfegh novel I’ve read this year, and I wasn’t let down at all. There is a creepiness to this novel; however, I love it most because our narrator, Vesta, a 72-year-old-widow, is so unhinged. She is so unhinged that I’m not even sure she’s a 72-year-old woman. Maybe she’s Eileen, who’s had a mental break-off in an asylum somewhere. Who knows? You can’t trust what she says or does, and she’s living in her little world.
Also, I’m baffled about Charlie. I got the feeling he was, in fact, a wild animal, not her beloved house pet.
Prompt Eight: A true crime novel was written by a woman.
Written by: Rose McGowan
Published: January 30, 2018
This past week I spent time with Rosa Arianna McGowan reading, well really listening, to her audiobook for Brave while also pairing it with the physical copy of the book. The random fact that purchasing both the book and audiobook in 2018 was a first for me. There was no question concerning the matter. I needed to support this kindred spirit, my soul sibling.
Since 2018 I have circled back to Brave periodically. I have read/listened to this book more than any other. Why? Because this manifesto is a solid reminder of the importance of standing up for the things you believe in and speaking truth to power even if your voice shakes.
Each read/listen, I find my being experiencing all the emotions. There are some moments I find myself giggling. Moments, I find myself enraged. Tears are always inevitable, but more importantly, I am completely in awe of Rosa’s courage and spirit. Often, I am asked what the shift was in my activism and the things I feel inclined to speak out about, and this is one of the books that inevitably enters the discussion. Why? Because it leads to the path of allowing your mind to be free. It challenges your mind to be both compassionate and critical of oneself. And I find that to be incredible.
There are many things that I find to be exquisite about Rosa. I admire her artistic abilities, whether through written form, photography, or film. But most of all, I respect that she says what she means, and she means what she says. She is a truth-teller. And she’s made me a slightly less stupid human.
For that, Rosa, I thank you immensely. I also thank you for your art and everything you have shared with the world.
Prompt Nine: A contemporary or literary fiction novel by an Indigenous author.
Book: The Only Good Indians
Written by: Stephen Graham Jones
Published: July 14, 2020
How does one describe The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones? Terrifying. Gruesome. Unsettling. Those are the three words that come to mind.
The Only Good Indians follow four Native American friends who are being hunted down by an entity that wants revenge. The twist is that this vengeful spirit is the spirit of an elk savagely murdered by the men. As a lover of horror movies and books, some aspects reminded me of films like The Grudge, and I Know What You Did Last Summer. I found this novel deeply unsettling and beyond gruesome. And while I liked the book, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it as much as I initially thought.
Also, I need to mention that there are scary scenes involving animals that don’t sit right with my being.
Prompt Ten: A book about politics outside of your home country.
Book: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and memory in Northern Ireland
Written by: Patrick Radden Keefe
Published: February 26, 2019
Say Nothing is an incredible piece of journalism regarding the conflict in Northern Ireland. Journalist/Writer Patrick Radden Keefe does a phenomenal job presenting the facts and critical participants without giving the reader a biased perspective. Naturally, I wanted to cheer for one side over the other; however, I couldn’t, which only shows how impactful this work is.
I also enjoyed the format regarding how the story is told. It almost felt like I was watching a Netflix Documentary full of a cast of complicated characters who lack moral clarity while also giving us a history lesson.
After finishing this book, I decided to watch, Dolorous and have continued to go down this rabbit hole.
I highly recommend it, especially if you like novels about politics, history, or true crime!