Tag Archives: challenges

Closing out 2019 and looking into 2020

Technically, the blog is still on hiatus, since I’m currently in England (and will be going to China at the end of the week). But I didn’t want to miss the chance to recap the insanity that was 2019 and look forward to 2020. Though the post will likely be on the brief side this year.

I’ll start with the basics. I read 208 books in 2019. This is down from past years, but still a satisfying number. 208 books means that I completed my Goodreads challenge, in which I set a goal of 200 books. No complaints on that front.

I do have to be honest though. I wouldn’t have made that goal if it weren’t for audiobooks. Last year, I really started listening to book in bulk for the first time and I continued into this year.

What I like to do is listen to an audio book while working on diamond paintings. (This is my newest obsession.) I find it really relaxing and I have been flying through both audiobooks and diamond paintings.

I didn’t set a lot of other challenges for 2019. As always, I did an alphabet challenge. This means I wanted to read a book by an author who’s last name starts with every letter of the alphabet. This challenge almost manages itself, except for I, Q, X and Z. These I usually have to make a special effort to find and read. In fact, my X book was the absolute last book I read this year. I did complete it again this year. So, success.

The last two challenges are ones I actually set in 2018 and have been working on…largely failing at…in 2019. First, I set aside a stack of smallish books to read. However, I keep adding to the stack. So, it never actually seems to diminish. In my head, this one eventually just changed to ‘try and read more physical books.’

For too long my book shelves were double lined and still overflowing. However, this year we rearranged the house. My office became a child’s room and the finished basement (which the children had been sharing as a bedroom) became my office. This means I got a lot more shelf space. So, while I wasn’t all that successful in reading them down, I was successful in finally making my bookshelves manageable.

Lastly, in 2018 it came to my attention (as well as most everyone in my corner of twitter) how rarely characters of color are seen on book covers, even when the character themselves is a person of color in the book. So, while I couldn’t afford to buy all the books I can find with non-white characters on the cover, I did go through those that I own and set a goal to read and review them, supporting the authors in this manner. I wrote myself a blog post with all the titles, planning to chip away at the list throughout the year.

I later somewhat regretted doing this, because I decided it was performative. But I also felt like deleting the post would be giving up and maybe hiding a misstep. I still have really mixed feelings about it, especially since I have largely failed…and failed in multiple layers. First, I simply failed to check my list and choose books from it, instead of what was currently on my kindle. And when I did I often didn’t find anything of interest. (I picked up so many freebie YA books and I’m so burned on YA books. Though that’s not the only reason, of course.)

I was a bit better about choose books with characters of color on the cover while at the library and I briefly added them to the list. But that was too much like, “look what I’ve done.” So, I quickly stopped adding and decided (again) to try and whittle down the initial list. But that too simply fell by the wayside as time went by.

At this point, I have no option but to admit that, despite my best intention, I have failed at this challenge. I’ll carry it over into 2020 and hope to do better.

Now, for the hardest part of this post (even harder than admitting failure), choosing my best of 2019. I almost decided to skip it this year, using the I’m on vacation excuse. But I’m going to suffer through the decision making. Of the 208 books I read this year, I most enjoyed (in no order) The Last Sun, The Ballad of Black Tom, The Bones Beneath My Skin, Girl Waits With Gun, Anatomy of a Miracle, and The Haunting of Tram Car 015. Yes, 6 is an odd number to choose. But I couldn’t make myself decide which one to drop to make ‘top five’ and I didn’t have enough notable winners to make a ‘top ten.’

The interesting thing about this list is that it is made up exclusively of books I expected to love or expected not to and was surprised that I did; no middle ground. Anything published by Tor (The ballad of Black Tom and The Haunting of Tram Car 015) or written by TJ Klune (The Bones Beneath My Skin) I know I’ll love. But The Last Sun I read after several DNF books and a couple two-star reads. So, it was a welcome relief to hit a winner. I didn’t expect much from it initially though, since I’d never read anything by K.D. Edwards before. And both Girl Waits With Gun and Anatomy of a Miracle were books I won and picked up in my attempt to read more of my physical books. I didn’t really expect to like them too much, but ended up loving them.

I also find it interesting that 5 our of 6 are written by men, considering I read far more female authors and tend to like their writing more. It just goes to show you never can guess on January 1st what the year might bring.

Looking forward to 2020, I think I’ll continue the theme of fewer challenges than in the past. In fact, I think I’ll do the same as 2019. I always enjoy the alphabet challenge, the Goodreads Challenge is how I keep track of what I read in general (and I think I’ll stick with 200 books), and I still want to read more of the physical books that I already own and I still want to cross off the books I initially listed in my Characters of Color challenge.

That just leaves one last thing to say.

New art and a new reading challenge

I got a new stretched canvas for my office. The office is the only place in the house that I let myself put anything I choose on the walls, theme, coordination or quality be damned. If I like it, I’ll have it.

Not to suggest that this Icanvas print isn’t quality of a sort, but the rest of the house tends to run toward large, heavily framed prints. It’s not a great photo, but Mizuki by Audrey Kawasaki is what’s above the bed for example:

Though I’ve shrunk it so it doesn’t compete for attention with the canvas that is the point of this post, that frame is almost 30×30 inches (please never let it fall on us in our sleep). So, an unframed whimsical print of science fiction books is a departure from the norm. But I so loved it when I saw it that I insta-bought it, even though I didn’t really have a place for it. (In fact, I wish I’d bought the bigger size.)

After I moved Kawasaki’s Where I Rest out of place (this* one –>), I sat staring at the books and telling my husband how happy I was to see Binti and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet included among such giants as Asimov and Le Guin. But also how I was distressed that Martha Well’s All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries) isn’t included. It 100% deserves to be. In fact, once noticed, its absence sapped a little of my love of the print away. I mean, look, I even tweeted at Icanvas about it.

Hey @icanvas_art, if you’re going to include #Binti and #thelongwaytoasmallangryplanet in this stack of classic sci-fi (which I totally agree with) you gotta get #Murderbot in there too! I’d even buy a second copy. 🙂 pic.twitter.com/aaEuuR7Pzu — @rbnsnzsr

This led me to a second thought. If I was so happy to see Binti and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet included, and was desperate to get Murderbot added, why no excitement for The Martian? It was published in 2014, so it’s basically just as contemporary as the others. Part of it might have been that it’s written by a man and I’m always rooting to see women included. But Dune, by Frank Herbert, is one of my all-time favorite books (even if it by a man). So I decided it wasn’t the gender issue. It was simply that I haven’t read it!

All of the books included here are well known, familiar to me, science fiction. Suddenly I had to stop and think how many of them I love by virtue of being sci-fi cannon and how many I had actually read. Before that very moment I’d have told you of course I’ve read all the classics. But once I was really thinking about it, I realized that couldn’t be true. I hadn’t read The Martian, for example. So, off to Goodreads and my reading list I went. And shock followed.

I started Left to right:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: a favorite, read
  • The Martian Chronicles: Ray freaking-Bradbury, NOT READ
  • Brave New World: read in high school
  • Binti: started this whole process, obviously read
  • The Martian: NOT READ
  • The Left Hand of Darkness: read it last year when Le Guin died
  • The Diamond Age: What!? owned but NOT READ
  • Solaris: also NOT READ
  • The Foundation Trilogy: thank god, read the whole series
  • The Time Machine: Wells. freaking Wells, and NOT READ
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: NOT READ
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: read
  • Hyperion: read
  • Neuromancer: read and loved
  • Dawn: by Octavia Butler! NOT READ
  • Dune: a favorite, read
  • Starship Troopers: read
  • Ender’s Game: read
  • Childhood Ends: NOT READ

Eight—almost half of the books—I discovered that I’ve not read. This is a travesty that cannot be allowed to stand. I mean, for one, If I’m going to hang the picture on my wall (even if just my office wall), I should be able to point to it and know I’ve read them all, but also I’m a sci-fi/fantasy junkie and THEY’RE SCI-FI CLASSICS. How did I let this happen? Obviously, I’m going to fix it. It’s July. I have five months until the end of the year, and by that point I will have read these eight books that I have somehow grievously neglected in my life.

I don’t think I’ll bother coming back and linking reviews here. But I am setting it as an official reading challenge for myself. I do so love to have a plan. Wish me happy reading.


*
Yes, I'm totally vain enough that I spread out those two in the back so they could be seen, and there is another on the wall above. They'd been stacked together to be re-hung. I have a new one at the framer's (and a small one waiting to be framed by me) and I'm going to make a collage wall of them. I'll add a picture when it's done. But, though you can probably guess Kawasaki is my husband and my favorite artist, she's not the point of this post. But once I'd posted one, I just ran with it. 

Reading challenge: Characters of color on covers

In my little corner of the internet there has been a resurgence of the argument that people of color aren’t put on book covers because it adversely effects the sales of the book. And because America (I can’t speak for the world) really isn’t a post-race culture, no matter how much some people would like to argue that it is, there is unfortunately probably some truth to this argument. And it will likely remain so until the day it isn’t. I don’t have the answers to how we get there, but I do know that, as a reader, buying, reading and reviewing books with characters of color on the covers is a step in the direction of proving to publishers that they are as safe a bet as anything else.

Unfortunately, I’m not rich. I can’t run out and buy all the books. (How I wish I could buy all the books!) What I can do is make a point of reading and reviewing book I already happen to own that have non-white characters on the front. Below is the list of such books. It doesn’t include anything I’ve already read or that I request from the library (though I’ll add the latter to the challenge retroactively, along with any I find that I’ve missed).

Now, the choice of these books was problematic in as many ways as you can imagine. For one, I simply scrolled through my Goodreads bookshelves and took from them the books that had obviously non-white characters. I’m sure I missed some. I’m sure that if I’d marked other versions of some books not included, they might have been included, and conversely wouldn’t have included some I did. What to do with images that were clearly meant to be from one culture, but the model was white? Does it count if the book is a biography and the publisher had no choice but to put the person on the cover of their own book, or if the book is set in a largely homogenous time/country, like feudal Japan. What if it is a picture of an often objectified and exotified group, like Geisha? What if I strongly suspect the actual text will turn out to be a White Savior story, or problematic in some other fashion? And lastly, I had to make a visual judgement, sometimes on nothing more than a shadowed, headless torso. I just plain  might have gotten some wrong. When in doubt, I chose to be more inclusive than less. I took the same route when faced with characters of color in obviously secondary position on a cover. Hopefully, it’s the intent that counts here.

There are 78 books in that list (I’ll put links at the end of this post) and, while that might seem like a lot, it is pulled from a very large pool. I own a lot of unread books. Many of them don’t have people on the front at all, but of those that do, they are largely white people. So, no special props for me because I happen to own 78 books I’m simultaneously saying are comparatively rare.

This first challenge post really isn’t anything more than a reference point for myself and a chance to invite others to both join me and discuss the idea. What do you think, small drop in a big pond but worthwhile, performative, interested in joining me?


Links:

Trapped on Draconica
Incoming Alert
The Good Negress
Would it Be Okay to Love You?
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
The Dragon’s Passion
Underworld: Sex, Drugs, and a Loaded Gun
The End of Eden
The Dark Horse of Shanghai
Project SNOW  —-  Review
Degranon
From the Ashes
Shatterproof  —  Review
Prince Charming Wanted (Indian Maidens Bust Loose)
Alpha Moon
Khe
Purgatory Reign
Strength to Let Go
The Girl With Two Names
The Brotherhood of Merlin —–  Review.
From Far Away To Very Close: Seda’s Story
Keeping Score
Empress Orchid
Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection
Hotsuka’s Story
The Art of Three
Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet
I Love It Rough
I Like ‘Em Pretty
Tiger Lily
Halcyon: The Complete Steampunk Trilogy
The Burning Sky
Kiss Me to Spring Time
Human Property Hanging in the Family Tree Yields a Harvest
I Got You
More Than Words
The Beast of Callaire
The Powers of Callaire
Melokai —-   Review
Lost in Space
Of Beasts and Bonds
Moonlight   —  Review
Between the Lies
Psycho Save Us
Their Eyes Were Watching God
New Leaf
Third Vampire Shadows
The Drowning King
Earthrise .  —   Review
The Turnarounders and The Arbuckle Rescue
The Disassembled Life of Duncan Cole
M.C. Higgins, the Great
Black Like Me
Infinite Hope
Crimes of the Heart
To the Edge of the Sky
World Whisperer
The Handoff
A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea
The Orphan Fleet
The Reluctant Sacrifice  Review

Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
A Woman’s Nails
Stranded with the Navy SEALReview
Anytime Soon
Almost Black
Schoolgirl Apocalypse
Exiled, Malcom
Black Beauty
Shadow Unit 1
Boss
Girl in the Glass
The Geisha and The Monk
Fall of Sky City
Carolina Daemonic
Hope in the Hood
Blood Awakening

Added to the challenge:

From Scratch —  Review
Tangled
Tender Secrets
Shadowshaper — Review
Drunk on Men
The Glass Admiral  —  Review
Black Gold
Happy Hour at Casa Dracula — Review
Dhata Mays — Review
A Princess in theoryReview — Review
The Black God’s Drums Review