Fantasy, Romance, YA, Sci-FI and Che – It’s Been An Eclectic Autumn for My Reading List

My reading has been a bit all over the place lately. Since the start of September I’ve read Kushiel’s Dart, the Captive Prince trilogy, If I Was Your Girl, The Motorcycle Diaries and now I’m onto Parable of the Talents.

I’m officially at the point in the Read Harder 2017 Challenge where I can’t finish anything else via audiobook. I’ve only got three left to do – read a superhero comic with a female lead, read a book published by a micropress and read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. I’ve got plans for completing all of those, but none of them are conducive to the audio format, so my audiobook consumption is back to being free-form, which feels good – I’ve been choosing books based on the challenge all year, and I’m very glad I did it (I still have those three left to finish before I can say I’m actually done, but I’m very close); I’ve read a lot of fascinating books that I might not have discovered or gotten around to otherwise. I’m ready, though, to go back to making my reading choices with less need for structure for a while.

I expect that I’ll do the Read Harder challenge again – maybe in 2019, we’ll see – but not every year. If I didn’t listen to so many podcasts I could get through books more quickly, but I love my podcasts and learn as much from them as I do from books, so I don’t anticipate spending less time with them anytime soon. So as it is, the Book Riot challenge took up most of my reading time for the year, and I’ve now got a backlog of things that I want to read without having to think about whether they fit into a challenge. One-year-on, one-year-off might end up being a good balance. I’ve gotten so much from the challenge that I’m sure I’ll return to it, even if it takes a few years.

I’d read Parable of the Sower a few months back and loved it so much that I knew I’d circle back to read the sequel soon; I’m only about a third of the way into it so I’m not going to get into it much right now except to say holy buckets is the prescience ever flipping my shit. I thought the first book was eerily on the nose, and it was, but I managed to miss reading any of the (many, now that I’ve looked for them) articles pointing out that Parable of the Talents featured a presidential candidate/president with dictatorial tendencies and followers who he incited to commit violence on people different from themselves and who promised – literally, in these exact words – to make America great again. Dear god.

ANYWAY, more on that after I’ve finished it; for now I’ll stick to the books I’ve finished.

Back in September I wrote about Captive Prince, and as it turns out I really couldn’t wait very long before returning to this series. After finishing the second one I immediately dove into the third, which I finished almost completely in a single day. (One of my favorite benefits of audiobooks is that devouring a book in a single day doesn’t mean that you can’t get anything else done – I had a productive, active day, thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful weather and mainlined my queer romance novel! Score!)

I definitely recommend this series for anyone who enjoys romance novels that aren’t just fluff. This story had some real roughness to it – it takes place in a fictional universe strongly based in Greco-Roman culture, and the world she’s created can be harsh. Slavery, rape and pedophilia are all dealt with – none of these things are glorified, the culture is portrayed as highly troubled and one where far too many people allow terrible things to happen as long as it’s not happening to them (sound familiar?) – but if you’re looking for a warm fuzzy romance, this isn’t it. If a complex, slow-blooming love between two powerful and sometimes ruthless but ultimately good (though one of them may not seem it at first) men who have both been burned terribly by the ambitions of their royal families and who would more naturally be mortal enemies rather than confidantes/friends/lovers sounds interesting to you – and if you like a bit of political machination/palace intrigue mixed in with your sexy funtimes – give this one a go, it’s well worth it.

Another series I’ll be returning to is Kushiel’s Dart. I know that the series is broken into story arcs of different characters, and we’ll see if I continue on past Phèdre’s story arc or not, but I want to finish hers at least, because I very much need to know how things go for her, and if Melisande is even slightly redeemable. (I hope yes – I want to say yes – but I could be entirely wrong; she could be pure evil. Either way she’s fascinating.) Normally I don’t go for books with so much focus on political machination – I admit there were parts of the plot that I fuzzed out on a bit, because the complex chess game between the different factions just didn’t hold my interest – but the characters are so compelling that I was always engaged by the story. That’s why I’m not certain whether I’ll continue on after Phèdre’s; if the second focal character doesn’t grab hold of me so strongly I might not be motivated to push through the intrigue.

I’m fascinated by the way Carey portrays Phèdre’s responses to pain; as an anguissette she experiences pleasure and pain as one, and the way Carey describes this walks an interesting line. She experiences pain as pleasure but it isn’t indistinguishable – she responds to pain as pain; it can overwhelm her, it can sometimes make her desperate for it to stop, and in the times when she’s faced with someone who wants to truly do damage to her she is as averse to the concept of true torture as anyone would be. I’d love to hear Phèdre talk more about where the boundary is for her; when the pain stops being something she takes satisfaction in.

And of course I need to know how things settle out between Phèdre and Joscelin. I do hope the poor dear boy doesn’t end up too badly off.

So Kushiel’s Dart fulfilled challenge #12 – Read a fantasy novel. For challenge #15 – Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+ – I read If I Was Your Girl, which I loved. I read that Meredith Russo wanted to write a YA novel about a transgender girl that had a happy ending, and she did a beautiful job. The book is certainly not easy – we learn through flashbacks about the difficulties Amanda went through before and during her transition, and as a transgender girl in high school in a small town in the South you can bet she goes through some rough times – but she’s a smart, quirky, lovable girl who discovers that she’s got far more strength than she ever realized, and also some friends that have her back even when other people are horrible. I think this would be a great book to help an actual young adult learn more about what transgender people can go through, but I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s smart and funny and at times adorable and is, ultimately, an extremely hopeful story.

Last off for now – for challenge #8 – Read a travel memoir – I read The Motorcycle Diaries. I think at some point I need to read some straight-up history of the Cuban Revolution to gain more of an understanding of it and of Che’s part in it – The Motorcycle Diaries are his notes from a trip he took well before the revolution, and were never really intended to be published, so the book doesn’t have much of what I’d think of as a coherent narrative. It’s a short book and it’s extremely fast paced, and his writing is snappy and sometimes funny, so it held my interest, but it’s really all over the place. There are some political/philosophical observations throughout it, but you get the feeling that he was just taking notes rapid-fire and not taking the time to write down a lot of the deeper thoughts that he would hint at. The story jumps from place to place very quickly, mostly telling only a single story about every town they visit. The book gave me a great sense of atmosphere and mood, but definitely left me wanting to read something more substantial about this period in Latin American history.

Book Review Roundup

I mentioned in my last post that I’d gotten behind on posting about books – there are three I’ve finished for the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge that I haven’t posted about yet, so let’s round ’em up.

For Challenge #22, Read a collection of stories by a woman: Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins

I’d never heard of Kathleen Collins before I googled “short stories by women of color” and and came across this super helpful list – 5 Short Story Collections by Women of Color You Need to Read Right Now – which includes the Collins collection and, of course, four others, all of which I hope to read in the future.

Collins, as it turns out, was a fascinating woman, and someone I’m glad to know about – she was an artist across many mediums and a civil rights activist; an exceptionally accomplished woman who died too young of breast cancer in the eighties. As I learned about her and read her stories, I wished that she were still with us – her voice would’ve been a powerful one to add to the resistance.

This collection of works was put together by her daughter from a stash of her mother’s writings; a lot of the pieces aren’t what I’d think of as “short stories” – many of them are more slices of life, vignettes, character studies. The formats of them vary a great deal; some may have been writing exercises or pieces of what were planned to be larger works. It didn’t seem as though Collins herself intended anything like a “short story collection” to come of them, but I’m very glad that her daughter decided that the work deserved to be read.

What impressed me the most was how lovingly she wrote about people even when the observations she was making about them were pointed. There is a great deal of commentary about race relations and society but it never feels like overt commentary; she’s simply showing us how these dynamics are playing out between humans. She was a brilliant student of human nature, and the gentleness with which she wrote her characters leads me to think that she was likely an exceptionally compassionate person as well. As I was reading I also regularly forgot that all of the works were thirty years old at minimum – there’s a timelessness to the stories she tells and her voice still sounds modern in 2017.

I wonder if she ever aspired to write a novel – as much as I enjoyed the works in this book, I would love to see what would’ve happened if she’d taken her combination of sharpness and kindness and written a longer work, one that spent more time with the characters. In the brief pieces in this collection I frequently felt that I was getting to know the characters so intimately in such a short period of time that I wasn’t ready to let them go when the pieces ended.

I know that she wrote and directed a movie, Losing Ground, which I want to track down at some point. She’s definitely on the list of people I’ve discovered through this reading challenge that I want to learn more about.

For Challenge #1, Read A Book About Sports: Sum it Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective by Pat Head Summitt and Sally Jenkins

I’m not a sports fan, but I live in Knoxville, where Pat Summitt is a local legend. I know that she’s a legend well beyond Knoxville, but mostly for sports fans – if you live in Knoxville you know her name even if you don’t know a single other thing about basketball.

I really didn’t know much about her beyond the fact that she was an epic coach who brought great success to the Lady Vols, and that she died far too young of alzheimer’s. I was saddened with everyone else when I heard about her diagnosis – she was a powerhouse of a woman and I’d always thought she was impressive even if I didn’t follow what was going on with her team. I now regret that I never went to see a Lady Vols game when she was coaching. Even if I never became a real devoted fan, I could’ve gone to a game just for the experience, and I wish I had.

I expected that I would enjoy this book, and it surpassed my expectations. She was a brave, brilliant, strong, stubborn, funny and exceptionally loving woman, and her story manages to be both relatable and impressive. She’s an excellent storyteller and the intertwining of her life story with the story of her diagnosis/life-post-diagnosis works very well. While there are stories and descriptions about specific important games in her career I never felt that it turned too much to shop talk – I was able to enjoy the drama and understand the dynamics of those scenes even though I’m not at all familiar with the game. Throughout the whole book the thing that came across the most was how dearly she loved her players and adored coaching them.

For Challenge #20, Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel: Captive Prince by C. S. Pacat

This challenge was one of the easier ones for me – M/M romance novels are something I indulge in when I need a fun, less challenging read, and I’ve read quite a few already. I did some poking around to find a series/author I’d never heard of for this challenge, and came across reviews for Captive Prince, the first in a trilogy (which, if you’re not familiar with the romance genre, basically means I’ve got to read all three if I want to get to the part where the couple actually gets it on).

The reviews fascinated me – there were plenty of people who adored it, thought it was well written and fascinating, a bit darker than many romances, with a plot involving a lot of palace intrigue and set in a world with a complex and problematic sexual culture. There were also people who felt that the book glorified captivity and brutality and couldn’t stand it – and I certainly get that this book isn’t going to be everyone’s bag, even among aficionados of M/M romance, but after reading it I’ve come down on the side of the folks who argued that portraying brutality and a problematic sexual culture isn’t the same as glorifying it.

The story explores and plays with issues of Dominance/submission dynamics and the agency of people who choose to fill subservient roles versus people who aren’t given a choice in the matter. And the story being told between the two men who will, inevitably, end up together isn’t an easy or lighthearted one. I thought that both men were engaging and compelling – they’re both complex characters navigating exceptionally harsh circumstances and I’ll definitely be finishing up the trilogy once I’ve completed the other books I need to read to finish the challenge. I want to learn Laurent’s story – though I’ve got a pretty good idea about parts of it – and I’ve got to find out what it’s going to take to get both of them to finally realize/admit their Epic Feels.

In keeping with the theme, apparently, currently I’m reading Kushiel’s Dart for Challenge #12, Read a fantasy novel. This one is probably going to merit a post of its own, because man is it ever dense. I’m enjoying it very much and will likely continue with the series, but it’s not the kind of series I can just power right through – it might take me a while to get me through them all, if I stick it out until the end. I think I’ll want to finish up Phedre’s arc at the very least. But, more on Phedre after I’m actually finished with the first book.

Fahrenheit 451 – I Seem To Be Revisiting Way-Too-Relevant Old Scifi Books Lately

I’m really behind on writing about books – I’ve finished four since the last book post I wrote, and I think next time I’ll do a round-up because I can cover most of the others fairly briefly, but I’ve got more to say about this one, so I’m giving it its own post.

I read this book in high school and have intended to revisit it for a while. I used it to fulfill Read Harder Challenge #3 – read a book about books.

If you’ve read this book, you don’t need me to explain why it’s a classic or why it’s more than a little creepy to read today, over 60 years after it was written. If you haven’t read it, read it.

There are a few things that particularly resonated with me and that have been rattling around in my head a lot since finishing the book. One is the concept of the parlor walls – because this aspect of the world Bradbury envisioned gives me such a case of the creeps, and I think it’s because in some ways he got it so very right, but the form it’s taken is, in my mind at least, even more maddening than what he wrote.

So the parlor walls are basically huge, wall-sized television screens, and if you’re affluent you’ve replaced all four of the walls in your parlor with them. Most people spend vast amounts of time there; Mildred considers the people on the screens to be her family. There’s no actual interaction, though interaction is sometimes simulated by giving the viewer a chance to read lines from a script to fill in pauses in the show. The main point is that everything that’s on the parlor walls is complete drivel – there are no real narratives, the shows that involve actors aren’t actually about anything, many shows are simply fast-paced vignettes of impressive visuals or visual humor – none of it has any real value.

Here’s where I think he got it both right and wrong. People spending endless hours passively staring at screens – absolutely right. But he didn’t foresee the fact that, instead of addictive drivel, what sucks so many people in is an endless supply of actual quality entertainment.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s not also mindless drivel out there, and that it can’t be addictive too. But in most circles people would still feel a bit weird about admitting something like “I watched six hours of reality television today,” but we’ve gotten to a point where it’s completely normal to binge watch the legit high quality shows that are out there – and there are so many of them, available instantly at your whim.

I’m certainly not anti-television – I’ve got shows I’ve loved for years and I enjoy getting into a new show, too – and I think it’s really cool that there is so much good, thoughtful, well written, well produced, socially relevant, etc. etc. etc., tv out there at this point in time. It used to be an unusual treat when a show was smart – now there’s so much to choose from. For the record, I’m also not anti-mindless-drivel; it can be fun and soothing, and sometimes your brain needs a rest.

I’m also not saying binge watching SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN ZOMG – sometimes you’ve had a bad day or a bad week and you eat the whole pint of ice cream and it’s just what you needed. What gives me the creeps is the dosage factor – how typical binge watching has become. I read Fahrenheit 451 and thought about how many smart, aware people out there spend just as much time in front of the tv as the characters in Bradbury’s book spent in the parlor.

Once Montag woke up and saw what was really happening in the world, he was so intent to jump in and do something – and so frustrated with the people who refused to see it. Faber basically told him, dude, chill out, not long ago you were that clueless yourself. And that’s something that really resonated with me – and something I sometimes have to summon an inner Faber to remind myself of. Two years ago I wasn’t paying any attention at all to what was going on in the world outside of my bubble. One year ago I wasn’t making any effort to actually move outside of my bubble and make a difference. I just feel like this last year has changed me so much that I can’t imagine seeing everything that’s happening in the world and staying the same. Being mentally woke but not changing.

And the funny part is that I now realize that people who’ve been activists for years must have always felt the same way about people like me – and now there are more people willing to get off their asses, get involved and act, and as much of a good thing as that is, there’s got to be a part of any long-time activist that’s also saying “geez, asshats, IT TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH.”

And I’ve been saying that to myself a lot lately – “geez, asshat, IT TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH.” And I think it’s that sentiment that fuels my Montag-like impatience – I want to tell people “you’re going to get to a point where every day that you didn’t do this is going to weigh on you.” And of course, that’s not always true. Everyone has a different path. My inner Faber reminds me that I’m not exactly an oldhead at this, but my inner Montag knows that that’s exactly why I get so restless.

Fahrenheit 451 is about a world that’s gone to shit, but it’s also about a person who gets woke and decides to do something about it – and sometimes clumsily, sometimes ham handedly, because he’s a total n00b and he doesn’t know what he’s doing at first, but he does something and he finds other people doing things. (And yes, it annoys me that none of them are women. Come on, Bradbury, where’s the lady who memorized Frankenstein?) And at the end, we get a horrible act of war at the same time that we get a breath of hope. It does seem like lately the hope and the horror have been coming hand in hand. All in all, this book feels exceptionally close to home right now.

Review Roundup: The Dark Tower Movie (Jake Chambers IS NOT Tyler Marshall), Spider-Man: Homecoming (or: Spider-Man: Brofest) and The House of the Spirits (… no sarcasm about this one.)

I could do individual posts on each of these things but I didn’t get a chance to post last week and if I get too behind on the things I want to write about I’ll never get back to them – so. A little bit of a roundup here.

The Dark Tower Movie – Jack Chambers IS NOT Tyler Marshall

Y’all, I have a Dark Tower quote (“there are other worlds than these”) tattooed on my right forearm. You could say I’m kind of attached to this story. Fortunately I know enough to be highly skeptical about any attempt to translate it into film. As excited as I was about the casting and as much as I flailed when the pictures of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in costume were released (because I knew those two would knock their roles out of the park even if I wasn’t happy with the script) I never believed that they’d really do it. Not really. And then it became clear that what they were filming was … a sort of alternate version of the story which, had they done it well, could’ve been perfectly valid within the bounds of the story, but I didn’t trust that they’d do it well.

And they didn’t.

Sometimes these things just make so little sense – who sat at a meeting and said “It isn’t enough that the Tower holds the entire universe together – it isn’t enough that the universe would just cease to be without the Tower – there have to be MONSTERS. MONSTERS I TELL YOU.”

And who said “this movie ought to be all about the relationship between Jake and Roland, except that story gets pretty messy, and we don’t want the kid to die even a single time … hey, the kid in Black House gets rescued, maybe we could steal some of his story.” Because I really think they took Tyler Marshall’s story and imposed it onto Jake – Tyler was the powerful psychic who could’ve brought down the Tower, not Jake. Devar-Toi was not a horrorshow of kids strapped into chairs – the place in the movie seemed far more similar to The Big Combination in Black House. And while I like Black House, IT IS NOT THE SAME STORY. That movie was not a story about Roland and Jake in a different timeline. That movie was not about Roland or Jake. I’m not quite sure what that movie was, other than a hot mess.

I will say my excitement about the cast was well founded – Idris and Matthew were both brilliant, and both of them had moments where they really shone through despite the script. I really liked the kid playing Jake; he would’ve been even better if he’d been able to play ACTUAL JAKE THE WAY JAKE IS ACTUALLY FUCKING WRITTEN. Same with Idris – god he would’ve been amazing playing ACTUAL ROLAND. AUGH.

But like I said, I expected this going in, so I wasn’t surprised – really, just frustrated, because that was so much wasted potential. They could’ve done such a cool thing, and they didn’t. Maybe one day someone will get ahold of this story and make a full-fledged high-budget cable or Netflix or Amazon TV series out of it because that’s the only way that it’s going to work. Until then, I’m pretty relieved that the line I have tattooed on my arm – which is one of the central lines of the story – wasn’t ever uttered in the mess of a movie.

Spider-Man: Homecoming / Spider-Man: Brofest

Here’s the thing – I’m a Marvel movie fangirl. I see all of them. I always love them. They’re so much fun, I love how they all interconnect, the characters are lovable and hilarious and frequently pull my heartstrings. It’s a geeky franchise done right. And Spider-Man was all of those things – it was fun, it had just the right amount of Tony to keep him involved without letting him take over Peter’s story, it set up a world for a new franchise that has a lot of potential … but I just couldn’t get past the fact that this was, I think, the worst Marvel Studios has ever done as far as having any female characters that actually get to fucking do something.

Yes, they set up Michelle and she’s going to be awesome in future movies but did she really have to stay so far in the background in this one? The character in the movie that interested me the most and they didn’t let her do a single damned thing. There’s no reason that she couldn’t have gotten into some adventure with Ned to help support Peter – something. Marvel is usually so much better about this – I’ve been thinking about it and I can’t come up with an example of any of the Marvel Studios movies that has such a low level of participation by female characters.

And yes, it’s thrown into even more sharp relief by the fact that I saw Wonder Woman not long ago. The thing is, I wanted Marvel to get there first with the female hero lead. They didn’t. They’re working on Captain Marvel but that’s going to be a while. Usually, though, they’ve got some ladies up in there, doing shit. Even if it’s not Gamora or Black Widow kicking ass it’s Jane doing science or Pepper holding shit together – something. So the lack in this one was so striking to me. Guys, come on. There’s just no excuse. Marvel excels at movies that expertly juggle a lot of characters doing a lot of different things – they absolutely could’ve given at least one woman more of an active role. Even if the movie didn’t pass The Bechdel Test (and some Marvel movies do!), they could’ve done better. There’s no reason they couldn’t have done better.

I’m not in a fight with Marvel – I still love them and I’m wicked stoked about Ragnarok and Black Panther, this one just let me down a little.

The House of the Spirits

This week I finished reading The House of the Spirits, which covered Read Harder 2017 challenge #4 – Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.

This was a beautiful book with a scope that manages to be epic (it tells the story of three generations of women) without ever losing its center or distancing itself too much. It takes place in Chile and made me want to learn more about Chilean history. The latter part of the story covers the revolution in the seventies and listening to this audiobook in parallel with the news from Venezuela lately was a bit on the creepy side. People unable to find food in the grocery stores, political opponents being disappeared – knowing that these parts of the novel are based on history is one thing; knowing that these same things are happening in the world right now is another. It really made me want to understand more about the histories and trajectories of South America; there’s so much I don’t know. One more thing on the “Things Jess Wants To Learn” pile.

Storywise, what makes or breaks most books for me is whether the characters draw me in, and this book absolutely succeeded on that front. I loved how complex they all were. I loved Clara – how do you not love Clara? – but there were times when I wanted to grab her and shake her. She was so brilliant and insightful but she let so many things slide without doing anything to change them; she so frequently checked out instead of acting. I adored Alba and identified with her the most. I despised Esteban but couldn’t help but feel empathy for him at the end, which seems to be exactly what Allende intended; I love the message of humanity, the unavoidable cycle of hurt and violence but the importance of love and forgiveness and healing that she brings to the ending. Yet another author I’ve tried for the first time through this challenge that I intend to return to.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Last week I finished reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I’m trucking my way through Book Riot’s Read Harder 2017 Challenge – I’ve completed 13 of 24 now – this book fulfilled Challenge #9, Read A Book You’ve Read Before.

I read this book for the first time when I was a teenager – I don’t remember exactly how old I was; maybe 13 or 14. There were elements of the book that really stuck with me, parts of the characters that never left me, but I remembered very little about the details of the plot and the themes. What I did remember was just enough to make me realize that there was probably quite a bit that I hadn’t fully understood when I was a young teenager. Lordy was that ever true.

(There’s a bit spoilery bit but I’ve got it behind an accordion!)

First off, my young teenage self completely missed all the queerness in this book. Even Singer, whose queerness is most obvious, went completely over my head at that age. I don’t know if she intended to portray this character as literally gay and in love with Antonapoulos (this certainly could be the case – given what I’ve now read about her personal life it would make sense for her to identify with a character experiencing completely unrequited queer love) or if their friendship was meant to be more of a metaphor, but maybe that doesn’t actually matter. Singer’s complete obsession with Antonapoulos – to the point where he did in his own mind to Antonapoulos exactly what most other characters in the book endlessly did to him, projecting onto him the qualities that he wanted most to see – is certainly queer af, even if she didn’t intend for it to be literally sexual in nature.

Big Spoilery Bit

Although there were a good handful of details about this book that I remembered – mostly about Mick; as a young teenager she was the one I identified with the most – I managed to completely forget that Singer dies. I might has well have been reading the book for the first time when I got to that part – when he realizes that Antonapoulos is dead I was thinking how terrible it was going to be for him and trying to remember how he manages to survive it, because some part of my mind expected that if he in fact hadn’t survived it that surely I would’ve remembered that. Nope.

So when he shoots himself it seemed maybe like even more of a gut punch than it would have otherwise, because I hadn’t even considered that that was what was coming. And it was so fucking heartbreaking – this man is so revered by people who don’t even know, really, anything about his truth. They infuse him with their own truth and don’t have even the slightest clue about what he really lives for. He’s surrounded by all of these people who come to him for meaning, but once Antonapoulous is gone – a man that I don’t believe even particularly cared about him or thought about him when he wasn’t there – he just can’t go on. He’s given meaning to all of these people without even trying or understanding how, and can’t live without taking meaning from a man that probably would’ve never noticed had he stopped visiting. This book seems infused with people’s inability to succeed at taking mutual meaning from each other.

It really speaks to how little I understood about Singer that I didn’t remember his death after the first reading, because now I can’t stop thinking about it; it’s definitely the most potent part of the story to me.

I also love how she used Biff to play with gender identity and I wonder if he would be a trans character if the story were retold today.

I still love Mick and her story is still gripping and one that I can identify with, but it’s interesting how as a young teenager she seemed by far like the most important, fascinating character to me, and while the years haven’t caused her to lose any ground in my mind, the other characters have risen up to that same level now that I can grasp them more fully.

The grappling she does with racial issues and the story of Portia, Dr. Copeland and their family is pretty astounding given that the novel was written by a 23 year old in 1940. The way both Dr. Copeland and Blount wrestle with desires for justice and activism that are way ahead of their time, and how that drive ends up pushing both of them away from other people, seems particularly relevant today.

There’s a lot about this book that amazes me given her age when she wrote it. This is a woman who had a very profound understanding of humanity at a very young age. I definitely want to go back and read the rest of her work. Along with the work of Octavia Butler and Zora Neale Hurston.

I’m definitely not planning on trying to complete the entire Read Harder challenge in 2018 – I might take some ideas from it for my reading for the year but I want the freedom to pursue some of the authors that the 2017 challenge has introduced me to without having to think about whether I can fit them into a challenge. I first started with the 2017 challenge to encourage myself to read books I might not have gotten around to otherwise and broaden my reading horizons, and given that it’s resulting in not only a ton of new favorites from what I’m reading this year but a ton of Audible wish list items for 2018, I think it’s succeeding pretty damned well.

Watership Down and Activism – Bunnies and Borders?

I finished Watership Down today – after a few fairly intense books it was a nice change of pace; not that it doesn’t have an intensity of its own, and some particularly fierce parts, but it also had some good folk-tale-telling and charming British rabbit drama.

I had wondered if it would work for me or if it would be one of those books that just doesn’t resonate with you if you don’t first come to it at a younger age. I’m sure that if I’d read it or had it read to me when I was a kid or young adult it would’ve had that extra layer of potency that stories only have when you encounter them at a young age, but it was absolutely affecting.

I loved Hazel – there was something particularly moving about how he started the book without any ambition at all to become a chief rabbit – and in fact he never actually developed that ambition, he just stepped into the role when it became clear that it was needed. He was a rabbit who did what was needed, without fuss or fanfare. He just did it.

I also loved Hyzenthlay, though she didn’t have as much to do as I would’ve liked – I hadn’t really expected a strong, sensible female character to be in the mix, so I was pleasantly surprised when she entered the story.

The willingness of the rabbits to leave behind what they knew in order to find, build and fight for something better also resonated with me. It definitely isn’t a tidy parallel for immigration – the rabbits were forming their own, completely new, society, rather than joining an existing one. But it’s not hard lately to get me thinking about the journeys of people who leave their lives behind in order to find, build and fight for something better.

Listening to Pod Save the People teaches me so much with every episode – and makes me think so much. Recently he talked about how many families that include undocumented people face the need to establish plans for their children – what to do if they get deported. Which of course they would – it’s just one of the many things that hadn’t occurred to me. I can’t even imagine.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how, while my form of social action is volunteerism and education more than protest, I’m open to doing more protest as well – but I listen to someone like DeRay, who has engaged in so much protest and has gotten arrested for it multiple times, and I think, you know, for the most part, the kinds of protest opportunities that come up in my town are pretty unlikely to result in me getting arrested – a vaguely hipsterish white woman in her late 30s at some big “March for … ” event or even at a Planned Parenthood protest probably isn’t super likely to end up spending any time in jail. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s not something I’ve particularly felt any trepidation about.

The kinds of protests where you know going in that getting arrested is a distinct possibility haven’t been a part of my experience as of yet, which has made me think, what would I be willing to get arrested for? What kind of protest would I go to even if I thought I could potentially end up in trouble for it?

The Hispanic center that I volunteer for serves a population that includes undocumented people. I don’t know, among my students, who is documented and who isn’t – one student has told me about the process he went through to become a citizen so I know his situation, and I’m always glad to learn more about their experiences when they want to talk but it’s certainly not something I ask them about. These are people I spend time with a couple times a week and who have become friends, and I know that some of them live with the possibility of being deported.

If ICE came to the center? If I were in a position where I could either stand up for my students or step aside? I hope that I’d be willing to get arrested for that. Mostly I hope that it never happens, but it could, and I hope that I’d be up to it. I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket – the thought of getting arrested terrifies me. Sitting here writing a blog post it’s easy to say that yes, of course I’d stand up – and I hope that that’s true.

One a recent episode DeRay talked about how he doesn’t want to protest, he doesn’t want to get arrested, he’s done what was necessary – and, it’s a theme, I have so much admiration for people who just do what needs to be done. I hope I could do what was necessary, too.

(Did I just bring this full circle by comparing one of the things I admire about DeRay to what I admired about Hazel? I think I did.)

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