Brittany’s Halfway There Summer Reading Challenge Update
July 18, 2023
“Ohhhhhh we’re halfway therrreeeeee!”
We’re about halfway through the summer, and therefore halfway through our READING CHALLENGE, so we thought it was time for a status update from the two of us!
I’m going first, because let’s face it – if Sara goes first, I will look pathetic in comparison. She is amazing and reads more books than any other person I know (and, yes, this is at least partially because she deleted Facebook and other time wasting nonsense off her phone, which I really really really should do but can’t quite bring myself to yet? Sigh.)
Also, if you too are behind, I can give you HOPE! “At least I am not as bad as Brittany,” you can say. And that is okay, because it will very likely be true. I can be like Jorts for you.
Okay, let’s see what I have been able to accomplish so far –
- Find and Read an Intriguing Piece from an Online Literary Magazine – I’ve seen John Chu’s “If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You” on a bunch of awards lists recently, and the title was intriguing to me, so I knew that it was the story I wanted to read for the literary magazine piece challenge. I really liked this novelette, mostly because it does something that I absolutely adore in speculative fiction – focus on the humdrum. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out. I love reading speculative pieces – shorter pieces especially – that don’t center around the main characters or the super magical things or the huge event going on in some particular fantasy/sci-fi world. Chu’s story is focused on a relatively normal guy that realizes the God/superhero making all the news recently is actually a dude who works out at his gym. The story unfolds through his normal eyes as opposed to the God/superhero’s perspective, which is always incredibly interesting to me. I don’t always want “chosen one” stories, sometimes I want stories about the guy who brings the chosen one’s DoorDash delivery and somehow gets sucked up into the magic! I didn’t love this story, but I did think it was really well executed and a thoughtful (and unsettling) meditation on growing racist sentiments in the US.
- Read a Book with a Blue Cover – I am currently reading The Cloisters by Katy Hays, which has a starry blue cover! I’m not that far into it yet, but I’m loving what I’ve read so far. NYC, Dark Academia, tarot cards, museums, and secrets? Yes, please.
- Re-read a Favorite Childhood Book – I read a book called The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer a few weeks ago, which inspired me to re-read one of my all-time childhood favorites – The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. The first was definitely inspired by the second (with more than a few shades of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory too, just with books instead of chocolate!) I have probably read The Westing Game fifty times, but every single time it delights me anew. It is so precise, smart, and surprisingly moving. There are sentences and sections that are just so perfectly crafted, they feel like a masterclass in writing. I also maintain that it has one of the best first pages in literature (it’s always set so that the same words are on page one no matter the printing, and it’s fantastic.)
- Read a Book Under 100 Pages – I read Red by Chase Berggrun, a WILDLY beautiful book of erasure poems from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The project is essentially an attempt to find the female voice in a notoriously misogynistic text, allowing a woman to speak in some way through the erasures. This is an especially tricky novel to do that with, as – technically – Mina and Lucy DO get to speak through their letters and diary entries, but their voices are filtered through Stoker and his idea of how women think (and, let’s face it, the way that women were supposed to/conditioned to/taught to think in the 1800s – as the narrator says, “a brain that a man fashioned for me”) Berggrun is trans, and she was going through her transition while writing the book, and that knowledge adds a profound layer to the work as well. The formal constraints of the project were rigorous – “text was erased while preserving the word order of the original source, with no words altered or added, according to a strict set of self-imposed rules,” as Berggrun notes in her process note at the beginning. This means that she didn’t make new words through erasure, as some do in erasure poetry, but rather chose to only work with words already on the page. The result is stunning. I found myself constantly wanting to underline turns of phrase, perfectly selected words, and entire sections of poems (each of which come from a chapter in the book.) For example, here’s one of my favorite bits, right from the first page –
“I was a woman in the usual way
I had no language but distress and duty
I have been taught to doubt my mother and fear tradition
But my queer tongue would not could not shut up”
Ahhhh, how brilliant is that?? The identity of the narrator is unknown – she could be one of Dracula’s brides or perhaps a former wife who actually succeeded in killing him, only to have him come back as a vampire, but her voice is profound and powerful regardless.
A strong warning though – there is a definite theme of sexual abuse/violence in the text that readers should be aware of before picking this one up.
- Read a Creature Feature – I think Red counts for this one too actually! Yay! BUT I also read the new Carmen Maria Machado edit of Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu, and omg, I loved it so much. The faux academia of it all; it made me giddy with nerdy joy. Also Carmilla is always amazing, and reading it again is always a complete pleasure. I forget just HOW much I love it until I re-read it and am dazzled all over again.
Hrmm, I definitely need to get reading if I’m going to finish this challenge…
BUT I have read several other books this summer, it’s just that they don’t seem to count for anything, so boo. I read the aforementioned The Wishing Game (super cute), Yellowface by R.F. Kuang (this was one of the wildest, most suspenseful books I’ve ever read… I’m still thinking about it WEEKS later), and most of The Secret Book of Flora Lee by Patti Callahan Henry (pretty delightful so far, I listened to this on audiobook while on a road trip but am still a tiny bit away from the end, so no spoilers! I love love love books about fairy-tale books, but there is a fairy-tale history detail included in this one that is WRONG, and it’s still driving me nuts… like I am weirdly affronted by it 😂 It would have been such an easy thing to look up! If you’ve read it, can you guess what it is?)
Anyway, if you’re like me, there’s still plenty of time to read – WE CAN DO IT! I am nothing if not a consistent ‘omgdoitallatthelastminute!’ kind of person, but I ALWAYS GOT MY BOOK-IT PIZZA, DARN IT! 😂
Where are you guys in the challenge? Have you read anything you super loved (or super hated?) Have you gotten stuck? Leave a comment, and let us know!
Yours in mischief and magic and dearth of time management skills,
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