Sara’s Summer Reading Challenge Conclusion

September 12, 2023

We’re well into September (and PUMPKIN SPICE SEASON APPROACHES), so it’s time to report on the conclusion of our Carterhaugh Summer Reading Challenge!

Here’s Sara with her wrap-up –

When I wrote my halfway there update, y’all, I was on fire. I’d knocked out 11/15 of the challenge categories, and read at least a dozen other books. 

I was living my best life, as imagined by my ten-year-old self: tearing through my TBR pile during summer evenings on my porch, unstoppable. Invincible. I was like Scrooge McDuck, except with books instead of gold coins.

And then I got smacked in the face with COVID for the first time. 

I was very lucky that my symptoms were pretty mild… except for the fatigue.

At one point, I made the dire mistake of daring to wash my hair and shave my legs during the same shower, and then I had to go lie down for the rest of the day.

And it hung around for AGES. Quite honestly, I’ve only started to feel like I’m back to my usual energy level for the last week or so. 

Of course, Brittany and I were also staring down the barrel of creating and launching Enchant, the biggest, most logistically challenging course we’ve ever done, AND we’d committed to running a free week-long challenge that over 2000 people signed up for.

Let’s just say my Scrooge McDuck book pool ran very dry for a while there. 

I did still read a lot, especially after the first week of COVID, because that’s just my resting state/ basic personality. But it was mostly a lot of re-reading Cat Sebastian (queer historical romance that our assistant Meenoo introduced me to last year, I HIGHLY recommend) instead of intentionally seeking out new work.

And you know what? That’s fine. That’s what I needed at the time. Things like our reading challenge are there to help you stretch, try new things, and have fun, not to bludgeon yourself with, and, in this spirit, here’s how I finished off the challenge. 

Finish a Book You Started and Liked, but Somehow Keep Drifting Away From and Never Finishing –  The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk 

When I wrote part 1 of my update, I wrote about The Body Keeps the Score as my Puzzle Through a Book That Challenges You selection. At the time, I’d wanted to complete the challenge with a different book for every category, but you know what? It also counts for this one, and we’re going with it. Here’s what I said about this book at the time:

“Oof. This was a difficult read for me. It could definitely qualify as #2 in the Summer Reading Challenge (Finish a Book You Started and Liked, but Somehow Keep Drifting Away From and Never Finishing) since I had to put it down for a few weeks, but I’m aiming for a different text for each category for now. In a nutshell, this book is about how trauma reshapes the body and the brain. I’m not at a point where I feel ready to discuss this in depth in public, but let’s just say, I’m in this photo and I don’t like it. That being said, this is a powerful, useful, and ultimately pretty validating book, especially the work it does to expand the scope of what trauma can look like (i.e. PTSD can be found in populations other than/ in addition to veterans.) If you’re curious about how trauma works, this is a really important read.”

Find and Read an Intriguing Piece from an Online Literary Magazine – The Fairy Tale Magazine – Tales from the Night Queen’s Realm, September 2023

I’m shamelessly plugging the latest issue from The Fairy Tale Magazine because 1) it’s gorgeous and 2) I have two pieces in it. One is an article about witches in love (and the worst tropes about them) that Brittany and I co-wrote. The other is a poem that I wrote for my husband Jared called “Little Red to the Woodcutter.” It’s a really vulnerable piece for me to put out there, but I’m really proud of it, and I’m honored that Fairy Tale Magazine decided to publish it. There are also beautiful pieces from other familiar faces around Carterhaugh, including Deborah Sage and Kelly Jarvis!

Read a Book in Translation – Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century edited by Donald Keene

I thought I might have missed this category altogether, but then I realized I’d been plugging away at it all summer (and all year for that matter!) I’ve written before that Jared and I do a lot of reading aloud together, and our latest project has been the massive Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century edited by Donald Keene. We still have just a little bit left, but we’re in the home stretch. We’ve read selections from plays, tons of different genres of poetry, bits of old books and novels, and, of course, pieces of The Book of Genji

Finally Read a Book you Pretend to Have Read but Haven’t Actually Read (Yet) Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes

This one was tricky for me because I really don’t do this (apart from graduate school classes where they give you so much reading that you physically and temporally cannot do all the reading in the time they give you to do it, so an unspoken part of the curriculum is learning The Grad School Technique – reading the introduction and conclusion thoroughly, reading the first and last paragraphs of every chapter, and taking notes on three things you can say or questions you can ask that are grounded in reality so you can plausibly talk for three hours about this book that you’ve definitely, absolutely read thoroughly. My cohort was on the brink of a collective nervous breakdown until the Director of Graduate Studies told us that there was literally no way to do all the assigned reading, whereupon we all released a sigh/ whimper of pent-up overachiever. But I digress.) But! I did realize that I’d thought I’d read all of a book THAT I HADN’T YET! Earlier this summer, we talked to the brilliant Dr. Veronica Schanoes about her short story collection Burning Girls in our Carterhaugh book club. (You can still see the recording if you join us on Patreon!) In Burning Girls, feminist and political activist Emma Goldman takes tea with Baba Yaga in her chicken-footed hut and Alice gets lost in a grocery store. The entire thing is shot through with Jewish folklore, punk rock, tons of historical detail, and, of course, fairy tales. It’s SO GOOD. Because I’ve been reading Veronica’s short stories for at least a decade, I immediately bought the book when it came out…and I must not have read it all the way through, because when I was prepping for book club, I recognized almost every story, but a few were brand new to me!

TA DA. Challenge somehow complete!

We’d love to hear how your summer reading went. Did you pick up some books you might otherwise have skipped? What was your favorite? What was something you learned?

And, of course, we’d love to hear if you completed the challenge. If you did, fabulous! If you didn’t, you are also fabulous! But we’d love to know so that we can adjust the challenge as needed if we do it again next year.

Happy reading!

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