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Six Books I’ve Read So Far for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

21 Feb

There are 24 tasks in the 2018 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, and as of this writing I have finished 6! I have written before about taking on past Read Harder Challenges, and haven’t finished one yet. For 2017 I read 13 of 24 books, the best I’ve done so far. My approach this year is to aggressively tackle the challenges early on as life happens, which can impede my reading. So far the cold winter has inspired me to stay indoors and read lots of books.

These are the six completed tasks and the corresponding books.

The Task: A children’s classic published before 1980.

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Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

I chose Julie of the Wolves as one I can read with my nieces to discuss–I’m still waiting for their thoughts! The story is about a thirteen-year-old girl named Julie who is escaping an unstable home situation. Her goal is to travel from Alaska to San Francisco and live with her pen pal. In the frozen tundra she struggles to survive by observing wolves and eventually becoming part of the pack by mimicking their behaviors. I appreciated how deeply passionate Jean Craighead George was about this book: the story grew from a rejected proposal for a magazine article she wrote about wolves and the Alaskan tundra. 

The Task: A celebrity memoir.

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Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

This task was pretty easy to accomplish as I lead the Lady Memoir Book Club at Little City Books, and have read plenty of celebrity memoirs as part of the group and on my own time. I picked Year of Yes for the January 2018 discussion as the premise was how Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and Shondaland, changed after she committed to saying yes to opportunities that scared her, a good theme to start off a new year. The book was fun to read and has a positive message about making the most of our lives. 

The Task: A book of social science.

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Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

The premise of Option B is how Sheryl Sandberg coped after her husband’s sudden death in 2015. Adam Grant provides solid research about grief and resilience that are masterfully woven into Sheryl’s story (this is why I consider Option B social science) and those of others who have faced tragedy. This book has incredibly sad moments–Sheryl’s retelling of finding her husband unconscious, and having to tell her children that their father died are heartbreaking–but is ultimately hopeful and encourages people to not retreat from life’s hard moments. From this book came the Option B organization.

The Task: A one-sitting book.

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The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz

At first I was stymied by this task. But then I found The Four Agreements in my TBR (to-be-read) pile. This book clocks in at 138 pages, and I blew through it while at my dad’s bedside as he waited to go in for a recent surgery. Ruiz uses Toltec wisdom to frame the four agreements around which people should live their lives to be happy. This is a good book to buy and refer to when needed–in particular for the reminder that other people’s behavior is not about you.

The Task: A book of true crime.

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Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth

I planned to read Vulgar Favors, the source text for American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, last summer but didn’t get around to it until January. While a lot isn’t known about Andrew Cunanan’s motives (he committed suicide before authorities could capture him) this heavily reported book includes stories from Andrew’s friends, as well as authorities from multiple jurisdictions that pursued him during his 1997 murder spree. What stands out in this book was how misunderstood gay communities were by police in the 1990s, which negatively impacted the investigation into Cunanan’s crimes.

The Task: A romance novel by or about a person of color.

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Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

I considered describing Hate to Want You by using like 10 fire emoji–it’s that steamy. Author Alisha Rai and her heroine Livvy Kane are women of color, so this book doubly completes the task. The book blogs I read highly praised this title. In addition to the sexy stuff, this book has a compelling story about a long-running family feud. I am now obsessed with Rai’s work and will soon read the next book in the Forbidden Hearts series Wrong to Need You, which features Livvy’s twin brother Jackson and her sister-in-law Sadia. Note: If you prefer your romance novels chaste then this series is not for you.

I feel quite accomplished being one-fourth of the way through the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Hopefully I can maintain this momentum! I will update you when I finish another six books.

Are you following any reading challenges? Tell me in the comments!

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

The 5 Books I Plan to Read for Summer 2017

16 Jun

Nothing makes a librarian happier than recommending books to others, so I was delighted when my niece FaceTimed last week to ask for summer reading suggestions. She starts high school in the fall and is required to read a nonfiction book and a fiction book during the summer, which she will do while she is away at camp. This also inspired me to think about my own summer reading, so I will tell you about the books I suggested for my niece, and what I plan to read.

(Don’t forget that the Hoboken Public Library is here for all your summer reading needs, with print books, eBooks, audiobooks, and more. Our Summer Reading Programs for all ages kick off Thursday June 22, where what you read this summer puts you in the running for prizes! And of course, we will celebrate our reading successes once summer ends.)

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My niece: isn’t she a cutie? ❤

Recommendations for My Niece

My suggestion for nonfiction was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (Click here to find this title in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, large print, and eBook.) This book about Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose still-growing HeLa cell line has been used in more than 60 years of scientific and medical progress, has been a sensation since it was first published. It is a hybrid of biography about Henrietta, her family, and where she grew up in rural Virginia; history of racist practices against poor blacks in medical settings (Henrietta’s cells were taken during a medical exam and used in research without her or her family’s knowledge and consent); and science writing that is accessible and makes the reader think. This book is absolutely brilliant, and ranks among the best nonfiction I have ever read.

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This book assigned in high school classes, and a friend that teaches high school science gave this book a thumbs-up for teens. I think it will be a challenging and educational read for my niece. However, she is forbidden from watching the recent HBO movie adaptation that stars Oprah instead of reading the text. (This Librarian always prefers the book to the movie.)

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For fiction she wanted straight YA. I first suggested The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which I am currently reading. Starr is a young African American woman straddling two worlds–her gritty urban neighborhood and her pedigreed suburban private school–whose childhood friend Kahlil is shot and killed while unarmed during a traffic stop by a police officer.

The heavy subject matter yielded a nose wrinkle from my niece, and I understand her feeling. Most people want to read light, fun books in the summer. (As you read further into this post, you will see that I am not one of these people!) This book is intense, and has moved me to tears a few times while reading, but The Hate U Give is an impressive debut by Angie Thomas.

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My next YA fiction suggestion was When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (available in print and as an eBook). I haven’t read this book, about two Indian-American teens whose parents are planning an eventual arranged marriage for them who meet in a summer program before college. Rebecca and Liberty from Book Riot’s All the Books podcast say that this book is adorable, and I plan to read it myself. My niece may like the romantic elements and the teen characters. 

I will be writing letters to my niece at camp to check in on her reading progress, and to talk about what she ultimately chose to read.

Next up are books I want to read this summer.

Inspired by the American Crime Story Anthology Series

I watched American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson last year and was riveted. Perhaps the series resonated because I remember the Bronco chase broadcast live on TV in 1994 (and was miffed that the chase interrupted ABC’s TGIF lineup) and the extensive trial coverage. 

In 2018 there where will be two more installments of the American Crime Story series, and I may change my cable cord-cutter status to watch them. The first is about the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace in August 1997 that was part of a killing spree by Andrew Cunanan. (Filming for this series is underway, and photos of Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan are online.) The source book is Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Manhunt in FBI History by Maureen Orth, which reports on Cunanan’s crimes leading up to his encounter with Versace. I love a good true crime story (click here to read my review of The Lost Girls by Robert Kolker) and want to read about this case before the show airs.

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The next American Crime Story will cover Hurricane Katrina. I have written about media inspired by this devastating storm, so I am very interested in this story. The source text is The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley. This is a well-researched, dense volume that will likely take me all summer to get through. I am reading the first chapter now, which discusses the establishment of New Orleans as a port city, its flooding history, and how the vulnerable Louisiana coastline has eroded over the past 200 years.

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In case you are wondering, the source for American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson was The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin.

A Wildcard Pick

My father will happily tell you that he has been exposing me to 1960s music since my early childhood. In the car, the radio was always tuned to 101.1 FM, which was New Yorks’ Oldies station. Now that he’s upgraded to satellite radio, he always listens to the 60s on 6 channel, and sometimes First Wave (the 1980s alternative channel, which is my influence on him).

This exposure has definitely fostered my appreciation of 1960s music. In particular, I am a fan of Otis Redding. This past spring Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life by Jonathan Gould was published. I want to read this well-reviewed biography to learn more about one of my favorite artists, who died in a plane crash before his signature song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released in 1968 and became a hit.

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So, this is my summer reading list. I am also duty-bound to read the books for the Library’s Mile Square City Readers Book Club, the Lady Memoir Book Club at Little City Books, and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge I’m following. So I have no shortage of books to read!

Tell me reader, what are you reading this summer?

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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