24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: reading challenges

Abby Reads: When I’m Old and Other Stories by Gabrielle Bell

When I’m Old and Other Stories by Gabrielle Bell
Alternative Comics, 2003, 128 pages
Graphic Collection

In a collection of short graphic stories called When I’m Old and Other Stories, Gabrielle Bell describes her life and the lives of others with a grungy art style paired with some pretty bizarre text and narratives. Bell explores the idea of imagining herself, as the title suggests, when she is old, as well as a relationship with a grandparent, the effects of alcohol, and more.111263

Throughout When I’m Old and Other Stories, you’ll likely be reminded of a feel of the ‘90’s, though the collection was published in 2003. It features a grungy, sort-of grotesque atmosphere and style that I have always ascribed to what it was like to be a teenager and young adult in the ‘90s (though I only ever got as old as nine in that decade). Though I haven’t seen Daria, I was reminded of the show, albeit in a darker way than I understand Daria to be from what little exposure I’ve had, with each turn of the page. There’s something delightfully disgusting about When I’m Old and Other Stories, and it is perhaps Bell’s absolute rejection of traditional femininity in the work that makes it so.

But this rejection of femininity often felt like a sort of internalized misogyny. The macho sort of attitude her characters carry, particularly combined with these elements of the obscene, the grotesque, the disgusting, makes When I’m Old and Other Stories feel like an outright accusation against feminine women, though there really is no outright statement I saw that actually gets at that point. This, again combined with a vague feeling that Bell is trying to prove herself or make some sort of point — again, something I couldn’t point out specifically in the work, just a general feeling — made the collection a challenge for me.

There is, perhaps, a deeper meaning here that I’m not getting. There may be layers that better define a point that I simply wasn’t willing to work for. But when Bell’s art style is so unremarkable and the text chaotic and, frankly, often seemingly drug-influenced, I didn’t find that I particularly cared. If Bell was not going to put forth an amount of effort I felt appropriate, I was not going to make up the difference. Of course, When I’m Old and Other Stories was published by a micropress — and one named Alternative Comics. It has a zine feel to it, and I suspect that’s by design in some sense. So, perhaps it’s still my failing that I expected more.

One final struggle I encountered: it was never entirely clear to me what in When I’m Old is autobiographical, what is fiction, what is a mix of the two, and so on. The title would suggest all autobiography, but some elements were too fantastical to be real and some stories conflicted in one way or another. Though Bell’s glimpse into the future in “When I’m Old” is likely some sort of autobiography (an interesting question — can we write autobiographies of our futures?), other stories are far less clear, like “Amy Was a Babysitter.” (The Amazon description seems to clear up this confusion, but the autobiographical influence and degree to which it’s present is still unclear.)

The book is a quick read if you, like I, don’t care to dive too much into it and assume Bell is speaking only on the surface here. It somehow feels significant, but it’s not especially entertaining — rather, it’s depressing in places, which is fine but not for me. I’ll reference more work I haven’t personally engaged with but felt tickling the back of my brain as I read this: Broad City and Girls and, perhaps even Portlandia (which I have seen a bit of). I wondered if When I’m Old and Other Stories represented a sort of prototype for these shows, which I imagine to be depictions of women as human. The difference is When I’m Old is far less commercialized, and perhaps, then, more true to its content.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #21, “Read a book published by a micropress,” and I leave it behind with two hearts.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt, 2016, 368 pages
Realistic Fiction

Beginning at the end of Charles Wang’s beauty industry fortune, The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang follows four-fifths of the remaining Wang family on a road trip across the country to older sister Saina in New York. When Charles Wang loses his money thanks to a nation-wide The Wangs vs the World by Jade Changfinancial collapse, he gathers his wife Barbra, his younger daughter Grace, and his son Andrew before embarking on a trip which will reveal the priorities and desires of each character. A backdrop of a crushed American Dream sets the stage for this Chinese-American family while characters continue to grapple with the death of Charles’s first wife, now dead for many years.

It’s no surprise The Wangs vs. the World got as much praise as it did when it came out. Though Chang is an already-established journalist, this debut novel gets at the heart of first-generation life and the pressures the idea of America held against the country’s inhabitants — particularly immigrants. While I am not Asian myself, I recognized a lot of Chang’s stories from family stories my Chinese-American partner has shared with me. This prompted a lot of interesting introspection on my part, and opened a world that was somewhat new to me.

Chang’s characters are highly individualized, each dealing with their family’s downfall differently, or not at all. This high level of development is necessary to propel the prose forward as the novel is primarily literary fiction, and one that focuses on how an event impacts a group of people rather than how a group of people enact a plot. Like lots of literary fiction, The Wangs vs. the World does feel slow at times. With chapters alternating perspectives, still in the third-person, the novel sometimes struggles to keep an even rhythm with interruptions to reconnect with characters that have been ignored in favor of others and some characters carrying more weight than others. Chang, however, has something for everyone; one character might be supplementary for one person, but totally central to another. For example, Chang’s depiction of Charles’s second wife, Barbra, often felt secondary to me as we are such opposite people in every way imaginable. However, Barbra could easily find identification in the many women like her who read the book. Meanwhile, I found more connection with the three children of the story (Saina, Andrew, and Grace — all at different stages in their emerging adult lives), whose lives are more similar to my own.

While each character has a struggle that is specific to them outside of their shared collapse, Saina’s is perhaps the most disappointing. Though her career as an artist also seems to be in trouble, it is her challenges with men in her life that take the spotlight. Despite her otherwise successful adult life, Saina cannot get around the difficulties these men present her, seemingly feeling incomplete without them. Barbra, however, is just the opposite. Although readers might expect a particular mode of operation from the children’s stepmother, they may well be surprised by Barbra’s personality when it is revealed in full. Her complexity is easily one of the most interesting pieces of The Wangs vs. the World.

On top of examining individuals, Chang uses The Wangs vs. the World to inspect family relationships, particularly in the specific Chinese-American cultural context which offers pressures that are different from other cultures.

Ultimately, The Wangs vs. the World is a fascinating study of a myriad of things, juggled wonderfully by Jade Chang. Despite some moments of jerky pacing, the overall novel is definitely worth the read, even for those who typically stay away from literary and character-driven fiction.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #24, “Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color,” and I leave it behind with three hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Reading Challenges: Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge

If you’re entrenched in the world of books, you’ve probably heard of Book Riot’s annual Read Harder challenge. When I reminded friends on Facebook that the challenge was available, we had a discussion about the appropriateness of the title. Because this challenge focuses several times on people of color and other underprivileged groups and we can pretty easily assume that much of Book Riot’s audience are white, cis-gender, heterosexual folks, there’s an implication that books by and about POC and other underprivileged groups are inherently “harder.”

I think in this case “harder” probably means with more enthusiasm, but the ambiguity alone is troubling. Of course, the challenge doesn’t solely focus on underprivileged groups (the first category refers to reading about sports, for example), so it’s likely this is entirely innocent. If you have thoughts on this, I encourage you to add them in the comments. It’s an important discussion to continue regardless of Book Riot’s intent, and now that we’ve touched on it, I’ll move on to the actual list, what books I’ve selected to fulfill the categories, and the strategy I used to find the books. I hope this will get you started in your own 2017 reading challenge, whether you choose to follow Book Riot’s to a T, to adapt Book Riot’s, to try another challenge, or to make one of your own.

If you’re going to follow the original list, Book Riot has some great resources within the article in the form of embedded links. Many of them redirect to other articles by Book Riot, though you’ll also find some Goodreads lists among others. Otherwise, feel free to use any of the books I’ve listed below or ask me for a recommendation. Meanwhile, check back for reviews of each of the books throughout the year.

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  1. Read a book about sports. Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella – For this category, I knew right away which book I wanted to read. While Shoeless Joe has never officially made it onto my to-be-read (TBR) list, it’s always been in the back of my mind. I grew up watching Field of Dreams (and visited the filming location when I was a toddler) with my dad, so of course I have to get around to this one. I’m glad to finally have an excuse to officially get it on my list and cross it off. 
  2.  Read a debut novel. 

    If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio – This was another I knew I wanted to do right away. I can’t tell you too much about how I know about it (suffice to say an anonymous book blogger wrote a book and, using my handy librarian skills, I found out their identity and thus the title — update, April 2017: I can now tell you that blogger is DukeofBookingham). This novel is soaked in Shakespeare and murder, so what more could you ask for? It’s supposed to come out in April, but the release is still a bit up in the air. I’ve got a Barnes & Noble card saved especially for this one, though, so I can’t wait! Review.

  3. Read a book about books. 

    The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller – This one was not on my TBR, though like Shoeless Joe, I was aware of it and it was a mental TBR. Goodreads has a few lists of books about books, so it wasn’t too hard to find something that interested me. I’m always interested in the reading lives of others, so I’m looking forward to this one with hopes that it won’t give me too many more books to add to my TBR.

  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author. 

    Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez – The funny thing about being a librarian is that customers think you’ve either (a) read every classic work, (b) read every book in the library, and/or (c) read every book in the world. As much as I wish I had the time for that, the sad truth is, I don’t. So I’ve not yet gotten around to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that would fit this category (shame, shame). There’s a reason his books are so beloved, I imagine, so I hope I’ll get an idea why when I dive into this one.

  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative. 

    In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero – If you’ve watched Orange Is the New Black or Jane the Virgin, you’re familiar with Diane Guerrero. In the Country We Love discusses her life in America as her family deals with immigration laws. I’ve been on something of a biography/memoir kick the last couple of years, and I have no doubt that Guerrero is just a brilliant writer as she is actress. This topic is somewhat unknown to me, and I know I’m going to learn a lot from this book. Review.

  6. Read an all-ages comic. 

    El Deafo by Cece Bell – Back when I attended the Virginia Library Association conference in 2015, Cece Bell was one of the authors who spoke in a session. I wasn’t able to attend that one (too many good options!) but I was intrigued by her work, even though I’m not usually one to read graphic novels or comics. Friends with disabilities have pointed to El Deafo as a great piece on disabilities, so I’m definitely itching to check this one out.

  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950. 

    Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – Ah, yes, another classic I’ve never touched. It’s been on my TBR for a while now, though, and I’m happy to whittle down my list in the name of this challenge. (It also fulfills one of the books on the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge!)

  8. Read a travel memoir. 

    What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman – I had to use one of the Book Riot lists for this one. Though I haven’t yet touched Eat, Pray, Love, I wanted to do something I hadn’t heard about a million times over. This work is written by one of the writers of How I Met Your Mother, which I (mostly) loved. I’m sure this travel memoir will be filled with a lot of the same humor found in the show (though hopefully with a touch or more less misogyny) so it’ll be a fun read. Review.

  9. Read a book you’ve read before. 

    Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery – I was on the fence about this one, because I’ve been meaning to reread The Bell Jar and other books, too, but since I have vague plans to visit Prince Edward Island in the nearish future, I thought this would be a fun way to get me extra excited about the trip. Plus, I kind of feel like I need a palate cleanser after seeing the latest film adaptation. Sorry, Ella Ballentine, you have nothing on Megan Follows. Review.

  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location. 

    The Tyrant’s Daughter by J. C. Carleson – This category was a tough one. Most book descriptions don’t include the setting and it’s not often something listed in the subject headings in the library catalog. That’s not always the case, though, so I was lucky to find this one in my library’s catalog by just searching for “washington dc.” Of course, if you live in rural Montana, my guess is you’ll have a harder time finding something (I couldn’t even really pin down anything for Northern Virginia that wasn’t D.C. easily — I found one in Richmond, which is 105 miles away, according to Google Maps, and since I’m a perfectionist, well, that wasn’t going to cut it for me). This is one of the categories that is easier if you’re willing to reread something. Either way, this book looks pretty exciting and a little bit outside the realm of what I usually read. Win! Review.

  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location. 

    Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea has been on my TBR for forever. If you don’t know, it’s an extension of Jane Eyre, telling the story of Rochester’s attic-dwelling wife prior to her imprisonment. It takes place in Jamaica (and the author is from Dominica), a cool 1,434 miles from Arlington, VA so I’m expecting to read of lots of unfamiliar cultural bits, both due to location and history. Review.

  12. Read a fantasy novel. 

    Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – This book has been blowing up in the booklr (bookish Tumblr community) scene, especially since its sequel came out recently. It’s been on my TBR since I heard about it, so I’m thrilled to cross another off that list. This book is also rallied around for its diversity — as I understand it, it features multiple characters of color, characters with disabilities and mental illnesses, and characters of various social and economic classes. (Hopefully one day this won’t be something worth celebrating, but for now, yay!) Review.

  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology. 

    The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson – This was a tough category for me. Nonfiction on technology isn’t really my go-to for nonfiction (I’m more interested in soft sciences there, generally), so I asked a friend for suggestions. He didn’t have any off the top of his head, so I did a basic search for “technology” in my library’s catalog and limited the search to books published in 2016 and nonfiction. I came across this title in that list and, despite the missing Oxford comma, decided it sounded fairly interesting. Isaacson’s name was vaguely familiar to me and the book was listed on a few tech websites as a good read. I’ll let you know how it goes when I get to it.

    Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds by Dale Dougherty – This came to me as a bit of professional development reading. Makerpsaces are fairly big in public libraries among other spaces at the moment, so I grabbed this work and realized it fit the technology category pretty well after I read it. Two birds: one stone. Review.

  14. Read a book about war. 

    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – Oh, war. I really wasn’t up for reading nonfiction for this category. With all of the wars going on right now, I read enough about it in the news on a daily basis. Catch-22 has been on my mental TBR for a while (since, oh, middle school), so this was another good opportunity to buy one, get one. I hear this one is full of just the type of humor that suits me, so I’m hoping it’ll be a good motivator to get me through the beginnings of the upcoming administration.

  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+. 

    Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour – I used one of the Book Riot lists to find this one. It has an absolutely stunning cover and an interesting premise that, according to the ratings I’ve seen on Goodreads, is backed up with some great writing. It’s exciting to read a new-to-me author, as well — I could have gone with the old David Levithan or Alex Sánchez, but I’ve read so many of those that I’m ready for something new. Everything Leads to You seems like the perfect fit. Review.

  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country. 

    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I can’t tell you how long this has been on my TBR and sitting on my shelf. Now that a TV version is coming out on Hulu, I’ve got no excuses. Despite my twenty-five years, I haven’t yet encountered any spoilers for this one, so it’s now or never. I love this particular challenge because it’s a great reminder, outside of Banned Books Week in September, that challenging, banning, and censorship is still an issue we face today. Review.

  17. Read a classic by an author of color. 

    The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – Remember what I said about librarians not reading every book in the world? Yeah, I haven’t gotten around to any Toni Morrison (nor Maya Angelou, nor Alice Walker, nor Zora Neale Hurston — truly my exposure to black women authors is abysmal). Beyond the very simple descriptions I’ve read of the plot, which I understand involves internalized racism, I really don’t know anything about The Bluest Eye — exciting! Review.

  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead. 

    Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson – I’ve said before I’m not big on comics and graphic novels. Occasionally one will catch my interest (Paper Girls was great, for example), but overall, I find the hypermasculinity to be bland and I can’t follow the art well enough, so I focus on the text which causes me to miss a lot of context. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Ms. Marvel, so I’m hoping that it will be another good entry point for me and my journey to read more broadly in format.

  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey. 

    Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova – This category was tough. It’s another that you can’t easily search for in a library catalog or otherwise, so I had to rely on other options. I found this one by using the Book Riot discussion board for the 2017 challenge, which has many recommendations and ideas for all categories. I’d seen the cover floating around social media and was intrigued but it hadn’t yet made it onto my TBR. This looks like a unique and exciting read so I can’t wait to dig in.

  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel. 

    Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sanchez – So, I’ve mentioned I’ve read David Levithan or Alex Sánchez, so those were out for this category. Meanwhile, everyone has been raving about Aristotle and Dante, so I figured this was a good opportunity to cross it off my TBR. I hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s reading of the audiobook is fantastic, so I’m torn as to whether or not I should give that a go or not (since I’m usually not one for fiction audiobooks). If you want to try to sway me toward it, I’ll see you in the comments!

  21. Read a book published by a micropress. 

    When I’m Old, and Other Stories by Gabrielle Bell – Like some of the other categories, this one was tough to search for in a library catalog. Books aren’t cataloged by whether or not they were published by a micropress, but the name of the publisher is always listed in the bibliographic record. I went in search of a list of micropresses, found ones that published material that looked interesting to me, and tried an advanced search in the catalog of books published by those presses. The Arlington Public Library in Virginia had several from Alternative Comics, so I ended up with When I’m Old, and Other Stories. The idea of short stories in a graphic novel format rather than a full-length piece in a graphic novel format is really interesting to me, plus I’ll get more exposure to graphic novels. Review.

  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. 

    Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – I’ve yet to read any of Roxane Gay’s work, and I suppose I should probably start with Bad Feminist, but Book Riot has been pushing this collection so much lately that I figured this might not be a bad place to start, either. While I love writing short stories, I’m usually less interested in reading them (especially contemporary ones). Who’s to say this collection won’t change my mind? Here’s to retrying new things. Review.

  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. 

    The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – I’ve read bits and pieces of The Canterbury Tales (don’t we all get introduced to the Wife of Bath in high school?), but I’ve never read it in full. I’ve always seen this (along with The Aeneid, The Odyssey, and The Iliad among others) to be a piece of literary canon that is capital-I Important and probably necessary to at least skim if you have any intent of writing literary fiction, though I’m sure there are plenty of examples to prove me wrong. Either way, I felt this was an interesting interpretation of the challenge. If you’ve ever tried to read The Canterbury Tales in their original Middle English, you’ve probably been surprised at how much our language has evolved. While I’d love to have the time to learn Middle English and read this set as it was written, life’s short, so I’ll stick with the translation.

  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. 

    The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang – This came as another recommendation from Book Riot. Jade Chang served as a co-host on Rita Meade’s Book Riot podcast, Dear Book Nerd (sadly no longer a podcast but still existing as a written column on their website). While, again, this is a category better filled with a book you’ve already read as books are not cataloged by the narrator’s (or narrators’) race, I was able to find some suggestions in comments of the Goodreads page for the Read Harder Challenge. Review.

So there it is. I hope this provides you with some ideas if you’re planning on taking on the challenge this year or are just looking for something to read. If you’re stuck on a category and need some help searching, feel free to hit up your friendly neighborhood librarian or get in touch with me for a bit of guidance. Recommending books is my favorite, so don’t be shy. What are your reading goals this year? Let me know in the comments!

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