Thursday, June 8, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #s 2 -- A Debut Novel and #12-- A Fantasy Novel

Read Harder Challenge #s 2 and 12

I have decided to participate in Book Riot's "Read Harder" challenge this year, information about which can be found at this link. But in case you don't want to click on that link, lazy person, here's a copy of the list of reading tasks for the year.

  1. Read a book about sports.
  2. Read a debut novel.
  3. Read a book about books.
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
  6. Read an all-ages comic.
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
  8. Read a travel memoir.
  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
  12. Read a fantasy novel.
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
  14. Read a book about war.
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
  17. Read a classic by an author of color.
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay, bestselling author of AyitiAn Untamed StateBad Feminist, Marvel’s World of Wakanda, and the forthcoming Hunger and Difficult Women)
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng, author Everything I Never Told You and the forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, including The Unquiet DeadThe Language of Secrets, and the forthcoming Among the Ruins)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension)

I have already finished numbers 2 and 12 and am going to write a little blurb about each of those books here. I also usually review the books I read on Goodreads and have a little list to the right of the entries on my blog with the titles that I'm "currently" reading. I'm usually in the middle of about five books at a time because I'm almost going to die in like 45 years and I don't have time for luxury over a book for extended periods of time. Aaaaanyway, here's my take on #s 2 and 12.

Read a debut novel.

This challenge doesn't specify when the debut was released so I chose, in as timely a manner as you can get, Carrie Fisher's debut novel Postcards From the Edge, which was published in 1987, when Fisher was 31. I borrowed the hardcover, first edition from my library and it was covered in stains. I mean, I have no idea when the library bought this copy but if it is a first edition, I'll assume it was in 1987 and at some point in the ensuing 30 years, someone took it a beef stew party and spilled a bit of stuff on it. I digress. Grossly.

Carrie Fisher died two weeks ago and the press that followed rightfully discussed her career as an actress and a memoirist. I knew her best not from her iconic Star Wars role but from her witty quips in the film When Harry Met Sally, which I saw when I was about 15 years old. About 20 years ago I picked up a book by her called Surrender the Pink but can't remember a damn thing about it so I consider my reading of Postcards my debut into Fisher as a novelist.

What I remember most clearly about her character in When Harry Met Sally is her sardonic wit and she was also my first exposure to actually liking a woman who lived her life as someone's mistress. I didn't realize how vulnerable a "mistress" could be and I never really thought beyond the black and white of what I understood as adult relationships, but Fisher as Marie in the film made me actually like her, despite of her supremely stupid life choices. I wasn't yet complex enough to understand that moral absolutism is not a thing (or that men and women could actually be friends and never have sex with each other...thanks again, Nora Ephron.) And so, as often happens when you first learn about something or someone during your formative years, I've always ascribed a certain personality to Carrie Fisher.

Postcards from the Edge is described as a semi-autobiographical novel and, knowing from the press and her own memoirs, the heroine (no pun intended) of the story, Suzanne, is Fisher's alter ego. I liked her immediately. Suzanne is self deprecating and really smart about it. She's described by other characters as a funny and intelligent and it becomes evident pretty quickly that she grapples with deeply rooted self esteem issues. These are all things I identify with on a deep level.

She's a Hollywood actress approaching what Hollywood considers "old" ...her 30s and she is pretty addicted to drugs of all kinds and to men who are all severely damaged and bad for her. Normally, characters who suffer this kind of self destruction annoy me. I've never really been a fan of the damaged persona. But the way Fisher writes Suzanne, with her self aware observations and introspective insights, makes me feel a kinship with her. The best writers can do that. I have zero in common with someone like Suzanne: I don't have an addictive personality, am a fairly good judge of character, have less than zero desire for people to look at or pay attention to me and don't really understand the world of Hollywood in the 1980s or now or at any point. But she became someone I wanted to understand and even befriend. There is a whole section in the beginning of the novel that is dedicated to a man named Alex, a man Suzanne encounters in rehab, that is especially striking for its voice. Alex is a tried and true drug addict and reading the scenes of him during his drug binges and highs left me feeling manic. Fisher really had an ear for her characters, probably because she was an actress.

Debut novels can often read very much like debuts...uncertain of their voice, scattered and insecure. Fisher wrote a confident, beautiful and engaging novel and she is funny as hell while doing it.

Read a fantasy novel.

For my fantasy novel, I chose a book from a series called Warriors by Erin Hunter which is a series about clans of warrior cats. The notion of cats as warriors makes me feel warm inside so I decided to read the series. I read book one years ago and so when I picked up book two, titled Fire and Ice I had pretty much forgotten all the main events in the first book. However, and I remembered this about book one, the author (in this case authorS...Erin Hunter is a group of different authors, apparently) has built a pretty vivid world. The clans of cats that live outside the realm of "Twolegs" (humans) and proudly consider themselves as distinct as possible from "kittypets", have their own systems of codes and honor, territory and battle. I'm amazed at the world building of these books because it is cleverly constructed and so easily imaginable when you consider the nature of cats as we know them. I think back to when I was the age group for which these books are written and I would have likely burned right through them all. Instead I was busy with Piers Anthony's Xanth series which I remember being weird and not really something I found gripping. I think I read about ten of those and not really enjoying them all that much, which may have in turn put me off fantasy books altogether. But back to Fire and Ice, it was definitely full of adventure and utterly devoid of humor. That would be my one criticism of the book...I feel in my hear that cats, even clans of warior cats, would have senses of humor.

Now that I'm thinking about them, if I was decrepit and ancient, and didn't have three or four jobs at a time, I'd consider rereading one of those Xanth books to jog my memory. But I am and I do so I won't.

Anyway, I'm not doing this list in any order whatsoever and I'm also reading books outside of this challenge so i don't really know what my next one will be or when. HOW EXCITING!

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