Sunday, June 18, 2017

Completed: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

We read this book a while ago and took tons of notes, so I’m going to try to preserve as much of the conversation as possible for this entry….which is just going to be super long! We talked about so much!


How it got on our list


Kelly: I suggested reading this book after a friend asked “Hey, have you read that book A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America? I think you would find it interesting.” I said, “No -- that does sound interesting! I’ll have to look into it.” And then she texted me a photo of the cover. And it was Stamped from the Beginning, which was already sitting on my TBR shelf! Heh. She’s an academic and you know they love their subtitles.

Since then, she’s been using it as a textbook for at least one of her classes and she says that her students are finding it super readable, so I’m looking forward to that. [Ed. Note: To everyone’s surprise “super readable” has a different context in academia than in the jennyandkellyreadbooks blog.]

Jenny: We put it on our list, and I added it to my Amazon shopping cart when I needed to have enough to get the “add-on” items. I was secretly hoping to convince you we should read it sooner rather than later. But after TPB (The Putin Book) and Underground Railroad, I figured we’d have to wait a while. We were so exhausted from those books, would we be ready to tackle something that looked so intense right away? [We weren’t.]


The book

We had a pretty long discussion about the prologue, which isn’t something you can skip. As Jenny said, “it really should have had a different name. Something like, 'Chapter one.'” We talked about how we often skip Prologues, but we're so glad we didn't skip this one, as it outlines three words that are the foundation for understanding racist ideas throughout the entire text. Kendi argues that historically, there have been three sides to the discussion about race in America:
A group we can call segregationists has blamed black people themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has tried to argue for both, saying that Black people and racial discrimination were to blame for racial disparities. (2)
For an example of this IRL, listen to this podcast with Kendi where he explains it in these simple terms: Black Lives Matter is anti-racist, Blue Lives Matter is segregationist, and All Lives Matter is assimilationist. Even though these ideas weren’t exactly new, something about Kendi’s language and description was so clean and precise. Both of us had the experience of reading this book as organizing many of the things we already knew into a more logical and meaningful way in our brains.

Part of the reason this is so important is that Americans believe that assimilationist thinking isn’t racist. But both segregationist and assimilationist thinking is racist. Full stop. Even as a I go back and write this, I feel sort of dumb for not really “getting” that before. But then again, if there’s a second major take-away in this book, it’s to demonstrate just how powerful racist ideas are and the way that they so effortlessly morph and change through the generations.

Kendi argues a second major point in the prologue: racist ideas are created and used to justify racist policies. Policies are created that benefit rich white men, and racist ideas are created afterwards to justify it. As racial progress happens, new racist ideas are created to prevent that progress from happening. In other words, racist policies always come first and racist ideas come along behind to justify them.

It’s probably important to talk about the organization of the book. Stamped from the Beginning advances through American history in chronological order, with each of the five major sections using the life of a famous American at that time for showing the development and advancement of racist ideas: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison,  WEB Du Bois, and Angela Davis. As a general rule, this worked better for us when we already knew a lot about either the person or that historical era. I have previously discussed how the organization of non-fiction can feel inorganic and clunky. It makes sense to use real people to show the power of racist ideas, but the marriage of storytelling to history is never quite seamless.

The first section about Cotton Mather was especially difficult. Neither of us were as familiar with this part of history, and it felt a little boring at times. Kelly said, “For the most part, even when things that I’ve never thought about were pointed out as racist, I was all ‘Yup. Yup. Oh, yeah. I totally see that. Sure.’” But we also discussed the book’s claim that Newton calling “white light” contributed to racist ideas. It raises the question if the words “white” and “black” now *only* refer to race? That was a sincere question, and one that we chewed over for a while. After all, it’s clear as day that even today in pop culture, the good guys/bad buys are often portrayed as white/light and dark/black. Jenny wondered why it’s so easy to see that now, but we struggle when we talk about where those ideas may have originated. We call our skin “white” even though it’s peach or beige. Isn’t white light really “clear” more than it is white?

Of the subsequent chapters, I’d say that I really enjoyed the Thomas Jefferson section because I think he’s the perfect example of how we lionize and excuse horrible racists. I actually want to kick the shit out of anyone who talks about Jefferson being “in a relationship” or “in love” with Sally Hemmings. And Kendi thoroughly debunks all of that, although Kelly did find reference to “intercourse” rather than rape. Overall, Kendi is firmly committed to intersectionality and always discusses how racism combines with sexism and other forms of bigotry.

Kelly found the WEB Du Bois chapter to be particularly strong, especially because his personal journey from assimilationist to antiracist is so compelling. [Kelly here -- adding this a few months after we read this book: I still think about this a LOT. The idea that we all have an opportunity to "do better" and that it's within our power to do so, if we want to. I guess it gives me hope -- if an antiracist historical icon such as Du Bois had to go on a journey to become antiracist then 1. We all probably have some journey to go on and 2. It's a journey we can all take.]

Once we get into this section, the book also starts to take on a weight and heft as the accumulated centuries of racist thought reveal themselves to be so malleable. Even though we’ve been trained to believe that things have gotten better (and they have in so many ways!), it was in this section that we also see how little has changed. As Kendi states, “Racist logic didn’t have to be logical; it just had to make common sense.” (303)

Angela Davis is a bad-ass, and learning more about her was one of the real pleasures of this book. We had a lot of questions about the source material, and at times wished for more extensive endnotes, but that's a pretty minor complaint. Several times, I wished there was a similar book on feminism that told it as a long story.

The Takeaways

Even though we didn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion on Newton, both of us did talk about how the book illuminates the world around us. Over and over again, it challenged what we have both been taught as white people, which is to assume that philosophers, scientists, and thinkers are “neutral” when it fact they are just as steeped in racist ideas as we are, and that they often explicitly advance those racist ideas to further their own agenda.

Throughout the book, we both noticed that the way racism works now is entirely the same as how it worked in the past. Here’s a list of some those moments where we exclaimed something like "This is still the same today!"
  • Rich white people use poor white people to advance their own wealth and power at the expense of black people.
  • Black people’s actions are always viewed through a lens of criminality and deviance.
  • Failures of individual black people to thrive are always blamed on individual choices rather than racist politics and policies.
  • Black women treated as either hyper-sexualized or ignored as hapless victims.
  • White people are always seen as individuals with compelling reasons for their behavior, while black people are always generalized as a part of their group identity.
  • Respectability politics (or "uplift suasion," as our author calls it) is the carrot by which black people are lured into believing whites will accept them, but it never works.
  • White Northerners believe that “real racists” are in the South, so they never evaluate the ways Northerners have created, embraced, and furthered racist ideas
Finally, although this was a often difficult read for a variety of reasons (content, writing style, disconnect with the historical figures), it was well worth it. Reading this book changed both of us --we each think about it ALL THE TIME, and the segregationist-assimilationist-antiracist language will forever be useful to us in both our personal and professional lives.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Completed: Underground Railroad

Dear Jenny,

We kind of struggled to find the right Bitmoji for this one because... oof. Heavy. In the end, we're sad and drinking... together:
"So, we're reading Underground Railroad."
We have both had this book on our TBR shelves for quite some time, but just have not been able to get into it. For me, every time I started it, I just... couldn't. You know, the slavery.

We should also say that this post is FULL ON SPOILERIFIC, if anyone stumbles across this that isn't us!

For you, it was about the author -- you liked Sag Harbor a lot, but have struggled with Whitehead's other books. The thing you were dreading about this book was readability. Turns out, it's extremely readable. I've only read The Intuitionist, which I remember being very readable, but it was also his debut novel, so perhaps before he developed his more impenetrable style? Like Underground Railroad, that book took some liberties with reality (I guess I would call it "magical realism"), which I do tend to enjoy.

This book is masterfully written and we both agreed that "accessibility" is good -- more people will read it (hopefully!) We compared that to Beloved, which was often so difficult read.

I am cleaning up our notes to publish this blog post, and I found this quote. I think it's from you, but we feel the exact same way about this:

"I want every fucking person in the universe to read this. Especially the section on Georgia [the terrifying plantation where Cora begins her journey]. This was terrible. Every person in this country should read this book -- if you wonder why we're in our current state, read this and see how we haven't faced this history."

As you put it, "This book is 'hunting for big game'" -- by showing that each state with a different treatment for slaves, it shows the many facets of slavery and that not every horror is the same, but still horrific. Slavery was terrible. In this book, Whitehead used each state/stop on the Underground Railroad to a illustrate different way that we repressed slaves. We discussed each state separately, talking not only about Cora's life, but also the history it uncovers.

Georgia -- Plantation 
I don't really have a ton of stuff to say about this. I mean, it's a plantation. Her owners are horrible. It's all horrific. We get some graphic descriptions here and it's a good setup for why Cora decides to GTFO. And yet, one of the things that is most interesting about her character is that the reader sees how hard it is for her to imagine freedom. We both admired the bravery it would take to believe that there could be something better worth risking her life to find.

You noticed that the "good" people at the plantation were named "Garner" -- that had to be a call out to the Sweet Home Plantation in Beloved.

South Carolina -- Eugenics
Cora seems to get off to a good start here, as her life is far better (it seems) than on the plantation. She considers staying here, but we both felt the impending sense of: "Look out! Keep running!" while reading this. The dread at what is to come is thick in this chapter.

When she gets put on display as the museum, I wanted to throw up. I actually had to stop reading for a bit. As you said, it's just as bad as any other form of work for a slave. Being on display is dehumanizing. I thought that some people might think "Oh, this isn't so bad..." when they read this and that's part of what made me sick. It's wrong and terrible.

But wait! There's more! The text turns to describing the eugenics movement, which here was about forced sterilization. Jenny, you mentioned being moved by how this grim history is made so poignant when Cora says that taking away people's babies takes away their future. In this way, Whitehead shows that racism steals both the past and future from slaves.

North Carolina -- Unwilling abolitionists
Cora spends and unbearably long period of time in the attic of the the unwilling abolitionists with a horrific view of the Friday night hangings. The people who house her are white people who help in the most perfunctory way possible. They fall into it accidentally, then don't really know how to get out of it with their lives intact. Which, of course, they don't.

You said this: "The maid is a Trump voter. She fucks herself over, but she doesn't care because she fucks over someone else." Exactly. I found that scene to be so horrible -- as she accuses her employers, I thought, "But wait -- you will also lose your job. That's not good for you, either!" But you nailed it. Seeing someone else get fucked is worth it. Ugh.

You also noticed that this is a pretty damning portrayal of the abolitionists. These white people think they know better, are still steeped in racism, and are demanding and unkind. It's impossible to not think of today's struggles where white people always want to "be the voice" for people of color.

Tennessee -- Scorched earth
Looking back on this section, there's lots of clear and specific references in the text to the Trail of Tears. This section seems far more metaphorical, but it reminds me of how after slavery, white people wouldn't allow freed black slaves to own any land. We're reading more about that now in Stamped from the Beginning. I think it's just so clear that the sins of slavery have been sown into the land, making it toxic for generations.

This is also where she and Ridgeway (the slave catcher hunting her) actually speak and talk. She gives him a lot of flak and he takes it. It's clear that Cora would rather die than go back to the plantation and have them kill her in front of everyone as an example.

One thing you particularly remembered about this part was when Cora is rescued by some other black men. She sees one with a gun, and her mind literally can't comprehend. She had never even contemplated such a thing before. It reminded you of Cora's flight from the plantation: everything is new, her whole way of seeing the world has been changed. It's a small moment of character development, but an important one.

Indiana -- the illusion of freedom
Cora is now a black community, which seems ideal. Of course, that cannot possibly stand. Even though she has found love, it's hard not to feel so much dread. The book hammers home again that any prosperity or freedom will be seen as a threat to white people, and they will crush it. It's interesting Ridgeway's own comrade, a boy he'd freed, is the one who betrays them. This book really does take on everything, including internalized racism!  The boy ruins someone else's life but it doesn't matter because he protects himself, or thinks he is avenging Ridgeway. Which, in many ways, reminded me of the maid in North Carolina.

Cora
One of our biggest surprises was how many people in the ToB commentariat this year found Cora to be cold, unknowable, or distant. Neither of us felt that way at all! She wasn't just a character in service to the task of telling the story. As hard as the book was to read because of the content, caring about Cora is what kept us going.

Let's take a look at this response from the Commentariat related to this "Cora was distant" topic. Because it's basically perfect.



Even though it wasn't an intimate character sketch, there were so many small moments that show us Cora. One example that we discussed is when a white abolitionist hugs her and she thinks "This is what it is now? I have to allow white people to hug me?" As you said -- it seems unlikely that a white author could have written that! It's this perfect moment in the text where black readers might think of a time they felt like Cora did, and we hope white readers will put themselves in the shoes of the abolitionist and think about when they were insensitive and careless. It really cuts one way. And it's one reason the book is so brilliant overall -- there's all the big things he's doing, but the best books also have these perfectly formed insights. Here, in this single moment, Whitehead tells us about Cora, but also about ourselves.

In some ways, I likened the Commentariat's judgment of Cora to that scene: "It's not enough that you're reading my horrific story? I also have to be super likeable and knowable to you?"

Finally, we find out about Cora's mother, which was just devastating. After Cora spends her whole life believing that her mother abandoned her, we, the readers, find out the truth: her mother died of a snakebite while she was on her way back to get Cora. And Cora will never know that. That's one more horror of slavery: not knowing what happened to your loved ones. Even worse: being separated from your family is what happened when you were a slave, and it's also what happened when you were free. This book. Even after escaping slavery, they were still in danger. Cora blames herself for not running when her lover thinks that they should. She should be able to stay where she is free. She ends up on the run. There's no rest.

Wrapping it Up
It was almost impossible not to read the book in light of where we are now as a country. Never facing up to the truth of slavery, still not being able to face up to the truth of slavery, not being able to see how racism just readjusts and finds a new path for itself has left us a broken country.

I thought that this quote summed up the "what was true then is still true now" situation:
And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes — believes with all its heart — that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are. [285]
We both agreed that this book was brilliant. I'm not sure this "review" did it justice, but as we've discussed... our brains are like sieves these days. There's a constant stream of "FUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCKKK!!" running through our heads that is, at best, distracting. So.

Read this book, America. You'll be better off for it.

love,
kelly

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Completed: The Man Without a Face

Kelly,

Continuing the 2017 Bitmoji theme... we actually used these in a text conversation about this book! I guess this probably says all you need to know about what this book was like for us.



Whelp. You and I read this really depressing book together, basically trying to be better citizens of the world... but mostly scaring the shit out of ourselves. After the 2016 US presidential election and the news that Russia had influenced the outcome, I asked a FB friend with extensive Russia knowledge to recommend something to read. Kristina recommended this book, The Man Without a Face, saying that you can't understand modern Russia without understanding Putin.

It's easy to summarize this book: Putin does terrible things! But our reading was definitely filtered through the experience of reading with a newly inaugurated tRump in the White House. For both of us, it was discomfiting to read what feels like a futurecast of how things could or might turn out here. You took to calling it "tRump's playbook" (or I guess, Bannon's playbook?), which seems terrifying. I don't want to live in a dictatorship! What can we do to stop it?

In fact, we spent a lot of time talking about how we were grateful that it had been written pre-tRump. Had it been written after, it seemed likely we would have concluded that the Putin's flaws were massaged to highlight the similarities to tRump. Perhaps we would have been skeptical, but since it was written years ago, it was there for us to discover on our own.

One of the pleasures of this book is how great the writing is. Gessen is a journalist, and she weaves a tight and highly readable tale of Putin's rise from lowly KGB agent to Russian President. She makes it easy to follow the complex geography of places and people that populate the book.

However, I think for both of us, it was impossible to read descriptions of Putin's worldviewhis greed, his pettiness, his need to control and manipulate others, his megalomania, his inability to have others question himwithout thinking: this sounds like an exact description of tRump! Here's a selection of some of those lines below:
"No one is easier to manipulate than a man who exaggerates his own influence" (18). 
"Putin could not resist taking it all...On several occasions, at least one of them embarrassingly public, Putin acted like a person afflicted with kleptomania" (258). 
"The person I described in this bookshallow, self-involved, and not terribly perceptive, and apparently very poorly informedwas indeed the person running Russia, to the extent that Russia was being run" (304).
I think there were a few scenes that stood out to both of us: Putin and his wife returning from Germany with a 20 year old washing machine, an unbearable luxury in Russia; the stealing of the Super Bowl ring from the Patriots owner; and the chilling scene where the author meets Putin, only to realize he doesn't know who she is. All dictators are out of touch with the people whose lives they destroy, either from disinterest or from the people around him being afraid to tell him the truth. Impossible not to make the connection to tRump, who shows us every day that he knows nothing about our country, its citizens, or our government.

Here are a couple of "notes" that you made in your book that sum up how we felt as each new Chapter of Doom piled on:

Given tRump's open war on media going on at this very moment in our country, this does not seem like a good sign for us. That chapter was followed by:



Also Not. Good.

This chapter read like a harrowing account of what is going to happen to our own country, and soon. Granted, we have had democracy longer than Russia has, but there were many, many parts of this plan that felt like, "Oh... that's... totally plausible..."

Both of us found the description of how Putin harnessed right-wing hatred for LGBTQ Russians to create a kind of axis of hatred to be surprising and terrifying, especially after there was some hope demonstrated with the marches and the voter turnout! After he decided to attack the gays, other countries banded together behind that flag of hatred and decided he was a man on a holy mission.

Who are we fighting, Kelly? I don't know about you, but the descent to this kind of tribalism scares the everloving crap out of me. I want people to be better. We talked about the differences between our country and Russia, our long history of freedom, widely available social media, education – but will that be enough to save us from those who embrace hatred and authoritarianism as the twisted new American way?

Jenny

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Completed: A Confederacy of Dunces


Kelly, 

Talk about taking one for the team! Our read of A Confederacy of Dunces to start off the year came about in a really weird way. I had posted some dumb Facebook challenge--sum up the plot of your favorite novel in six words---and my husband posted a six word description of A Confederacy of Dunces. You texted me the equivalent of WUT?!?! and a book challenge was born. 

Basically, we agreed to read (re-read for you, first time read for me) this book, and Darrell agreed to read along with us and be our special guest. 

When we started, your two mindsets could not be more different. Lol. 






The Rereaders and DNFer
Darrell first read this book in a college class (editor's note: LONG TIME AGO!) on Southern Fiction. One of the most interesting parts to me is that Darrell said, "changed my perspective on the South." As you know, the South is not Darrell's favorite place (editor's note: this is a radical understatement), so reading something that helped explain this place and that was also a farce was a real win for him. Farce has always been one of his favorite genres in comedy, and he didn't know it existed in "literature" until he read this book.

Kelly had already read it and *ahem* disliked it. She read it with a book group, and as far as she can remember, they read it as straight fiction, not as a farce/satire/etc. She cannot remember anyone thinking the book was funny; everyone hated the main character and everything he did and wondered why anyone would enjoy this book.

Jenny had started this book at some point---it was her husband's favorite book of all time!--but honestly found it so tedious that she gave up in the first 30 or so pages. "We can still have true love and different tastes in books," she remembers thinking.

This time around, Kelly and Darrell read it via aBook while Jenny read the pBook.

Conversation 1
I for one were really happy we talked to Darrell about it as we read. Having him keep saying, "Don't you think it's funny?" helped me get to the parts that were truly humorous. For me, that wasn't until Ignatius got the job at the Levy Pants factory.

Darell pointed out that the most biting satire is about work: who works, who doesn't, who has to work, who doesn't work, who is made to work. We all liked the character of Trixie, who is forxed to work even though she only wants to retire. Furthermore, with the setting being New Orleans--- it places the book firmly in relationship to the Civil Rights movement. This leads to the ultimate question: what is the ultimate concept of work in a place like the South, where people were forced to work? This setting allows the author to explore modern influences in our society and how they've adapted to the systems of our culture--sexism, racism, feminism, etc.

Kelly noticed that the author was an especially astute observer of race relations, which is not a skill we attribute  to that many white folks, especially white folks in the 60s. In fact, with this ridiculous character, the author recognizes that this is not the right way to bridge the racial divide. This is a topic that is being addressed far more publicly today (2017) so it's interesting to see Toole recognizing it in the 1960s. Darrell agreed, saying that the best part about the writing how observational it is, hitting on all these details without shying away from what he sees.

Darrell talked about the description of what he saw as the "passivity of southern black culture" in the text. He went on to say, "My relationship to people I grew up with in the south--I had a friend like Ignatius, his dad committed suicide--his house looked like a plantation. He never worked! I always had a job, but he never had to work. And the whole notion of work was scary. He had an elitist perspective about work." I thought this was especially interesting because I think one of the things that Darrell and I have most in common is a belief in hard work.

We wrapped up the first conversation by talking about some of the female characters, especially the Mother. She's this fascinating creature that is a complete paradox: nature vs nurture; her pride and intolerance of her son; her spoiling and shaming of him. Kelly pointed out that the "donut scene" where she offers Mancuso the leftover, picked over donuts is the author's way of making sure we know that Mom is the one who created and is feeding the beast that is Ignatius. Jenny did a lot of inappropriate giggling at all of the homoerotic imagery used by Ignatious---lots of hot dogs and Dr. Nuts in this book.

Kelly and Darrell both said that the aBook is terrific and laughed over Jones' pronunciation of "whoa" and "ooowee."

Convo 2:
I didn't take as many notes this time. We talked a lot about how this book is character-driven vs. plot-driven, and the various challenges that presents to the reader.

The plot itself just builds to a farcical crescendo, the most memorable part of which might be Ignatius running around New Orleans with a cutlass! Darrell admired how the author was crafty in the way he created the story, demonstrating how we're all interconnected. We can complain about everything but you'd be surprised how much gravitas you carry for the people around you. Darrell said, "There's no plot!" and Jenny grumbled, "Yes, that's my problem!" Lol.

As a character, Ignatius always blames everyone else for his problems, but his perception of why things are the way they are---fortuna--which compels everything to happen, and he's powerless to help it. We all thought he was pretty loathsome and unwilling to accept any responsibility, but he's  a catalyst, making things happen for all the characters around him. Darrell thought that in this way, Ignatius stands in for the South itself, it carries everyone down a road, it impacts who they are, their outcomes,  but anyone can better their situation. He thinks that the people who end up okay have some sort of impetus, motivation, or drive.

The ending was sort of a let down. Since I was the only one reading a pBook, I could tell that the book was ending, but Kelly said she was surprised it had ended. Especially with the frenetic pace of the plot up until the street fight, the ending just seemed to lose its steam. Darrell, though, pointed out that it played, tempo-wise, very much like a Mardi Gras funeral. The slowness, the mournfulness, seemed almost purposeful.

I honestly would not have enjoyed the book nearly as much without all the conversation, and I'm sure that Darrell and Kelly felt the same way.

Signing off until Putin strikes. Ooowee!
Jenny

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Our books for 2017

Wow! This is our seventh year of committing to reading books from our To Be Read (TBR) piles and talking about them on this here blog. Dang!

New Format for 2017

For the previous six years, we each selected our own list of books and worked on them independently. For the last two years, we have also chosen a few books to read together throughout the year. Since we enjoyed that so much (and kind of struggled to get through our independent lists in 2016...), we decided to read all of our books together this year. 

So this has turned into a little 2-woman virtual book group. (We do have a special guest in January to mix things up, though.)

2016 was the first year that we were not a part of a larger reading challenge. We missed that experience, so we looked around and found... the Book Riot 2017 Read Harder Challenge.

We then went through our TBR shelves and chose books that we had that would fit the 24 Read Harder (RH) categories and we compiled our joint list for 2017:



Our 2017 Books 

Our chosen books, in alphabetical order (RH categorie[s] that the book fulfills are in parentheses):
  1. Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
    (book set in Central or South America/written by a Central or South American author; book published between 1900 and 1950 )
  2. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
    (debut novel) 
  3. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio
    (book published by a micropress) 
  4. The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer
    (fantasy novel)
  5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    (book about books; book you’ve read before) 
  6. for colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange
    (classic by an author of color; collection of stories by a woman)
  7. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    (book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country)
  8. The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen
    (book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location)
  9. Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
    (book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative)
  10. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
    (book about war)
  11. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North
    (superhero comic with a female lead; all-ages comic)
  12. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
    (book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color; book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey)
  13. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil
    (nonfiction book about technology)
  14. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
    (travel memoir)
Note: We choose 14 books in case any of them are unbearable and we need to ditch them. In the past, we have aimed to read 12 per year. Of course, if we want a chance at "winning" the challenge, we'll be readin' all 14. Stay tuned!

There were 24 categories on the form (<-- that is the form with our books filled in) and these are the ones that we did not select books for together:
  • A book about sports. (Jenny feels confident that a ToB book is going to fulfill this category.)
  • A book that is set within 100 miles of your location (since we don't live less than 200 miles apart, no one book could fit this for both of us. Jenny is going to read Negroland by Margo Jefferson and Kelly is going to read The Sugar House by Jean Scheffler. We may or may not report on these here. It's our blog, so we do what we want. Heh.)
  • A YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+ (Jenny recommends Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee, which fills both this category and the next, but she's already read it.)
  • An LGBTQ+ romance novel.
  • A collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.

Reading and Discussion Schedule

As we go through the year, we'll update this for ourselves...
  • January: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (w/ special guest: Darrell!)
  • January/Feb: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen 
  • Post-Putin/Pre-UG Palette Cleanser: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North
  • Feb/March: Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead 
  • March/April: Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi 
  • May: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman 
Whew! That was a lot of information. But hey, we'll be happy we wrote all of this down in another seven years when we say "Wait... how did we pick our books that year?"

Now let's get reading!