2016 Sass ‘n’ Brass Book Challenge

It’d probably be more accurate to call this post Brittaini’s book challenge, because Dayna won’t be told what to do by anyone, not even her best bosom buddy (she’s probably going to also be mad that I used the term bosom buddy). And really, the overall point is less that this is a book challenge that everyone should do and more that taking a studied approach to your reading is a good thing, especially within broad parameters that allow for your whims. I’m a pretty firm believer in the tyranny of choice, and having a list of books that you want to read because you think that the list will diversify or focus your reading isn’t bad, and it’s not prescriptive for everyone. Consider this a choose-your-own-adventure book challenge.

My 23 (24?) year old self from 2012 felt called out earlier this month when Jia Tolentino from Jezebel posted Damn, You’re Not Reading Any Books by White Dudes This Year? That’s So Freakin Brave and Cool. A few years ago I did a Year of Women — and I am VERY TEMPTED* right now to insist that I did it before it was cool — and the year was mostly successful, except for that time that I got 250 pages into A Song of Ice and Fire book seven and Jon made fun of me so I threw it across the room (that was Dayna’s book. Sorry Dayna). Since that year my reading has typically been more tilted toward women, and I notice more when books are stereotypically manish and feel more empowered to stop reading them. Life is long, but it is also short, and there are some things that I just don’t have time for.

Tolentino’s piece is worth reading in full, but this is the heart of it:

On its own, the curve away from reading white male authors is extremely rewarding. And, as with pretty much everything that is rewarding in its own right—good sex, thoughtful cooking, giving your money away, spiritual practice (?), fitness (??), children (????)—the nature of the reward skews inherently private, evident only in its natural effects.

In other words, I get why you’d avoid reading 10:04 or what have you; I don’t understand why it’s ever more productive to say so than just to read something else and (omitting the part about your commitment to social justice) talk about that. Justification for obviously rewarding acts is always unnecessary, and in the case of reading “diverse” writers, the reward can be meaningfully deflated by the announcement of the act itself. The people most excited to say, “Uh, I’ve actually been reading a lot of Nigerian writers lately?” tend to be white people; the space taken up by being interested in one’s own Here’s Why I’m Only Reading X Minority Group project is often counterproductive to the point.
Even though I felt called out, I still wanted a book challenge, so I put one together for myself based on criteria I stole from places like the #BustleReads challenge and threw in a few extras. One of the other problems with book challenges is they often include categories that I’m just not interested in and know I won’t do. I’m not going to read a book to a stranger child, for example, even if that is a good and right and joyful thing.

Without further preamble, here’s the list:

    1. A book written by a person under 25
    2. A book written by a person over 60
    3. A book about non-western history
    4. A graphic novel by a lady
    5. A memoir from Mary Karr’s list
    6. A book written in 2016.
    7. A book written 100+ years ago
    8. A book of essays
    9. An old favorite
    10. A translated book
    11. A book of short stories
    12. Five books from the 2016 Tournament of Books
    13. Something gathering dust on my shelves

I’m planning on blogging these books over the course of the year, maybe doing a recap (of the books) at the end. If you want to follow along, great! Look for the SnB Book Challenge tag. If not, no hard feelings, you do you.

*Clearly I am not good at all at resisting temptation.