There's nothing quite like stepping into a library. Whenever I move to a new place (which is often), I look for the nearest library first. I need the community, and writers have to read A LOT. It shouldn't come as a shock that I happily signed up for the Hawaii State Library's 2017 Summer Reading Challenge.
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I'm an indiscriminate reader. That doesn't mean that I necessarily love every book that I read, but I am willing to give almost anything a chance regardless of genre or critical acclaim. Part of this is because I'm a writer, and I understand what it takes to get the ideas from your brain and into the world. The other part of this is because...well... I'm a writer, and writers naturally have to consume a lot of stories.
Beyond my self-serving need to head to the fount of endless stories, there's an altruistic reason to participate in such an event. Libraries do not exist without patrons, and there's a lot of bean-counting that goes into keeping funding flowing. I don't know the ins and outs of all of it, but I do know that if you want to show your library some love, checking out books is a great way to do it.
What did I read?
I didn't discriminate based on genre or book-length. My interests tend to skew toward the supernatural, which is evident in the choices that I made for the last month and a half.
Just to give you an idea of how I fared, I managed to read 7 books between June 5 and July 15th. There are a few other partially-completed stories, but I'm not counting them. Of the books I read, three were from the library, one was downloaded via my Kindle, and three were from my personal collection. My summer reading challenge profile states that I read for about 1,694 minutes, which is nearly 28 1/2 hours.
1. Caffeinated by Murray Carpenter
This is a nonfiction dive into the world of caffeine in all its forms. I learned a lot about coffee beans, chocolate, tea, and energy drinks. Carpenter's analysis of caffeine production was eye-opening. I walked away with a new appreciation for how we structure our language around caffeine. While it has addictive properties like other drugs, it is not as carefully regulated, nor do we talk about caffeine addiction in the same way we talk about other (more dangerous) substances.
I'm not going to stop drinking coffee and tea anytime soon, but it reaffirmed my decision to stop drinking energy drinks, and it made me appreciate how caffeine affects our bodies.
2. O Greenest Branch, Book I of Water by Gael Baudino
This might be the most wonderfully weird book that I read during the challenge, and I wouldn't have found it if it hadn't been for it being in a subscription box (Attic Box- not a sponsor- I just love them). O Greenest Branch is a mid-90s fantasy with some elements that reminded me of Dune. I loved it because I get tired of reading Tolkien rip-offs, and this was nothing like Tolkien.
Some of the structural choices that the author made were unusual. When she wanted to show the thoughts of several parties simultaneously, she accomplished this by setting up multiple columns on the page. Each column was a different person's internal dialogue. WHOA! The story took into account several characters' perspectives, and sometimes the switch between characters wasn't clear at first. Once I got the hang of her style, I was thoroughly entertained by her skill as a storyteller.
3. Medicus by Ruth Downie
One of my most trusted bookish friends recommended this one to me. With a prevailing interest in all things Classical, I was eager to see what Ms. Downie would have in store. I was not disappointed! The author did a fantastic job of bringing ancient Rome to life for a modern audience. The book opens with a murder investigation that felt like it could have happened yesterday. Her descriptions of the baths, the valetudinarium (Roman military hospital), and graffiti were spot-on.
The last thing I wanted to do was read a dry account of a Roman doctor or a poorly researched historical fiction. This was neither. Bravo, Ms. Downie! I can't wait to read the next book. I only regret that I didn't pick up Medicus sooner.
4. The Mermaid's Sister by Carrie Ann Noble
I found this little gem on Kindle Unlimited, and to be honest, I picked it up because it contained supernatural elements and it had free narration available with it at the time. (Listening to books is an important part of my workflow, which I will discuss in another post.) Little did I know that this book won Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Young Adult Fiction and Realm Award Winner for Best Speculative Fiction of the Year (2016).
The story is about--you guessed it--the adventures of a mermaid and her sister. In this case, the mermaid doesn't start her life as a mermaid, but must make the transformation. The book is full fantasy and magic that pulls from classical lore, but also creates its own parameters within the story. I would have enjoyed this as a young adult, and as a slightly older adult, I was still a fan.
5. The Operators by Michael Hastings
I'm going to admit to what may be a cardinal sin in the bookish world, but I actually started reading this because I watched War Machine on Netflix. I have a vested interest in military-related things, and I just had to get my hands on the story. Since the book is based on a Rolling Stone reporter's experience with four-star general, Stanley McChrystal, who was commander of US Forces in Afghanistan during the Obama administration, among other things.
Hastings offered a glimpse of the general's life that no one had seen before. The contents of the book are fascinating, but the information came at a hefty price for McChrystal, who was basically forced to resign after the publication of a Rolling Stone article by the same author.
6. Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill
I'll be nerding out at Comic-Con Honolulu later this month, and C. Robert Cargill will be there. I thought I'd better do some homework in case I get the chance to meet him. Supernatural creatures such as fairies and djinn populate these pages. Cargill explains some raw real-life problems and emotions as a result of the connection between the fairy world and our own reality.
The pacing was a major highlight for me. One scene in which magical creatures gave chase to an unsuspecting human had me peering around the room looking for the monsters lurking in dark corners. This work showcases the beauty and brutality of the fae, and it gives us mere mortals plenty of space to reflect on our own place in the world. I loved it.
7. Letters Composed During a Lull in the Fighting by Kevin Powers
I don't normally go out of my way to snag books of poetry, but when one glides effortlessly into my mailbox (again, thanks to my Attic Box), I indulge. Powers recounts the visceral horrors and emotional turmoil that war-fighters face before, during, and after war. As a military spouse, it hits close to home anytime I think about these things. I couldn't look away, even though I wanted to on several occasions. I think I devoured this in about an hour.
Works by veterans are so important for us to read. Civilians get a window into the burdens that service members carry. Service members and veterans may feel empowered by the stories of others, or at the very least, they might nod in recognition. Each service member's experience is so unique that a single book isn't going to be able to explain the totality of the pressures of service for every person, but through reading, perhaps there's an opportunity to understand how trying circumstances affect people differently.
What are you reading?
Just because most summer reading challenges ended on July 15th doesn't mean you can't keep the spirit of excessive book consumption alive. Reading is a habit. Literacy is a gift.
I don't need a library summer reading challenge to "shop" the shelves. I'll be at my local library every week dropping off last week's entertainment and prowling around for something new. Yes, getting cool prizes and knowing that there are lots of other people committed to the challenge is fun, but the words jammed between the covers are the real prize.
I'm always looking for book recommendations. According to Emily Temple's fascinating post, "How Many Books Will You Read Before You Die?" I can hope to take in a few thousand more before I leave this realm. I need them to count! As the Cromulons from Rick and Morty would say, "Show me what you got!" Tell me what you've been reading, what you hope to read, and what you think I need to read before I die in the comments below.