Reading Books by WoC Authors: A Permanent Resolution

A friend gave me a copy of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was 17, and I was completely changed by it. I remember being so crushed by the heavy topics, but also blown away at Angelou’s carefully-crafted prose. She was writing about some of the most difficult times in her life, yet I could not stop reading.  She was able not only to put those feelings and experiences into words, but she wrote them so beautifully that I remember needing to read some things aloud. After reading the book, Maya Angelou became (and still remains) one of my favorite authors of all time. I keep my now-tattered and yellowing copy on my shelf, to remind me of why I read. 

This was the first time that I became faintly aware of  my need for diverse authors, specifically women. After reading Angelou, I sought out and found Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Jaqueline Woodson, Adeline Yen Mah, Isabel Allende, Gloria Anzaldua, Zora Neale Hurston, and many others. These voices informed my reading tastes that remain intact today. 

A couple of years ago, I began tracking my reading habits. After awhile, I was surprised to find that I had not read from as many WoC authors as I thought I had, or would have liked to have read. So I became more strategic about my reading goals the following year, and made reading from WoC a priority. At the end of that year, my stats showed that I had read more than double the amount of WoC authors than I had the year before. I discovered so many new voices, and in the process, made more online book friends. 

So many working WoC authors are publishing books right now,  and I make my best effort to share, support, and read their titles. I follow sources that consistently publish lists and reviews directing me to books by WoC authors. Yet at the same time, I feel like I could be doing more.

To ensure that I am being more specific about my approach to achieve the ongoing personal goal of reading more WoC authors, I have set for myself the following plan: read at least 2-3 books by WoC every single month. Setting reading goals may seem trivial to some, but it is one thing to want to do something, and quite another to engage in a focused practice to get there. 

This is my personal goal because I  want to read from a variety of voices and experiences that I can relate to and learn from.

I want to hear from women whose experiences are different from mine.

I want to be challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone.

A plethora of books have been and are being written by WoC, and they’re not being circulated widely enough. There is definitely a lack of WoC representation across all forms of media, but especially in the publishing industry. In a time where conversations about diversity and inclusivity have become more normalized than ever before, there is still so much work to be done, particularly in publishing. 

I urge you to pre-order and purchase books by WoC, read them, and share them with friends and family, IRL and on social media. In doing so, you are helping to create a demand for publishers to put more women authors into print, which will ensure that more people (especially younger readers) can have access to voices that represent them.

 

 

2020 Reading Goals

Making my reading goals public has kept me accountable for the past couple years, so I’m very excited to be sharing the ones I have made for myself this year. I started thinking about these early December (right after the whirlwind that was NaNoWriMo). I sat with these goals for a little bit, tweaking the ones from previous years just a bit to suit my ever-shifting thoughts and tastes. I’m really proud of what I came up with:

 

Read one book.

(Yes, just one.) Last year I was able to crush my personal reading goal (51/30 books read in 2019), and while I didn’t feel immense pressure, the number did linger in my mind quite a bit. To avoid any kind of worry about numbers, I made my goal to read 1 book this year. For me, I think this will help keep the focus on every book read as a win.

Focus on my unread shelf.

As of this writing, I have 134 unread books on my shelf, which is considerably more than the 80ish I had last year. (I blame all the book sales!) I have created a TBR jar containing all my unread titles, from which I will draw at least two books that I MUST READ every month.

Read more Women of Color (WoC) authors.

This is and will always be a priority of mine. To ensure that I am keeping up with this goal, I plan to read at least 2-3 books written by a woman of color each month, with at least one book by a Latinx author.

 

That’s it! My goals are definitely much simpler than they were last year (reading and life-wise), and I’m so excited to work on them throughout the year and check back later.

Do you have any goals similar to these, or completely different? Let me know! Also, if you have any other tips or motivators for sticking to reading an unread shelf, please share.

2019 Reading Wrap-Up (goals, stats, top ten + more)

It is so crazy to be writing this. 

It doesn’t feel like long ago that I was writing a mid-year reading goal check-in, and now here we are. 

Before I go into evaluating how I did on my 2019 reading goals, here are my 2019 reading stats:

51 books read

22 WoC authors (43%)

40 Women authors

24 from my shelf

27 Library books 

 

[Note: Although I do record more stats, these are the stats directly related to my 2019 reading goals. I will share the other stats I track in another post.]

These stats make me incredibly excited, especially when I compare them to my 2018 stats from last December:

30 books read

10 Women of Color authors

27 Women authors

22 from my shelf

8 library books

(I love the growth from 2018 to 2019 so much!)

This brings me to my 2019 reading goals and reflections:

Read 30 or more books.

I totally crushed this goal! At the end of 2018, I said that I wanted to read more than I had all year, and I exceeded that goal by 21 books! I’m so excited about this. For 2020, however, this goal is going to shift drastically. I will share more on that in a future post.

Read more books by women of color authors.

I am so thrilled that 43% of what I read this year was written by women of color authors, compared to the 33% that I read last year. This is progress! However, I can still do better in 2020.

Read more from my unread shelf.

Okay, so by unread shelf, I also mean books that I go buy and then immediately put on my unread shelf. (Which happened alot in 2019 thanks to book sales haha.) My unread shelf went from 81 unread books at the end of 2018 to 131 unread books as of this writing. That is ridiculous! I’m putting myself on a book buying ban and have made myself a TBR jar to begin using in January. 

Read more library books.

It goes without saying that I crushed this goal. I went from having read 8 library books in all of 2018, to 27 library books read this year. (This is not counting all the books my kids have checked out and enjoyed as well.) It is going to be hard to not check out as many books next year, but I think I really do need to prioritize my unread shelf. 

Read what I want, when I want.

(my thoughts & progress on this has not changed. This is what I wrote in June of 2019. It still applies.)

So this is something that is difficult to track, but nevertheless a priority I’m always trying to remind myself of. I think a lot of bookish people can agree that sometimes we place unnecessary pressure on ourselves with concrete to-be-read lists, read-a-longs, readathons, and buddy reads. Many times, there’s just pressure to keep up with reading the latest books, or the books that a lot of your friends on bookstagram are reading. I still struggle with putting pressure on myself to read certain things or to stick to my TBR even if my heart wants to read something else. While these pressures can be normal, sometimes it does affect my mental health and productivity. In those moments, I try to remind myself that reading and sharing my reading on the internet is supposed to be FUN. Because if it becomes too serious or a drag, then what’s the point?

 

Finally, I’d love to share my top ten reads of the year, as well as all the new-to-me authors I discovered!

IMG_0660

Favorite books I’ve read this year:

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Well Read Black Girl by Glory Edim

Can We All Be Feminists? Edited by June Eric-Udorie

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Love Sugar Magic by Anna Meriano

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis

 

New-to-me Authors I’ve read this year:

N.K. Jemisin

Raina Telgemeir

Melissa Albert

Ampora Yazdani

Brian K. Vaughn

Glory Edim

Renee Watson

Madeline Miller

Jessica Townsend

Oyinkan Braithwaite

Hope Larson

Natalie Goldberg

V.E. Schwab

Lyn Patterson

Melissa Rivero

Noelle Stevenson

Tayari Jones

Angela Cervantes

Justina Ireland

Bryan Stevenson

Rebecca Traister

Alexandra Villasante

Claudia D. Hernandez

Zoraida Cordova

Isabel Sterling

Gabby Rivera 

Francesca Zappia

Ann Davila Cardinal

Emma Steinkellner

Lily Anderson 

Carolina de Robertis

Rainbow Rowell

 

These numbers and lists make me so happy! Especially all the new-to-me authors I picked up this year!

I’m so pleased to say that 2019 has been my best reading year ever. Preparing this post and tallying up numbers and goals and lists has just affirmed that I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing. Here’s to a wonderfully bookish 2020!

 

 

Book Review: Lost Children Archive

IMG_0369.jpg

 

Reading this book was a delight, annotation-wise. Beautiful sentences, haunting images, and bold experimentation. The narrative style was very meta; we read a book within a book and examined photos that the characters took and discussed and placed meaning upon. My hardback is thoroughly annotated and tabbed to re-visit in the future.  Clearly, Luiselli is a gifted writer, which is no doubt why she recently won the MacArthur genius award. However I went into this book expecting to learn/experience more about immigrant children and what they go through. I expected to maybe hear from them about their thoughts and hopes and dreams. Instead, we hear about them secondarily through the observations of the woman in the story as she takes in news stories and other media while she’s on a road trip with her family, during which her marriage and family are on the verge of falling apart. For her, the desire to work on a project about immigrant children started as an interest, and I hoped to see it grow and develop. She did express that she did not feel she could “do them justice” in  a way, so perhaps that is the point of the story.

What I love about the bookish community online is that my reading can be both as personal and as communal as I choose it to be. I shared in both the beauty of this work, and my questions about it as I read it slowly throughout September. I buddy-read this with Edna from @readwithedna, and we shared in our love of the beautifully crafted words, our annotations, and emotions. We thought about possible meanings and privilege. Mari from @academicmami and I had a quick discussion about the author’s intentions. What are they?

I came across a piece of writing advice from Tayari Jones who learned from The Great Toni Morrison that we should not write about problems and their people, but about people and their problems. Perhaps this is what Luiselli did here in Lost Children Archive. Rather than make the plight of immigrant children the main focus of the work, she made it something bigger and outside of the main character and her family. Perhaps this is why the woman expressed self-doubt at even coming close to creating art about this issue:

“Ethical concern: And why would I even think that I can or should make art with someone else’s suffering? Pragmatic concern: Shouldn’t I simply document, like the serious journalist I was when I first started working in radio and sound production? Realistic concern: Maybe it is better to keep the children’s stories as far away from the media as possible, anyway, because the more attention a potentially controversial issue receives in the media, the more susceptible it is to becoming politicized, and in these times, a politicized issue is no longer a matter that urgently calls for committed debate in the public arena but rather a bargaining chip that parties use frivolously in order to move their own agendas forward” (p.79).

Luiselli’s writing style is very meta, so I believe this is her expressing her own opinion through her main character. Perhaps it’s not that she tried to treat the immigrant children as an after-thought, but as something so much grander than herself than she knows what to do with. I think this is something a lot of readers may be able to connect to: desiring to do something, or even actually doing something, but feeling that it will never be enough in the face of monumental problems that innocent children must carry that so many of us will never understand.

I read this book as a work in itself, without any outside knowledge about the author, her other work, or any other secondary resources. I read this book slowly, marking up pages with underlines, questions, and hearts next to my favorite parts. I’ve read nothing but mixed reviews on this one and have come to the conclusion that this book will stay with me because I don’t know what to make of it at the moment. I think I need to read more from Luiselli to determine a more well-rounded opinion. This is one I will return to next year, after a bit of outside research.

If you’ve read this one, what do you make of it?

Other notable quotes:

“Although a valuable archive of the lost children would need to be composed fundamentally, of a series of testimonies or oral histories that register their own voices telling their stories, it doesn’t seem right to turn those children, their lives, into material for media consumption. Why? What for? So that others can listen to them and feel– pity? Feel– rage? And then do what? No one decides to not go to work and start a hunger strike after listening to the radio in the morning. Everyone continues with their normal lives, no matter the severity of the news they hear, unless the severity concerns the weather” (p.96).

“The story I have to record is not the story of children who arrive, those who finally make it to their destinations and can tell their own story. The story I need to document is not that of the children in immigration courts, as I once thought. The media is doing that already, documenting the crisis as well as possible — some journalists leaning more toward sensationalism, their ratings escalating; others adamant about shaping public opinion, this way or that; and a few others simply committed to questioning and fathoming. I am still not sure how I’ll do it, but the story I need to tell is the one of the children who are missing, those whose voices can no longer be heard because they are, possibly forever, lost” (p. 146).

Latinx Heritage Month Reading Plans

This year, Latinx Heritage Month will be celebrated from Sunday, September 15th to Tuesday, October 15th, and I. Am. Ready. We should make an effort to read and celebrate Latinx authors year-round, but this is a particularly important time to do so alongside other readers. I’ll be participating in 2 readathons this month, and will be following a special tour on bookstagram to find Latinx titles to add to that never-ending tbr list.

Latinxathon is a readathon that kicks off Latinx Heritage month and runs from September 15th to the 24th. There are really fun reading challenges designed to celebrate the contributions of Latinx authors. More information can be found on their Instagram and Twitter pages (@latinxathon is the handle for both).

I’m so excited for all the books I decided on for each challenge/prompt:

IMG_0290

VOICES: Read a book written by an Indigenous or Afro-Latinx author

For this challenge, I selected WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo. I’m very excited for this one! I read her first novel-in-verse last year, and fell in love with her writing. I look forward to seeing what her prose is like.

LATINIDAD: Read a book by an intersectional Latinx author

I’m reading my very first Anna-Marie McLemore for this challenge. I’ve heard great things about WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS and just about her work in general. I cheated and read a few pages and love her writing style!

ROOTS: Read a translated book or a book featuring more than one language

Back in July, I won a copy of KNITTING THE FOG by Claudia D. Hernandez from Feminist Press. It is a debut memoir that features poetry and short stories in both English and Spanish.

HERITAGE: Read a book written by an author from a non-Spanish speaking Latin American country or heritage

I’m super late to the Ibi Zoboi party, but never late than never. I’m picking up PRIDE to suit this challenge.

#LatinxLitTakeover: Read the group book – The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

I’m waiting on my copy from the library, so it is not in the photo, but the synopsis of this new book sounds very interesting.

Bonus challenge: Read books written by authors representing a different Latinx heritage

Also happening this month is Latinx Book Bingo, which runs for the duration of Latinx Heritage Month (Sept. 15th – Oct. 15th). Their goal is to highlight books about Latinx characters and by Latinx authors. The creators designed a fun challenge grid to guide your picks this month:

More information can be found on their Twitter: @LatinxBookBingo.

What I love about these readathons/challenges is that the books you select can overlap; all the titles I picked for Latinxathon can also be used for Latinx Book Bingo. The creators of both reading events will be reading the same group book, The Grief Keeper. So exciting!

While I’m definitely set with my reading plans for the next few weeks, I’m also going to be on the lookout for more books by Latinx authors, and there’s no better place to look than on Instagram under the Latinx Bookstagram Tour hashtag. Lupita from @lupitareads is hosting the #LatinxBookstagramTour again this year, where Latinx bookstagrammers, readers, and published authors share their personal favorites as recommendations. You can count on finding great recommendations throughout Latinx Heritage Month, so be sure to follow Lupita and her hashtag!

Any other bookish events going on this coming month I should know about? What are you reading for Latinx Heritage Month?

Book Review: Good and Mad

IMG_0248

Things the author did that I really liked:

-she pays credit to WoC, specifically Black women activists; she does not gloss over their work in any way (like other books I’ve read/DNF’d)

-she put different theorists in conversation with each other to make her points

-acknowledges/addresses and unpacks her own privilege, and white privilege, specifically the privileges of white feminists, especially during the Me Too movement

Thoughts:

Months ago, long before I picked it up in August, I read a wonderful review of Good and Mad by a lovely person that I follow on Instagram who felt that the book was written too soon, because the events she discussed were just so recent. I found her points completely valid, but I totally appreciate that the author wrote this book when she did. In Good and Mad, Traister’s focus is on the power, history, impact and future of women’s rage.

More than anything, this book has offered full voice and research to what I thought and felt during the 2016 election and after. It brought back memories I  didn’t realize I’d been suppressing, forcing me to re-visit a difficult time in my life. Election night fell on my 25th birthday, and the next day I was devastated. I was teaching at the time, and some of my students expressed real fear for themselves and their undocumented family members. It was a time when sadness and fear and anger were extremely palpable and ever-present. This book definitely pushed me to re-visit those memories, to address the emotions they evoked, and to begin to work through them. For that, I am deeply appreciative.

Traister takes us through the experiences of many women, herself included, around this point in time. She wrote a section about the #MeToo movement, and connected it to the underlying corruption in the patriarchal system that built and runs the U.S. While much of what she wrote is enough to make one enraged and sad while reading, the last section is a bit more hopeful. She highlighted the activist work that women have engaged in since the Women’s March in early 2017, and offers suggestions and methods for channeling our focus into getting things done. I found some hope and validation in the last pages.

This is definitely a book that I will re-visit in the future. If you’ve read this one, what did you think of it?

 

 

How I Annotate My Books

IMG_0272

I recently got some questions on an Instagram post about how I write in my books, and my response was too much for the character count, so here we are. Before you continue reading, it might be helpful to read this post I wrote awhile back about my rationale for annotating.

My tools for annotation: pen, pencil, highlighters, post-its, sticky tabs, and my reading journal.

Before going into specifics, the way I annotate depends on whether or not I own the book I’m reading. If it’s my book, I’ll write all over it, insert post-its and sticky tabs, and highlight. If it is a library book, my annotations will happen in my reading journal. I usually take notes in my journal for all my books, and just designate which book I’m reading along with the date before I begin writing.

First off, the genre of the book I’m reading totally influences the way I’ll annotate it. If it is a non-fiction read, I’m more likely to take extensive notes and ask questions. I’ll write and highlight on the book itself or on post-its, and I’ll take notes in my reading journal. When I read for personal learning, my notes will be extensive. If I’m reading for a book club or for a buddy read, I’ll take equally extensive notes and will specifically annotate for themes to bring up in discussion. When I’m reading non-fiction, I find myself putting the author’s arguments in the context of the larger argument at hand (ex: feminism), or I’ll put that author in conversation with other authors I’ve read who have written on the same subject. I use these annotations for my own learning, and also for research for other writing projects I always have going on the back burner.

If I’m reading a work of fiction, I’m more likely to use sticky tabs and not write in it as much. I like to color-code my tabs, and the tabs are usually organized like this: pink for parts of the book I loved, orange for upsetting or problematic bits, green for important quotes, yellow for ideas central to the theme, and blue for sad parts. I’ll underline and write in the margins a bit, but my notes for fiction are not as extensive as my notes for non-fiction, because my reasons for reading are different; fiction is usually for entertainment. Sometimes, my focus for a particular work of fiction is to “read like a writer,” so my annotations in that book will be focused on writing craft, like highlighting sentences that work really well. It just depends.

This has been my method for annotating books for a good while, but it has definitely changed over time. It was different when I was a grad student and my reading was almost strictly 100% academic. It changed when I became a teacher and my goal was to teach students how to annotate themselves. This current method suits my reading life right now.

How do you annotate your books? Has the way you annotate changed over time?

Just Mercy Reading Diary

IMG_0245

The following entries are from the notes section in my reading journal. I don’t think I have the words to compose a suitable review for this book, so I’m sharing my thoughts as I read it instead.

8/22

91 pages into this book, and Stevenson’s stories are honest and gripping. The book focuses on his story of getting his non-profit up and running, along with the story of Walter McMillian, a man who spent most of his life fighting for justice for himself.

Stevenson also talks about other people on death row (including children), and the laws surrounding the courts and execution. He speaks with intelligence, logic, and compassion.

8/26

-Stevenson is humanizing the people on death row, the legal process, and the lawyer profession through this book.

-His goal was to “implement a project to change the way we talk about racial history and contextualized contemporary race issues.”

-Goes into Black history after the Civil Rights Movement

Notable quotes:

“It seems to me that we’ve been quick to celebrate the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement and slow to recognize the damage done in that era. We have been unwilling to commit to a process of truth and reconciliation in which people are allowed to give voice to the difficulties created by racial segregation, racial subordination, and marginalization.”

I feel like this is what the author does in this book. He discusses the growth of the Equal Justice Initiative and Walter McMillian, along with many other people of color he helped in his career. He contextualizes the broken justice system in the racist white supremacist history that permeates this country.

“Of course innocent mistakes occur, but the accumulated insults and indignations caused by racial presumptions are destructive in ways that are hard to measure. Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden borne by people of color that cannot be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.”

I cannot believe all the microaggressions he and his clients faced! Stevenson remained composed and even graceful in situations that most people (aka me) would get heated in.

Final thoughts:

Throughout the book, Stevenson discusses so many encounters with different people: rude people, evil people, kind-hearted people. The reader has the privilege and pleasure of following him through his interactions, losses, and triumphs. Reading this was a very different experience for me. I was not expecting to get emotional, but I did sob at different points throughout. Toward the end, I even put the book down and just prayed.

Ultimately, this is a book everyone should read. The important topics, the clear and direct writing style, and the humanity of this book as a whole put it at the center of literature about social justice and intersectionality.

Book Sale Tips

IMG_0224

 

With several years of pretty successful book sale trips under my belt, I consider myself a (semi) pro at book sales. After the first couple times I went to my favorite biannual sale at a local library, I developed some strategies that I continue to use and still find useful. Here you go:

Before the sale:

Go with some authors or titles in mind. Sometimes the books will be alphabetized by author, but they’re usually organized by genre. If you walk in there with something specific in mind, it might make finding a good title easier.

Take your own reusable tote bag. Don’t depend on the hosts of the sale to provide you with a bag or a box. They’re not always available. Also, you don’t want to be stuck walking around with an armful of books; you won’t be able to browse comfortably.

Keep standards in mind:

The allure of heavily discounted books is real, friends, but you have to keep quality in mind. Is the book in good condition? You might be tempted to take home a tattered copy of a classic you love, but do you really want yellowing pages or a broken spine? That might be your thing, but if not, keep your standards in mind and shelve it. If you realize that a copy of a book is that important to you, put it on your wishlist.

Remember your limits:

Do you have shelf space for 15+ more books? Are you on a book buying ban? Do you really want the book? Keep in mind that later you might find yourself unhauling things you once thought was a great idea to buy.

 

Do you have any book sale tips I should try? Or do you already use some of these strategies?

Middle Grade Review: Love Sugar Magic

IMG_0178 (1)

(Months ago, I asked for middle grade recommendations for my daughter on Instagram, and this book came up several times. We finally got around to reading it this summer.)

Synopsis (c/o Goodreads) :

Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.

Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.

Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.

And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?

My thoughts:

I love this little book! The setting was one of my favorite aspects of the story. As a fellow Texan from a small town, it is nice to see that representation in a book for children.

The baking/bakery aspect of the book made reading it feel so homey and cozy. Where I live, you can find a Mexican bakery around practically every corner! I enjoyed relating to all the names of the sweet breads in Spanish, and I’m sure that middle graders will enjoy the familiarity as well.

The language of baking and family recipes was tied in to not only the plot, but also the language itself. Here a few of many examples scattered throughout the book:

“In the morning, the Logroño  house spun and hummed like an electric mixer.”

“Mama would be boiling-oil mad if she found out that Leo left school without permission.”

“Guilt from all her lies grew bigger and bigger, like rising dough in her stomach…”

Descriptions like these made the atmosphere and setting of the book so tangible. I appreciated the author’s thoughtfulness in her word choices.

Leo is a wonderful example for young readers; she’s curious, determined, and a problem solver. While she does manage to make (quite a bit) of mischief, she always meant well and was willing to set things straight with her family and friends. Her band of sisters and their dynamic was very sweet. I’m so excited to see what book two has in store for the Logroño family!