333 Becoming

becomingby Michelle Obama, 2018
narrated by the author

I don’t know what I expected of this much-praised autobiographical work of the nation’s first black First Lady. Sure, I assumed it would be good. I supposed it would be informative. I guessed that I would like it well enough, just as everyone who has read it has said. What I did not expect is that it would be AMAZING. Far from being a typical political memoir that focuses on the events of a well-known figure’s career, Becoming takes a much more personal tone, exposing all of Obama’s worries, doubts, and fears. At the same time, the book celebrates all that Obama has achieved–personally, professionally, and politically–while showcasing the struggles she endured to get to where she is today. While the book is a must-read for people of all ages, I also cannot praise the audio version highly enough. Obama reads the text herself and imbues her words with such emotion that simply cannot be transmitted on the page. The book is truly a culmination of talents that we readers are only lucky to experience.

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332 They Called Us Enemy

theycalledusenemyby George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker, 2019

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a graphic memoir.

In our rush to proclaim all the greatness that is America, we often forget all of the terrible things we’ve done. This fact is no surprise to many, but even those of us who are brutally aware of the country’s inequities look over groups who have been victimized in the name of “freedom.” George Takei’s (yes, that George Takei) graphic memoir recalls a time when the US declared all inhabitants of Japanese descent, regardless of citizenship status or how long they had lived in the country, to be political enemies. Just a young boy at the time, Takei, his parents, and his younger brother and sister were shipped to an internment camp in Arkansas, where they lived through brutal, air-conditionless heat, in barracks made of paper-thin walls without indoor plumbing, under constant surveillance by the military. America was at war with the Axis powers, but so too were they engaged in an unjust war with their own people.

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331 The Round House

roundhouseby Louise Erdrich, 2012

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author.

Joe is thirteen on the day that he and his father grow worried when his mother, Geraldine, doesn’t show up at home at the expected time. The two climb into their car and are quickly relieved when they see her driving past them, on the way to their home. However, when they return, they realize that something is horribly wrong. Frozen in the car, covered in vomit and blood, and reeking of gasoline, they hurry her to the hospital. While waiting, Joe overhears a woman say that it looks like his mother has experienced one of two things. The first–a miscarriage–he knows to be impossible, as his mother was no longer able to get pregnant after his birth. That just leaves the second thing–a rape.

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330 The Valley of Fear

valleyoffearby Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1915

This final Holmes novel is similar in structure to the second one. It’s split into two parts, the first following Holmes and Watson as they solve a mystery, and the second traveling back in time and place to reveal the origins of the same. In this case, a Mr. John Douglas of Birlstone Manor has been found murdered, with his face blown completely off. Accompanying the duo to the crime scene is Inspector MacDonald of Scotland Yard, a detective who differs from Lestrade and Gregson in that he is all too willing to admit to and learn from Holmes’s superior sleuthing abilities. Once there, some strange details come into light. One: Douglas’s wedding ring, and only his wedding ring, appears to be missing. Two: there is a bloody boot print on the window sill, indicating the culprit’s escape. Three: the manor is surrounded by a moat, and the drawbridge that allows ingress and egress was already drawn for the night. How the murderer got into the house and how he got away are questions to ponder. Even more troubling, however, is that Douglas’s wife doesn’t seem to be particularly disturbed by the loss of her husband. In fact, her interactions with Douglas’s acquaintance, Cecil Barker, seem to be quite friendly, indeed.

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329 White Fragility

whitefragilityby Robin DiAngelo, 2018

One of the things I love about living in a big city again is access to a decent library. Not long after my move, I got a new library card, promptly entered it into Libby, and was surprised to find this oft-recommended book on race education just sitting there, waiting to be borrowed. Unlike most books on race, this doesn’t focus on the black struggle, but on encouraging white people to understand their place in that struggle, whether intentional or not. DiAngelo, a white woman, writes specifically to a white audience, urging them to realize that while race, as a concept, may not be true, the social effects of that concept are. DiAngelo doesn’t say anything that any person of color, especially a black person, doesn’t already implicitly know, but it was refreshing and uplifting to see these ideas laid bare and not dismissed as a “black problem.” For us to supersede, we must recognize that it exists for all of us. This book is a valiant first step in that direction.

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328 The Return of Sherlock Holmes

returnofsherlockholmesby Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1905

This collection sees Watson shocked by the homecoming of his sleuthing partner after his supposed demise over Reichenbach Falls. The trick to Holmes’s return out of the chasm? “I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it for the very simple reason that I was never in it,” Holmes relates. It seems that Holmes’s knowledge of baritsu, a form of Japanese wrestling, allowed him to slip out of Moriarty’s grasp and leave the latter to plunge to his death solo  in the waters below. It’s a convenient story, sure, but it’s one that brings back the beloved detective to solve even more mysteries with the faithful Watson by his side.

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327 Hope in the Dark

hopeinthedarkby Rebecca Solnit, 2004

I’m thankful that as my desire to read in general has returned, so has my desire to read politically charged texts. There’s always more to learn, and I hate to think that I’d ever reach a point where I could no longer consume information that makes me uncomfortable, makes me question my place in the world, and makes me understand that I could always be doing more. I’ve wanted to read more by Rebecca Solnit ever since I read Men Explain Things to Me, so I picked up Hope in the Dark, another slim volume that focuses on the history and future of activism. Despite being published in 2004 and receiving an update in 2015, this book is eerily relevant to our times. Realizing that not much has changed in the American landscape over those 16 years may be a bit depressing, but Solnit’s main message is that we must never let that despair distinguish hope, for it is only with hope that we can effect true change.

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326 Citizen

citizenby Claudia Rankine, 2014

If you highlight everything in a book, does that mean everything’s important or does everything cease to be important? This is the question I found myself asking while reading Citizen, a collection of prose poems on the black experience in America. So much of it is so relevant, so timely, so urgent, that I had trouble deciding what really stood out. In essence, everything about this collection stands out. The poems herein are not just about the macroaggressions against black Americans–though there is that–but also about the microaggressions that remind us every day that we are other. It is a poignant piece for our times, and it is one that I’m sure will withstand history to become a part of the literary canon

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325 Pachinko

pachinkoby Min Jin Lee, 2017

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII.

The phrase “multi-generational family saga” is my siren call. Middlesex, The Corrections, La casa de los espíritus, and Homegoing have been among some of my favorite reads. There’s something about the structure that greatly appeals to me, as one character’s narrative sets the basis for the characters who follow. Pachinko is written in this tradition, and it does not fail to live up to my affinity for the niche genre. Starting at the turn of the 20th century and chronicling the descendants of a man with a cleft palate and a twisted foot. Born to a poor fisherman and his wife in the village of Yeongdo, Korea, the novel follows four generations of the Hoonie’s lineage as they leave behind their Japanese-occupied birthplace and find themselves adrift in a country that does not want them, with no homeland to return to. “History has failed us, but no matter,” reads the book’s opening line, foreshadowing what’s to befall this humble family. History may have failed them, but it sets the perfect stage for this wonderful exploration of the meaning of family, home, and heritage.

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324 The Hound of the Baskervilles

houndofthebaskervillesby Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1901

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman.

I chose this novel, perhaps the most famous of the Holmes oeuvre, to satisfy the Read Harder Challenge task of a mystery where a woman is not the victim because the principal casualty is that of Sir Charles Baskerville. However, we’re going to have to talk about what “victim” really means. This story was, quite simply, great. Centering around the peculiar legend of a hound that has murdered all of the Baskerville lineage who have come to live at the family estate, Holmes and Watson are employed in an attempt to save the latest and last heir, Henry Baskerville, who has come from the US to claim the property left to him after the death of his uncle. News of large paw prints around the body of Sir Charles lead many to believe in the legendary hound, but, of course, Holmes is not inclined to accept a supernatural dog as the culprit. In an interesting change of pace, Holmes is drawn back to London to carry on with a case, and he entreats Watson to stay with Henry and send him his observations. As such, Holmes is largely absent from this seminal work, and that, in my opinion, is what sets it apart from the others.

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