276 Freshwater

freshwaterby Akwaeke Emezi, 2018

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A novel by a trans or nonbinary author.

I have never read a story like this before. In fact, I feel ill-equipped to even discuss it because it is so far outside my realm of experience that I don’t really know what to say. But, perhaps that is why I loved it so much, for it exposed me to a world and a state of being so different from my own that I could do nothing but sit back and absorb the pages in front of me. I did not know much about Freshwater going into it. I’d only heard about it on one of Book Riot’s podcasts, though I didn’t remember what was said by the time I read it, and I knew it had been nominated for some major awards, including this year’s Women’s Prize and the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35. I think that ignorance of what the story dealt with made it much more affecting for me, so I will try to write about it without revealing too much of its content.

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275 The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

yellowwallpaperby Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1892-1914

During the summer, I’ve decided to brush up on some of the texts that are commonly assigned to the students with whom I’ve worked. While I’ve read Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the past, I’m not actually sure I’ve read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a perennial favorite of English professors, or if I’ve just read about it so much that it feels like I’ve read it. Many students struggle to find meaning beyond the obvious in this story of a woman slowly going mad in a room covered with yellow wallpaper, so I was curious to see how subtle Gilman really was in her writing. This slim collection of stories has this classic at the forefront, followed by some of her lesser known works. What did I learn from all of these? Charlotte Perkins Gilman is savage.

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274 Bad Blood

badbloodby John Carreyrou, 2018

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A book of nonviolent true crime.

I’ve heard so much about the insanity of this story since this book came out, and I have to say, it was not oversold. I must have been living under a rock in late 2015/early 2016 because I do not recall hearing anything about Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos, or this scandal that rocked the medical industry. In short, the book is a chronicle of Holmes’s rise to meteoric fame and fortune as the CEO of Theranos, a company that promised to revolutionize medicine with its small, at-home blood testing machines that could analyze blood from a tiny finger stick. Gone were the days of searching for veins and having to be stuck multiple times, a trying ordeal for anyone, but even more so for those who are afraid of needles, as Holmes claimed to be. The problem was that none of it worked. That’s what makes this story so crazy. NONE OF IT EVER WORKED.

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273 Don’t Call Us Dead

dontcallusdeadby Danez Smith, 2017

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A collection of poetry published since 2014.

I’ve been wanting to read this poetry collection since it was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2017. The cover is just so striking, the dark bodies against the pristine, white background, one floating up as if to heaven, but holding onto a balloon, child-like, the nudity that is evident but not sexualized. I just really wanted to know what sort of poetry a cover like that could represent. It turns out that the contents are just as remarkable as the image that precedes them.

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272 Death Is a Lonely Business

deathisalonelybusinessby Ray Bradbury, 1985

This was a painful one for me. This is the first time I’ve actively disliked something Ray Bradbury has written. This is due, in part, to the genre in which he is writing. While I’ve fallen in love with Bradbury for his prescient imaginings of future worlds and his nostalgic, sepia-toned recountings of the past, this book is firmly in the mystery/noir category, something that I like only on rare occasion. I’d like to think I can recognize the merits of a book even if it’s not something that I personally like, but I found little to enjoy here and was left cold by the meanderings of the narrator, who was a clear stand-in for Bradbury himself. Add to that some problematic language and you get a book that I had to force myself to finish. I was so disappointed.

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271 The Bees

thebeesby Laline Paull, 2014

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character.

My people, we have got to stop comparing every novel with a slight feminist bent to The Handmaid’s Tale. This comparison is what caught my attention about this book, which is described as a mix between Atwood’s seminal work and The Hunger Games, but with bees. Although I had originally planned to read another one of Richard Adams’s novels for this task, how could I pass that up? Feminist allegory in the animal kingdom! I’m there! Unfortunately, I wish the story lived up to such monumental hype.

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270 So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know

rettaby Retta, 2018
narrated by the author*

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A humor book.

After Ron Swanson, Donna Meagle is my favorite character on Parks and Recreation. I love that they let this dark-skinned, larger woman be unabashedly sexual, not as a joke, but as simply a facet of her personality. We were never meant to laugh at the idea that Donna had a healthy sexual appetite and relished her ability to bed almost any man she wanted. We were laughing at ourselves and our inherent desire for her level of prowess, regardless of our own gender or orientation. Donna was #goals. In the 21st century, this should not still be subversive, yet it is, and Retta played the character with confidence and aplomb, commanding the audience’s respect. I love her for that, so when her memoir was released, it landed firmly on my to-read list.

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