2017 Read Harder Challenge

I read around 30 books last year, many of them during the later months when work became less hectic. The final 2016 list is front-loaded with a lot of science fiction before turning into a pretty scattershot collection of titles. Since I am one of those corny cheeseballs who theme their new years, I intend to turn 2017 into a time of balance — and that goes for my reading list, as well.

As an occasional reader of Book Riot, I’ve seen (but never attempted) their annual reading challenges before. Dubbed “Read Harder,” each year’s challenge prods participants to read outside their comfort zones and pick up books from authors, genres, perspectives they’d otherwise never checked out before. That’s a goal I can get behind, so I signed up for this year.

Here are the prompts and the books I plan to read for them. I tried to fill each prompt with books I already own but haven’t read yet. Titles subject to change!

1. Read a book about sports.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

2. Read a debut novel
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

3. Read a book about books.
The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt
When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis

5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

6. Read an all-ages comic.
Princeless, Vol. 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley

7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

8. Read a travel memoir.
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler

9. Read a book you’ve read before.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
1984 by George Orwell

10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
Desaparesidos by Lualhati Bautista

11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

12. Read a fantasy novel.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett
Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzsold

14. Read a book about war.
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
George by Alex Gino
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
Noli Me Tángere by Jose Rizal
El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal

17. Read a classic by an author of color.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
She-Hulk, Volume 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule

19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

21. Read a book published by a micropress.
Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam by Isaac Donoso

22. Read a collection of stories by a woman.
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector

23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.
Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems

24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang


As T.H. White’s Merlyn says,

“The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love… There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

To sleep, perchance to be productive

Thirty days into our Life Reboot project, and it’s time for the first check-in. When I embarked on this revised version of the project, I was hoping it could serve as an engine to bring me closer to various long-term personal goals. Has that been the case? It’s too early to tell; even so, some readjustments might already be needed.

But first, our point-by-point evaluation:


On human rights and drug-related killings

I caught a really thought-provoking interview on human rights featuring the philosopher John Tasioulas recently. Being an (old) episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast, which caters to a general audience, the interview focused on a basic1 question: What are human rights?

Basic, but not simple, since “human rights” has become both a very charged term and, perhaps in some circles, one so overused as to have turned into a bit of a hollow buzzword. Which is why it’s notable how Tasioulas kicks off the interview by first dispelling the, shall we say, “special snowflake” air that has enveloped the concept: human rights are only one kind of rights, he asserts. Now this doesn’t undercut the importance of these rights, but it at least does away with the tunnel vision that they tend to inspire and situates them within a broader category of similar concepts that, he implies, are no less worthy of discussion.

But the dissolution of the term “human rights”‘ definite edges is, like I’ve said, something of a problem. So what distinguishes human rights from other kinds of rights? Tasioulas says: universality, these rights’ applicability throughout humanity.

This is the point I find most interesting, mostly because of personal experience. Ever since it became clear that our new president had won the post, there’s been a disturbing spike in drug-related extra-judicial killings. The number keeps ticking up to this day, and there’s been a lot of debate about the validity and ethics of these incidents.


Life Reboot: Revision

A while back I posted about making some necessary changes to my life and daily routine, mostly for the sake of my mental health. These past couple of weeks, I’ve taken time out to evaluate my long-term goals and try to map out the paths I can take to achieve them. One consequence of that has been a shift in the daily routine changes I’m prioritizing these days.

To recap, these were the goals I’d set for myself back in March:

  • Get better sleep
  • Eat better food
  • Exercise more
  • Read more
  • Write more
  • Listen to more podcasts/Watch more movies


Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells These Stories: Orlando and Narratives of Trauma

“There are no words.”

There’s also no counting how many times I’ve said that in response to various facets of the Orlando shooting: first, the burst of reports; then the rising death toll; then the slow unraveling of each victim’s biography; and then, the aftermath, the responses — in forms both heartwarmingly compassionate and shamelessly opportunistic.

The extent and range of those responses isn’t surprising. Forty-nine people died and 53 were injured at a mass shooting in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. This is the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and the shooter targeted the LGBT+ community, a group that — despite significant progress in recent years — remains a minority in every sense of the term. Many members of the community have already spoken about how jarring, how traumatic this attack has been; many more have continued to speak about how subsequent responses have been disrespectful, exploitative, damaging, or unhelpful at best.

I found myself unable, somehow, to join those engaged in the former. So far, the most I’ve been able to do is retweet messages of support and guidelines for volunteers, because secondhand sentiments are the only things I felt comfortable posting about the matter. Let me be clear: 140 characters, no matter how many sets I retweet, will never be enough to articulate the grief, anger, and despair I feel about this attack. However, shameful as it is to say so right now, 140 characters are more than enough to be a potential breach in the illusion of safety that stems from being a straight-passing, low-key member of the community.  (more…)