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Read Harder (I Mean It This Time)

Read Harder (I Mean It This Time)

I look forward more to the announcement of the annual Book Riot Read Harder Challenge than the Oscar nominations. I’ve seen four eligible films this year, and with a near empty bank account and our one television always tuned in to football it leaves me with no resources for me to pursue my third-tier dream of becoming a film critic. Anyway, I prefer books these days, and while I have yet to complete a Book Riot challenge I want to make 2019 the year.

I’ve come close before. I was 23/24 in the inaugural year, and I’ve averaged 20 books in the successive challenges. I allowed the excuse of family illnesses and related issues for this year and last, but I’ve wallowed enough. I’m a collector of bucket lists and I believe this one has the potential to fill up before I’m finished with this life.

I like that each Book Riot list presents the opportunity to read a diverse collection of books and to discover new authors. What I don’t like about this list is that I’ve read a number of books this year and last that qualify for several 2019 categories. I know I should spin this into a positive – enjoy the hunt of alternative qualifying titles – but part of me wishes the 2019 list counts for now. I’d be done.

The 2019 list is below. I usually list what I intend to read, but this time I’ll recommend books I’ve read in case you’re interested in trying this, too. Maybe if I don’t plan ahead, I’ll finish.

  • An epistolary novel or collection of letters – This year I read The Groucho Letters, which I enjoyed. You could also try The Color Purple, Stephen King’s Carrie, or John Updike (I DNF’d that one, though, but that was 30 years ago. Might be worth a retry.)
  • An alternate history novel – Earlier this year I read Once There Was a Way by Bryce Zabel, an alternate history of The Beatles had they not split. My review is here. I bought a copy of The Man in the High Castle a few years ago, so I may read that one for this category.
  • A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018 – The Hate U Give racked up a number of lit awards in 2018, highly recommended.
  • A humor book – I’m reluctant to recommend anything here. Humor is personal, and what I find funny others find strange.
  • A book by a journalist or about journalism – I have read every book Lewis Grizzard wrote. I’d say Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself and If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Going to Nail My Feet to the Ground are his best.
  • A book by an AOC set in or about space – My friend Bridget Midway has a duology set in space, called Original Sin. However, it’s not for the faint of heart (read: 51+ shades), so if the kinky isn’t your thing…I got nothing. I don’t read much space opera, sorry.
  • An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America – Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel stands out in my memory. I read a few of her books, and think this is her best.
  • An #ownvoices book set in Oceania – I’ve not read anything that qualifies here. Colleen McCullough doesn’t count, and while I’ve read a romance set in Tahiti years ago, I don’t know if the author is #ownvoices.
  • A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads – Any of mine. I know none of my books have 100 reviews on Goodreads.
  • A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman – Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is short and engaging.
  • A book of manga – I can’t recommend anything, but I know my daughter could.
  • A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character – The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan is okay. There’s also The Call of the Wild by Jack London.
  • A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse – Fannie Flagg identifies as such. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is her best, but if you read Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man you can also knock the epistolary category off your list.
  • A cozy mystery – Lord, I’ve read hundreds. I’ve also written one, called Pithed. It’s on the Zon.
  • A book of mythology or folklore – The standby, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Maybe I’ll read an obscure Tolkien for this one.
  • An historical romance by an AOC – Anything by Jeannie Lin.
  • A business book – I don’t read much in business. I tried Lee Iacocca’s memoir in the eighth grade once, though.
  • A novel by a trans or nonbinary author – Natasha Troop is one author I would recommend.
  • A book of nonviolent true crime – I haven’t read such a book. This will be new to me.
  • A book written in prison – Same here.
  • A comic by an LGBTQIA creator – Anything by Alison Bechdel.
  • A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009 – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • A self-published book – I have a few. Have a look. Seriously. We’re paying rent and a mortgage now. Long story.


Coming Soon

Coming Soon

I have a trilogy of romances with Totally Bound Publishing. I can say that now, since Book 3 is contracted. This is significant for me for a number of reasons.

For one, the heroine of “Do It Again” is mature, late 40s. Originally I had planned to write the third book about a woman separate from the first two books – a costume designer who works in television. She’d have been about the same age as the ladies in the first two books. However, I kept coming back to a supporting player in 1 and 2, an older woman on her second career as a TV director. I liked her too much to keep her in the background. So she got a story. I may still write that costume designer, but I had planned on a trilogy, which brings me to the second point.

I finished a series for once. Look on this site, there are a number of standalone books and a duology. “Pithed” was supposed to have a sequel, maybe more. I had planned a third Lerxst book. The Ash Lake mysteries under my other name were supposed to be a longer series. I planned five and finished two. Another book under a pen name – with a young sleuth who wants to become a priest – was supposed to go on for a while. Nothing. For the longest time I never got past one or two books. Reasons. Low sales, depression, dwindled desire.

I had the motive to give up on “Do It Again”, too. I began writing in 2016. Then my mother-in-law died. Then I lost my job. Then my severance ended. Then my husband got hit. Then life drama. When all that happens, writing when it isn’t your primary job doesn’t seem so urgent. Yet, I’d open the document and add more to it. A few words here, a few hundred there. I finished it. I finished something I set out to finish, finally. What’s more, I got a contract for it.

Now, I’ll promote the hell out of these books as best I can. Since I’ve finally finished, I feel lighter. I have a wide field before me, new possibilities. The next book I write can be anything I want. I have ideas – something different. I love romance and mystery, but now I can try something else. Fantasy, magic realism, dark humor. I’m excited for once.

David Ogden Stiers

David Ogden Stiers

A friend, a fellow M*A*S*H enthusiast, once posited Major Charles Emerson Winchester III was the greatest of all the show’s characters. For me to choose one to take a top position is akin to selecting a favorite child, and given Winchester came to the 4077th late in the game I wondered at my friend’s argument. His case, unfortunately, is lost to time and a social media purge, so I can’t reveal what he said.

Recently we lost David Ogden Stiers, who gave life to Winchester and many other memorable roles in film, TV, and stage, and many of the classic-TV stations with rights to air M*A*S*H have responded with week-long Winchester-centric episodes in tribute. I’ve seen every episode of this show several times over, some in first run and all in rerun/streaming format, but this past week served to prove my friend right.

Major Winchester arrived at the 4077th in Season 6 to fill the gap left by Major Frank Burns. Where Larry Linville mastered a smirking, snake in the grass conceit designed to antagonize the staff and patients, Stiers as Winchester raised the bar on  pomposity. At the conclusion of  the two-parter “Fade Out/Fade In”, we’re led to expect the same with this new Swamp-mate, but a number of factors separate these characters: Burns thought he was a good surgeon, Winchester knew he was great surgeon and had the skills to back it up.

Unlike Burns, Winchester’s moments of antagonism weren’t the product of jealousy of spite, but frustration. He wanted out of the M*A*S*H…who didn’t? Winchester didn’t resort to outrageous Klinger-esque antic to accomplish, nor did he use deception when given an opportunity to leave fell in his lap (winning back his cushy Tokyo gig in “No Laughing Matter” required him to slander Major Houlihan, which he refused to do). Some episodes revealed his prejudices and ill-planned schemes – including one where he attempted to profit on expiring army scrip – yet many highlight his compassion and humanity. Winchester defended a soldier with a stutter from bullies, donated a expensive box of chocolate to local orphans, and helped an injured soldier reclaim his musical abilities. We rarely saw Burns in vulnerable moments, but we felt for Winchester in the moment he confides to Hawkeye that “where I have a father, you have a dad.”

If I take anything from years of watching of Stiers as Winchester, it’s his dedication to his work. The major introduces himself in the operating room thus: “I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on.” He saw focus as an asset, and while a fast-paced environment like a M*A*S*H isn’t ideal for meticulous surgery he found a way to apply his work ethic.

I can’t compare my job to emergency surgery, but I can understand the need for focus when dealing with multiple clients. Each one requires my full attention and counts on me to do that one thing very well for them. Be it writing a blog or crafting ad text, I set a goal to deliver my best work, even under the pressure of a deadline.

When the work is done, I’ll treat myself to an episode or two of M*A*S*H, which Stiers and his cast mates performed extremely well.