*There are some major problems involved in the Reading Rush, and I address them fully at the end of this post (there is some additional context within the rest of the post). You can skip right to this discussion by searching “more on that:”*
As a kid, I’d spend my summers carrying piles of books home from the library, making my way through the stacks and begging my parents to bring me back the next day to borrow more. I was desperate for words and also desperate for prizes, as the annual reading challenge meant lots of raffle tickets and goodies.
I don’t remember what year it was that I aged out of the challenge, but one of those summers was the last time, and I haven’t participated in a read-a-thon since.
Like with most things I do, I waited until the last minute to join this year’s Reading Rush. I didn’t realize until the night before that it was happening, and I thought, ‘Screw it, I’m in quarantine—what else am I gonna do but read?’ So I scrambled to assemble my TBR, placing holds at my library and downloading ebooks and audiobooks. Given that, things surprisingly went smoothly!
I thought today that I’d share with you my experience with the Reading Rush. I’ll be summarizing all the reading this event motivated me to do, as well as discussing the serious issues involved in it and why this year will be both the first and last time I participate in the Reading Rush unless things change.
1. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Challenge #1 – Read a book with a cover that matches the colour of your birthstone
Challenge #5 – Read a book completely outside of your house
Since I was born in April (who woulda thunk?), my birthstone is the diamond. Fun fact—a pure diamond is completely colorless and transparent. A book with a colorless cover would’ve been pretty difficult to hunt down, so instead I went with On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous because of the mix of grey tones on its cover. I also decided to use this book to fulfill the fifth challenge, because it is relatively short (but more on that later).
I’ve been intrigued by this book ever since I first heard about it, as the title itself sounds so poetic. It’s also written by an #OwnVoices Vietnamese-American author, and as an Asian-American myself, I was excited to read about the story portrayed in this book.
2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Challenge #3 – Read a book that inspired a movie you’ve already seen
I’ve been wanting to pick up this classic ever since I watched Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019)!
I first learned about Little Women back in third grade, when I started doing musical theatre and got cast as Beth in a rendition of “Our Finest Dreams” for a revue. That inspired me to pick up the Great Illustrated Classics (remember those?) edition of the book (somewhere, there’s a picture my fourth-grade principal took of me reading it). It’s been eight years since then, so I thought it was high time I finally got around to reading the unabridged version.
3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Challenge #2 – Read a book that starts with the word “The”
Challenge #4 – Read the first book you touch
I’ve read almost all of the books on my shelf, so for challenge number four, I went into my TBR list, closed my eyes, and put my finger on a random spot. My finger landed on The Bluest Eye, and I’m so glad it did!
I’ve been wanting to pick up a Morrison book for ages, as I’ve only heard great things about her writing. This book specifically is recommended by Ibram X. Kendi in his “An Antiracist Reading List,” so I knew it was crucial to read it.
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Challenge #6 – Read a book in a genre that you’ve always wanted to read more of
So I cheated a little bit on this challenge, as what would actually meet the criteria of reading “in a genre that scares you or your least read genre” would probably be a horror novel. Anything horror freaks me out, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in that genre before. However, I’m so averse to it that I knew reading it would just be an awful experience, and I wanted my experience to be enjoyable, so I went instead with science fiction. I haven’t read sci-fi in quite a while, and I like that this challenge pushed me to get out of my comfort zone a little.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a classic part of pop culture, so I thought I’d get myself in the loop, as I’ve never listened to it on radio or watched the movie or anything. I also felt that since it’s comedic as well, it would be a good way to dip into the genre rather than something more serious.
5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Challenge #7 – Read a book that takes place on a different continent than where you live
I live in North America, so anything taking place on another continent went!
I was already in the middle of Anna Karenina when the Reading Rush started, so my main goal was to finish it, and luckily, it fulfilled this final prompt as well.
6. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I’ve been seeing Such a Fun Age all over Bookstagram, and have been wanting to pick it up! This novel was this year’s “book club pick” (more on that later), which gave me the push to read it.
Day 1 – Monday, July 20:
I kicked off the ‘thon right at midnight, as I was already immersed in Anna Karenina. I read 28 pages into Part VI.
After a good (?) night’s sleep, I immediately jumped into Such a Fun Age and listened to it on audiobook while I had breakfast. This was my first time reading an audiobook in years, and I have mixed feelings about it. I tend to zone out and it was hard for me to focus on the story, and I disliked the hassle of not being able to flip back quickly to reference pages I’d already read. However, it was great to be able to listen to it as I went about my day, and Nicole Lewis, who narrated the audiobook, was amazing at doing different voices and characterizations.
My goal for that day was to finish the sixth and seventh parts of Anna Karenina. I met that goal, and then was able to finish the last part as well, since it was only 51 more pages! The reading experience was quite enjoyable (even despite the thought-provoking but dull philosophical discussions), and I liked getting to analyze aspects such as the sexism present in the novel. I ended up giving the book 5/5 stars. I love the grey characters and their development, the interweaving of different points of view and with it the exploration of motivations, and the descriptions.
Pages read: 262 (Anna Karenina)
Chapters of SaFA: 2
Books finished: Anna Karenina
Challenges completed: #7
Day 2 – Tuesday, July 21:
My goal from Day 2 was just to begin working my way through my TBR from the top down. First up was On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which I wanted to finish completely that day as it was quite short. I was reading the ebook, which I borrowed from my library.
I also wanted to fulfill the “read outside” challenge with this book. I’m grateful that I am able-bodied and privileged enough to be able to go outside and have a safe location to read, which not everyone is able to do (more on that later). We have yard space, and so I spent most of the afternoon setting up our swing chair with my brother.
I didn’t get a chance to sit down and read until the late afternoon, and I got in most of the book but not all of it. I went inside once it was turning dark outside, and started Little Women, which I also had on ebook.
Throughout the day, I was able to get some more chapters in of Such a Fun Age!
Pages read: 199 (171 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, 28 Little Women)
Chapters of SaFA: 3
Day 3 – Wednesday, July 22:
I had some holds ready for me at my local libraries, so I spent the morning picking them up! I then finished up On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; you can read my review on it here. (Note that I am not an #OwnVoices reviewer).
I spent the rest of the day reading some more of Little Women, and listening to more of Such a Fun Age.
Pages read: 120 (17 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, 103 Little Women)
Chapters of SaFA: 4
Books finished: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Challenges completed: #1, #5
Day 4 – Thursday, July 23:
I deviated from my TBR a bit on this day, because my copy of Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino came in at the library! I’m reading this book as part of eleni arizona’s virtual book club and I am loving it so far.
After reading the first two essays of Trick Mirror, I tried to read as much of Little Women as possible.
Pages read: 232 (62 Trick Mirror, 170 Little Women)
Chapters of SaFA: 3
Day 5 – Friday, July 24:
My goal for the day was to finish up Little Women, so right after I woke up I immediately started reading. I gave this book 5/5 stars; there’s some great satire and social commentary in it, but it’s also a heartwarming story.
I then picked up The Bluest Eye, but only got through the excerpt from Dick and Jane, because I got caught up in other responsibilities; unfortunately, I didn’t get much reading done that day.
Pages read: 46 (44 Little Women, 36 The Bluest Eye)
Chapters of SaFA: <1
Books finished: Little Women
Challenges completed: #3
Day 6 – Saturday, July 25:
I knew I had a lot of catching up to do that day after not reading much the day before, so my goal was to finish at least one book. I listened to Such a Fun Age for the first half of the day, as I wanted to get as much in as I could before the liveshow discussion. I didn’t count how many chapters I read, but I think I got to around Chapter 19. I joined the liveshow a little after it started, but the hosts and a lot of the people in the comments were talking about how they hadn’t finished the book, and the hosts were answering unrelated questions (more on that later). I felt that since I still had a lot more books to read, it would be better to spend that time reading instead, so I left the liveshow.
I then dove into The Bluest Eye and it was an incredible novel. The story is tragic but amazingly written, and I love Toni Morrison’s writing style; I gave it 5/5 stars.
By then it was evening, and I made some headway into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Pages read: 250 (214 The Bluest Eye, 36 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
Chapters of SaFA: 7 (I think?)
Books finished: The Bluest Eye
Challenges completed: #2, #4
Day 7 – Sunday, July 26:
This was the last day of the Reading Rush, and I was hoping to get through my last two books, but I didn’t have a lot of time to read because I was attending an event. However, I was able to finish listening to the rest of Such a Fun Age. I gave it 4/5 stars; I think this novel is one that everyone should read, especially those of us who are “well-meaning” non-BIPOC. I really enjoyed the way Kiley Reid intertwined the stories of the characters, and I liked all the little twists and turns in the plot. The pacing was a bit off for me, which I think could’ve been partly because I was listening to it on audiobook and wasn’t used to having the pace set for me. Overall, I thought the characterizations were great! (Note that I am not an #OwnVoices reviewer).
By then it was late evening, and although I had a few hours left that I could’ve spent reading some more of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I was pretty tired and I was satisfied with how much I’d read during the past week. Furthermore, I was hearing some discouraging things about this event, and decided to read up on that instead (more on that later).
Pages read: 307 (Such a Fun Age—this is the page count for the novel, and I didn’t have individual page counts for the audiobook, so I added it all at the end).
Chapters of SaFA: 9 (I think?)
Books finished: Such a Fun Age
Pages read: 1,416
Books read: 7
Books completed: 5
Challenges completed: 6/7
more on that:
I’m sure that most people tuned into the book community will have already heard about the issues surrounding the Reading Rush. I’ve mentioned them several times already during this blog post, but now I’d like to dedicate space to fully speak to it.
The Reading Rush has been called out for several issues, the main ones which I will summarize here. Please note that I am not an expert in these issues, nor have I been directly harmed by these actions. I will link sources from others who have discussed these issues and why they are problematic and harmful. I urge you to read/listen to what these people say; I am just listing these problems here for people who may be unaware of them.
Summary of issues:
- The hosts of the Reading Rush did not prioritize reading the book club pick, Such a Fun Age; during the liveshow, they then laughed off the fact that they hadn’t finished reading it and derailed the conversation into a Q & A session. This is a huge problem because they’d chosen to spotlight a Black story by a Black author, yet barely promoted the book and did not bother to read this novel when Black authors already have a difficult time being published and having their books gain attention. Beyond that, they still labelled the liveshow under the book title, even though the discussion had nothing to with the book. These actions demonstrate performative action and tokenism.
- One of their challenges, “Read a book completely outside of your house,” is ableist and potentially unsafe. In the midst of a pandemic, leaving the home should not be encouraged, especially because many people don’t have a space where they can safely be outside. Furthermore, not everyone is able-bodied enough to be able to leave their homes. When these issues were brought up to the event organizers, instead of changing the prompt, they told people the prompt could be adapted.
- The Instagram challenge for the first day was to recreate a book cover. The winners chosen included a white person recreating a cover featuring an Indian character (When Dimple Met Rishi). The challenge for the second day was to cosplay a book character. The example post featured a non-Black person cosplaying a Black character (The Hate U Give).
People have been harmed by these actions, and performative activism is harmful to entire communities (in this case, the BIPOC community). Because of this, our book community should be standing with those harmed and with those speaking up. Those of us who are not BIPOC should not be accepting any apologies on behalf of BIPOC—we have no right to do that.
For these reasons, I will not be participating in any Reading Rushes in the future, unless the event organizers truly change their actions. Here are some book clubs and read-a-thon’s to check out instead:
- The Hotties Book Club, a “book club where Black creators review books by Black authors.” Their August book pick is Such a Fun Age!
- The other book clubs listed in this Twitter thread by Chanelle from @chanelletime, including:
- the crusty club (“a monthly book club focused on fun and diversity”) created by @chanelletime
- bibliophiles book club (“dedicated to reading underhyped & beloved QPOC novels”) run by @starmaidenreads, @pageoutofmybook, @nekuthebooklock, and @valwritesbooks
- Busy Bee Bookclub (“a monthly adult fantasy centered bookclub”) hosted by @bookedandbusyyy
- Brown Girl Bookclub (“A monthly book club to highlight WOC protagonists/authors”) hosted by @theofficial_jnd
- Enby Book Club (“Reading beyond the binary”) founded by @bowtiesandbooks
- and more!
- The Diversify that shelf Readathon hosted by @theperksofbeingnoura, which will be from August 10-19, and focuses on “Reading and supporting diverse books, experiences and authors of color.”
If you know of any other events/book clubs that focus on diverse reads by diverse authors, let me know in the comments! And feel free to shoutout any other book clubs or people who you think I should check out.
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