Our Reading Lives

Read Mindfully: My Own Read Harder Challenge

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Alison Peters

Staff Writer

Alison Peters surrounds herself with books, green things, animals and love. A Creative Writing M.F.A. holder with a day job that shall not be named, Alison is also working on a Masters in Library and Information Science. Currently cohabitating with her partner in the Northernmost outpost of San Francisco’s East Bay, she spends her spare time exercising her big dog so he won’t get annoyed with her, reading everything she can get her hands on, and then writing about it all. If you’re ever interested in discussing Harry Potter, Alison re-reads the series at least once a year, so drop her a line.

I’ll be perfectly honest: I didn’t get even a quarter of the way through the 2015 Read Harder challenge. I had one of those book slumpy years, filled with other responsibilities, stresses and challenges that even my annual summertime Harry Potter comfort series re-read couldn’t fix. And when I’m struggling just to read something new, reading mindfully isn’t my priority.

Going through the 25 book categories was its own sort of test for me, and I got stuck on one deceptively simple challenge: read a book that someone else has recommended to you. Specifically for me, my wife. I know, I know, it’s fairly hypocritical to write for a site that recommends books and to not take recommendations from my life partner. Don’t judge. We have very different taste, we talk about books differently, we don’t savor the same juicy bits.

But this year I went to Book Riot Live and came home with the sweetest book swag, like, ever. Book swag is tricky though, in terms of sharing, because it can be a kind of in joke, something that you really have to know and love the book it references to truly appreciate. My favorite take home was the sweatshirt with 9¾ encircled on the back. But I what I really wanted was the “Always” white doe trinket, and I wanted my wife to understand what that meant, and somehow, to get it for me.

Honestly, I’m not that insane. What I really want is for her to understand the backstory behind why I will always tear-up when I hear the phrase, thinking of a hook-nosed, greasy-haired wizard, and why the trinket made my heart skip a beat. I want her to speak my own bookish love language.

Conversely, my wife took the Read Harder challenge to heart and, one cold December day day rocked my world by picking up my new favorite holiday reading, Let it Snowthree overlapping YA short stories by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. Following three almost-couples at Christmas, there is a crazy snowstorm, first kisses, long walks in the woods, a girl called Duke and a Cheer-tastic-Christmas miracle that you have to read to believe. It’s like a bookish homage to a John Hughes movie, and I read it every winter, giggling all the way.

Teri picked it up and read it over one weekend, which is a Christmas miracle in and of itself, and then we got to talk about it. And that’s my favorite part. We got to laugh at the fun stuff, commiserate about the sad, and dismiss the parts we decreed just plain dumb. We now have a book-themed name to give our very own miniature pig–you know, some fine day in the not-too-distant future when we get those 40 acres.

And it made me want to read what she reads, and see the world through her book language.

The next book she picked up, randomly, came from my Book Riot YA box, A Sense of the Infinite. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet, but this time when she picked it up and started reading late into the night, it made me put on my librarian glasses and really look at what was going on: my sci-fi, mystery loving wife loves young adult books. It’s just that simple, but also a little complicated. Because she doesn’t love just any YA book. One comment she made about her latest foray told me just about everything I needed to know: “I really like this one cuz the main character is this girl who fucked up in high school and hung out with the wrong crowd, which I can understand.”

My wife is Marly Dias.

Marly, if you don’t know, is the 11 year old take-no-bs superstar who decided one day that she was sick of reading books about “white boys and dogs”, and so started a book drive and a hashtag, #1000BlackGirlBooks, to collect books featuring black female protagonists. You know, heroines who young Marly can relate to.

It seems like a simple thing, unless you’re a person of color, lgbtq, not a fan of dogs. (Full disclosure: I love books about dogs. Sorry Marly.) But I’ve also been exposed to fantastic literature from all around the globe, and have a whole section in my home library devoted to black women writers. A section that was only developed during college, when I signed up for the African American centric classes and got lists and recommendations and referrals from the experts. Back in grade school, I was Marly too, but I didn’t yet know what I was missing, or what to do about it.

“When you see a character you can connect with, if they learn a specific lesson, you’re more likely to apply that to your life,” Marly says. Teri connected to A Sense of the Infinite because she recognized her young self in the protagonists. I found out more about my wife because we were talking about a book.

My own personal reading challenge this year is to read books that are suggested to me by friends. In doing so, I hope to get to know more about them through the books they love, and to brighten my bookish world view all the more.