April Reading List
It’s April. That means it’s time for an April reading list!
I have to say, I’m impressing myself with how well I’m keeping up my commitment to reading more this year. In fact, it seems to get easier each month. When I started in January, I picked a very conservative number of books to get through per month. I pledged to read twenty-four books over the course of 2018, or about two per month.
Given how busy I can get and how little I’ve read since I left school, I felt two books per month was manageable, but also going to be a challenge. I often get very busy so things like reading go by the wayside. I’m also an editor, so I can’t say I don’t read. In fact, I read books all day, every day, essentially. The difference is reading for pleasure and in my preferred genres, versus reading for work. I’m mostly an academic textbook editor, so I tend to read lots of non-fiction and some fairly dense, challenging material. By the time I finish work, I’m often cooked in terms of my mental capacity for more reading.
I also have suffered from the age-old dilemma of writers: Why read when you could be writing? When you end up pressed for time, you often have to make tough choices between one activity and another. While it’s important for writers to read, it’s also important for writers to, um, write. When the crunch comes, most writers will choose writing over reading, myself included.
Pulling Ahead in March
When I set out on this journey, I decided two books per month was likely going to be a big enough commitment. I hadn’t read for pleasure in almost a decade. Maybe I’d read a book here or there, but since I left school, I’d done relatively little pleasure reading. Part of this was a focus on writing. Another big factor was work: I run my own business, and at one point was working both in-house and running my business on the side, plus trying to find time to, um … live. (The Millennial side-hustle is bullshit, and fuck anyone who tries to push it as a good thing.)
Two books, I thought, would be a challenge, but also enough to ease myself back into reading.
I finished my two books rather handily in January, and even got a jump start on my two books for February. I even toyed with the idea of adding a third book to the list for February, but ultimately decided not to.
In March, I again went with the conservative estimate of two books, although I again contemplated upping my reading commitment and reading more. At the end of the month, I’d read three books in their entirety, and I was almost done a fourth.
My Two March Books
My first March book as Hexbreaker by Jordan L. Hawk, the first in the Hexworld series. It was recommended to me by Emily Eden, who probably knows my reading tastes better than I do at this point.
I loved this book. It had everything I want: action, adventure, romance, mystery, magic, shapeshifters, good writing. I’ll be adding more of this series to my TBR pile, and I’ll probably try more from Hawk’s backlist. (Fun fact: I follow them on Twitter and I am excited to see this Infernal Affairs project they’re working on.)
The next book I had originally selected to read for March was a new release. I hadn’t got around to pre-ordering it when scandal finally broke, but the project was ultimately cancelled as a result of the fallout of the Santino Hassell travesty. I can say I got away rather unscathed, although I have many thinky thoughts about how something like that occurs and about what people need to do in these situations.
This isn’t the place for those thinky-thoughts, however. Long story short, the book I’d picked was cancelled, I hadn’t preordered, I was free to go pick another book. So I did. I ended up reading The Oaf Prince by Sienna Sway. I remember talking with Sienna about this book way back when, so I knew I was going to have to read it eventually. The enthusiasm with which she spoke about this project was infectious.
For me, The Oaf Prince started off a little slow. I stuck with it, and ultimately, I did find myself turning the pages, wondering what happened next. I wasn’t as instantly hooked as I had been with Hexbreaker, but this was a cute story and I’m glad I pushed through it.
How Did I Forget about Manga?
One day, I’ll tell the full story of how I became a fan of mm romance, but again, this isn’t the right post. The long and short of it is I came to mm romance through anime. I started off with shonen/boys’ action manga titles, particularly Gundam Wing. (Oops, is my age showing?) From there, I took a deep dive into fandom.
If you know anything about Gundam Wing fandom, it’s that the fandom is full of yaoi/shonen-ai shippers and rabid misogyny. (That last bit was something I came to terms with later; I agree that I didn’t exactly care for any of the female characters on the show except Noin, so as a teen, “bashing” the crap female characters seemed like good sport. Plus, everyone else was doing it!)
From there, I took a rather circuitous route through fandom, straight through RPF, and finally into original stuff. (Slapshot! is one of my first non-fanfiction mm pieces, and it’s been in the works since 2010, in various permutations.)
So, given how I entered the realm of mm romance, it’s a little surprising I’d somewhat forgotten about manga. A friend loaned me a book called I Hear the Sunspot, however, which put manga back on my March reading list.
I Hear the Sunspot follow Sugihara Kohei and Sagawa Taichi as they become friends and then maybe, possibly, more. Kohei is hard-of-hearing, so the manga also explores, to an extent, life with a disability. It’s super-sweet, and I really enjoyed it—as evidenced by the fact I read the book in about an hour one afternoon.
I’m Totally Cheating
Reading manga may appear to be a sort of “cheat” to some people. Comics, graphic novels, and manga are specifically designed to be read quickly. (Manga, in particular, was originally developed to be reading material for commuters in the 1950s and 1960s.) People “read” visuals much more quickly than text, so many people consider comics and the like less intellectual than text-based literature. The pop culture, mass-appeal, and quick-reading formats tend to get written off as “not real literature.” “Reading” visually takes a fair amount of know-how, however, and there’s lots of nuance even experienced readers miss on the first time through.
Nonetheless, some people could consider my reading a manga a bit of a “cheat.” When I said I wanted to read more books, I didn’t specify what kind of books, although most people likely assumed I meant text-based fiction—novels in particular.
I did almost get a fourth book read in March, however. I picked up Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. A friend and I went to see the movie together, so we both tried to read the book before we went to see Love, Simon. (My friend finished before, but I didn’t.)
I did finish up Simon on April 1, which means I’ve technically finished one whole book for the month of April already! I don’t normally read YA, so Simon was interesting to me. One of the biggest things that struck me was the formatting: the text was so large and the spacing so wide. Wow.
The text itself was also fairly easy reading, and I skimmed a lot of the “extraneous” email information (seriously, am I going to read their email addresses over and over again?). In some ways, I’d consider this more of a “cheat” than the manga.
I Did Read Another Book
Technically, I don’t need to make an April reading list because I did read another book already. I’ll call this a “guilty pleasure,” except the experience wasn’t all that pleasurable. No, this was a Bad Book, and it’s my first encounter with one in a while. It was every reason I typically don’t consider myself a romance reader. The plot was saccharine, the hero perfect, the villains cardboard cut-outs, some of the plot points completely nonsensical. The writing was average, at best, and problems were resolved instantaneously. It even broke my ability to suspend my disbelief.
I’m not going to name it here. I think I want to talk about it more fully in another post. Suffice to say I’m a little disappointed I “wasted” my time as a reader.
That said, however, I’m technically done my April reading!
Let’s Make a List Anyway
So, if I’m done my April reading, why bother making a list? ‘cause I wanna. Can I manage to read four or five books in April? Let’s find out.
Right now, I’m working on the second volume of I Hear the Sunspot. This is subtitled The Theory of Happiness, and it’s a much heftier tome than the first volume. It’s still cute, although I can’t say I’m enjoying it as much as the first.
After a number of incidents in March and an ongoing conversation about diversity in publishing, I’m grabbing In His Corner by Christa Tomlinson. The book drops tomorrow, and I’ve just pre-ordered it.
Why this book? Well, for one, it’s on my radar. For two, it’s an mm romance between boxers? I took boxing for a while, and we all know I like my sports romances. Further, this adds to my own self-assigned mandate to read more POC authors and more books with POC characters.
Reading and Supporting POC/AOC
I haven’t been vocal in the discussion about diversity in books, partially because it’s not my role to talk at this point and partially because I’m listening to the discussion. And I fully agree the time for platitudes is over. We’ve been having this ongoing discussion and editors and publishers keep saying “oh, we want to publish more POC!” or whatever. And then they do nothing. They offer up excuses about how it doesn’t sell or how these people aren’t visible or aren’t submitting or whatever.
Readers often offer up the same platitudes. Or, worse, they go running to POC and ask them to do the work of finding books for white readers. So many POC authors and readers do make recommendations, tirelessly. I’m listening to these recommendations too, but it isn’t up to POC to find and recommend books I’ll like. That’s up to me! So I’m also working on finding my own books. I “found” this author and this book through Twitter’s recommendations. It really is that fucking easy, white friends. You can choose to live in a bubble or you can decide your world is full of color and branch out.
So, this is me as a reader putting my money where my mouth is. Instead of weighing in on Twitter threads or chanting about how we need more diverse books or whatever, I’m listening, I’m doing my homework, and I’m buying and reading books. Actions speak louder than words. (And please note, I’m detailing this so other people can see how simple it can be to do this—not because I think I’m some sort of hero for doing it. It’s easy and if you want to do it, you can do it with relatively little issue—so those who don’t do it are more and more suspect.)
Is It Time to Update Goals?
At this point, I’ve read eight or nine books of my twenty-four. It’s April 9, currently, which means we’re between a quarter and a third of the way through the year. I’ve already hit my quarterly and one-third targets. I could take a break, but I seem to be on a roll.
Is it time to update and revise my annual reading goal? I think I’ll leave that for now. I can always re-evaluate at the midway point of the year or even later. If it becomes apparent I’m going to exceed my goal, then maybe! But I don’t know what the other 75 percent of this year holds. So, for now, I’ll hold steady.