Bobby is a sixteen-year-old father who has taken on the responsibility of caring for his infant daughter all on his own. He doesn’t get any help from his mom, his brothers have moved away, and his dad lives on the other side of town. Told in sparse, feeling first-person, the book interchanges between ‘then’ and ‘now’ (‘now’ being when Bobby has an infant daughter to take care of and ‘then’ being mostly in the year prior). I was hooked right from the first page.
Every time I passed The First Part Last in the library, I had the strong impression that it wanted to be read, and when I saw that it was the winner of the Coretta Scott King Book Award, that sealed the deal—Coretta Scott King, of course, was married to Martin Luther King Junior, and I highly recommend the book Stride Toward Freedom (about the Montgomery bus boycott of December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956) for a revitalized glimpse into the sort of courageous, loving, and incredible people that they were (that, however, is for another post). I could have devoured The First Part Last in one sitting—as it was, I devoured it all in one day, and this despite repeated efforts to close the book and attend to other things. No matter what, it always ended up back in my hands (at one point I was holding the book in one hand and stirring a bubbling pot of pasta with the other—I couldn’t put it down). Not knowing much about it going in had a real effect on how the bits and pieces of the story came together, and I want to leave that option open for prospective readers—but I do want to say that reading about a teenage father taking care of his baby, staying up with her all night, changing diapers, getting up three hours before school to bus her to the sitter, and just loving her so much was absolutely something else; “…then I know I’m being a man, not just some kid who’s upset and wants his way. I’m being a man” (this line comes right at the moment in the story when he decides to keep her). So many things about this book stayed with me long after reading it.
One of the most popular New Year‘s Resolutions we hear around the library is “I want to read more”. And yet, like any good New Year‘s Resolution, many of us find it impossible to stick to by the third week of January. Adult life is hectic, and those small moments of peace in a day can become another source of stress when you feel the need to maximize your enjoyment of them. Say you’ve got a couple of hours to yourself one day. How should you spend it? Well, you could crack into that book that you keep renewing. Or you could catch up on your favourite show on Netflix, or watch that movie everyone’s been talking about. Or you could throw out entertainment altogether and run some personal errands, or maybe meal prep for the week. And now, no matter which option you pick, you’ll be missing out on something. See? Stressful!
One of the ways people work around this battle for productivity is to set themselves a reading challenge. If you’ve never heard of one, they come in a few forms. The most well-known—and possibly the one that popularized the very concept—is the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which asks users to set themselves a target number of books they’d like to read. The 2020 challenge is currently sitting at an average pledge of 44 books read in a year, working out to about 3 and a half books a month. I think most busy adults would balk at this number, but keep in mind that this average is being thrown off by ambitious teens. A more sensible number like 20 books a year, or 12 books a year, or even 5 books a year is just as valid to Goodreads! The great thing about this challenge is that it is super easy to keep track of; Goodreads allows you to catalogue your “Read” and “Want to Read” shelves, as well as offering an endless number of personalized shelves. In short, it’s fun. It is, however, public.
For the even more ambitious, the internet is full of reading challenges that present in the form of monthly guided lists or bingo cards, with challenges like “read a book by a woman of colour” and “read a book more than 100 years old”. These are more personal challenges, in that nobody is necessarily watching you work your way through them. They can be quite helpful if you’re stuck for something to read and need quick inspiration. But sticking to them religiously can be stifling.
There’s been a flood of feminist titles being published in the past couple of years throughout 2018 & 2019, many of which have been fueled by so much anger accumulated over so many years that it has bubbled over and had to find an outlet, be written out and find an audience. A couple titles listed below are quite new (e.g. Burn It Down edited by Lilly Dancyger, Seven Necessary Sins for Girls and Women by Mona Eltahawy), and I wouldn’t be surprised if the floodgates remain open with more and more titles being published over the next year or two at least, but all these books about women’s anger, the reasons behind the anger, what we can do to make things better for this generation and the next – I can’t help but wonder what will come of reading these titles. There’s a part of me that remains cautious while reading through them. I’ve made my way through portions of some of them, and come away feeling incensed and frustrated, but not really feeling quite incendiary or powerful because of being fueled by anger, necessarily. Perhaps that comes at the end.