What we fed our minds this February

What we fed our minds this February

In Reading Challenges by The Editors

What we fed our minds this February

This month’s Feed Your Mind prompt to read about Black history motivated me to start listening to an antiracism audiobook that I’ve been wanting to get to for a while. In his National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi traces the history of racist ideas in America, specifically through the three concepts of segregation, assimilation, and antiracism. Kendi contextualizes recent events, including the tragic killing of Black men and women and urgent calls for racial justice, through the lives of five historical figures, or “tour guides” as he calls them: Cotton Mather, a colonial era preacher who used Christianity to justify slavery; Thomas Jefferson, who was paradoxically both antislavery and an anti-abolitionist; William Lloyd Garrison, an assimilationist who helped usher in a 19th century movement for emancipation and civil rights; W. E. B. DuBois, who challenged Jim Crow; and, Angela Davis, a civil rights and Black Power activist. Powerful, eye-opening, and deeply researched, this chronicle of the seeds and spread of prejudice is a necessary read not just this Black History Month, but any and every month.

— Katie W.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Diversify your fiction by reading a Black novelist for Black History Month

Usually, I like to run away from reality when I read fiction; I tend to fall squarely in the fantasy camp. So I was reluctant to escape into a story propelled by violent events that happen all too often in real life, especially with the world having been seemingly upside down for the past year. But I accepted the challenge, and I’m truly grateful for the journey this book took me on.

From the first chapter, I was drawn to the characters’ voices. Lena’s and Campbell’s emotions and experiences are grounded in everyday, universal feelings. Their relatable insecurities, fears, and worries were an anchor and a compelling guide through the break-neck pace of one chaotic event after another in the wake of a racially charged shooting. Lena (who is Black) and Campbell (who is white) provide a safe space (as great books do) for making sense of events in the real world — events that I hope one day truly exist only in fiction.

— Christina F.

The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin and Noah Hayes

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Diversify your fiction by reading a Black novelist for Black History Month

I want to read works from a more diverse group of authors and I’m a huge sports nut, so this book from the Black Joy reading list about a plucky basketball team from an art school practically jumped off the screen at me. I also saw that The Avant-Guards is a graphic novel and thought: “Bonus! This won't take that long.” Fast forward two hours later and I've now read ALL OF THE BOOKS IN THE SERIES.

I loved The Avant-Guards. The story opens with the newly formed basketball team at the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics in need of just one more player to make all of their sports dreams come true. That player arrives in the form of Charlie, a new student planning to leave basketball behind her. But when Charlie meets the persistent team captain, Liv, we know it's only a matter of time before Charlie will be back on the court. The characters in this series all have different racial, gender, and sexual identities, but the plot isn’t rooted in those differences. Instead, The Avant-Guards explores the universal themes of friendship, teamwork, and finding yourself.

This series has everything I love: romance, humor, smart protagonists, and sports. Liv and I might not look alike, but I guarantee we have a shared proclivity for killer spreadsheets. These people would have been my friends in high school. I recommend that you get to know everyone on the team, too.

— Meghan F.

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Diversify your fiction by reading a Black novelist for Black History Month

I love Alyssa Cole’s historical romances, especially An Extraordinary Union, which follows two spies during the Civil War. And Cole’s Reluctant Royals series (including her newest book, How to Catch a Queen) is next on my romance TBR pile after hearing that Roxane Gay(!) loves A Princess in Theory and A Duke by Default. Gay called the books “Sexy, charming romance novels that were well-written, smart, wildly implausible but absolutely absorbing” in a 2019 Gay Mag article. What more could I ask for after a year where “absorbing” and “wildly implausible” feel-good books have been a much-needed escape?

Well, how about an absorbing new thriller by the same fantastic writer? In When No One Is Watching, Cole turns her attention from heart-melting romance to heart-pounding chills. Gentrification has never been creepier than in this tense page-turner. As property rates rise in an historically Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, longtime community members start disappearing. One local resident —  reeling from a bad breakup, her mother’s illness, and insomnia — is convinced foul play is afoot. She can’t go to the cops, so she sets out to sleuth out the truth herself.

— Katie W.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Get romantic for Valentine’s Day

Remember 2019, when family vacations were still A Thing? While on one with my family, after days of exhausting work and reminiscing about past vacations, we ended up talking about the hardships of modern coupling, of all things. The single, the married, and the dating all weighed in, equally engaged. Somewhere along the line my sister and I said, almost in unison, “It’s hard because love seeks closeness, while desire needs distance.” I looked at her, my eyes peeled. “Do you know about Esther Perel?” I asked.

As it turns out, everyone does. From a Vogue “73 Questions With” interview, to her viral TED talk and IG presence (I first heard about her from a Lykke Li IG story), Esther Perel is an internet sensation in all its glory.

I would normally advise people to be wary of celebrity psychologists and their books. But this one is different. There is no formula in Mating in Captivity. It’s not a guidebook offering “steps” to follow. It’s more of an eye-opener to how crazy our culture is around intimacy. It makes you feel seen and truly hopeful about reviving the erotic in your life. In a way, it’s a lot like therapy (but cheaper and anonymous!). At 300 pages (or 8 listening hours), you can finish it in a weekend, but if you really take the time to process what you read, it takes at least a whole month and some vulnerable conversations with your partner. If you like the book, give a listen to her genius podcast, where you can hear Esther in action in real couple’s therapy sessions. (We also have her more recent book, The State of Affairs, on Scribd.)

— Katie W.

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Get romantic for Valentine’s Day

I’m not sure that Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren fed my mind, but it certainly refueled my soul. The book centers on the relationship between Elliot and Macy, best friends who fall in love as teenagers and then disappear from each other’s lives. A chance encounter over a decade later reunites them, and feelings of both love and resentment emerge. The two revisit the decisions that led to the demise of their young love, and heartbreaking consequences of youthful actions are unveiled. You’ll have to read the book to see if they can overcome their obstacles.

What I will say is that because this sweet story bounces between the past and present day, it felt as though I got two love stories in one. It delivered the romance trifecta: an adorable meet-cute, the totally expected unexpected plot twist, and most importantly, a second chance at a happily ever after. It receives bonus points from this Scribd employee because it’s based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the main characters met and bonded over their love of reading.

— Jen S.

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Learn more about the Year of the Metal Ox (a bit of cheating here, but hey!)

What do you think you know about China? Prepare to have your assumptions thrown for a loop with journalist Te-Ping Chen’s short story collection. Land of Big Numbers blurs the lines between the East and the West and employs magical realism in low doses, making the reader question what’s real and what’s a product of Chinese censors and American stereotypes.

From the first story, “Lulu,” I felt an eerie chill go through me. It follows twin siblings, a genius sister (the titular Lulu) and the jealous brother addicted to video games. (I thought China was strict about population control?) Lulu spends all her time online disparaging the Communist Party of China, going around censors to reveal government abuse, which eventually lands her in a detention center. These protests burn in the background of almost every story in the collection, and they are evocative of civil rights protests that happened in America in 2020.

My favorite story in the collection was the last, “Gubeikou Spirit.” It involves a group of people who get stuck at the Gubeikou train station for an exorbitant amount of time. One of the things I know, as true facts, about China is that the country has heavily invested in train and highway infrastructure over the past few decades. It’s built rail lines and roads at hyper speed, emulating an America of yore. I feel awe and dread simultaneously at these facts, and “Gubeikou Spirit” heightens these sentiments by showing an admittedly fantastical dark side of all this progress. “The train was a marvel, just two years old, state-of-the-art. … There were twenty-six lines already built, with another ten under way. No other city in the world had built its subway stations so quickly.” Throughout the collection, all characters are searching for something bigger, something better; a way into the communist party, a way out of the communist party; something to curb the idea of American exceptionalism, to show that it’s paved the way for Chinese greatness. Chen’s stories will take you on this journey and leave you rethinking what you know of the world’s superpowers.

Ashley M.

The End of Everything by Katie Mack

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Clean up your 2020 leftovers

One of my favorite parts of a year coming to a close is all the “best of” lists! As a voracious reader, I especially look forward to the book lists. At first, I experience gift-opening-esque joy as I start to look at all the wonderful books. Then a sense of shame, as I notice how few of the books I’ve read or even heard of until then. Finally, the thankfulness and calm that someone has thoughtfully curated some suggestions for me. Because of these various lists, I spent time closing out 2020 with some of my favorite books of the year, such as If Then by Jill Lepore and A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind.

Katie Mack’s The End of Everything deals with a much larger timeline than these other two books and has been something I had wanted to read since before it was even published. I follow Ms. Mack on Twitter and appreciate how she helps me quickly understand mind-boggling aspects of the cosmos. Yes, I am a fan of the writings of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking, and other brilliant minds who rip off just enough of their area of expertise about the universe to help us understand and digest where, when, and how we live. This book did not disappoint in doing precisely that.

As the name suggests, The End of Everything is about the end of the universe — which felt like a bit much to handle for 2020. I was glad for this challenge so that I could take my fresh, optimistic 2021 perspective to the subject. The book is surprisingly uplifting, despite the title. I spent most of the time in wonder and amazement that sharp people are using very complex measurements and rigorous mathematics to think about questions like “What is on the other side of the Big Bang?” How the universe will end is something that creeps into every curious mind, and I mostly just go with my gut. But this book will teach you about how to think about it scientifically — and you still get to use playfully frightening terms like “The Big Crunch,” “Heat Death,” and “The Big Rip.”

— Cameron M.

Look out for next month’s challenge. To participate, tweet us @Scribd or tag us on Instagram @Scribd to show what you’ve been reading or listening to using the hashtag #FeedYourMind.
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