Reading Challenges are a great way to introduce oneself to books one normally wouldn’t read. I decided to tackle Multnomah County Library’s Everybody Reads titles back in 2013 and have kept up with it since then. This is their community wide reading project similar to “One City, One Book” or “The Big Read.” Everybody Reads launched in 2003.

Here are my reviews starting from the most current selection.

Good Talk by Mira Jacob is Multnomah County Library’s Everybody Reads 2022 selection- their first graphic novel pick. It brought up a lot of thoughts and emotions from me which is  good for any book club type title. 

As someone who grew up in the Philippines, I saw the incessant brainwashing that having a darker skin tone was bad, ugly, and needed to be remedied. I hate how it still is very prevalent to this day practically anywhere in the world.

I cringed at the microaggressions that she went through because I know from experience how common that is.

As we all are just trying to get through this pandemic, I almost (sort of but not really) forgot how much stress and oppression I was under during the last presidency. It’s not something I wanted to be reminded of or cared to read about as a past event because we’re still dealing with it.

The illustrations was a very unique style and at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it but I eventually warmed to it. I also listened to a sample of the audiobook version just to see how that would be since this is a graphic novel.

I first read this last year and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review… 

This collection of essays was- for lack of a better word- delightful! I actually got to hear Ross Gay speak at a bookseller’s conference before this book came out and listening to it on audio book with him narrating it took me back to that time. Although subjective to his particular tastes and experiences, a lot of the readers can find themselves enjoying the things he writes about. Or thinking about why it may or may not be a delight in their lives. I enjoyed recommending this when it first came out (in 2019) as a balm for the dark and troubling times we were experiencing. Now, I can recommend it as a reminder to look for the light and for the delights in these difficult times and as a reminder also that better days are ahead if we just work together. 

I first read this back in 2020 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

I was worried that I may not have enjoyed this novel as much as I did since everyone I know who’s read it seemed to have liked it. It did take me awhile to get into it since there were lots of characters to keep track of and for the most part I was impressed by how he was able to differentiate his writing style to reflect it. I got angry at different parts of the book at the unfairness and injustice and there was also the sense of helplessness of wondering what can be done to change things. I wasn’t ready for what happened at the powwow and the way things ended but I really wouldn’t have had it any other way. Hopefully without spoiling it for anyone it was the ending reflective of how Native Americans have been mistreated.

I first read this back in 2019 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

While the writing was fine, I hated the structure of the novel. There would be a flashback and then another flashback so all the time jumping annoyed me. The characters weren’t that likable to me, either, which I understand stories don’t always need to have likable characters but I didn’t really care for what happened to them. Some of the cultural insights were relatable and interesting to think about that.

I first read this back in 2016 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

I’d been hearing a lot about this book recently. Adapted from her TEDx Talk, this is a call to action to change the way women are being treated and mistreated. By simply allowing things to continue as they are, we unknowingly promote outdated and harmful and disrespectful behavior. We should indeed all be feminists because it’s just an extension of fighting for human rights.

I first read this back in 2018 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review… 

I originally gave this a lower review because I thought it was rather depressing. But the more I thought about it and after attending a book club to discuss it, I changed my mind which just goes to show that sometimes you need to let the words sink in and not always go off your first reaction.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. The magical element caught me off guard and I think ultimately added something to it. It probably made the story more effective had it just been a straight out narrative tackling the topical issues of migration and refugees.

Although a short book, it’s the kind that makes you ponder after reading a few pages.

The mini stories within Saeed and Nadia’s were curious asides often through provoking. Lots of the book club members enjoyed them too. They found many passages to highlight and bookmark and wanted to share.

One of my favorite passages: “Perhaps they had grasped that the doors could not be closed, and new doors would continue to open, and they had understood that the denial of coexistence would have required one party to cease to exist, and the extinguishing party too would have been transformed in the process, and too many native parents would not after have been able to look their children in the eye, to speak with held high of what their generation had done.”

Originally, I thought the book to be too depressing but at the end I think it was ultimately hopeful. That despite everything- the inevitability of change and the good and bad that arises from it, the uncertainty of things- we can still hope for a better future, of happier days. 

 I was fortunate enough to see Mohsin Hamid speak at the culminating event for Multnomah County Library’s Everybody Reads program. The library once again partnered with the wonderful nonprofit organization Literary Arts to invite the author speak at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Not only was the beautiful space filled with book lovers and hundreds of high school students but also a Literary Arts volunteer of over 30 years and who was celebrating her 90th birthday that evening! 

Mohsin Hamid started out talking about himself and how Exit West was sort of an autobiographical memoir in terms of places he’s lived in and visited. I was able to relate to his story of moving from one country to another, exchanging one culture for another. 

He then talked about the significance of the black doors in the novel- and how our phones are similar to them- and the importance of names. 

Talking about the craft of writing, he mentioned how finding the right form was crucial to tell the story in the best way possible and he likened his approach in the story’s form of Exit West to children’s literature. (He would shout out children’s literature a couple times throughout the presentation with Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar as some of the books he mentioned. He would also say that each book is in their own way migration stories.) For language, he said he was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s style- not just in the messages he was trying to convey but the way his words would take the person along for a ride to an ending that seemed inevitable even when it may have been in unexpected. 

He also the impermanence of first love- and life in general- and the otherness in all us. He said that transcendental love- a love that is not possessive but is for others- is what is needed to create an optimistic future. 

The Q&A portion elicited some great questions ranging from what weird food combinations he enjoyed to some of his favorite books. He ended by giving his advice to aspiring writers by saying, “You can find everything you need to know about writing at the library.” 

I first read this back in 2017 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

I was hesitant to read this at first, worried that it was going to be too textbook-sy, but I needn’t have worried. Matthew Desmond focused on a few people in various stages of eviction. This method made it more relatable. It was eye opening how much of a business this has become which I think makes it more difficult to find solutions.

I did go to a book club to discuss this. Most of the attendees were regulars so I didn’t really feel comfortable sharing my thoughts. Plus, I was definitely the youngest one there by far. It was cute though. The first five minutes was about how cold the room was.

It wasn’t an easy book to get through and it was a timely book. Poverty is practically everywhere. Thinking about the problem as a whole is overwhelming. It reminded me, just with everything else we want to change, we need to start small because we can’t change anyone other than ourselves. Hopefully, by doing so, we can set an example within the people we know, our circles of influence. It’s hard to think about changing the world when you’re trying to just get by on a day to day basis. By focusing on fixing your current problems- and helping others along the way if you’re able- you’re also creating solutions for the big picture.

I first read this back in 2016 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review… 

I was hesitant to read Multnomah County Library’s Everybody Reads selection because I was so underwhelmed by their last choice. But I enjoyed this novel and breezed through it. This is the story of immigrants from Latin America. In an apartment building in Delaware, you get glimpses of what they sacrificed to get to the US, their dreams, their disillusionment, their hardships, and their triumphs. The focus is on two families whose lives become intertwined when their children fall in love. Readers might get a sense of what’s going to happen but they’ll still be surprised. I would have liked more diversity in the voices of the characters. I think this was a good choice for a community reading project because the topic is timely. 

I first read this back in 2015 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. I was surprised by how much I disliked it. While I did enjoy all the Portland references, the ultra realistic depiction of life was a bit too much for me because I could have focused on my own problems rather reading other people’s.

I first read this back in 2014 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

My Beloved World offers snapshots of Sonia Sotomayor’s life from childhood to her becoming a federal judge. Hers is a story populated by people who shaped who she was, especially by the strong women in her life- her mother and grandmother. She is candid and honest which makes for a refreshing read. She stresses the importance of education and willingness to ask for help. She acknowledges that her go-getter attitude is not something everyone’s born with but can be implemented in their own lives. She also mentions luck playing a role but she was definitely prepared for when opportunities presented themselves to her!

Another theme is cultural identity. “I needed a history in which I could anchor my own sense of self.” I admire her being proud of her heritage but not letting it define herself, not letting one thing be the label she’s stuck with since not one of us is just one thing one hundred percent of the time. She helped those like her but made sure to include everyone. And, the fact that she and her peers were basically paving the way for future generations to be able to have the same opportunities in life, it was interesting to see one way of how their experiences are passed on.

“We are all limited, highly imperfect beings, worthy in some dimensions, deficient in others, and if we would understand how any of our connections survive, we would do well to look first to what is good in each of us.” 

I first read this back in 2013 as part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review… 

I was instantly hooked when I picked up Ten Little Indians. I just wanted to stay home and read through the whole thing but I also wanted to take the time to enjoy each of the stories before going on to the next one. I was impressed by how each story sounded different yet there were some things that were mentioned or touched upon repeatedly. Each one was better than the last. 

I can’t remember when I first read this but it was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

Sherman Alexie’s a writer who’s been recommended to me for the longest time. When I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a few years ago, I liked how relatable the main character was. While this followed a similar arc to many coming of age stories out there, of the protagonist persevering through whatever challenges came their way and ended up being better for them, this was somehow different and refreshing. 

With its strong but honest language and a lot of the subjects covered, I can see why certain groups may be offended with the book and may want it banned. But I think that’s what a great story does. It makes us uncomfortable in its ability to mirror our lives and ourselves in its pages. 

I first read this back in 2012 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky was a book I hadn’t planned on reading. I thought it was going to be a heavy handed novel about being bi-racial- like an after-school special with a Very Important Lesson. Fortunately, I ended up getting a copy since this was Multnomah County Library’s Everybody Reads selection for 2012. And, I couldn’t put it down. It was just that good!

While the book does deal with race, this is ultimately a story about identity- and the color of Rachel’s skin is just one factor in discovering who she is.

Who is Rachel Morse? She’s the daughter of an African-American father and Danish mother. She’s the new girl with light brown skin and blue eyes in a mostly black community. She’s the girl who fell from the sky- and survived. This is her story of trying to figure out how she fits in in a world where people are summed up in one word.

Heidi Durrow created a wonderful supporting cast of characters, shifting between their points of views throughout the novel, parceling out just enough information to keep the readers turning the pages. This was craftily written. I would be reading the book and, in a seemingly throwaway line, the story steps it up even another notch.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is a great read on the most basic level- but does have important things to say as well. Highly recommended.

I first read this back in 2013 as part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

An eye-opening book about the choices we make in life. Although, admittedly, at times, we may not know what other choices we have. It’s easy to judge others and their situations but, unless we put ourselves in their shoes, we really can’t know why they did what they did.

I first read this back in 2013 as part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review… 

The writing’s good and the subject is fascinating but I just couldn’t get into it. This book took me forever to get through. Probably because I don’t usually like reading non-fiction. I did like how it read sort of like a mystery especially when the pieces started to come together. I appreciated all the research that went into this and the connections between the past and present day. The last chapter was kind of depressing, though, and unnecessary. 

I remember Multnomah County Library giving out cholera stuffies during this time!

I first read this back in 2013 as part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review… 

This is a fascinating read about “three generations of in the life of a Japanese American family.” We read of their hard work and dedication to make a name for themselves. But there’s also the cruel prejudice they endured over many years because they weren’t Americans. Those parts were so hard to read because of all the hate & racism that was prevalent not that long ago. It’s sad how we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes, finding other groups of people to do all those horrible things to. 

It’s interesting to read about their culture. The importance of family and fulfilling one’s roles. The drive that makes them successful. The pressure that can make them end it all. One minute you think they’re the most perfect human being but then you get another side of them that’s flawed. So they seemed very realistically portrayed. I even watched the documentary (made by one of the third-generation Yasui) that was mentioned in the book.

 Stubborn Twig
really gave me a lot to think about. 

I first read this back in 2012 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

I’ve been hesitant to read memoirs ever since the whole Three Cups of Tea controversy. There were definitely some parts where I questioned the possibility of events really happening. Aside from my cynical point of view about memoirs, the writing was good. The subject matter- of kids becoming soldiers because of horrific circumstances- is hard to comprehend that it’s a way of life in some places, even now. 

I first read this back in 2013 as part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

This was quite scandalous and thereby very hard to put down. It’s about secrets and sacrifices. It’s about figuring out who we are in terms of our families and friends, where we’re from and where we’re raised. It’s hard to imagine being put in a similar situation.

I first read this before I moved to Portland in 2008 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. It has since become one of My Favorite Favorites. Here’s the review mostly referring to the movie version and the graphic novel adaptation…

I finished watching The Kite Runner– a good enough movie but it just goes to show how much is lost between the book and the film. A positive thing that the movie had going for it was how it was able to skip the parts that dragged the book down especially the melodramatic incidents of the last chapters. It was also fascinating to learn through the bonus features how international the whole film project was from the cast and crew to the locale- Afghanistan was shot in China! 

The Kite Runner is such a story about friendship, redemption and forgiveness that it was easy to get emotional while watching the movie but not necessarily because of the scenes playing out. My mind was going off on all kinds of tangents. It’s sad that war and poverty is still so much a way of life. And, equally sad is how religion gets twisted to justify violence. And I thought of simpler times in general. Oh, nostalgia! The movie also made me wish I was more aware and in tune of my culture. 

I gave this book out for the first World Book Night in the US. I needed to refresh my memory so I read the graphic novel. While it’s great that this format can reach out to a new demographic, so much of what made it wonderful is lost. 

I first read this back in 2012 and was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

I know of The House on Mango Street as a book students buy because they have to as part of their required reading. That’s partly why I decided to give it a try. At the same time, though, that was also why I was hesitant to pick it up. It seems to me a lot of good books are ruined by being forced upon students. Of course, it’s great to be exposed to new and different things but too over analyze things will ruin the experience. But my issue with that is a whole other matter. 

I was surprised by how sparse the text was. The simple, lyrical and seemingly disparate prose reveals a much-larger story of a young Latin girl and the lessons she learns in and out of the house on Mango Street. This is a good book to see things through someone else’s eyes and to challenge oneself to go deeper than what’s on the written page. 

I can’t remember when I first read- or reread- this but it was part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

This is a book that most everybody has probably read. The issues of censorship and the media’s power and control over the population are still relevant. It’s scary to think that the dystopian future Bradbury envisioned sometimes play out in our time. I think I’m way overdue to reread this classic.

I first read this back in 2013 as part of my Everybody Reads Reading Challenge. Here’s the review…

I was hesitant to read this at first because of similarities with another book I’d just finished recently- The Other Wes Moore- but I was immediately hooked. Not particularly a tearjerker but moving nonetheless. I liked how it ended even though not everything was tied up nicely. There was still a sense of closure. 

Looking back, the books about identity and family were the books that resonated with me the most. Books can help find others like us, whether it be in non-fiction or fiction. They can help us best understand ourselves and others. I look forward to what the next Everybody Reads books will be in the upcoming years- and to see what kind of discussions they bring up!

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