This year, I participated in the Buzzword Reading Challenge – created by Kayla at BooksandLala – and it was a lot of fun. Basically, each month is assigned a word or theme, and you have to read a book with that word in the title. I really enjoyed participating this year, so I thought I’d do a wrap up and talk about all of the books I read and what I thought about them.

I’ll be honest, I did mainly choose books that I was already planning on reading anyway, but there were a few months that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m also very happy with the books I chose for these challenges, because half of them are nonfiction and half of them are written by authors of color. Which was my goal. So I think this was pretty successful!

But we still have twelve books to talk about, so let’s get to it!

January – “dream”

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This was the very first book I read in 2021, and I really enjoyed it. I think it was a good way to set the tone for my reading year. I actually considered a few other books for this challenge (and actually also ended up reading Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue later in the month), but this one had been sitting on my shelf for probably years at this point, so it was time.

This is a middle grade memoir, told through poetry. And while poetry is not exactly something I gravitate towards a lot, I do enjoy it most when it’s used to tell stories like this. The story itself was brilliant. It’s about Woodson growing up in the South during the Civil Rights movement and the remnants of Jim Crow. I absolutely loved that this was geared towards a middle grade audience. It’s such an important topic that we should be talking about with young people, and it books like this make me really happy to see.

February – a color

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

To be honest, I did the dumb thing and procrastinated writing this post, so I don’t totally remember my thought process behind choosing this book, other than that I wanted to try and read as many diverse books as possible for this challenge. I think I’d been hearing people talk about it a lot, so I decided to pick it up since it fit.

This is a story of a boy who is chosen to be the servant to his master’s brother. The brother turns out to be an eccentric inventor and the two go on adventures. It follows Washington Black from his time in slavery on a plantation to being a free man traveling the world. And it sounded so good! But this was just one of those books my brain did not want to connect with. It was good, but for some reason, just not my cup of tea.

March – “time”

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

I was so excited for this book! It’s about a boy who falls overboard on a cruise ship and is safely delivered back to his mother… in the jaws of a shark. It reminded me so much of The Bone People by Keri Hulme, which is one of my favorites. But this one turned out to be very different. And not in the best way.

It started out really interesting, which the magical elements that felt a lot like mythology. Very mysterious and kind of beautiful. And then it kind of just turned out to be a story of a family who put a lot of expectations on one child – the one who was saved by sharks – and how that affected their children as they grew. Which is also a story I might want to read, but after the magical sharks, it kind of just felt a little disappointing. I wish the magical realism had carried more into the second part of the book, but I did still like it. Just less than I was expecting to.

April – space words

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

I’ll be honest, I did not plan this month’s book out. I squeezed this one in at the last minute (I did not follow the rule of reading these all in the first week of each month, but whatever). I’d been intrigued by this one, and my library had the audiobook available, and I grabbed it.

This is about the murders of members of the Osage Nation in the 1920s, and how some of the richest people in the world were being killed off got the attention of the FBI. I thought the story was really interesting. I appreciated that a relatively unknown story was getting so much attention through this book – because we all know stories like this that center on people of color don’t get told very often. I didn’t love this book, something about the writing just didn’t work for me, but I did like it and am looking forward to the film adaptation.

May – “house+home”

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

This book was a little more intense than I thought it would be going in. It’s about two sisters struggling with the implications of their brother following in their father’s footsteps and becoming a jihadist. When the son of a famous politician comes into their lives, things get even more complicated.

Looking back on this book, I don’t remember it very well. This didn’t stick with me all that much. I get what it was trying to do, but I just didn’t enjoy reading it all that much. I liked that the focused on an immigrant family and the unique struggles they face. But something about this story just didn’t do it for me. I think I’m just one of those people who has never understood such extreme family loyalty, which made it a little difficult to connect with these characters.

June – names and titles

Franny & Zooey by J. D. Salinger

Now, this one, I didn’t like at all. I read this for the reading experiment where I read some of Drew Barrymore’s favorite classics. And while this was not my least favorite, it was definitely at the bottom of my list. This book annoyed me so much. It was religious, which isn’t my thing, but whatever. But these characters – especially Franny – were just over-the-top dramatic and I did not enjoy it.

This wasn’t the book I was planning to read for this month of the challenge, but I ran out of time, so this had to do. Still, I’m pretty sure I erased most of this from my brain already.

July – “last”

Barracoon: The Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston

This is about, Cudjo, the last living person who was transported to America via a slave vessel. Hurston traveled to Alabama to interview him personally, and then recorded his story in this book. And it’s one of those books that I’m so glad exists, because this is definitely a story that should be kept as part of our history.

And I really enjoyed reading it. This is a fairly short book, and my only complaint is that there wasn’t as much of Cudjo’s story as I would have liked. A significant portion of this book is dedicated to Hurston’s experiences meeting and interviewing Cudjo. Still interesting, but now exactly what I came for.

August – time of day

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum

Now this was an interesting book. It’s all about how democracy is being attacked. And is maybe on it’s way out as more of the elites are gravitating towards authoritarianism. I mean, we all saw what’s been happening here for the last six years. Maybe our system is not as flawless as we like to think it is, but what’s the alternative?

This book addresses not only democracy in the United States, but all over the world. How it’s different, what governments are changing or looking at to make it more effective. This book didn’t provide a solution, but it does bring up some points that are pretty interesting to think about.

September – “dark”

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

I’ve had this book on my radar for a bit, and it sounded really intriguing. It’s about a romance between a teacher and his student. Kind of a modern Lolita. This started off really good. Dark, interesting, and suspenseful. But about halfway through the novel, I started to get really frustrated with the main character.

I get that this book was about trauma and grooming, but I wanted to scream at the main character. Like, it was an all-around awful situation, but she handled everything so badly, and I just wanted to sit her down and get her to see the crazy. Started off strong, but I was not a fan of how this ended.

October – elements

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

At the beginning of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time watching videos online about Mount Everest. I have absolutely no interest in climbing any mountain ever, but I could not get enough of the stories. Even Krakauer admits you have to be kind of crazy to climb the highest peak in the world.

Krakauer happened to be on top of the mountain when a blizzard unexpectedly hit the summit and resulted in the deaths of eight people. It is still the worst disaster in Everest history. And it was fascinating to read a first-hand account. The story is so heartbreaking and suspenseful. I stayed up until two in the morning finishing this audiobook. Loved it!

November – “lost”

The Lost Family by Libby Copeland

You’re probably familiar with the 23andme or genetic testing. It’s kind of a fun thing to do, but it has been revealing a lot of family secrets. Which is what this book is about. In the past, most people might never know that their dad wasn’t their dad. Or who their birth parents were. But this book explores all of the families that have learned new things since genetic testing became widespread.

This wasn’t anything amazing, but it was really interesting to learn about all of these stories. I did the 23andme testing, and had nothing exciting show up – my parents are my parents. But I do enjoy reading about the stories from people whose lives did change, whether they were looking for something or not. This wasn’t really lighthearted, but it was kind of a fun read.

December – day, week, season

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Finally, we have this collection of short stories. I had a hard time coming up with a book for this prompt, but was intrigued when I came across this one. Partly because it is pretty short, and I thought it might make a quick read. And it did.

These stories were darker than I was expecting, but pretty fun to read. This would make a great spooky season read. I also thoroughly enjoyed the writing. And I would definitely be interested in reading more by this author – I’m very curious to see what he would do with some full-length fiction.

Alright, that’s it for this challenge! I had a lot of fun participating this year, and am looking forward to participating in the 2022 version next year!

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9 thoughts

  1. Stephanie, the amount of reading experiments and challenges you took part in is staggering! You are my inspiration, because wow! You already know that I didn’t like Franny & Zooey either, but it was interesting to read your thoughts on the other books as well. I think the only one that was really on my radar before was My Dark Vanessa. I keep going back and forth on whether I actually want to read it though.

    1. I will absolutely NOT be doing so many next year 😂. But don’t worry, I still have one more massive experiment this month.

      And My Dark Vanessa was such a weird read for me. I was super into it for for like the first half. But then something happens midway through the book that makes any sort of satisfying conclusion impossible. And the MC had basically no character growth, and it was disappointing. I’d definitely be curious to see what you think if you do decide to read it. I didn’t hate it, I just wanted to slap some of the characters in the face lol

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