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Shelved: February 2018

Although I committed to reading books by and about Black people and their concerns for February, that wasn’t what I set out to do. It just kind of stacked up that way. It began with the last two books I read: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s pseudo-memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues and Kwanza Osajyefo and Jamal Igle’s graphic novel, Black.

I received Mo’ Meta Blues and Thompson’s Something to Food About for my birthday. I wanted to read them, but sometimes–most times–it’s hard to make time for anything but M/M. The same week, my Kickstarter copy of Black arrived–or at least that’s when I got around to posting it on Instagram. And I wanted to read that, too. It seems like it should be easy enough to squeeze three books in, but it’s not. So, I did what I usually do when I encounter these types of dilemmas: I made it into a thing.

When it became a thing, I realized that three books a thing does not make, so I went searching. I checked out my wishlists, my to-read lists, other people’s to-read lists, must-read lists, and then I rifled through my memory to see if I could come up with anything good. I mostly failed. Most of my and other people’s lists was more of what I was already reading, I got nothing from Kindle Unlimited, and pretty much all of the books that I wanted from Overdrive wouldn’t be available until some time in March at the earliest. There was Hoopla, but with only four borrows per month, I’d quickly maxed that out.

Since it started with books I already owned, I don’t know why it took me until mid-February to see what else was on my shelf. Finally, when time, availability, and interest converged, I ended up with a list filled with music, sci-fi, poetry, and fantasy.

Of the 19 books on this list, 11 were already mine. Of those 11, Prince of Cats was the one I’ve had the longest. It’s about the minor characters from Romeo and Juliet with Tybalt front and center. Hip hop urban samurai is the best way I can describe it. It put me in the mood for Samurai Champloo. The story was engaging and even though I’m not the biggest fan of full-color comics, I really liked the coloring, different yet familiar. I wish I read it sooner.

The award for the saddest read goes to With Billie. A very sad, but very interesting look at Billie Holiday’s life through the memories of those who knew her. I got more interesting with a side of music when I listened to A Brief History of Seven Killings; it’s one of the two audiobooks (♫) on the list. It’s a historical novel about the people and events surrounding the attempts on Bob Marley’s life; it mashes fact, fiction, and supposition together to great effect. I’m glad I chose the audiobook because I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much if I read it myself. There were a few things I would have liked not to be left at a loose end, and the actual end seemed like it shouldn’t have been the end, but overall, I’m glad I had the opportunity to check it out.

I guess music is king because I had the most fun with Mo’ Meta Blues. I even listened to music while I read, which is something I haven’t done since I first read volumes one and two of Evenfall. I don’t know if it was the music talk, the Philly talk, or all the talk about trying to find where you fit in that got me, but Questlove’s journey from weird kid to weird adult was a good time. I thought it was the first print book I’d read in a long time, but I realized that I’d picked up a manga here and there along the way.

And the rest? Well, save for the ones I dropped, I think I did pretty well for myself this month.

Without really noticing, I’ve come to accept that M/M, being dominated by White female authors, is greatly lacking in color. I think it would bother me more if I didn’t fill in the blanks with my own writing. Nevertheless, I am always aware of that lack and because of that, I wasn’t sure how a month of nothing but color was going to go. I don’t mean that as a negative, but any shift from the routine is going to provoke some measure of circumspection. To frame it for you: M/M and romance are one and the same to me. This decision to focus my reading elsewhere meant that not only would the perspectives I would be seeing the various worlds through be different, but the worlds and many of the things happening in them would be different as well. I wondered if I would find it hard to go through one book after another knowing they weren’t going to reach the kind of end I’d come to expect and look forward to.

Well, I managed to stay the course without much trouble. Okay, I slipped up twice–the first time I didn’t even realize until I finished reading it. Both were on AO3, neither were all that long, and one was my own writing, so I’m going let those slide. I won’t deny that I was chomping at the bit to get back to reading M/M. I missed it and the email updates about this and that new release weren’t helping. But it dawned on me that I missed it, not because I felt trapped by my commitment or that I specifically wanted to read about dudes falling in love, but rather because it is familiar. Like going to a restaurant, being sat at your usual table, but not being served by your usual server. It’s not that this other person can’t do what needs to be done, but you just find comfort in convention. So, coming to this realization… I don’t know why, but I was surprised.

February was an experience. One I’ll never plan on repeating. I’ve come out the other side of this with a desire to see what I can find in the way of colorful M/M, and not just leave it to chance. I  also plan to make a greater effort to read more than M/M. Although, I said the same last year and I don’t think that worked out all that well. But, since the end of every book is just another opportunity, we’ll see.

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