I finally finished the next part of my Read Harder Challenge. I finished:
- Read a book about books.
- Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
- Read a collection of stories by a woman.
Starting out, I finished reading The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer, which details events beginning in 2012 when more than 350,000 manuscripts—many of which had been painstakingly collected by Abdel Kader Haidara—were endangered by Al Qaeda militants seizing control of Mali. In his book, Hammer details how Haidara and other manuscript collectors managed to find, preserve, and rescue hundreds of thousands of manuscripts, before smuggling them out of the country under the noses of Al Qaeda.
As the summary attests, it’s indeed a “brazen heist worth of Ocean’s Eleven.” Personally, I found it fascinating to learn how Haidara became involved in the manuscript preservation business and how he and other librarians managed to steal away more than 350,000 manuscripts from Timbuktu. I mean, the number is simply mind boggling.
Moreover, I was consistently fascinated by the history and culture of Timbuktu and Mali as a whole. Hammer offers a rich variety of details, discussing the medical, cultural, historical, scholastic and artistic impact of Timbuktu. Although his work can grow a little dry, every chapter offers fascinating insight into the history of Timbuktu and, more importantly, provides readers with an eye-opening portrait of the conditions faced by Mali’s residents when Al Qaeda invaded.
Next, I checked out Beauty and the Mustache by Penny Reid. Set in Tennessee, Beauty and the Mustache is a short, sweet little romance—which kicks off the Winston Brothers series and continues the Knitting in the City series, both by Penny Reid—that brings together Ashley Winston and Drew Runous. After spending more than 8 years away from home, Ashley is forced to return to Tennessee to help take care of her ailing mother. Expecting the same rough treatment from her brothers as from years before, she’s surprised to learn they’ve changed. She’s even more surprised to meet their friend Drew, especially when she realizes he’s exactly her type.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Beauty and the Mustache. Like I noted above, it’s a short, sweet little romance and it’s absolutely adorable. It’s sometimes bittersweet, sometimes tragic, but I immensely enjoyed reading Penny Reid’s novel. I found I connected to Ashley, our main character and narrator, on a personal level and I admired her sharp, sarcastic sense of humor, her intelligence, and her ability to go toe-to-toe with Drew’s philosophical meanderings.
However, I will note I was bothered by one thing: I did not like the setting. I love the Smoky Mountains, don’t get me wrong; however, I simply didn’t like the narrator’s inability to describe her surroundings. I was incredibly disappointed by the setting descriptions, which were seriously lacking. I wanted to hear more about the winding roads, the multitude of trees, the softly sloping mountains in the distance, or the way the hills fade against the horizon, deepening to a slate blue before disappearing altogether.
I wanted to hear about places I’ve known or seen, but, sadly, I didn’t get that chance. It was slightly disappointing.
Last, I read Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood. I think I might have fudged the challenge parameters with this one, since it’s really just a single novel; however, as it’s labeled with “Other Stories,” I assumed it would do the trick. It centers around one woman—Nell—but it’s a compilation of many short stories from different points in her life.
It begins with “Bad News,” toward the tail end of Nell’s life, but it jumps through time with each story and catapults Nell into the past, showing readers glimpses of her childhood and her adolescence and, finally, her transition into adulthood.
Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy reading Moral Disorder that much. Atwood is a fantastic writer and her prose packs a punch when she wants it, but, personally, I found I couldn’t always connect with the stories in Moral Disorder. Granted, I found that the stories with which I did connect moved me deeply and I worried for Nell, like I’d worry about a friend; however, it was a rather unremarkable journey for me overall.