I mentioned in my last post that I’d gotten behind on posting about books – there are three I’ve finished for the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge that I haven’t posted about yet, so let’s round ’em up.

For Challenge #22, Read a collection of stories by a woman: Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins

I’d never heard of Kathleen Collins before I googled “short stories by women of color” and and came across this super helpful list – 5 Short Story Collections by Women of Color You Need to Read Right Now – which includes the Collins collection and, of course, four others, all of which I hope to read in the future.

Collins, as it turns out, was a fascinating woman, and someone I’m glad to know about – she was an artist across many mediums and a civil rights activist; an exceptionally accomplished woman who died too young of breast cancer in the eighties. As I learned about her and read her stories, I wished that she were still with us – her voice would’ve been a powerful one to add to the resistance.

This collection of works was put together by her daughter from a stash of her mother’s writings; a lot of the pieces aren’t what I’d think of as “short stories” – many of them are more slices of life, vignettes, character studies. The formats of them vary a great deal; some may have been writing exercises or pieces of what were planned to be larger works. It didn’t seem as though Collins herself intended anything like a “short story collection” to come of them, but I’m very glad that her daughter decided that the work deserved to be read.

What impressed me the most was how lovingly she wrote about people even when the observations she was making about them were pointed. There is a great deal of commentary about race relations and society but it never feels like overt commentary; she’s simply showing us how these dynamics are playing out between humans. She was a brilliant student of human nature, and the gentleness with which she wrote her characters leads me to think that she was likely an exceptionally compassionate person as well. As I was reading I also regularly forgot that all of the works were thirty years old at minimum – there’s a timelessness to the stories she tells and her voice still sounds modern in 2017.

I wonder if she ever aspired to write a novel – as much as I enjoyed the works in this book, I would love to see what would’ve happened if she’d taken her combination of sharpness and kindness and written a longer work, one that spent more time with the characters. In the brief pieces in this collection I frequently felt that I was getting to know the characters so intimately in such a short period of time that I wasn’t ready to let them go when the pieces ended.

I know that she wrote and directed a movie, Losing Ground, which I want to track down at some point. She’s definitely on the list of people I’ve discovered through this reading challenge that I want to learn more about.

For Challenge #1, Read A Book About Sports: Sum it Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective by Pat Head Summitt and Sally Jenkins

I’m not a sports fan, but I live in Knoxville, where Pat Summitt is a local legend. I know that she’s a legend well beyond Knoxville, but mostly for sports fans – if you live in Knoxville you know her name even if you don’t know a single other thing about basketball.

I really didn’t know much about her beyond the fact that she was an epic coach who brought great success to the Lady Vols, and that she died far too young of alzheimer’s. I was saddened with everyone else when I heard about her diagnosis – she was a powerhouse of a woman and I’d always thought she was impressive even if I didn’t follow what was going on with her team. I now regret that I never went to see a Lady Vols game when she was coaching. Even if I never became a real devoted fan, I could’ve gone to a game just for the experience, and I wish I had.

I expected that I would enjoy this book, and it surpassed my expectations. She was a brave, brilliant, strong, stubborn, funny and exceptionally loving woman, and her story manages to be both relatable and impressive. She’s an excellent storyteller and the intertwining of her life story with the story of her diagnosis/life-post-diagnosis works very well. While there are stories and descriptions about specific important games in her career I never felt that it turned too much to shop talk – I was able to enjoy the drama and understand the dynamics of those scenes even though I’m not at all familiar with the game. Throughout the whole book the thing that came across the most was how dearly she loved her players and adored coaching them.

For Challenge #20, Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel: Captive Prince by C. S. Pacat

This challenge was one of the easier ones for me – M/M romance novels are something I indulge in when I need a fun, less challenging read, and I’ve read quite a few already. I did some poking around to find a series/author I’d never heard of for this challenge, and came across reviews for Captive Prince, the first in a trilogy (which, if you’re not familiar with the romance genre, basically means I’ve got to read all three if I want to get to the part where the couple actually gets it on).

The reviews fascinated me – there were plenty of people who adored it, thought it was well written and fascinating, a bit darker than many romances, with a plot involving a lot of palace intrigue and set in a world with a complex and problematic sexual culture. There were also people who felt that the book glorified captivity and brutality and couldn’t stand it – and I certainly get that this book isn’t going to be everyone’s bag, even among aficionados of M/M romance, but after reading it I’ve come down on the side of the folks who argued that portraying brutality and a problematic sexual culture isn’t the same as glorifying it.

The story explores and plays with issues of Dominance/submission dynamics and the agency of people who choose to fill subservient roles versus people who aren’t given a choice in the matter. And the story being told between the two men who will, inevitably, end up together isn’t an easy or lighthearted one. I thought that both men were engaging and compelling – they’re both complex characters navigating exceptionally harsh circumstances and I’ll definitely be finishing up the trilogy once I’ve completed the other books I need to read to finish the challenge. I want to learn Laurent’s story – though I’ve got a pretty good idea about parts of it – and I’ve got to find out what it’s going to take to get both of them to finally realize/admit their Epic Feels.

In keeping with the theme, apparently, currently I’m reading Kushiel’s Dart for Challenge #12, Read a fantasy novel. This one is probably going to merit a post of its own, because man is it ever dense. I’m enjoying it very much and will likely continue with the series, but it’s not the kind of series I can just power right through – it might take me a while to get me through them all, if I stick it out until the end. I think I’ll want to finish up Phedre’s arc at the very least. But, more on Phedre after I’m actually finished with the first book.