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Reading Partners and Different Perspectives: Reflections on the Best of the Best Reading Challenge

Woo hoo! I finished the Best of the Best Reading Challenge! Midway through I wasn’t sure I’d make it, but I kept going and managed to finish even a few days ahead of time. Along the way I found it encouraging to read others’ comments on the Saturday check-in, but the best encouragement I got was from my friend, Megan. When I told Megan about the challenge, she decided to join me in it, much to my delight. Having a partner in this reading adventure gave me someone to talk to in person about the books I was reading, someone to share books with (we use different library systems, which was very handy when one library didn’t carry a title but the other did), and someone to help me keep going.

But a big reason I was especially delighted is because Megan is neither a teenager nor a young adult librarian: she’s a thirtysomething mom of four. I knew she was open to reading graphic novels and occasional YA fantasy or dystopian novels, but this would mean reading a whole lot of different types of young adult fiction and non-fiction. I was pretty excited to have someone outside my usual YA reading world discover and enjoy these lists.

After finishing our 25th books we sat down (virtually) to chat about the experience. Below is a transcript of our chat:

Sarah: Hi Megan, Thanks for chatting with me today. So, first of all, what made you want to try this reading challenge?

Megan: Hi, Sarah. Thanks for the chat invite. There a few reasons why I decided to try the challenge. First, I thought it would be a great way to force myself to take time to read. With four kids at home, I don’t always make time for myself and this was a great way. Also I thought it was a great way to read books that I normally wouldn’t have picked up. The deciding factor was also you. It was great to know that I would have someone to read along with.

Sarah: Agreed! So, what types of books do you normally read?

Megan: I normally read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. Also the occasional graphic novel.

Sarah: So on these lists which book(s) was most out of your normal reading comfort zone? For me it was pretty much all of the non-fiction. When I worked in the library I was accustomed to flipping through non-fiction, but now that I’m not there I rarely read anything other than picture book non-fiction.

Megan: I was just going to say that. I read way more non-fiction than I would normally.

Sarah: I really enjoyed the Wheels of Change book. You read that, too, right?

Megan: Yes, and I really liked it.

Sarah: I also really enjoyed Pavement Artist and How They Croaked.

Megan: It reminded me of all the great books I read when I took women’s history in college.

Sarah: Yes! I also really liked the format of it. Sort of scrapbook-y.

Megan: Pavement Artists was a great book to read with my kids around — they loved the pictures. How They Croaked was so fun.

Sarah: My kids liked it, too. I also found that I passed some of these books along to my husband.

Megan: I drove my husband crazy with morbid facts for days.

Sarah: Also very new to me was Wandering Son, specifically because it is manga. You were more comfortable with that format, I think.

Megan: I was, but it was difficult to read with my kids around ’cause I kept reading backwards when I was distracted.

Sarah: Doing this challenge also got me back into reading some of the YA fiction that I most like: realistic, emotional stuff. Specifically Tripping and Leverage.

Megan: You talked about passing books along to your husband. This challenge got him back into comics after I passed along Thor and also Infinite Kung Fu.

Sarah: Yes, I even talked to him a bit about some of the comics as well. Though I chose to skip Infinite Kung Fu after you told me about it. Another good reason to do this with a pal!

Megan: Yes. The realistic ones were the most uncomfortable for me.

Sarah: Speaking of graphic novels, I like them, but rarely read them unless they are specifically recommended to me. The Great Graphic Novels list is a go-to source for me, and I liked almost everything I read from that portion of the list.

Sarah: Oooh, which realistic did you find most uncomfortable?

Megan: I read Everybody Sees the Ants and it really made me emotional.

Sarah: Oh yes! And that was your #25, wasn’t it?

Megan: Yes.

Sarah: I was surprised by how moving and wonderful it was. It was like a hidden gem for me.

Megan: Bullying was a problem for me in school. And I was raised by Vietnam vet.

Sarah: I loved how it all worked together — the adolescent tormenting, the family secrets, the magical realism element, the pain of M.I.A soldiers. I knew your dad was a Vietnam vet so I was really curious how you would respond to this book. It was one of the ones I most wanted to chat about with you.

Megan: Me too. When I started it, I was dreading reading it, but I really felt like I knew this kid and wanted him to be ok.

Sarah: I have actually had a copy of this book (a prepub) for over a year, but it took it being “required reading” for me to read it and I’m so glad I did.

Megan: Me too. I never would have picked it if it weren’t for you.

Sarah: There were two other big books for me that I loved, that I knew were popular, but it took the list to make me actually read them: The Scorpio Races and The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Megan: The Girl of Fire and Thorns was FABULOUS!!!!!

Sarah: I feel like you would have read that anyway because it seems like the sort of thing you like. Yes? I absolutely loved it too.

Megan: And I’m on the waiting list at my library for The Scorpio Races. I can’t wait to read it.

Sarah: It is so good — you’ll love it.

Megan: Yes, I totally would have read The Girl. Right up my alley. I love all the fantasy-princess-turned-heroine stuff.

Sarah: You should read Shannon Hale — she’s awesome and this reminded me so much of her.

Sarah: So, what were your top 3 titles?

Megan: Enclave was definitely number 1.

Sarah: Oooh, I loved that too (and passed it on to my mom to read).

Megan: The Girl of Fire and Thorns was number 2.

Sarah: For me it would be Girl of Fire and Thorns, Scorpio Races, and …

Megan: Number three is tough. I think Ghostopolis.

Sarah: eee! I was just about to say Ghostopolis too! It was a graphic novel treasure that I really liked (and so did my husband).

Megan: I’m considering purchasing my own copy so I can read it to Daniel someday.

Sarah: I love it that you found something you liked so much you’ll save it for your son [note: he’s presently just 5]

Sarah: I really liked so many things I read that it’s hard to choose. That said … I’ve noticed when I look at my Goodreads list that almost everything is rated 4 stars — I read stuff I know I’m going to like a lot. Since doing this challenge there were some things I gave only 3 stars to. But overall I feel like it was good for me to read stuff that I didn’t necessarily love.

Megan: I only picked stuff I based on Goodreads and you. I would never have just picked up Shine and I really liked it despite it being sad.

Sarah: And even though it was on the list, I still could not bring myself to read it, even though you told me that you liked it and it didn’t overwhelm you with its sadness.

Megan: I just wondered if, given the chance, you would do another challenge.

Sarah: Absolutely! In fact, I would love it if this was every year. And my only suggestion would be a nice printable list with checkmark boxes next to the titles :)

Sarah: You know, I know about the lists, and do use them to help me find things to read, but this was a really fun way to tackle them head on.

Megan: I agree. I’m looking forward to doing it again. And the list does need to be more readable :)

Sarah: And I did read faster than I normally would.

Megan: I also read faster than I normally do.

Sarah: Admittedly, I am happy now to get to some books that I wanted to read but weren’t on the list. I did manage to squeeze in other books that I wanted to read as well and couldn’t wait for.

Megan: Me too. I have a pile of about ten books I’ve been waiting to read.

Sarah: I feel like I need to point out that you and I are both stay at home moms. On the one hand, people seem to think I have all the time in the world to read, and on the other hand people say to me, “How do you find time to read?” To those people I want to say, “How do you NOT find time to read?” True, I’m at home with my kids and busy with them, but if a book is good, I always find time to fit it in, and I always read at least a little before bed. And more than one of these books was so good it kept me up past my bedtime :) You have twice as many kids as I do — what are your thoughts about that?

Megan: I stayed up many a night to finish a book that I just couldn’t put down :) I also spent a lot of time saying, “Let’s have Play-Doh time.” They leave me alone when they Play-Doh. :)

Sarah: Yep. And when I was reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Scorpio Races there were some extra TV shows for the kids.

Megan: More than a couple times my husband caught me reading over the frying pan as I cooked dinner. :) I also added TV time for that one.

Sarah: So my final question for you is, now that you’ve completed the challenge, do you think you will seek out more YA to read? And/or do you have a better awareness of the YALSA lists and will you use them to help you find books? (And I guess I should say, did you know about the awards and lists before this challenge?)

Megan: I know about the awards through you, but never sought out the lists before this. I will definitely use this to find more titles. In fact there are some titles from the list I will be reading soon.

Sarah: Well, I am delighted to hear that!

Megan: I would just like to say thank you for telling me about the challenge and doing it along with me. It was really fun.

Sarah: The challenge was a good reminder to me about certain lists as well. OH! One of the lists that I intended to not do at all was the audiobooks list. But since you got one and shared it with me, I was able to check off one from it.

Megan: I meant to ask you about the audiobooks. It sort of felt like I was cheating.

Sarah: How so?

Megan: Because I could do other things while listening. :)

Sarah: Aaaah. Well let me put on my librarian hat here and assure you that audiobooks are a valid form of reading.

Megan: I find it very neat that they have a list of the best audiobooks. Certan narrators add such a new depth to books.

Sarah: I want to thank you for reading along with me, too. It was really fun to have a partner in this, and it was especially fun for me to have a non-librarian friend doing it with me and finding out more about the great world of YA literature. I look forward to swapping many more books with you!

Megan: It was great to have a partner; I think it made quitting near impossible. :)

Sarah: Indeed!

So there you have it! A great experience for both a seasoned YA reader/YALSA member as well as a non-library world adult reader. Chalk this challenge up to a success for both of us!

[Editor’s note: If you still need to check in and let us know that you finished the reading challenge, you have until 11:59pm EST tonight (Monday night) to do so!]

— Sarah Debraski, currently reading Seriously … I’m Kidding by Ellen Degeneres, for something totally unlike what she’s been reading lately, but about to start The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder.

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Sarah Debraski