• June 8, 2023

7 steps to read “hard” books – Modern Mrs Darcy – rezal404

Dear Readers, today I’m delighted to welcome MMD team member Shannan Malone to the blog! I love the conversation that inspired this post so much. When Shannan mentioned it could make a good blog post, I could not agree fast enough. I hope you enjoy and appreciate these insights as much as I did. Welcome, Shannan! -To

What’s a “hard” book? For some, it might be a book with different (or dated) language, words, and dialects. For me, it’s a book that deals with difficult subjects and themes.

What makes a subject or theme difficult is subjective and personal. Personally, books that detail historical and societal trauma are ones that I find “hard” to read. These books can be challenging to everyone: the marginalized community experiencing the harm and the rest of society who may be unconsciously inflicting that harm.

take my hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club May 2023 selection, is about the forced sterilization of young girls, specifically Black girls, set in the early 1970s, in my home state of Alabama. I don’t think I would be reading this if it wasn’t this month’s selection.

Earlier this year I had a conversation with friend and fellow reader Valencia Taylor that helped me think more about how to approach these difficult books. Valencia hosts the Well-Read Black Girl Book Club at Bookmarks and she’s also a What Should I Read Next alum. In a WSIRN Patreon bonus episode called How to read hard books and Black joy recommendations, we discussed Valencia’s seven-step process for reading challenging books. With Valencia’s permission, I’m sharing those steps with you as I approach take my hand. You can use them to read any hard book, whatever that means to you.

Start with: Define Your Why. Simon Sinek wrote a book titled Start with Why. And that’s where we should always start. (This doesn’t just apply to difficult books!) Why am I reading take my hand? Like most of the world, I did not learn much African-American history during my school years and have decided to rectify that. This story is also set in my home state of Alabama.

1. Read the bio of the author and watch/read author interviews. Discover the author’s inspiration for writing the book.

I often find that I really want to read a book after I hear the author talk about it—and the internet is full of free interviews! The Free Library of Philadelphia hosted Perkins-Valdez in conversation with Asali Solomon. It was an inspiring conversation.

Anne’s interviews with authors are my favorite perk of the MMD Book Club. I’m really looking forward to her interview with Perkins-Valdez on Tuesday May 23 at 1 PM EDT.

2. Read a summary of a book and check for content warnings.

I am on record on my inaugural episode of What Should I Read Next? that I will read the ending of a book with a quickness. If a book is a “hard” book, that is something that I definitely do. Who is still alive at the end? What was the conclusion? In take my hand, Perkins-Valdez begins the story in 2016, so I assumed the narrator was still alive. That helped me breathe easier! Reading the ending helps me frame where I think the story could go, tempering my emotional anxiety.

3. If a book is historical, research the place/time/person.

In Take My Hand, I read the Author’s Note first even though it is at the end of the book. I also researched the real-life case of Ref v. Weinberger on which the book is based. One of the things I learned was that not all the girls sterilized were Black.

4. Decide how you are going to read this book: digital, audio, physical copy.

Per Valencia’s observation, reading a book in print allows you to skim over the more difficult sections without losing the momentum of the story, and that’s how I’m choosing to read take my hand. I grew up listening to stories on tape (remember those?) and know that audio has a way of implanting scenes and details into my brain that reading with my eyes does not.

5. Pace yourself. Take the book in small bites and pace yourself.

I am taking it very slow and will probably finish it after Anne’s chat with the author.

6. Focus on what you’re learning. What am I learning?

My decision to stop reading a book (which I didn’t do before discovering Modern Mrs Darcy) often comes down to my why, which for me will always depend on if I’m learning about something that interests me, no matter the genre. If I’m struggling with a book, I can look for a “bookflight” that covers the same themes but might prove more palatable to me. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a nonfiction flight pick for take my hand. The novel The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead addresses similar themes. Or perhaps I could watch a documentary on the topic?

7. Plan a recovery book.

I often read my recovery book while I am reading my “hard” one. I have already dive into an advanced readers’ copy of The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry. My favorite go-to recovery genre is sci-fi/fantasy with heart (which I also talked about recently with Anne in Patreon).

Much thanks to Valencia for allowing me to share her tips with you. If you have any tips for reading “hard” books, I’d love to check them out in the comments. And let me know if you’ll be reading along with MMD Book Club this month!

How do you approach reading “difficult” books? What makes the reading easier for you? Please tell us about your experience and share your tips in comments!

About the author

Shannan Malone is a co-host for the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club. Her go-to genre depends on her mood! You can find Shannan on Instagram @shannanenjoyslife.

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