A few years ago, Book Riot, one of the most popular websites for book lovers, came up with the idea of encouraging its followers to supplement their upcoming year of reading with a challenge that would get them to “read harder.” Thus began the annual Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.
The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge includes 24 tasks that will hopefully inspire you to pick up books that represent experiences and places and cultures that might be different from your own. The challenge allows the reader a significant amount of flexibility in their reading choices but still forces participants to read widely and read diversely. It also encourages new formats and new genres – anything to bring the reader outside of their typical reading repertoire. The following are the twenty-four challenges (just two books a month!) and few suggestions for each in case you don’t know where to start.
- A book published posthumously: There are some great memoirs in this category, including When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. For fiction, look no further than Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
- A book of true crime: This category is a tough one for a lot of people. If you want to go all-in, I’d suggest Murder City by Michael Arntfield, which is about the murder capital of the world during the 1960s through 1980s. Surprise: it’s London, Ontario! If you are looking for something less nightmare inducing, try The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann, which is a variety of true crime stories that aren’t overly grisly.
- A classic of genre fiction: (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance): For mystery, go with Agatha Christie. For sci-fi, try HG Wells or Ursula K. Le Guin. For romance, you could once again go the route of Jane Austen or, if you want something steamier, Johanna Lindsey. Her older books made Fabio famous.
- A comic written and illustrated by the same person: Try anything by Bryan Lee O’Malley. He’s a Canadian writer/comic artist and creator of the movie-adapted Scott Pilgrim series.
- A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries: BRICS is the acronym for an association comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the five major emerging national economies. This is a pretty broad category so I’ll go with one of my favourites: Red China Blues by Jan Wong. This memoir follows Wong, a Chinese-Canadian, who traveled to China at the height of the Cultural Revolution and adopted Maoism for six years before rethinking things.
- A book about nature: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is a fun, light book for this category. This classic follows the author’s adventures tackling the Appalachian Trail.
- A western: If you lean literary, try The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt or pretty much anything Cormac McCarthy. If you want a real taste of the genre, check out Louis L’Amour, Larry McMurtry or Zane Grey.
- A comic written or illustrated by a person of colour: See number 4. Bryan Lee O’Malley is a person of colour so you can go ahead and check off two challenges at once.
- A book of colonial or postcolonial literature: There are a ton of contemporary classics that fit this category, from The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver to The Constant Gardner by John Le Carre to Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.
- A romance novel by or about a person of color: The most popular contemporary author in this category is Nalini Singh. Fiji-born, New Zealand-based Singh is one of the world’s most popular paranormal/fantasy romance novelists. Her stuff is racy, but she is prolific and has a huge following.
- A children’s classic published before 1980: There are 100s of books that work here – simply choose your favourite. Mine is anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
- A celebrity memoir: If you want funny, I’d suggest Mindy Kahling or Tina Fey. If you want a train wreck, try Keith Richards or Russell Brand. If you like Star Wars, Carrie Fisher has a few.
- An Oprah Book Club selection: Oprah’s most recent book club selection is Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. It follows Jende Jonga, an immigrant from Cameroon who is living in Harlem on a temporary worker’s visa. I learned a good bit about the difficulties of immigrant families and the process of trying to legally stay in America from this book. It’s a bit sad, but worth a read!
- A book of social science: If you haven’t already, try Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg or, one of my personal favourites, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
- A one-sitting book: If you like charming, funny reads, I suggest The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. It follows Queen Elizabeth II as she drifts accidentally into reading when her corgis stray into a mobile library parked at Buckingham Palace.
- The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series: One to try here is Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, the first in a YA series that is currently in production as a movie adaptation. It is best described as part Maze Runner, part X-Men, part Divergent.
- A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author: See above. Red Queen is dystopian fiction, which qualifies as sci-fi…so there you have another two-for-one!
- A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image: A good choice for the reader who considers his or herself too highbrow for comics or graphic novels is Persepolis, an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi depicting her childhood up to her early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution.
- A book with a cover you hate: Personally, I do not care for the cover of The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard. Not because the cover is unattractive in its own right (it is!) but because the pretty whimsical feel seemed ill-suited to a memoir about the author’s husband’s death from pancreatic cancer.
- A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author: Try The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal, a Caribbean-born, Canadian-raised writer of mystery thrillers based in Vancouver. Hardboiled The Lost Ones follows a downtrodden, recovering alcoholic as she investigates the disappearance of her missing teenage daughter.
- An essay anthology: One Day We'll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is a new, witty essay collection by Scaachi Koul, a culture writer/blogger based in Toronto. Here, she tackles he theme of identity: cultural identity, gender identity, identity within families, etc.
- A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: If you haven’t read the Canadian classic The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, this is your chance!
- An assigned book you hated (or never finished): Three words: Eat Pray Love.
All of the books mentioned here can be reserved from the County of Lennox & Addington Libraries at www.countylibrary.ca. You can find the 2018 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge here or ask a library staff member to provide you with a copy. Happy reading!
This article was originally published in the January edition of the column Cover to Cover in Napanee Guide.