Book Riot put up a post earlier this week asking how everyone’s Read Harder Challenge is going, so I thought I’d do a quick check-in!
For those who aren’t familiar, the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge is a set of 24 tasks designed to get you to read outside your comfort zone. You can read all of the prompts here, see where I’m at so far here, and check out my personal list of ideas for completing the challenge here.
One of the things Book Riot asked is how it’s going so far, and while I haven’t been actively trying to complete the challenge for a while, I’d say it’s going pretty well! I’m currently at 17 tasks completed so far, and I would say I’m on track to finish it again this year.
Book Riot also asked what amazing books you’ve discovered, and while I’m not sure I’d necessarily say I discovered these books because of the Read Harder Challenge as a lot were already on my radar, there are more than a few I’ve read that I would definitely say are favorites!
One of those is Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, which completed the task of reading a book of true crime. I can’t say I read a ton of true crime nonfiction, but the story behind this one was just so interesting that I had to check it out. It’s about the murder of Osage men and women for their headrights, or access to their share of the millions of dollars they were entitled to for the oil found beneath Osage Nation land. The whole thing is mind boggling and deeply seated in racism against Native Americans, and it’s a fascinating story. I highly, highly recommend it.
Another favorite is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, which checked the box for both a celebrity memoir and a book set in a BRICS country. This book offers a glimpse into what it was like for Noah to grow up the son of a black mother and a white father in apartheid South Africa, where it was illegal for people of different races to be together. I loved everything about this book, from learning about a different culture to gaining a new perspective on race and racism to appreciating what a strong relationship Noah has with his mother. I highly recommend this book as well and definitely suggest checking it out on audio, as it’s narrated by Noah himself and I enjoyed his characterizations and listening to him speak the different languages of South Africa.
I’m also obsessed with March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, which completes the tasks of reading a comic written or illustrated by a person of color and reading a comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image. I still have to read the last volume, but March is a three-part graphic memoir by Representative John Lewis about his role in the Civil Rights Movement. I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea until I started reading this graphic novel how little I knew about the Civil Rights Movement, and it’s appalling to realize how violently white people treated black people in addition to all of the other indignities inflicted upon African Americans. And it wasn’t that long ago! Needless to say, I very much want to make a more concerted effort to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, and I highly recommend this trilogy both as an excellent place to start and just as a fascinating account of Lewis’ life.
Alright, two more and then I’m cutting myself off. Another favorite that I’ve read for the Read Harder Challenge was Indigo by Beverly Jenkins, which is both a romance novel by or about a person of color and a classic of genre fiction. This romance novel about a couple who falls in love while working the Underground Railroad in Michigan is definitely a bit dated, but I can still absolutely see why it’s such a favorite and why Jenkins is such a beloved author. I just loved watching Hester and Galen fall slowly in love, and I’m even more impressed when I stop and think about how much history Jenkins crammed into this book without the romance suffering for it. The whole thing was excellent, and I really need to start working my way through Jenkins’ backlist!
And last but not least, The Displaced edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen completes the task of reading an essay anthology, and I think it’s one of my new favorites ever. I was a little nervous when I saw this task because I wasn’t sure I would find anything I was interested in, but then it seemed like a super easy task when I realized that Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay would fulfill it. I own that book and plan to read it yet this year, but The Displaced snuck in first after I saw a panel of the editor and two authors speaking at Book Con. This is a collection of essays about the experiences of refugees, and I think it’s such an important topic to be educated about. I feel like in the United States, we talk a fair amount about the importance of immigration, and it’s relatively easy to find books that deal with immigration as a major theme, but being a refugee where you’re not wanted in the country you left or the country you arrived in is a much different experience than being an immigrant. This book includes essays from a wide range of refugee experiences (though by no means the full range) and even includes a few graphic panels submitted by Thi Bui. It’s the first book I read after getting a big stack of books at Book Expo and Book Con, and if that’s not a major endorsement of this book and encouragement to go read it, I don’t know what is.
So yeah, I would say my Read Harder Challenge has been pretty successful so far! I’ve found some absolutely amazing books, and I have a bunch of other good ones slated to finish up the tasks. Well, except to read an assigned book I hated or never finished. Sure, my tastes and thoughts as a reader have changed dramatically since I was in school, but I still don’t think I’ll get anything from rereading the assigned books I hated. I might reread something I was ambivalent towards, but I’m debating skipping this task altogether and calling it a day.
Below is my tentative reading list for the remaining tasks I have to complete:
- Read a book about nature: The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan OR Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson
- Read a western: Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour
- A book of colonial or postcolonial literature: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- A book of social science: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- A book of genre fiction in translation: I still have no clue. I’m going to have to consult some of Book Riot’s recommendation lists to find one for this
- A book with a cover I hate: Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
I also have a few books I’d like to double up on tasks with. Specifically, I think counting The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (which is really good!) for the task of reading a book with a female protagonist over 60 is kind of cheating since it isn’t about Evelyn Hugo past the age of 60, but rather a recounting of her life story. It counts, but I think women past 60 should still get to have adventures and not just reflect on their lives, so I really want to read another book for this task. Specifically, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman, about a widowed grandmother who joins the CIA. I’m also thinking I’ll double up on the task of reading a mystery by a person of color or LBGTQ+ author because I’m really interested in reading Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke, though we’ll see if I actually make it to that book yet this year.
One thing I do want to point out, though, is that while I’ve read a number of great books for the Read Harder Challenge, most of them are books that I was already planning to read, so completing the challenge hasn’t really been that challenging for me so far. It’s got me thinking about my own personal list of tasks I’d like to complete based on the weaknesses I see in my reading. I want to stay focused this year on reading from my shelves and working towards a zero TBR, but next year I want to really challenge myself and strengthen some of the weaker areas of my reading, like books featuring f/f relationships, books dealing with mental illness, books dealing with disabilities, and books about non-U.S. and non-European history.
How’s your Read Harder Challenge going so far? Have you read any of these books yet? Let me know in the comments!