I became aware of Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge in the last few days of last year and thought it sounded like a great way to structure and broaden my reading over this year.
I am very excited to say I finished my last book on Sunday meaning that I have completed the 24 challenges within the first third of the year. This is a real surprise to me, I thought it would take much longer but I think the incentive of ticking a box on a list (I love ticking boxes!) really spurred me on.
I have posted about the books I have been reading both here in my Yarn Along posts and also over on Instagram but it feels like a list like this deserves a full post itself and so here it is!
1. Read a book about sports – The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. I put this one off for ages. I am not a sports fan. Upon googling around this is the most recommended book about sports out there and I suppose I can see why, it is well written and looks at male relationships in a way that is not common in my reading. But I really think that knowing something, anything, about baseball or American college sports beforehand would have helped and I suspect that this book does not smoothly transition across the Atlantic
2. Read a debut novel – Physics of The Dead by Luke Smitherd. I really enjoyed this novel. Its hard to describe it without spoilers but it tackles some existential questions about what happens after we die and centres around the relationship between two characters.
3. Read a book about books – Ex Libris. Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. I love this book so much. It is a series of essays about books that had me nodding along in agreement, laughing out loud and desperate to discuss the themes with other book fans. An absolute highlight which it is highly unlikely I would have picked up without this challenge.
4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author – The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara. I originally earmarked this book for challenge 8, a travel memoir but decided to shelve it here instead. This is one of those iconic books which I am pleased I read but without especially enjoying the experience. I had hoped for more insight into the mind of Guevara but it really is just a chronicle of his journey around South America.
5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative – The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. This was a sweet story about a pair of teenagers falling for each other in the space of one day. Although it does technically fit the brief with one of the characters facing deportation for being an illegal immigrant it is a love story at it’s heart rather than a tale about immigration.
6. Read an all-ages comic – Princeless Vol. 1. Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley. Comics were one of the genres covered by this challenge that I don’t usually read. I chose this one for it’s feminist credentials, it is about a Princess who is perfectly capable of saving herself. I also thought as an all ages comic it would be a good one to share with my children. Sadly it didn’t convert me to comics, I find it hard to follow the narrative in this format and don’t appreciate the art as much as it deserves.
7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950 – Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. So much choice for this category and squarely within my comfort zone. As I have somehow managed to reach my mid thirties without reading an Agatha Christie novel I decided to remedy this oversight. I loved this book! What a mystery and given my lack of experience I tried to solve it as I went and obviously didn’t see the ending coming!
8. Read a travel memoir – Dear Bill Bryson: Footnotes from a Small Island by Ben Aitken. I am at a loss to explain what I was thinking when I chose this book. The obvious choice would be Bill Bryson himself but I think I had been stung by The Motorcycle Diaries and so was hoping for a travel memoir that wasn’t quite a travel memoir. I found this book to be meh. It wasn’t bad, nor was it good. It was an exercise in box ticking.
9. Read a book you’ve read before – The Little House by Philippa Gregory. This was one of the later challenges I tackled and I was quite grumpy about it. I hold to the philosophy of so many books, so little time and so to reread never feels worthwhile. But upon reflection and with the help of wise people on the internet I realised that this was a valuable challenge in reading a book at a different life stage to the first time around and this book was perfect for that. The first time I read The Little House I was young, childless and deeply moved but it was a whole different kettle of fish now that I am a mother. This distress of the main character changed from palpable on my first reading to personal the second time around. This book is brilliant but I found it pretty difficult now I am more able to identify with it. I’m so pleased this challenge pushed me to re-read.
10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location – God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin. If I’m totally honest I chose this book because it looked to be the most Yorkshire book I could find planting it firmly within 100 miles of home. It was so very Yorkshire, filled with local dialect and beautifully painted, familiar landscapes but what made it powerful was the portrayal of the main character. I hated myself for rooting for him at some points but root I did because he told his story with such passion that I became emotionally involved. This book will stay with me for a long time.
11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location – Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This book is set in Mexico City, 5457 miles away from my bit of North Yorkshire. I loved the idea of this book, a coming of age story where music is used as magic and I see from Goodreads that I rated it 4 stars but I don’t actually remember that much about it now so it perhaps wasn’t as good as it could have been.
12.Read a fantasy novel – The Darkest Part of The Forest by Holly Black. This was delightfully different. A faery story in so many senses of the word with a boy with pointed ears sleeping in a glass coffin in the woods. Where this book differs from other faery stories is that it is set in modern times and the local teenagers take selfies with the boy in the coffin. I loved this.
13. Read a nonfiction book about technology – Longitude The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel. This was another category I was less than enthusiastic as I find non-fiction a struggle. This book however was brilliant. Dava Sobel is an excellent storyteller and managed to tell the true story of the longitude problem in an engaging way that had me gripped. Another I would not have picked up without Read Harder.
14. Read a book about war – Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I had heard that Persepolis was THE graphic novel to convert those who think they don’t like graphic novels and it certainly worked for me. Perhaps it was the clean simplicity of the drawings, or the clarity of the storytelling but I now think this is a must read and am recommending it all over the shop.
15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+ – Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I had such high hopes heading into this book but think I am perhaps to old and/or jaded to love it. It is a nice coming of age story about discovering ones true self but it failed to hit me in the feels as much as I had longed for. I am usually a fan of well written Young Adult fiction so don’t feel it is a genre issue, it is just so sad to be disappointed by a book.
16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country – Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. I didn’t find it easy to find a book for this category. The majority of the lists of banned books centre on the USA, the list of books banned in the UK was shorter and I had read some from it already. I settled on this as it is probably the definitive banned book. I found it pretty slow going and it is probably the book I was most pleased to be done with of the two dozen.
17. Read a classic by an author of colour – Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. So deserving of the title “classic” this book was absolutely fabulous. I was gripped from start to finish and stayed up well past my bedtime to finish this in two days. I found some synopses of this book to contain spoilers that annoyed me so will say no more other than read this book.
18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead – Storm by Eric Jerome Dickey. After being less than crazy about the other comic challenge I decided to save my pennies on this one and choose from the library. My small library in rural Yorkshire has one revolving stand of comics and so I thought it would be straightforward to choose one. This was the only superhero comic there with a female lead, which I suppose is the point of the challenge! It did not win me over to comics.
19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey – Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko. This book, about indigenous Australians and Native Title was a subject about which I knew nothing prior to reading. It was very well written and I felt totally swept up in the book.
20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel – Maurice by E. M. Forster. Oh this is so beautiful. I love this book. Another one everyone should read. And another one I probably wouldn’t have chosen without this challenge. I spent a long time rejecting contemporary romances on the basis of schmaltzy blurbs or Mills & Boonesque covers before a friend suggested Maurice and I am so pleased she did.
21. Read a book published by a micropress – The Secret to Not Drowning by Colette Snowden. Published by the tiny, local ish Bluemoose Books. A quietly told portrait of domestic abuse. Brilliantly written, understated and a great read.
22. Read a collection of stories by a woman – There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and he Hanged Himself by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Yet again I don’t think it likely I would have read this book were it not for Read Harder and my life would be so much the poorer for not having Petrushevskaya in it. I definitely intend to read more by this stunning author. The title gives a clue to the blunt, matter of fact style of writing which gives these bleak tales all the more punch. The skill it must take to cram so much emotion into so few words is astonishing.
23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love – Anxiety of Words by Ch’oe Sung-ja, Kim Hyesoon, Yi Yon-ju. This is a great collection of poetry. Challenging in a good way, some I didn’t really get but others that really spoke to me. And another book I would not have chosen myself.
24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of colour – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Epic is the very best word to sum up this book. Spanning several generations in a format of one chapter per descendant which worked brilliantly. I chose this for my book club and some members did not like such a short period of time being given to each character but I loved to follow the threads throughout the family. An excellent read.
Writing these brief summaries of each book has been a useful exercise for me, remembering those which I have loved and those which have had less of an impact. I have found the experience of choosing from these categories to be a lot of fun and it has certainly caused me to pick up some books that would have otherwise not graced my shelves. I have definitely Read Harder and am very much looking forward to next year’s challenge!