Chaser friends, somehow it is already August. Just yesterday I shoved 11 paperbacks into a beach tote and planned the infinite amount of times I would hit the pool and read. Now, summer is ending and I’m still just as pale. However, the reading has definitely been happening — not only with me, but all around our office. If you recall, we dove deep into Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge, and last May, updated you on our progress. Now that there’s only four full months left, how are we doing? Has anyone already finished? Who abandoned 5 books in the same category? What book-related concept started a fight? Let’s find out.
Have you ever heard the story of the tortoise and the hare? Hare rushes to the finish, stops to gloat, and loses in the ensuring flood of hubris-based shame? Well friends, in that scenario, I was the hare. And Stephanie was the tortoise. And freakin’ Jason Blackthorne was the sneaky badger who finished the entire challenge in the course of two months while I was bragging to Stephanie that I only had one book left.
Did I deserve it? Yes. Does that make it hurt any less? No.
Anyway, I still have a Stephanie to beat, so I’m chugging along with my singular category: an essay anthology. No offense to essays, but they are not my jam. Chaser Holly lovingly suggested a variety of
wildly depressing well-written anthologies, but I turned them down in exchange for Ira Glass’s The New Kings of Nonfiction. I mean, the man helped create Serial. He can’t really lead me astray.
An Oprah Book Club selection: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
A book of colonial or postcolonial literature: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Rachel and Stephanie turned me on to Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge around June. I gotta say: I have loved every minute of it and have been reading so voraciously, Netflix thinks I either died or broke my television. True confession: multitasked on my first approach, so some of the book-challenge purists may protest. A Wrinkle in Time won for multiple categories with three: children’s classic pubbed before 1980, the first book in a new-to-you YA series, and a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author. The Woman Next Door fit two categories: BRICS and book by a female protagonist over the age of 60. Relish, a delightful graphic novel about food and foodies, which I loved, fit two of the comic book categories.
So, when I got to my last book on the list, “a book of social science,” I went with one of Book Riot’s recommendations: Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. I don’t even like sports, but it was fascinating. Anyway, I sent Book Riot a pic of my completed list, but I haven’t gotten a response. It’s fine. I’m fine.
However, because I was raised by in a very religious home, I felt REALLY guilty, not only about most things in life, but in particular about the multitasking, so I went back to the list and replaced the duplicates with new titles. And guess what? I was delighted (and a bit alarmed) to learn that I STILL beat both Rachel and Stephanie. This says more about them than it does me. I had so much fun, I’m thinking of following Stephanie’s suggestion and doing Book Riot’s 2017 Challenge. I bet I could pull it off before the end of the year! How many times could I beat Stephanie and Rachel before the end of 2018? The sky is the limit!
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi wins for Posthumous Book Most Likely to Get Snot-Splattered from Jaisson Blakethrone’s Ugly Cry.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad wins for Awful Book Most Likely to Be Unfinished Early in Jaessen Buhlakethron’s Formative Years Only to Be Not So Bad the Second Time Around.
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald wins for Nature Book Most Likely to Be About Hawks…AND DEATH. Good grief, and I do mean that. My favorite read in the whole challenge.
The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani wins for Crime Novel Most Likely to Feature Conjoined Twins and Keep Jeigh-son Blecchtharen Up at Night.
Okay, hear me out. I know that for a vast majority of the readers out there the fact that The Princess Bride made it to my BR Challenge under the category of “a book you never finished or hated” will cause at the very least palpitations and gasping if not outright swooning. Let me make clear that when I attempted to read this the first time, I was probably 14 or 15 and I had no patience for the loooonnng introduction. I didn’t care for the voice of the author, and so assumed that I would rather preserve the love I had for the movie instead of letting the author’s voice ruin it for me. So, I never actually made it to the book itself. I don’t know if that helps my case or makes it worse. Anyway, I’ve read it now. Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here.
However, I loved reading A Princess in Theory. I’m ALL ABOUT retellings of any kind. And romance? SIGN ME UP. I already have the second book in the series added to my TBR list, even though it isn’t a retelling. But still. Loved this new author I found.
To be quite honest, I haven’t added that many new books to my challenge because I got distracted reading my way through a fantasy series that, unfortunately, doesn’t fit anywhere on this list except the one sitting category I already had filled. But after I finish the series (I’m four away, so it should be soon), I’ll get back on track to getting more of these read.
An assigned book you hated (or never finished): The Princess Bride by William Goldman
A romance novel by or about a person of color: A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
An essay anthology: Rereadings by Anne Fadiman
If there were a prize for Most Epic Comeback, I feel like I’d be a pretty strong contender. My public confession back in May that I’d read only two books toward the challenge (because of those freaking Canadian ice dancers) was sufficient motivation for me to get my butt in gear (or on the couch, or in bed, or in the hammock at my parents’ house) and read, read, read. Now I’m working on my twelfth book of the challenge, and I’ve completed an additional three from my personal TBR pile. Not saying that I’m crushing it, but…
I absolutely—and unexpectedly—fell in love with Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow, which I chose for my book set in a BRICS country. I haven’t read a whole lot of literary fiction recently, and the premise didn’t really grab me when I read the descriptive copy on the jacket flap. But I found it to be utterly charming, and I realized how much I’ve missed prose that is so thoughtfully crafted. I’ve become a bit of a Moscow evangelist, so fair warning to my coworkers: if I haven’t waxed poetic about this book in front of you yet, I’m coming for you.
Since I’ve just come off a string of reads I enjoyed, I decided to bite the bullet and attempt the assigned book I hated, so I’m currently slogging through Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalsom! Spoiler alert: I’m one chapter in, and I still hate it. But after I make it through this one, I’m trying to cram in as many books as I can between now and October/November, when my reading time will evaporate as I attempt to follow updates from a figure skating tour, the gymnastics world championships, the World Series, and the NASCAR championship chase. So until I end up glued to the TV/YouTube/various streaming feeds of dubious origin, you’re likely to find doing my best impression of Disney’s Belle: with my nose stuck in a book.
A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
A western: Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
A celebrity memoir: Tessa and Scott: Our Journey from Childhood Dream to Gold by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir with Steve Milton
Okay, I won’t lie. Once Jason Blackethorne beat me and Rachel, I was kind of like, “Fine. I’ll finish this challenge after I have nothing else better to read in my life.” So right now, I’m currently reading A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas. It didn’t help that the two categories I have left are “a book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries” and “an assigned book you hated.” Yes, I still hate The Hobbit.
What I have learned this year is that Oprah and I have extremely different reading tastes. I tried, Oprah, I promise I did, but Love in the Time of Cholera? Great Expectations? East of Eden? I TRIED ALL OF THESE, AND MY LIFE SUFFERED FOR IT.
Oprah, you really want people to read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle? Like, people you love?
Here’s how it went down: I originally had The Good Earth as my BRICS read, but I had to admit defeat and move it to “an Oprah’s Book Club selection.”
So, with four months to go, I promised my husband I WILL read The Hobbit – a treasured tale from his childhood that my marriage might depend on me accepting as literary canon. And thanks to the book sleuthing of Rachel, I have The Forbidden Jewel of India waiting for me as well.
A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman
A book of social science: Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett
Remember that time I popped out a little sucker and didn’t have time for this? Well, I’m BACK, and since I didn’t have
anything much to say the first time around, you’re going to listen to my whole play-by-play.
A book published posthumously – Persuasion by Jane Austen. I liked it as I always like Jane’s stuff because hello, stories by females for females. Have to say that although Anne Elliot is decidedly more mature than any of Jane’s other heroines, I also found her kind of the most boring. I just like Elizabeth Bennett the most, I can’t help it, even if she is a bit of an entitled little kiddo… she’s got the spunk and the wit.
A book of true crime – Currently listening to the audiobook of Hunting Charles Manson by Lis Wiehl. Dude, I know it’s been said before, but the Manson family? Spook-city.
A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance) – Currently reading Frankenstein. Never read it before, much to my embarrassment. So far, I just feel bad for Frankenstein’s monster. All he’s done is try to say hello to the main character and then he got straight up abandoned. Any destruction on the monster’s part after this is I feel like is deserved after being abandoned by his maker. Also, kudos to every human who refers to Frankenstein’s monster correctly: he is not called Frankenstein.
A romance novel by or about a person of color – Currently on hold and suffering on Overdrive for The Kiss Quotient and Trail of Lightening. I want both of these so so bad. Everyone in the Nashville Public Library just finish your copy already so I can have themmmmmmmmmm.
The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series – The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. OMG so good. I love me a good YA novel and this one delivered. Hawaii during its waning years as a Kingdom. Time travel. Two main characters who were POC. Pirates. I mean, what more could you want? Super enjoyed this, will be reading the sequel, 10/10 would recommend.
Kind of thinking of finding a Brazil novel for the BRICS country category because I don’t believe I’ve ever read a book from that region… ever? So if anyone has suggestions for this, THROW THEM AT ME.
I did all these things! Along with birthing a child and making sure it didn’t die! It’s truly the Year of the Jolene.
The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series: The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Flashback to July 30th. The day I realized I hadn’t been invited to the Read Harder Challenge. Also the day my competitive edge burst forth (as if it doesn’t do that everyday) and I said “It’s fine, I’ll complete this in 5 months. Try me.”
So here we are, about two weeks into the challenge. I’ve marked 4 off my list and am currently in the middle of 2 that I just haven’t been able to push through. It has been taking every ounce of me to not pick up the two books sitting on my nightstand that DON’T fit into the challenge. They are literally speaking to me in my dreams saying “read me Rachel, reaaaad me.”
I’ve realized through the challenge that I may spend more time thinking about what books may or may not fit in each section than I spend actually reading. Like can I make Handmaid’s Tale fit into “a book of colonial or postcolonial literature” because let me tell you… There are some STRONG postcolonial themes in those pages. “A book about nature” — I have Forest Trees of Illinois sitting in my bookcase. Should I skim through that? Is that lame? Am I challenging myself? Where is the judge in all of this? SOS.
At the end of the day though, this challenge makes me feel like it’s okay to have a one track mind and constantly be thinking about what to read next. So I shall continue to persevere, and read for the good of the challenge. And to win. Is there a prize?
A romance novel by or about a person of color: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
A celebrity memoir: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
A book of social science: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (sorry if this doesn’t count, but I decided that it does).
Page Chaser x Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Fast Facts, Vol. II:
- The majority of us read A Walk in the Woods for the “a book about nature” challenge, with mixed results. It was loathed and adored.
- A huge fight ensued between a Chaser and her non-book-industry-working husband over whether audiobooks should count towards the challenge. The bookies voted unanimously YES. What’re your thoughts?
- The books that kept popping up on our lists, even when we weren’t recommending them to each other: Persuasion (posthumous), A Princess in Theory (romance by or about a person of color), and Under a Painted Sky (western).
- None of us really understand what defines a book on social science.