As you may know, every year I take part in the Read Harder Challenge by Book Riot and as I’ve just completed it for 2018, I thought I’d share my thoughts. I bang on a lot about this scheme but it really is one of the best ways that I’ve found to expand my reading horizons. If you’re not signed up to Read Harder 2019, what are you even doing with your life? Get involved!
Read Harder consists of 24 categories and you simply read a book that fits into the given parameters. Some are easy (a book with a cover that you hate – loads of those around!) and some are really difficult (an essay anthology, a Western etc.). Here’s the full 2018 list with links to my choices:
- A book published posthumously – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- A book of true crime – The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson
- A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance) – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- A comic written and drawn by the same person – Tetris by Box Brown
- A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa) – The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- A book about nature – Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham
- A western – Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
- A comic written or drawn by a person of color – The Kite Runner Graphic Novel by Khaled Hosseini
- A book of colonial or postcolonial literature – Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
- A romance novel by or about a person of color – Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
- A children’s classic published before 1980 – The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt
- A celebrity memoir – Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton
- An Oprah Book Club selection – Wild by Cheryl Strayed
- A book of social science – A Good Time to be a Girl by Helena Morissey
- A one-sitting book – Women by Chloe Caldwell
- The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series – Everless by Sara Holland
- A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author – The Power by Naomi Alderman
- A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image – Giant Days by John Allison
- A book of genre fiction in translation – 1Q84 Book Three by Haruki Murakami:
- A book with a cover you hate – The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
- A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author – The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin
- An essay anthology – Not That Bad ed. Roxane Gay
- A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60 – The Lido by Libby Page
- An assigned book you hated (or never finished) – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Out of this fairly random assortment of books, five really stood out. In no particular order, they were:
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Anne’s diary detailed her life in hiding during the Second World War from the Nazis. It wasn’t what I expected but I found it completely engaging and terribly affecting.
The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson
This under-the-radar book had me completely spellbound from the first page to the last. It’s the true story of the theft of several highly valuable bird specimens from a museum and leads to the bizzare world of competitive fishing fly tying, organised crime and orchestral music. Unexpectedly brilliant, if you come across this book I’d urge you to read it.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The story of a dystopian future where women are kept in servitude, this felt weirdly prescient for a book published in the 80’s. I loved it.
Women by Chloe Caldwell
Another under-the-radar book, this novella had me completely addicted. It’s the very simple story of a lesbian relationship but it’s beautifully written and utterly compelling.
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Flynn
I loved everything about this domestic noir thriller, from the characterisation to the plot twists to the dark, Hitchcock-esque atmosphere. Fantastic.
Every year, Read Harder throws up some brilliant books that I wouldn’t have otherwise read and this year has been no exception. I think that overall, the two books that really left a lasting impression on me were The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Not That Bad ed. by Roxane Gay. Both were really powerful own voices novels of women struggling through adversity and both have haunted me ever since reading them.
The books that really surprised me were The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson for it’s portrayal of a strange little world that I knew nothing about; The Lido by Libby Page which I’d assumed would be fluffy chick lit but turned out to be a very moving portrayal of lonliness, grief, ageing and community; Women by Chloe Caldwell which was a tiny little novella that massively drew me in to the portrayal of a relationship between two women and Tetris by Box Brown which was a fascinating story of the history of the game Tetris told in graphic novel form. All of these books looked like they weren’t really my thing but they all completely surpassed my expectations.
The books that I achieved the most satisfaction from reading were 1Q84 Book Three by Haruki Murakami and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Both were long, complicated tales that took dedication to get through but they were both utterly worth it.
The funniest book that I read was My Life and Other Unfinished Business by the legend that is Dolly Parton. The woman is an untapped well of positivity and compassion and her life story is incredible (at one point she gets abducted by aliens – it gets mentioned almost as a footnote on one single page. That’s how jam packed her life has been).
I was introduced to a completely new genre with Tetris by Box Brown and The Kite Runner graphic novel by Khaled Hosseini. Graphic novels have really expanded from their comic book origins and they’re definitely a genre that I’d like to read more from. In saying that, Giant Days by John Allison was a more traditional comic and that was amazing too!
Overall, I loved taking part in Read Harder 2018 and I can’t wait to get involved in Read Harder 2019!
Did you take part in the Read Harder Challenge this year? What were the best books that you read? Let me know in the comments!