We’ve made it to the final task of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge for 2023. It’s my favorite challenge of the whole bunch. If you’re anything like me, it might be your favorite too.
Why is it my favorite? Here’s the deal. Every year I throw my hat into the Read Harder challenge ring. Every year, I start off strong, knocking out quite a few in the first couple of months of the year.
Then the second half of the year comes around and momentum dies down a bit. Maybe it’s because I get interested in other reading goals. Maybe it’s because I knock out my favorite of the challenges first, and then I’m left with some books I’m admittedly less excited about reading. For whatever reason, there are just some challenges at the end of the year that may not get done. Even when I have the best intentions and really, really commit myself to doing them. What can I say? I’m human.
Enter Challenge #24: the challenge that lets you “repeat” one of the challenges from a previous year. There are a few ways you can play this. You could always repeat one of your favorite challenges from another Read Harder year. Orrrr… you could be like me and give yourself a second chance to finish one you missed out on.
Whatever your preferred method, here are a few of the year’s previous challenges, and books that would fit for each one.
Read A Book Set in A Bookstore: The True Love Bookshop by Annie Rains
The True Love Bookshop is a feel-good story filled with romance and books. Tess Lane is working her dream job running Lakeside Books and hosting the weekly book club. The bookstore has been her safe haven ever since her husband died three years earlier. She has tried to move on with her life and get past the mysterious circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. But then River Harrison shows up on her doorstep. River is her husband’s best friend and a private investigator, and with his help and the support of her friends, Tess might finally get answers to what happened to her husband. But will this mean she’ll finally be able to move on? And will she be able to forgive herself for past mistakes?
Read A Food Memoir by an Author of Color: From Scratch by Tembi Locke
Tembi Locke’s memoir From Scratch was recently adapted into a Netflix limited series starring Zoe Saldaña. But whether you’ve seen the show or not, this book is worth a read. This memoir is part love story, part food memoir, and part reflection on grief. When Tembi went to art school in Italy, she didn’t know that she would fall in love with Sicilian chef Saro. Unfortunately, Saro’s hyper-traditional family did not approve of him marrying a black American woman. Despite family disapprovals and culture clashes, the couple marries and moves to Los Angeles together. There, they build their careers, adopt a child, and fall deeper in love. But it isn’t until their lives are torn apart by a cancer diagnosis that they are able to finally reconnect with Saro’s family.
Read a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novella: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
Clark’s debut novella is a steampunk historical reimagining of New Orleans during the Civil War. Creeper is a girl who longs to escape the city by earning a spot aboard the airship Midnight Robber. How does she plan to do this? By giving Captain Ann-Marie information about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums. There is a small complication: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside Creeper’s head. And she has different plans for our protagonist.
Read a Book by an Author of Color Set in Space: We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen
Dr. Grace Park has been appointed to the survey ship The Deucalion to observe the thirteen crew members aboard. They’re all headed to an icy planet called Eos in an unexplored galaxy. But before they even get there, tensions are building between Park and the rest of the crew. She finds herself befriending the androids on the ship, preferring their company to that of the human crew members. When they land, things only get worse. The crew gets trapped by a storm with no means of communication or escape, and the androids start behaving strangely.
Read a Book Written in Prison: The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins
Author Curtis Dawkins is a convicted murderer, serving a life sentence without parole. The Graybar Hotel is his debut collection of short stories, all told in first person from an unnamed narrator reflecting on life in prison. Dawkins’ share of the proceeds from this book are going to an education fund for his children.
A Celebrity Memoir: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
This one is probably obvious, since this book has been on every bestseller list recently, but there’s a reason for it. This book is phenomenal, and even if you aren’t a fan of Jennette McCurdy or iCarly, this book is a must-read, IMHO. If you’ve somehow been living under a rock and missed what this one is about, I’m Glad My Mom Died is Jennette McCurdy’s reflection of her time as a child star, the pressures her mom put on her to be famous and successful (and thin), and how she’s coming to terms with these past traumas as an adult.
A Western: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
I’ll admit Westerns aren’t usually my thing. But a sci-fi Western? Now we’re talking. Esther is a stowaway, attempting to escape from her complicated past. Her father is trying to marry her off to the man who was supposed to marry her best friend. Her best friend whom she was secretly in love with and who was recently executed for possession of resistance propaganda. Intrigued yet? I think you’ll really like this one. Now she finds herself in a book wagon with rogue librarians who make it their job to deliver “unapproved materials” into dangerous territories.
Read a Travel Memoir: Driving While Black by Gretchen Sorin
Driving While Black reflects on Gretchen Sorin’s own personal family history and experiences with traveling on the road. But she also focuses on traveling by car and how this mode of transportation has been liberating for Black people in America. Sorin looks at how travel guides, Black-only businesses, and informal communications networks have helped keep Black people safe on the roads in the 20th century. At the same time, despite the freedoms that cars offered, driving also created new challenges for Black people: segregated ambulance services, unwarranted traffic stops, and racist violence.
These are just a few of my favorites from the past several years of Read Harder challenges. Which ones did you love so much you want to do again? Or which ones did you miss out on the first time? It’s okay, you can tell me. I won’t tell anyone.