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Read Harder Task #4: Read a Book in Any Genre by a POC That’s About Joy and Not Trauma

BIPOC stories and identities aren’t defined by trauma. Yet a lot of the books by authors of color that made the bestsellers list and got all the attention in end-of-the-year lists in 2020 and 2021? They’re stories that focus on pain, trauma, and racism. While these stories deserve to be told, there are so many wonderful books out there that focus on the triumphs, accomplishments, and everyday joy that are also an important part of everyone’s experience.

This is why I’m so glad that “Read a Book in Any Genre About BIPOC Joy,” is one of the “tasks” for 2022’s Read Harder Challenge. Really, I put “tasks” in quotes because this one shouldn’t be challenging at all. There are so many wonderful books out there across many genres that fit this prompt. It was difficult to choose which ones to share with you. Here are eight books that are excellent examples of the types of stories you could read for this challenge, but of course there are plenty more!

cover image of Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Bolu Babalola’s short story collection is a powerful reimagining of West African folktales and Greek and Middle Eastern mythology that centers Black women in the stories. This book retells the stories of Nefertiti, Thisbe, Psyche, and others, focusing on romance, love, and, yes, joy. This is a must-read collection for anyone who loves love and magic… and who doesn’t love those things?

wow no thank you

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

I first came across Samantha Irby’s humorous writing on her blog Bitches Gotta Eat, which now has a substack. My point? Samantha Irby is funny. This essay collection focuses on the changes in Irby’s life as she turns forty, leaves her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, moves into a house with her wife, and settles into a life of gardening, mason jarring, and book clubs. If you’ve never read Irby’s essays before, I’m so excited for you. You’re going to love this.

Arsenic and Adobo cover image

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

This book is the first in a new cozy mystery series, featuring a humorous storyline and plenty of delicious recipes. And what’s more joyful than food and murderrrrr? This book is about Lila Macapagal who moves back home after a particularly nasty breakup. She’s working towards healing and helping out at her Tita Rosie’s restaurant. Everything’s going fine until a nasty food critic (who happens to be Lila’s ex-boyfriend) drops dead in the restaurant.

The Wedding Date Book Cover

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

One thing I’ve learned about myself the more and more I read romance novels? I love a good fake dating story. I don’t know why, because never in my life have I actually encountered a situation where two people were pretending to date (that I know of). And yet it happens all the time in romance novels, and I love it. The Wedding Date is one of those really great fake-wedding-date-turned-to-real-romance love stories. If you’re like me and you also love this trope, bump this to the top of your list for this challenge.

cover of instructions for dancing by nicola yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon’s books always make me feel all the feels. And her latest, Instructions for Dancing, is no different. This one has an especially interesting premise. Evie Thomas has this strange ability to see a couple’s full love story from beginning to end whenever she witnesses a kiss. She sees the highs, the lows, and soooo many breakups. Now that she knows how each and every love story ends, it’s difficult for her to believe in love at all anymore. But then she starts taking these dance classes, where she meets a boy named X.

amari and the night brothers

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

It probably sounds obvious to say a fantasy middle grade is magical, but that’s the best word to describe this book. It’s just magical. Amari’s brother Quinton is missing, but she’s convinced he’s still alive, no matter what anyone else says. Then she finds a strange briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, and she’s certain this will be the key to finding her brother.

cover of When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

I am forever a total fangirl for this book, so I had to include it on this list. When Dimple Met Rishi is just pure joy from beginning to end. Dimple is not interested in romance at all. She’s just recently graduated and is focused on attending a summer program for aspiring web developers. Meanwhile, her parents only seem interested in finding a nice Indian boy for her. So when they arrange for Rishi to meet Dimple at summer camp without Dimple’s knowledge, what could possibly go wrong?

the last black unicorn cover

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

The Last Black Unicorn is actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish’s memoir in essays, and unsurprisingly, it’s super funny. From growing up in one of the poorest parts of South Central Los Angeles to her career as a stand up comedian to her experiences as an actress, Haddish takes readers through her struggles and successes. This is a journey in which Haddish has had to contend with racism, classism, sexism, but that doesn’t take away from Haddish’s determination, her joy, and her unicorn-ness.

Is your favorite book on this list? What are you planning to read for this challenge? For more ideas, check out last year’s challenge: An Own Voices YA Book With A Black Protagonist That Isn’t About Black Pain. Or these 8 Great Books Celebrating Black Joy.

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

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Read Harder Task #3: Read Any Book from the Women’s Prize Shortlist/Longlist/Winner List

Hello there, Read Harder friends! Kendra here to chat with you about the prompt “Read Any Book for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.” I love this prompt because it draws attention to a prize that I’ve enjoyed following over the years. They always feature a wide range of books, so there’s something for everyone.

The origins of the prize began in 1991 when a group of women saw that The Booker Prize shortlist included no books by women and decided to create a prize that celebrates women’s writing. They awarded the first Women’s Prize in 1996 to Helen Dunmore for her novel A Spell of Winter.

Since then, they’ve been uplifting women’s literary work with their yearly fiction award and their writer development program, Discoveries. They even have a podcast and create videos to accompany their award announcements. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the Women’s Prize’s website for more info and the complete lists of titles nominated for the award throughout its history.

Over the years, the Women’s Prize has nominated dozens and dozens of excellent novels, but I want to share some of my favorite winners with you today!

a graphic of the cover of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (2021)

Piranesi lives in a magical house, more of a labyrinth, that contains an endless number of rooms. As he explores the house, Piranesi begins talking with a man he calls The Other, who keeps pestering him for more information about something The Other calls The Secret Knowledge. Piranesi doesn’t see anyone else as he wanders around the different rooms, but he begins to suspect there’s a third person somewhere in the house.

a graphic of the cover of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

Agnes lives in a small English village in the late 1580s. Her husband, a playwright, spends much of his time in London putting on his plays. Her husband’s career begins taking off when their young son, Hamnet, is struck ill by the plague. While many readers may be more familiar with her husband’s story, Agnes’s own life proves just as compelling.

a graphic of the cover of American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2019)

Celeste and Roy spend a night in a hotel to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary when Roy is arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the building. When he’s sent to prison, Roy and Celeste try to keep their marriage together through letters and visits, but will they be able to keep making their marriage work in the face of such odds?

a graphic of the cover of Home Fire by Kamala Shamsie

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (2018)

This retelling of Antigone (one of my favorite Greek tragedies) gives the story a whole new feel. Isma finally feels like she can pursue her own dreams in America after looking after her two younger siblings for so long. But when her sister Aneeka calls with the news that their brother has joined an extremist group, Isma must choose whether she goes home to keep delaying her plans for her life or to leave her siblings and follow her dreams.

A graphic of the cover of The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (2016)

Lisa McInerney, one of Ireland’s most talented contemporary writers, won the Women’s Prize back in 2016 for The Glorious Heresies. The novel begins when an older woman hits an intruder over the head, killing him. This single event brings together characters across a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences. And if you like The Glorious Heresies, there are two more books in the trilogy that are already out and ready for you to read!

A graphic of the cover of how to be both by Ali smith

How to Be Both by Ali Smith (2015)

In this glorious novel, we meet a young girl who keeps getting glimpses of a renaissance painter in her dreams. In another time, a young artist aspires for renown and acclaim. Smith’s prose, as always, flows across the page, drawing the reader in with every word. Some of the editions of the book have the artist’s story first, while other editions position the girl’s story first. These different editions create two unique reading experiences.

a graphic of the cover of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2012)

Before its TikTok fame, The Song of Achilles, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. In this retelling of the story of Achilles and Patroclus, we experience their relationship from youth to adulthood. As Patroclus narrates their story, it’s difficult not to become more and more attached to the characters as they fall more and more in love with one another.

A graphic of the cover of Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home by Marilynne Robinson (2009)

I adored Robinson’s novel Gilead, so when I picked up Home, I knew I was in for a treat. But I possessed no real understanding of what I was about to read. Home features Jack, the wayward son of a Methodist minister. Robinson’s characters shine, captivating readers on every page.

A graphic of the cover of On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006)

Zadie Smith’s debut White Teeth launched her career as a major talent, and On Beauty solidified her place as a literary star. On Beauty follows an interracial family in Massachusetts. The novel paints a complex reality for the family, each character possessing their own dreams for their future that often conflict with their family members’ ideas of what the family should be.

A graphic of the cover of Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)

Small Island follows a group of characters whose lives weave together and intersect. Hortense Joseph and her husband Gilbert try to make a life together after WWII, but the systemic racism of Britain essentially makes them second-class citizens.


That’s it for today! I hope you find some wonderful options for prompt 3. We’ll be back soon with recommendations for another Read Harder prompt. But until then, happy reading!

– Kendra

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

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Read Harder Task #2: Read a Book Set in a Bookstore

It goes without saying that readers love bookstores. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone utter the sentence, “Oh I love reading; but I hate bookstores.” It just doesn’t happen. And if it does happen, I’d be worried that meant the end of the world was nigh. 

Personally for me, bookstores have always been a place of comfort. When I was a teenager and went to the mall, B. Dalton was always my first stop. And I almost never went out of there without buying at least one book. And it was usually just one since my inflow of money was much more limited back then. That said, it stands to reason that books that take place in a bookstore or have one heavily featured are a favorite of mine. 

Bookstores are just happy places. There is so much potential in them to find your new favorite book. I was excited that this was one of the prompts for the Read Harder Challenge in 2022  since I knew that would make a lot of my fellow book dragons happy. And without further delay, here are a few books to consider for checking off this box in the annual challenge. 

Nonfiction

Cover of 84, Charring Cross Road

84, Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This classic chronicles the twenty year correspondence between Hanff, a free-lance writer in New York City, and a used book dealer in London. Even though the two never met face to face, they built a lifelong friendship on their mutual love of books. Which is always a good foundation for that type of relationship.

Cover of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

This memoir is about the real-life story of Welch and her husband who decide to open up a bookstore in a struggling coal mine town in Virginia. Despite everyone telling them they were crazy, they persisted with their dream to open up the store. In this book, you will read about the set up and the unique and memorable customers that walked through their doors. This is a must read for anyone who has ever dreamed of opening a bookstore.

Romance

Cover of Meet Cute Club

Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon

Jordan is less than pleased when snarky coworker Rex asks to join his romance book club. However, as the club is floundering, he can’t really get into the habit of turning down new members. As the men work and read together, both realize that they may have judged one another too quickly and too harshly and that there is always an opportunity to make a good second impression.

Cover of Read Between the Lines

Read Between the Lines by Rachel Lacey

Rosie is shocked to find out that the person behind her favorite lesbian romance Brie is in fact property manager Jane—the same property manager that sent her a letter informing her that they would not be renewing her lease at the end of the calendar year. When the two women find out who one another really is, will this previous interaction doom a relationship before it even starts? Or will they be able to look past that to find a happily ever after?

Mystery

Cover of The Ghost and Mrs. McClure

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure by Cleo Coyle

Widower Penelope moves back to Rhode Island with her young son to open a bookstore with her aunt. Little does she know that the store comes with its own ghost, that of Jake, a private investigator from the forties. After an author drops dead in the store shortly before his book-signing event, the two unlikely allies must team up to solve the mystery. This is the first in a series of cozy mysteries.

The Plot is Murder cover image

The Plot is Murder by V.M. Burns

This mystery includes another widow, Samantha, who has always dreamed of owning her own bookstore and being a published author. Her grand opening is threatened when a shady realtor is found dead in her backyard and she is the primary suspect. Sam must join forces with her grandmother and her merry band of fellow retirees to find the real culprit.

Young Adult

Cover of Words in Deep Blue

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

When Rachel returns to her childhood home, she ends up working at her former best friend Henry’s family bookstore. Her task is to catalog all the personal letters that were left in the Letter Library before the store closes down. This puts her in close proximity with Henry who is eager to pick up their friendship, not realizing why it stopped in the first place. This is a wonderfully bittersweet novel about how books bring us together and you’ll fall in love with the bookstore that is destined to close.

Cover of Recommended for You

Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

Shoshanna loves her job at local independent bookstore Once Upon. Between her car issues and mothers constantly fighting, the store is her safe haven. When her boss announces a holiday bonus to whoever can sell the most books, she knows she has to win the prize. If only her new co-worker, Jake wasn’t equally as determined to win the prize. This book takes place during winter, but it is a perfect sweet read any time of the year.

Manga

Cover of Kingyo Used Books, Vol. 1

Kingyo Used Books, Vol. 1 by Seimu Yoshizaki

You can find almost any manga you can imagine at Kingyo Used Books. But it’s more than that since Natsuki and Shiba, the propetiers, are as equally as invested in the stories of their customers as they are in the books they sell. And you can find almost every type of manga and manga-reader in this series. This is the first volume so if you enjoy it you can always pick up the rest in the series.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!


This is just a jumping off point for books to read to knock this challenge out. Whether you pick one from here or something else, I hope you have fun. Good luck on the rest of the challenge!!!

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Read Harder Task #1: Read a Biography of an Author You Admire

Have you ever tried an audiobook narrated by the author of the work itself? Isn’t it an experience? You get a glimpse of the author’s thoughts right then and there. You experience the reality of the book exactly how the author wanted you to experience it.

That’s how I feel about author biographies. Even though it’s not the authors themselves covering their lives, getting to know their life story adds a layer of depth and perception to the works of the author that you otherwise would have remained foreign to.

What follows below is a list of eight author biographies for the first task in the 2022 Read Harder Challenge. These books break down authors’ entire lives or parts of their life and writing to paint a holistic picture of the authors and their work we have come to know.

book cover for shirley jackson: a rather haunted life

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

In her non-fiction works such as Life Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson hinted at her struggles to keep up her writing along with her domestic life; this biography confirms that, while also shedding light on her career trajectory. In telling Jackson’s story and her struggle, we learn of the struggles that permeated the lives of many 20th century women and appreciate the works that came out of it more.

cover of Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

Wharton like so many of her own novel heroines had a life fraught with struggles and challenges to pave her way through the literary world.

Born in 1862, Wharton escaped the suffocating fate of the well-born woman, traveled adventurously in Europe, and eventually settled in France. This biography is as much about her literary aspirations as her non-literary ones. It talks of her fabled houses and gardens, her heroic relief efforts during the Great War, and absorbing the culture of the Old World, which she never tired of.

book cover for the red comet

Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark

Clark’s project is, in part, to refute the narrative of Plath’s life that other biographies and writing about her rely on, which treat her death as the inevitable outcome of her life. Instead, she tells Plath’s life story by using her work as the guiding narrative: her career as a writer, her commitment to developing her craft, her desire to balance this work with being a wife and mother, and the political and social context she was writing in. What emerges is a portrait of a bright, ambitious, driven, and complex woman who desired so much in life, and only got so much.

book cover for who we are reading when we read murakami

Who We’re Reading When We’re Reading Murakami by David Karashima

What David Karashima sets out to do in this biography is break down the research, correspondence, and interviews with dozens of individuals—including Murakami himself—to examine how countless behind-the-scenes choices over the course of many years worked to build an internationally celebrated author’s persona. About how an author goes from an author of pocket-sized books in translation to a bestselling phenomenon. He looks beyond the legacy of Murakami toward larger questions: the role of translators in moving forward the text along with how foreign cultures get appropriated to become more digestible for the West.

book cover for begin again

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

In this biography, Glaude turns towards the writings of Baldwin in search of hope and guidance through our own times. This mixes biography—drawn partially from newly uncovered interviews—with history, memoir, and trenchant analysis of our current political climate. It is Glaude’s endeavor, following Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today. It lays bare the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and powerful interrogation of what we all must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.

book cover for my autobiography of carson mccullers

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland

Jenn Shapland explores her own life and identity through in-depth and what seems to be largely archival research of Carson McCullers, from her wardrobe to love letters to recordings of therapy sessions. Shapland lives at her house in Columbus, Georgia while working in the archives there, and traces her steps at Yaddo. She discovers scholars past and presents all too willing to explain away McCullers’ love of women, and in connecting the pieces pointing in that direction comes to terms with it in herself as well. 

book cover for mary shelley's biography

Mary Shelley: A Biography by Muriel Spark

Spark takes at the same time a sympathetic and critical look at Mary Shelley’s life. The first part of the book, the biography, written in 1951 and revised in 1987, gives a clear account of Mary Shelley’s trials and difficulties, including her miscarriages. The second part of the book is Spark’s appraisal of Mary Shelley’s work. What makes this a fascinating work is the fact that it is the biography of an enigmatic author covered by another equally enigmatic one, and how they go about creating art in a world not made for them.

book cover for wrapped in rainbows

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd

Wrapped in Rainbows, the first biography of Zora Neale Hurston in more than twenty-five years, illuminates the adventures, complexities, and sorrows of an extraordinary life. Acclaimed journalist Valerie Boyd delves into Hurston’s history—her youth in the country’s first incorporated all-black town, her friendships with luminaries such as Langston Hughes, her sexuality and short-lived marriages, and her mysterious relationship with Vodou. With the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, and World War II as historical backdrops, this biography positions Hurston’s work in her time but also offers riveting implications for our own.

I have come to believe that all works of writing are in some way autobiographical. Biographies help contextualize those autobiographical elements and see the works of our favorite authors in a new light. If you haven’t tried picking up a biography of your favorite author yet, I recommend you get to it.