Book Riot’s 2018 Reading Challenge

I spent the first few months of 2018 working through the Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge. I had gotten stuck in a rut of reading dumb suspense and murder mystery books and wanted to break out of that, so this seemed logical.

Overall thoughts

Two thumbs up! This challenge got me to read a ton of stuff that I never would have discovered otherwise, and some of it was really good. I used the Goodreads group a good bit for recommendations which helped a lot.

I liked the emphasis on minority and inclusion too. One category asked for a “female protagonist over the age of 60” and another asked for “a comic written or drawn by a person of color”, etc. That was pretty cool and I found some great stuff thanks to that.

I don’t think there were really any categories that were frustratingly hard to find something worth reading. If anything, I’d say a few were possibly too broad, but that’s fine – options are good.

The only thing I didn’t really like is that there were 3 separate categories that called for comics or graphic novels. That’s really not my genre, and that seemed like a lot for something so specific.

What’s next

I don’t know. I want to eventually try to get through the Pop Sugar 2018 Reading Challenge before the year is up, but I think I might need to take a break and read some brain candy for a few weeks first. It’s easy to burn out on trying to find books that fit a certain category over and over.

Full list

Here’s the full list of categories and some notes about the book that I chose for each one.

A book published posthumously

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Poignant and sad. I’m really glad I picked this one. The epilogue written by his wife hit me especially hard.

A book of true crime

The Man With The Candy: The Story of The Houston Mass Murders by Jack Olsen

My rating: ⭐⭐

Bad choice. There are so many good true crime books out there and I chose this one for some unknown reason. I am ashamed of myself. It was boring and badly written.

A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance)

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I can see why Agatha Christie is such a big deal. This one had me on the edge of my seat until the very end and I did NOT see that coming.

A comic written and drawn by the same person

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was my first ever graphic novel and I really enjoyed it. Super fun to read. It didn’t convert me enough to make me want to go read a ton of comics or anything, but I had a great time reading it.

A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I loved this one so hard. More character and less plot focused than most of the books I tend to read, but I cared a lot about everyone in it.

A book about nature

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

It started out great – hilarious and fun to read. As it went on, it got more and more into just long, boring (to me) descriptions and histories of the towns that he walked through. It had a few parts that had me laughing hard, which is how it got the 3 stars, but overall I was bummed.

A western

True Grit by Charles Portis

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I had no idea what to do with the category. I basically grabbed the only Western novel that seemed obvious since that seemed like a safe bet. It drew me in, though. I especially loved the way the protagonist talked. I went around saying “said I” after everything I said for days afterwards. It drove my wife crazy.

“You want pasta for dinner?”

“Yes, said I.”

“Seriously, stop that.”

A comic written or drawn by a person of color

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My rating: ⭐⭐

I couldn’t get into it. The whole time, I just felt like I had no idea what was going on. Tons of names that I couldn’t remember or distinguish, and lots of plot lines that I couldn’t follow. It felt like I was supposed to have some background knowledge that I didn’t have. Maybe that’s the case – I’m a comic noob after all.

A book of colonial or postcolonial literature

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I feel pretty conflicted about this one. I could easily have given it 5 stars or 3 stars. It was really beautiful, and it had some of the most interesting phrasing and structure that I’ve ever read. It was also incredibly sad, and I love a good sad novel. But it also felt hard to get through the whole thing, and I couldn’t ever put my finger on why. Even though it was so interesting and different, I never was able to want to read it. I still feel like it deserves 4 stars though. It’s one of the ones that has stuck with me the most out of all of them.

A romance novel by or about a person of color

Fit (Fit, #1) by Rebekah Weatherspoon

My rating: ⭐⭐

Erm, no comment.

A children’s classic published before 1980

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

I love some children and young adult novels, but this one felt a little too kid-ish even for me. It was fairly fun and easy to get through.

A celebrity memoir

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I wouldn’t say I’m a huge Stephen King fan but I do typically like his work, especially his non-humongous novels. I really loved this though. Part interesting memoir, part style guide, it was interesting throughout and I picked up lots of good writing tips (for all the wiki pages and technical docs I write)

An Oprah Book Club selection

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is the longest book I’ve ever read (not counting IT by King which I listened to on audiobook), at almost 1000 pages. It was also one of the hardest to put down out of any of them. All of it felt necessary to tell the whole story. I don’t know how to really describe how I felt about it, other than to say that it kind of broke my heart and blew my mind at different times.

A book of social science

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Great book, as these types of books go. Very actionable advice about leadership as it relates to business or parenting or whatever. Lots of bits and pieces have stuck with me and have changed how I approach some conversations since reading it.

A one-sitting book

The Stranger by Albert Camus

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This one seems to be a classic and is in tons of “OMG you have to read these books before you die or else” type lists. I thought it was good as an interesting story, but I didn’t get any of the life-changing philosophical viewpoints from it that others seem to take away.

The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series

Ghost (Track, #1) by Jason Reynolds

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This made me feel things. I liked it a lot and I sent it to my 12 year old nephew to read it too. Pretty easy read with a big heart.

A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author

Warcross (Warcross, #1) by Marie Lu

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This struck me as more or less a ripoff of Ready Player One (which I loved) with a female protagonist and some other small tweaks, but I still really liked it. I don’t know if I liked it enough to read the rest of the series, but on its own it was definitely a fun one.

A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image

Lumberjanes (Lumberjanes, #01) by Noelle Stevenson

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Meh, didn’t really hook me.

A book of genre fiction in translation

In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book is sheer insanity. I love books that dip into the minds of crazy people so this was right up my alley. Fairly creepy, fairly brutal, but mostly just super raw and very interesting.

A book with a cover you hate

Misery by Stephen King

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This has to be the most suspenseful book I’ve ever read. I really had trouble putting it down. This is the kind of King novel that I really love.

A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine (Trouble, #1) by Stephanie Tromly

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Yeah, the main character is much too clever and confident and cool to be anything like a real teenager, but who cares, it’s a book, it’s not real life. Very satisfying book with lots of “oh yeah, take THAT” parts. I’m looking forward to reading the rest in the series.

An essay anthology

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have Kids by Meghan Daum

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I happened to read this book about people who chose not to have kids before, during (in the delivery room while my wife slept) and after having my 4th kid, so it was pretty bizarre timing and totally accidental. Some of the essays grabbed me more than others but on the whole I found them to be reasonable and thoughtful and very introspective, and not at all like the “because kids are the freaking worst!” type message that I expected.

I think this is especially worth reading to someone who can’t decide if they want kids, because there’s no shortage of “you should have kids!” opinions floating around in the world, so it’s important to get the other side as well. I will say that this re-affirmed why I have 4 kids myself, because none of the essays really made me regret any part of that.

A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This one really caught me off guard. The protagonist reminded me so much of my own grandmother, as a grumpy, older lady who has more going on in her history and her head than you might think. It made me feel so full after reading it in a way that none of the other books did.

An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I still don’t really understand why this is such a classic, but I liked it. I thought it was a fairly interesting story with some themes and higher meaning that even a dumb reader like me was able to pick up.

I also finished reading it right when I started using GatsbyJS so that was pretty incredible timing.

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