The Read Harder Challenge

Roy Mackenzie | December 8, 2016

This blog post comes from Karen O’Keefe in the Circulation Department

I did the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.

Book Riot ( is a website “covering book-related news, reviews, commentary and information.” It is “dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are.”

The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge made its debut in 2015 with a list of 24 diverse tasks to complete over 12 months “encouraging readers to push themselves and read authors, topics and formats they would not otherwise try.” It is not a competition but a challenge you are only “accountable to yourself for.” When posted the 2016 Challenge, Colin Wilkins, our Head of Collection Development, suggested we try it.

I read a lot for pleasure-mostly novels and historical fiction. I hadn’t been reading outside my comfort zone and knew there were writers and genres I was missing in my reading life. So this Challenge was just what I needed to do. And, I really liked the idea of being part of a staff activity.

I looked at the list and knew it was going to be a stretch for me. Some topics were clearly not what I would ordinarily be drawn to such as: dystopian, horror, science… Others, I looked forward to and read:

A book adapted into a movie: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick which was a surprisingly beautiful book with a main character who is much more sympathetic than the movie interpretation.

A biography: The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan which is full of Irish and Civil War history but doesn’t read like a history book.

I thought about the Challenge constantly throughout the year. At times, I focused only on reading tasks on the list. Sometimes, I took a break. Occasionally, I was delighted to find just the right book. Here are two of those that I highly recommend:

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem is an enlightening, beautifully written memoir that spans her entire career of feminist, civil rights and political activism.

A City of Secrets by Stewart O’Nan takes place in Jerusalem, 1945. Due to British mandatory rule, Jewish refugees trying to enter Palestine relied on the underground to shelter them. In lucid prose this story follows a young man who is trying to regain the life he had before the war. As he gets more involved in the revolution he comes to realize he is being deceived and used.

I also read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin which is a classic science fiction novel. I sought help when I initially started reading, consulting online chapter summaries until I got the hang of it. With this read I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment!

My thanks go to Colin Wilkins for inspiring me and others on staff to do the 2016 Challenge.

Now that I have completed it I feel I have opened myself to the possibility of more exploring; to being more thoughtful and actually trying books that I wouldn’t have taken the time to read before. And I may spend a lot of time reading in my comfort zone too, which is fine.

Whether you are stuck like I was or more adventurous and like diversity in your reading, I heartily recommend doing the 2017 Challenge which should post to on or around December 15, 2016. Then, come in to the library to find your books all through the year.