Notes from Ann: The Read Harder Challenge

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I was talking to my friend Gail Vinett at Ingram Content Group — the distributor where the store gets a lot of our books — this week while I was there to sign 1,800 copies of Commonwealth. (Yes, eighteen hundred copies. Lucky me! Poor me! Take your pick.) Gail was there to keep me company and she told me that, along with her family — her husband in Nashville, a son in Auckland, and a daughter in Oakland — she was doing the Book Riot 2016 Read Harder Challenge. She said it was proving to be an excellent two-continent family bonding exercise. Because it takes a long time to sign 1,800 books, she had time to pull out her phone and started reading off the list. I got so into it!

This is exactly what owning a bookstore has done for me: it’s made me read harder and wider and farther afield than I ever had before. I immediately sent the list to Karen at Parnassus, who made copies and put them by the register. Anyone interested in playing along?

A book about feminism? Easy.

I know the point is to read all these different books in a year — and wherever possible I did use a book I had read this year — but in some cases I’m cheating a bit by naming books I read before 2016 started. But cut me some slack? I leave for book tour in less than two weeks and I want to make sure you have plenty of suggestions while I’m off seeing America. I also resisted the temptation to use The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin in multiple categories: it won an Audie (I really did listen to it), is over 500 pages, is a biography, is a book about politics, and has a main character with mental illness. What a winner!

But I followed the rules and listed something different in every category. The hardest to pick was the book over 500 pages. There are so many long books I adore. I wasn’t going to spend that one on something I’d read recently when I had Anna Karenina and Independent People and The Goldfinch and The Magic Mountain to contend with. And in case you were wondering, I really do read Our Town every year, sometimes every month. The book by an author from southeast Asia and the first book in a series by an author of color reminded me that I needed to up my game in some categories, while at the same time thrilling me that I got to recommend books by Walter Mosley and Loung Ung. I will not be reading more horror in the future, but I did read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a few years back while on a Robert Louis Stevenson kick. I liked Kidnapped better.

Here we go:

A horror book: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
A nonfiction book about science: Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
A collection of essays: The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, Meghan Daum
A book you read aloud to someone else: Snuggle Puppy, Sandra Boynton (I read it to Sparky. Seriously.)
A middle-grade novel: The After-Room, Maile Meloy
A biography (not memoir/autobiography): Destiny and Power: the American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, Jon Meacham
A dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: Underground Airlines, Ben Winter
A book originally published in the decade you were born: Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
An audiobook that has won an Audie award: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, Doris Kearns Goodwin
A book over 500 pages long: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
A book under 100 pages: The Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin
A book by or about a person who identifies as transgender: In the Darkroom, Susan Faludi
A book set in the Middle East: The Betrayers, David Bezmozgis
A book by an author from Southeast Asia: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Loung Ung
A book of historical fiction set before 1900: Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
The first book in a series by a person of color: Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley
A non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years: Penguins with People Problems, Mary Laura Philpott
A book that was adapted into a movie: Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
A nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with femist themes: My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem
A book about religion: Lying Awake, Mark Salzman
A book about politics: Evicted, Matthew Desmond
A food memoir: My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl
A play: Our Town, Thornton Wilder
A book with a main character who has a mental illness: Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett

Be sure to come into the store while I’m gone and give the shop dogs an extra scratch, and keep an eye on our events calendar — there are some amazing authors coming to town while I’m gone and I’m sick that I’m missing them. I don’t want you to miss them too.

If you miss me, you can check out my Commonwealth tour schedule at Maybe you could come to visit in St. Louis, or send your favorite aunt to my event in Portland. And bring your Read Harder Challenge list with you so we can compare notes.