by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2017
“Required reading” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot these days, but it’s still the phrase I would use to describe the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was with bated breath that I placed a hold on his new book a month prior to its publication and I gleefully picked it up from the library on the day it was released. I had thoroughly enjoyed Between the World and Me and was excited to get my hands on this collection of essays. Now, perhaps because I had just read Michael Eric Dyson, whose dynamism cannot be matched, or perhaps because I had such pent up anticipation, which never leads to anything but disappointment, I found I was less enamored of this book than I expected I would be. I hadn’t realized this wouldn’t be new material and, accordingly, it did not attack the subject manner in the way I had assumed it would. I don’t read The Atlantic, so while the material was new to me and I was glad to be able to access it in a collected volume, I felt that they didn’t quite come together to paint a cohesive picture. But, there is still so much to be gained from Coates’s words and I will argue with anyone that his voice is a necessary one in our world today.
by Marissa Meyer, 2015
narrated by Rebecca Soler
Dear Reader, I have come to the conclusion that I hate love. Okay, I don’t 100% hate love (I don’t think…), but I do hate stories that focus on love at the expense of other, more interesting things. This has been my complaint throughout The Lunar Chronicles. In each of the installments we get a righteously badass chick, doing righteously badass things, only to then wring her hands and fret over whether a boy likes her. I realize that these are fairy tales and that fairy tales, as we know them, always end with the princess getting her prince, but if we can make Cinderella a cyborg mechanic who saves political relations between the Earth and the moon, then surely we can dispense with the heteronormative gender roles, right?
by Michael Eric Dyson, 2017
narrated by the author
It may seem difficult to determine to whom, exactly, Michael Eric Dyson is addressing his sermon in Tears We Cannot Stop. The subtitle may be, “A Sermon to White America,” but I have to doubt that many white Americans will be interested in his words. This is not because I believe that the majority of white Americans are uncaring or lack compassion, but the truth is that we tend to gravitate toward things with which we directly relate. In fact, that’s the whole spirit of the Read Harder Challenge – to get us to read material that is vastly different from what usually occupies our minds. (I’d add to this that part of the problem is that most people don’t read, but that’s another argument for another day.) So, in addressing his book to an audience that it likely won’t reach, is Dyson simply preaching to the choir?
by N.K. Jemisin, 2015
When I decided to make an effort to read award-winning books, I included the Hugo and Nebula awards in my list because I’m a decent fan of science-fiction. I forgot this meant that I would also have to read fantasy, a genre of which I’m not particularly enamored. Nevertheless, I’d heard much effusion over N.K. Jemisin’s writing and I was interested to find out what has garnered her so much attention, even while being a bit apprehensive about reading her. After having read this book I can say…I didn’t hate it. That’s about as much excitement as I can muster for a fantasy read, but even if I didn’t fall in love with it, I can surely appreciate some of what Jemisin is doing here.
by Malala Yousafzai, 2013
narrated by Archie Panjabi
I recently moved from an area replete with public transportation to an area that, well, has absolutely no public transportation at all. This means that I’ve had to start to driving. While that’s brought its own challenges (the last time I drove was probably around 2005), it’s also taken away those precious minutes when I used to read on my commute. The obvious solution here is to start listening to audiobooks, but that isn’t as easy for me as it may be for some. One of the things I particularly love about reading is absorbing an author’s beautiful language and imagining the scene unfurl in my mind. That is taken away when someone else narrates and adds their own inflection to the words. I am also very much a visual learner and I often feel that I don’t hold onto information that I hear with nearly the strength that I do with information I see. Yet, spending the 30 minutes I drive to work each day listening to the radio seems a bit of a waste, so I am doing my best to convert myself into an audiobook lover. I Am Malala was my first choice for this, with the reason being that I believed I wouldn’t miss the experience of reading as much with a nonfiction book. I was also able to borrow the ebook from the library, so after my drive I could skim over the sections I heard and highlight what stood out to me. My audiobook conversion is still a process, but it’s one I’m hoping I master. Now, onto the book.
by Daniel Borzutzky, 2016
Part of the problem with loving books is that when you religiously read book blogs, listen to book podcasts on your runs, and watch booktube videos before going to bed at night, you end up with a lot of books that you want to read. And sometimes – let’s be honest, a lot of the time – you get distracted from what you want to read in the long term by the shiny new book you MUST READ RIGHT NOW. I’m not a huge fan of planning out everything I read, but I’ve found the Read Harder Challenge has been pretty good at getting me to read books that have languished on my TBR. I’ll say the same for my Year of Toni Morrison challenge – even though I’m spending the last quarter of the year catching up with her, I’m really quite delighted that I decided to do this. So, all of this is to say that I’ve decided I want to make more of an effort to read each year’s prize-winning books (from 2016 on). This decision is how I came to find myself reading this National Book Award-winning collection of poetry.
by William Shakespeare, 1590(ish)
I was recently having a discussion with my English teacher friend wherein I revealed that I had never taken a Shakespeare class. He wondered how that could be possible, and I reminded him that, although my Master’s degree is in English, my Bachelor’s degree is not, and while I was getting said Master’s and the time came for me to take a Renaissance course, I chose Milton instead. (That is a choice I do not regret, for my Milton teacher was fantastic. She used to read Paradise Lost to us. She was ASMR before the internets knew what ASMR was.) Alas, I know little of the Bard. Save for Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest, and Othello, I’ve not read much of him. I think it’s about time for this certified book nerd to remedy that…after all, I did pay a ton of money to say that I can read English good. (← Insert Derek Zoolander pun here.)