Reading Challenge Check-In: 26 Titles for You to Check Out
Waaay back in January (you know, life pre-covid) I set out to complete three reading challenges in 2020.
Reading Women’s 26-prompt challenge in which all the books must be written by or about women 🌼
Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 12-book challenge 👒
A 5-volume Native Literature Challenge created by Instagram user @nativegirlsreading 🐚
Now, more than halfway through 2020, I’m checking in with what I’ve accomplished toward my goals so far.
Here’s the fun part: I’m sharing with you the 26 books I have read to fulfill the challenge categories along with a short synopsis and rating (out of 5 stars) of each. I hope you’ll walk away from the list with new titles to explore so your own reading life may be enriched. Here we go!
Reading Women Challenge: 13 books read, 13 to go
1. A Burning by Megha Majumdar ⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 Author from Caribbean or India
Told from the perspective of three characters, A Burning is a quick-paced novel examining intersections between class, social media, politics, justice, and chance. Jivan fights to prove her innocence as Lovely strives for fame and PT Sir (a school teacher) ascends in power within a political party. The novel explores interesting themes, but I found that the characters evoke pity rather than empathy, detracting from my enjoyment.
2. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 Translated from an Asian Language
In this short novel translated from Korean, Kim Jiyoung is a wife and mother who begins embodying the voices of other women. Her husband sends her to a psychiatrist tasked with diagnosing her. While he searches for what’s wrong with her, the picture he paints suggests that causes outside of Jiyoung are to blame. Quick, engrossing, relatable, potent.
3. This Place: 150 Years Retold, foreword by Alicia Elliott ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 Picture book by a BIPOC author
This Place is a mesmerizing collaboration showcasing a variety of styles. Being a white US citizen, I lacked the personal context that makes this such a meaningful work for Indigenous readers, or more broadly, readers from Canada. Still, I found it quite enjoyable.
4. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland ⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism
A young adult zombie apocalypse novel, Dread Nation is NOT what I would typically read. What do you get when you combine 19th century racism with impulsive teenagers trained to fight “shamblers” threatening the cities? Dread Nation. I had more fun with it once I switched from hard copy to audiobook. The sequel Deathless Divide was good, too.
5. Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 Inspired by Folklore
Inspired by a Senegalese folk tale, Lord tells the story of Paama, who comes to possess the “chaos stick”, and the djombi (god) who seeks to retrieve it from her. Lord writes with a lighthearted voice yet proves to be full of wisdom.
6. A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum ⭐️⭐️
🌼 By an Arab woman
In Rum’s debut novel, high school senior Deya, being raised by her grandparents after her parents die, faces an arranged marriage until a stranger with a surprising connection shows her other possibilities. The premise had potential, but the writing fell flat and characters were similarly two-dimensional.
7. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 Set in Japan/By a Japanese author
Who knew that such deep sadness and joy could both be found in the pages of such a short book? Yoshimoto writes without frills about Mikage being taken in by a mother and her grown son after her grandmother dies. Kitchen is full of feeling and characters you root for.
8. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 A biography
Shapland’s genre-bending debut couples biography with memoir, comparing her experience as a queer writer with the life of Carson McCullers. Superbly written, Shapland’s book is one to savor.
9. Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 Featuring a woman with a disability
Norman’s memoir aches with both psychological and physical pain. Emancipated as a teen, Norman tells a story in which she has learned she can only rely on herself, even when it comes to diagnosing her own pathophysiology. Any woman with a chronic pain syndrome will feel the resonance of Norman’s writing in her bones.
10. I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 Less than 100 pages
At a mere 85 pages, Shraya writes about the ramifications of living in fear of male violence and the fear men feel by people of other genders which perpetuates the violence further. While Shraya’s fear is protective, the fear of men disguises hate. It’s short, but it hits hard.
11. Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley ⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 A feel-good/happy book
In Knisley’s lighthearted graphic memoir she regales the reader with stories of wedding planning interspersed with wedding history. Anyone who has been a bride can relate, and I can assure you this story has a happy ending.
12. The Whale & the Cupcake by Julia O’Malley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 A book about food
This fed my curiosity about food culture in … Alaska! Each chapter includes an interview and recipe along with great photos of the food, land, and people. Full of heart and community and writing that reads smoothly, The Whale & the Cupcake is fun to thumb through just for the pictures alone.
13. Know My Name by Chanel Miller ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🌼 From 2019 Reading Women shortlists
Chanel Miller attended a frat party with her sister and woke up the next morning alone in a hospital, her hair full of pine needles and her underwear missing, to find out she had been raped. The audiobook narrated by the author was phenomenal—well-written and well-structured. A memoir you won’t long forget.
Modern Mrs. Darcy: 11 read, 1 to go
1. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
👒 A book published the decade I was born in (1980s)
This novel follows four mother-daughter pairs, the mothers of whom know each other after having immigrated to the US from China and creating a mahjong club. Their American-born daughters each grow up with different lessons from their Chinese mothers. All the women contend with what it means to be both Chinese and American. My favorite character, Lindo, happened to be mother to my least favorite daughter, Waverly.
2. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
👒 A debut novel
Fifteen-year-old Vanessa receives special attention from her English teacher that leads to a sexual relationship. Alternating between the present and Vanessa’s high school years we see how the relationship affected and still affects her. The author captures the voice of a teenage girl so well. Great on audiobook.
3. Quiet by Susan Cain ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
👒 A book recommended by a source I trust
Cain explains how our culture idealizes extroverts even while society needs introverts for all their strengths. Elucidating and validating, Quiet helped me understand my introverted self better, although the final chapters were preachy.
4. Dear Girls by Ali Wong ⭐️⭐️⭐️
👒 A book by a local author (Los Angeles, CA)
Ali Wong writes letters to her daughters in this memoir about her upbringing and ascent in comedy. The format is cheesy, and Ali Wong does better on stage than in writing. While her book has funny (and raunchy) moments, I suggest skipping the book and sticking with her Netflix specials Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife.
5. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
👒 A book outside my genre comfort zone
I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud while reading what I expected to be a dry academic play. Arcadia is a short, smart play with themes of free will, determinism, and the place of science in society. Plays are meant to be watched, not simply read, and now that I’ve read Arcadia I’d love to see it performed.
6. Humankind by Rutger Bregman ⭐️⭐️
👒 A book in translation (translated into English from Dutch)
Bregman examines the history of humans to find proof that deep down most human beings are pretty decent. While compelling, particularly the section in which he posits the concept “survival of the friendliest,” I found the white-male-centrist point of view problematic throughout.
7. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams ⭐️⭐️⭐️
👒 A book nominated for an award in 2020 (nominated and won British Book Review’s Book of the Year award)
Queenie is about a 20-something Jamaican Black woman living in the UK who finds herself having relationship trouble. She must learn to overcome self-destructive decisions and work toward a better life. Queenie is an enjoyable-enough easy read, but I didn’t find it all that rewarding.
8. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
👒 A re-read
April May discovers Carl, a giant metal robot sculpture, and makes him the subject of her Youtube career with the help of her friend Andy. Together they learn more about what Carl is—or rather, what the Carls are, given that they’ve popped up all over the world. April is quirky, at times frustrating, but wholly human. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.
10. Crazy Rich Asians
11. China Rich Girlfriend
12. Rich People Problems all by Kevin Kwan ⭐️⭐️⭐️
👒 Three books by the same author
Rachel Chu, girlfriend of Nicholas Young, finds herself immersed in a world of private jets and couture fashion when they travel to Singapore to attend the wedding of Nicholas’ friend. Rachel quickly learns that this wedding is the social event of the season, and her boyfriend belongs to a family network of crazy rich Asians. These books are filled with descriptions of decadence and over-the-top plot, leaving character development to the wayside. Regardless, they’re fun to read.
Native Literature Challenge: 2 read, 3 to go
1. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🐚 Indigenous Genre Fiction (Dystopian)
This marks my first foray into Erdrich’s work. A layered novel, Future Home was a slow burn to the end. Cedar, a pregnant woman, faces a world that is literally devolving. Evolution reverses and a religion-state takes over the government, capturing pregnant women and taking charge over their newborns. Cedar tries to find a way out. Full of phenomenal writing, the book left me with plenty to mull over at its end.
2. Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
🐚 A history by a Native writer
Indigenous Writes relays history and legal issues specifically pertinent to Indigenous peoples in Canada. I expected more history, more story, but the book served instead as a legal primer that described historical facts. At times sardonic, at times textbook-dry, Vowel’s writing proves informative throughout.
In sum, I’ve read 26 out of the 43 books needed to fill these challenges—right on track to finish by December.
I hope the titles above spur you to pick up a book or two that you didn’t know about before. Share which ones struck your fancy in the comments below!
Are there any five star books you’ve read this year? Share those in the comments too!