Library life, Resources

2016 Reading Challenge, Part 1


With its colder weather and added stress, winter often becomes all about comfort: fuzzy socks, cozy sweaters, favorite foods. These things can be great for the soul, but sometimes aren’t so great for health.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at a few ways to get out of the winter rut and prioritize health. Today’s focus is on reading — always a great way to expand your perspective, develop empathy, and wrap your mind around something new.

Fortunately, the lifestyle website PopSugar has come to the rescue with their 2016 reading challenge, which calls people to read 40 books spanning a wide variety of genres and interests. You can download the printable list here.

If you don’t know where to find books that fit into those 40 categories, don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. Over four blog posts, we’ll look at each category and give you a couple of suggestions to get you started.

[Update: You can now get parts 2, 3, and 4 of the reading challenge.]

  • A book based on a fairy tale
    • Marissa Meyer’s Cinder puts a futuristic spin on the classic Cinderella story, following cyborg mechanic Cinder as she struggles to protect her world. (And if you love this story, don’t worry — it continues with the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series.)
    • The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander, is the first installment in the Chronicles of Prydain series, which revamps old Welsh legends. This thrilling story introduces Taran, a farmhand who goes an escaped pig and is forced to become an adventurer in a world of an evil king, an independent-minded princess, and more terrors than he imagined.


  • A National Book Award winner
    • Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is an in-depth examination of the quality of being black in America. Drawing from history, current events, and his own experiences, Coates has been described as “the James Baldwin of our time,” though one reader remarked, “I think even James Baldwin would be depressed that this book had to be written in 2015.”
    • Inside Out and Back Again (Thanhha Lai) is a fictionalized version of the author’s childhood in Vietnam, experiences of the Vietnam War, and subsequent immigration to the U.S. Though it’s written for middle-grade readers, many adult readers have found it deeply moving as well.
  • A YA bestseller
    • The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, spans 46 vignettes and the narrator’s teenage years as she grows up in a poor Hispanic family in Chicago.
    • I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith) follows a teenage girl who lives with her eccentric, penniless family in an English castle in the 1930s. When a pair of American brothers buys the castle, the family will never be the same again.


  • A book you haven’t read since high school
    • Every high school English class is different, but there’s a good chance you read 1984, George Orwell’s chilling vision of a world where every word, action, and desire is observed and scrutinized for conformity. Give it another go — it gets better with time.
    • Similarly, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is another time-honored classic, chronicling the life of a young Southern black woman in the turbulent years between the end of slavery and the Civil Rights Era.
  • A book set in your home state
    • Oakwood has been blessed with students from a wealth of states and countries, so your choices will vary with this category. But for you Alabamans, try Paper Moon, by Joe David Brown. It’s a boisterous tale of a con man and his young sidekick Addie who comb the South for their next mark.
    • If I have any fellow Washingtonians in the audience, I recommend Edward Averett’s The Rhyming Seasonwhich follows a high school girls’ basketball team as they struggle against their community’s low expectations, their coach’s unorthodox methods, and their town’s failing economy.


  • A book translated to English
    • Åsne Seierstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul is the true story of a Norwegian woman who lived with an Afghan family for three months. Though Afghanistan is an ever-changing landscape, this book provides a valuable snapshot of life in its capital immediately after 9/11.
    • If you’re looking for a real mind-bender, try Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. The easiest way to describe the plot of this novel is “ten beginnings to different novels,” an arc that many readers have described as radically changing their ideas about immersive reading.
  • A romance set in the future
    • In the world of Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, time travel has been developed as an academic tool, but in an effort to prop up its budget, the lab at Oxford University has accepted a private commission from a woman who is rebuilding Coventry Cathedral to its exact pre-WWII standards. Tasked with getting every detail right, historians Ned Henry and Verity Kindle find themselves making constant trips to the 1940s — and then to the 1880s, the early 2000s, the 1930s, and the 1300s as they try to correct the paradoxes that inevitably result.
    • Here’s the blurb for Armie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae: “This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.” Filled with rogue AI, a mutating plague, and ordinary people forced into leadership, Illuminae is sure to intrigue and thrill.


  • A book set in Europe
    • The question of which war had the biggest impact is always up for debate, but World War I usually occupies one of the top spots. In The First World War, acclaimed military historian John Keegan lays out the facts and untangles the events of each battle.
    • For the history of a country not many people think about, try Michael Moran’s A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland. From 13th-century ruins to flying buffalo, you’re sure to stay engaged as the author chronicles his time living and traveling in Poland just after the fall of the USSR.
  • A book that’s under 150 pages
    • Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a classic “man vs. nature” tale that might seem a bit slow at first, but stay with it — it’s only 127 pages, and it brought several honors to Hemingway, including a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a National Book Award nomination, and a Nobel Prize in Literature.
    • What would happen if the Queen of England went chasing after her corgis and stumbled across a bookmobile? In just 128 pages, author Alan Bennett serves up a fast-paced, charming story called The Uncommon Reader, imagining the implications of a royal monarch hooked on reading.


  • A New York Times bestseller
    • Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat tells the story of the 1936 University of Washington men’s rowing team, an unlikely band who stunned the world at the Berlin Olympics.
    • Have you ever dreamed of mastering hollandaise sauce? Or cooking the perfect steak? In The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt reveals the secrets of his kitchen.

Eager to get started on the next 10 categories? Look for Part 2 in a few days’ time.


Image credit: Book by Bonnybbx; Martin Luther King, Jr., statue from DWilliams; cameras from PublicDomainPictures; Afghan family from ArmyAmber; WWI soldiers from WikiImages; and salmon from 916237; all on Pixabay.


3 thoughts on “2016 Reading Challenge, Part 1”

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