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2016 Reading Challenge, Part 4

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of our 2016 reading challenge! You can catch up on parts 1, 2, and 3 first, or just jump right into this section. Remember, we’ve taken these categories from PopSugar’s reading challenge, and you can download their handy printable list here.

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  • A book of poetry
    • Chances are you’ve seen a Rumi quote somewhere — on an inspirational poster, candle, or mug. But have you ever sat down to read an entire Rumi poem? You can — with The Essential Rumi, which takes you through the 13th-century Persian poet’s greatest hits.
    • Rita Dove, who hails from Akron, Ohio, was the first African-American Poet Laureate, and the second African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her poetry collection Mother Love focuses on the bonds between mothers and daughters.

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  • The first book you see in a bookstore
    • Again, mileage will vary here. If you don’t find yourself in Books-a-Million or Costco’s book section very often, try walking into a library (the Eva B. Dykes Library included!) and checking out the first book you see in a display there. Right now, for Black History Month, our three displays feature prominent works of nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and drama by black creators. So if you’ve never read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, memorized Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” or watched Jamie Foxx portray Ray Charles in the biopic Ray, now’s your chance!

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  • A classic from the 20th century
    • Jhumpa Lahiri’s book Interpreter of Maladies won a Pulitzer Prize for its elegant, bittersweet short stories, most of them concerning Indian characters. From a couple facing a stillbirth in a Boston blackout, to an unhappy family on their first trip to India, Lahiri’s writing has been praised for its clear language that doesn’t dwell on nostalgia.
    • Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle caused an uproar when it was published in 1906 — not because of its grim tale of a poor immigrant family who fell increasingly into debt, but because of his grisly descriptions of Chicago’s meatpacking plants. Instead of the socialist reforms Sinclair was calling for, the public responded by supporting legislation to regulate food purity and meat inspections. “I aimed for the public’s heart, but … hit it in the stomach,” Sinclair later noted sadly.

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  • A book from the library
    • Think back to history class in elementary school. You learned about how Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. You learned about the Mayflower in 1620. But what happened in the 130 years in between? In A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America, Tony Horwitz will guide you through that “forgotten century” in American history. Some of the stories will be familiar, like the lost colony of Roanoke, but others are all but guaranteed to be completely new. Have you ever wondered, for example, what it’s like to experience a sweat lodge in subarctic Canada? Don’t worry, Horwitz spares no details.
    • Hailed as “a clever satire of our generation’s ever-intensifying obsession with health, diet, and body image,” Alexandra Kleeman’s dark debut novel You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine follows a young woman, known as A, whose life revolves around the perfect bodies she sees in ads and a TV show chronicling the adventures of Kandy Kat, the mascot for a synthetic dessert. Meanwhile, her roommate, B, is slipping further into starvation and obsession as she strives to model herself after A. As Slate said in its review of the book, “The book describes a consumer landscape just on the far side of plausible.”

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  • An autobiography
    • The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, is an oft-cited story in Christian circles, but no matter how many times you’ve heard the story of how the ten Boom family helped hide Dutch Jews during the Holocaust, and were eventually caught and deported to prison camps themselves, it’s still worth reading it for yourself.
    • The story of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl and educational advocate who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, is a widespread and well-known one. But like The Hiding Place, there’s no substitute for hearing the story in the author’s own voice. Malala’s book, I Am Malala, has been hailed for its compassionate, encouraging view of humanity.

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  • A book about a road trip
    • Middle schoolers and high-school students across the country have fallen in love with Sherman Alexie’s pulls-no-punches voice in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. For more of this author’s gritty humor, try Reservation Blues, the story of an all-Indian R&B band that hits the road with a magic guitar.
    • Bill Bryson’s introspective wit has endeared him to readers the world over, and his quirky, self-effacing travelogues are no exception. For one of his brightest works (literally), try In a Sunburned Country, his account of travels in the Land Down Under.

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  • A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
    • The lives of women in Saudi Arabia have been the subject of much scrutiny — especially recently, when they’ve gained the rights to vote and drive. In Jean Sassoon’s Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia, a member of the Saudi royal family describes a life of uncountable wealth and unending luxuries — but very little personal freedom.
    • Sometimes it’s hard to tell what stories about North Korea are fact and which are fiction. Incredibly, the events Paul Fischer describes in A Kim Jong-Il Production are all true — the dictator really did kidnap his favorite South Korean actress and film director, bring them to Pyongyang, and force them to re-marry and make movies for him. How does their drama end? Read the book and find out.

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  • A satirical book
    • No list of satirical books would be complete without C.S. Lewis’s classic epistolary novel, The Screwtape Letters, which follows senior demon Screwtape as he coaches his nephew Wormwood through his first mission on Earth.
    • In the same vein as The Screwtape Letters, but with screwball twists aplenty, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s book Good Omens examines the nature of demonic influences on a modern world. While neither Pratchett nor Gaiman is Christian, the book nevertheless makes some interesting and powerful observations on the nature of good and evil that could serve as good discussion starters.

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  • A book that takes place on an island
    • If you’ve ever been to Hawai’i, you know about its rich history as an independent monarchy. But did you know about its leper colony? Founded in 1866, the community of Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i was the mandatory residence for Hawaii’s lepers. The novel Moloka’i, by Alan Brennert, tells the story of a girl who is diagnosed with leprosy at age 7 and banished to the village.
    • Often used in English classes to show the power of a detailed setting, Richard Connell’s story “The Most Dangerous Game” will pin you to your seat throughout its action-packed 48 pages. The story, first published in 1924, follows American big-game hunter Sanger Rainsford as he’s forced to abandon his sinking ship and swim to notorious Ship-Trap Island. The island is home to a fellow wealthy hunter, General Zaroff, and as Rainsford eats a sumptuous dinner and settles into the luxurious guest suite, he thinks he’s lucked out … until Zaroff tells him the terms of his hospitality.

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  • A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy
    • First of all, as you read any book, remember Nancy Pearl’s rule of thumb for how big a chance you should give it: If you’re 50 years old or younger, try the first 50 pages. If you’re over 50, subtract your age from 100 and read that many pages. (I can only assume that if you’re over 100, other people are now contractually obligated to read your stories.)
    • That said, fans of all ages have found great joy in Anne Lamott’s nonfiction. To start off with, try Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year for the trials and tribulations of a 35-year-old single mom.
    • Have you ever opened your closet, thought “I should really clean this up,” and then closed it again? You’re not alone, and in The Illustrated Guide to the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, organizing guru Marie Kondo will hold your hand through the gut-wrenching process of simplifying your living space — and your life.

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Image credits: Iranian Mosque by brainin, portrait by tlreed97, henna by Unsplash, Plymouth Rock by robinhbooker0, Auschwitz by ChristopherPluta, Havasupai reservation by NRCPR, Riyadh stadium by Inde, angel by PeteLinforth, Hawaiian beach by HansenHimself, and closet by joakant, all on Pixabay.

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