My Book Riot 2016 #ReadHarder Challenge (with a Twist)

In my last blog post, I went a little deep on the responsibility I feel as a white man in a world dominated by white men. And I committed to consuming an hour a day of content by women and minorities. Well I’m a reader and, as I searched for content, most of what I seemed to find was books. Then, I stumbled across this reading challenge from the website Book Riot–and it seemed right up my alley.

As can be seen in the image above, the project gives readers specific assignments that may be out of the purview of their regular reading. The project falls right in line with my reasons for doing my 1000 Books Project. Only, when I actually looked at the authors of the books on my list, I found a clear bias toward Caucasian men. Of my 1,000 books, only 248 were by women and/or minorities: 198 by women, 67 by minorities, and 17 by female minorities.

Now, I know that there is a publication bias against women and minorities, so I can easily rationalize my narrow breadth of reading by arguing that I’m reading what’s available to me. But, in the twenty-first century, I know that argument is crap. There are more good books by women and minorities available to me today that I could read in ten lifetimes. There is no reason why I shouldn’t do my part in leveling the playing field by choosing these books over the books written by people like me.

So, in 2016, I’m going to deliberately read more books by women and minorities, because…

  • It’s my responsibility. As a white male, I feel the burden of restitution. I feel personally responsible for giving back to the women and minorities whose creative talent and potential my privilege has taken away.
  • It broadens my perspective and challenges my beliefs. It’s a fundamental guiding principle of my personal value system to explore areas I’m unfamiliar with and to understand beliefs that are different from my own. I’ve come to believe that it is impossible for me to do that if I only consume material from people who are like me.
  • It won’t happen on accident. I’ve come to believe that my inherent biases will prevent me from merely stumbling upon a great amount of work from women and minorities. I am not overtly sexist, racist, or intolerant in any way. But there is certain subconscious baggage that comes with being a young, white, straight, American, Christian male. And I am fully aware that I have prejudices of which I’m not fully aware. I discount good work without even knowing it, because it’s created by people who are different than me. The only way I can find this work, and help others find it, is if I deliberately seek it out.

The Book List for My Project

So, I’ll be participating in the Book Riot 2016 Read Harder Challenge and the “twist” is that all of the books will be written by women and/or minorities. Below is the list of books I’ve chosen with a brief explanation as to why I chose each one. As I read these in the coming months, I’ll also be writing blog posts with my thoughts on each book as it pertains to the particular project for which I’m reading it.

  • Read a horror book. Mayhem by Sara Pinborough. I definitely wanted to read a horror novel by a woman, because I get the sense that women are especially underrepresented in this genre. I did a little digging and came across Pinborough. This book, a riff on the Jack-the-Ripper storyline, is the first in a series featuring the same protagonist.
  • Read a non-fiction book about science. The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova. I’ve read this author before–a previous book and some pieces she’s done for magazines. She writes a lot about cognitive psychology–one of my favorite subjects. I recently heard she had written a new book–it seemed perfect for my list.
  • Read a collection of essays. The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson. I heard an interview on NPR a while back with this author on a novel she had written. I found out she wrote this collection of essays and added it to my list.
  • Read a book out loud to someone else. Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown. I’ll be reading out loud to my wife, so I tried to find something that she’d enjoy. Specifically, I wanted something that could make us laugh together. This looked like a fun and practical book for us, so I gave it this slot.
  • Read a middle grade novel. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. For this one, I looked up Newberry Award winners and came across a story by an African-American about two young African-American brothers on a basketball team. It seemed like a good find, so I chose it for my “preteen” book.
  • Read a biography (not a memoir or autobiography). The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharris. Looking for biographies, I stumbled across this and thought it would be interesting because everything I know about Rosa Parks comes from elementary school. She’s more like a cartoon to me than an actual historical figure–I think I’d like learning more about her.
  • Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel. Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. I chose this book because it was partially an interview I heard on NPR with the author that inspired me to read more books by women and minorities. I was determined that this book would go somewhere on my list and, lo and behold, it fits nicely here.
  • Read a book originally published in the decade you were born. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow by Jacqueline Jones. Since this assignment has a historic ring to it, I wanted to read a history book. I looked up Pulitzer Prize winning history books from the 1980s and found this book about the role of black women in families throughout America’s history. Seemed like a good choice.
  • Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award. The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen, read by Katherine Kellgren. First, I had to find out what an Audie Award was. Then I selected this book because it’s the winner for the “female narrator” slot from 2014, and the book is also written by a female. Don’t even know what it’s about…
  • Read a book over 500 pages long. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I wanted to read this for the same reason as Gold Fame Citrus above–James was interviewed on NPR and the interview inspired me to read more work from minorities. It turns out that his award-winning book is an 800-page mammoth, so it definitely gets this spot.
  • Read a book under 100 pages long. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. I did a search for books under 100 pages, and this one came up. It’s sort of an American classic and I’ve never actually read it, so I added it to the list.
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. I honestly had no idea where to start on this one, so I just took one of the top sellers from Amazon. It was tricky, though, to make sure I was selecting a book written by a woman–for obvious reasons. So, I played it safe and went in the minority direction–discovering this memoir of a transgender African American.
  • Read a book that is set in the Middle East. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi. Out of curiosity, I was doing a little research on women in the Middle East a few weeks ago when I came across this novel/memoir. It’s set in Egypt, so it works for the project.
  • Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia. In the Country by Mia Alvar. I recently read a blog post recapping some of the best fiction from 2015, and this book was on it. It turns out that the author was born in the Phillipines…
  • Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900. Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran. As I searched for some historical fiction to read, I stumbled across this author who has written several novels on women in history. Her latest gem is about an Indian woman who raises an army to resist the conquest of the British Empire in the Nineteenth Century.
  • Read the first book in a series by a person of color. The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. On a whim, I discovered and read another novel by this author sometime last year–and I really liked it. This book is the first of two in a series that is what many believe to be her greatest work.
  • Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years. Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Waters, and Faith Erin Hicks. First of all, I didn’t know there was such a thing as “non-superhero” comics. It turns out there’s a whole array of genres in graphic form. This piece is about a group of girls at a summer camp and it’s written by a group of women, so it fits the bill.
  • Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better. Room by Emma Donoghue. I heard an interview with the author of this book on NPR (yes, I listen to a lot of NPR) about the making of the movie. I hadn’t heard of it, but I thought the concept was fascinating. I’ve already started the book and I’ll watch the movie as soon as it’s released.
  • Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don’t think this one really needs any explanation.
  • Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction). If the Oceans Were Ink by Carla Powers. There is a lot I could have read on this–I LOVE Christian  theology and history. However, as a Christrian, I wanted to learn about a faith with which I’m not familiar. Given the current state of affairs in the world, I thought it be nice to learn how Islam is experienced by its adherents. So, I picked this book.
  • Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction). The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. For the most part, I find political books distasteful, because they tend to be more propaganda than anything else. I wanted to read something along the lines of political theory or philosophy rather than something popular. Poking around, I stumbled upon this piece. I had heard of Hanna Arendt in my studies on existentialism but hadn’t actually read her stuff. Nieviscthrvtime!
  • Read a food memoir. Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin. First one I came across.
  • Read a play. Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes. Can’t remember where I found this, but the woman’s name intrigued me. If I don’t understand the person’s culture enough to pronounce his or her name, it’s usually a sign that I could learn more about the culture. Turns out Hudes was raised in Philly but heavily influenced by Puerto Rican culture.
  • Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness. The Girl Without a Name by Sandra Block. This book is the sequel to Block’s first book, which I read while doing a reading project on first person narrative. I really liked the main character, a psychiatrist who struggles with Adult ADHD, am looking forward to see how she progresses as her story continues.

Join Me?

Am I naive enough to think that reading can change the world? Yes, I guess I am. I consider all the social tension occurring right now in my own country–radical religious terrorism, racial unrest with police officers, shootings in schools, income inequality, debates between religion and science, immigration issues, on and on and on. I can’t think of any disagreement that can’t be resolved with a little good old-fashioned empathy. And that’s what this project is all about–seeing things from the perspectives of others.

So, will you join me in this project? You don’t have to do what I’m doing and read books by only women and minorities. But, if you’re a reader, please consider doing Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. I don’t ask for much from you, my faithful readers, but I’m asking for this. But don’t do it for me; do it for the world, and do it for yourself. Because I’m fairly confident that if you accept this challenge and read your books with an open mind, you’ll not only make the world a better place; you’ll make yourself a better you.


About Douglas E Rice

Douglas E Rice is just a guy who likes to learn stuff.
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