Read Harder

Read Harder Task #8: Classics by People of Color

Hey there, folks! How’s your Read Harder Challenge going? Today, we’ve got classics written by people of color—who here we’re classifying as anyone whom posterity might have identified as a person of African, Indigenous, Latin American, or Asian descent. (We can get into the weeds on who “counts” later.) And in this case, people of Asian descent includes anyone from the Asian continent, from Istanbul on eastwards. 

These classics are novels, works of poetry, memoirs, treatises, manifestos, and other works that have made it through the passage of time, and which have made lasting imprints on the people who read them in their time, and who continue to do so in ours. Some of them are familiar—maybe you were assigned to read the whole thing or excerpts in a lit class in secondary or advanced education—and some are a little lesser known, unless you are familiar with the author or have been doing your research for other purposes. Some were even lost to time, and only republished recently. But each book proves that we have been here for a long time, writing for our own people and eventually for those who traded with, invaded, colonized, and tried to silence us.

cover of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Penguin Edition

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Everyone and their mother knows that Dumas was of African descent, and that he wrote this educational prison break book starring Jim Caviezel. Vaguely inspired by his own father, Alex Dumas (nicknamed Daddy Dumas by the internet), Middle Dumas (because there is also a Dumas, Fils, author of the most boring book known to man) wrote the story of a man who is falsely charged with a crime, is sent to prison until he finds his way out, and finds a boatload of treasure that allows him to make himself a count in order to enact vengeance on those who did him wrong. Because that always ends well. 

Cover of the Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam

The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam

If you’re more of a poetry person, the Ruba’iyat (or Rubaiyat or Rubayat or Rubiyat, it’s all transliterated anyway) is a collection of poems written in the 12th Century by Omar Khayyam, a Persian mathematician, poet, and all around (lol) Pre-Renaissance man. There has been a lot of conversation about the translation of the selected poems, so that might also be something worth checking out. 

cover of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

If you didn’t have to read this in high school, it’s definitely worth picking up anyway. One of the exemplary narratives of enslavement written from the POV of a woman, this autobiographical book tells the story of Harriet’s life during her enslavement, and her escape from South Carolina to the north to be with her children. 

Cover of The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Considered the first novel in existence, The Tale of Genji paints a picture of Japanese court life like no other. It is a lengthy, epic saga, centered around a prince and his search for…love. Yeah, totally searching for love. 

cover of Romance in Marseille by Claude McKay

Romance in Marseille by Claude McKay

After sitting unpublished for nearly 90 years, this novel from the Harlem Renaissance tells the story of an African sailor who becomes wealthy after suing the freight company that caused him to lose both lower legs to frostbite and the surgeon’s knife. This book has been described as one of the earliest overtly queer books about the Black experience.

Cover of Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong

A dramatic exploration of feudal warfare during the Han dynasty, this 16th century novel is an epic romance (in the classical usage of the word) that could match Ariosto and Roland and all those other chansons de geste for its sprawling storytelling—and also page count.

cover of The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Everybody needs a little Baldwin in their life, and this manifesto is a great entrance point. Comprised of two letters, one to his nephew about living in the world (the inspiration for Ta Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me), and the second to the American people on the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, this short but powerful treatise has sparked several fires in hearts for the past sixty years. 

Cover of Cogewea, the Half Blood

Cogewea, the Half Blood by Mourning Dove (Hum-Ishu-Ma)

The first novel published by an Indigenous American woman, Cogewea is the story of a woman with both Native and white blood, torn between two worlds when it comes to many things, including how to live, where to work, and who to love. 

Cover of Iola Leroy by Frances EW Harper

Iola Leroy: Or, Shadows Uplifted by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Considered one of the earliest examples of romantic fiction by a Black American woman, Iola Leroy tells the story of a young Mississippi woman who travels north for school and is sold into slavery when it’s discovered she has African blood. Freed during the Civil War, she must figure out how to live in her new reality. (Also, Beverly Jenkins told me to read this book. I’ll be darned if I don’t.)

cover of The Rig Veda, Penguin Edition

The Rig Veda

There are actually several Vedas, the scriptures that make up the basis of Hinduism. But the Rig Veda is the one you might have touched on in a high school Humanities class or other exploration of world literature. (Just me?) A collection of over 1000 sanskrit hymns, the Rig Veda is the oldest of the four.

cover image of Passing by Nella Larsen

Passing by Nella Larsen

With the film adaptation having released on Netflix last year, this would be a good novella to explore with a group, watch the film, and discuss. Or just compare on your own. The story of two women walking a thin line between two worlds during the Harlem Renaissance, this will enrapture you with every turn and you won’t be the same when you’re done. 

cover of The Arabian Nights

1001 Nights (or The Arabian Nights)

Most of us have seen Aladdin, but might not be as familiar with the text from which the idea originally sprung (and was twisted to Disney’s whim). Told by Scheherezade as she hopes to not be killed by the king, the 1001 Nights are a collection of stories filled with mythical beings and daring adventures. And of course, the ultimate story of daring, that of Scheherezade herself. 

cover of The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole

A free Black woman born in Jamaica in the early 19th century, Mary Seacole traveled the world, learned to be a healer (knowledge she used to help soldiers during the Crimean War), and generally had a lot of fun and interesting times. She also dealt with a lot of other stuff, because, you know, Black. But she had a helluva life. 

cover of Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

First published in 1967, this memoir recounts the author’s experience as a young Nuyorican getting into trouble and exploring the meaning of self and identity on the streets of Spanish Harlem.

Looking for more? Check out this great list of 100 must-read classics by people of color.  And if you’re curious what I’ve been reading, you can check out my page on Book Riot proper, listen to the When In Romance podcast, or catch me on twitter (@jessisreading) or instagram (@jess_is_reading).

Happy reading!


Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

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Read Harder Task #7: Read a Romance Where at Least One of the Protagonists is Over 40

For this task, we are reading a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40. Until recently, this was uncomfortably rare, but it’s becoming more common to see older romance protagonists. In many cases, this means they’re in their 30s instead of their 20s, but the numbers are creeping up.

I am 43 years old. I love romance. And until recently, I had never read a protagonist in my age bracket. Why does that matter? Well, it might not matter in the grand scheme of things, but then again maybe it does. People find love at all stages of life, and only seeing 28-year-olds (who invariably consider themselves ancient) fall in love gets a little bit…discouraging? And I say this as someone who met my partner when I was 19 years old!

There are plenty of romance novels with protagonists over 40, and more being published every day. I have focused mainly on heroines over 40. As much as I love an age gap, I tend to find them less appealing when the man is significantly older (Cary Grant in Charade notwithstanding) and I also tend to prefer sapphic romance — although there are pairings of various genders here. (Note: some of these are later books in series, but all of them can be read as standalones!)

cover of 40-Love by Olivia Dade

40-Love by Olivia Dade

At a tropical resort for her 40th birthday, Tess meets Lucas under embarrassing (topless) circumstances. Then her best friend sets her up for tennis lessons…with Lucas. Who is 26. What could go wrong?

cover of Bring On the Blessings by Beverly Jenkins

Bring on the Blessings by Beverly Jenkins

In one of her rare contemporaries, Miss Bev tells the story of 52-year-old Bernadine Brown buying the all-Black town of Henry Adams, which desperately needs her help. But they might not like her ideas for the town…especially Mayor Trent July.

the care and feeding of waspish widows

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

Widow Agatha needs help with some bees that have moved into her printing warehouse. Penelope cares for Melliton’s bees, and she and Agatha strike up a friendship, complete with longing for something Agatha never knew she needed. Both heroines are in their 40s.

geek who saved christmas

The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert

Gideon desperately wants to be a good neighbor to silver fox Paul, who is something of a Scrooge. But then Paul’s brother is coming for a visit, and he asks Gideon to help him decorate in a hurry. Both heroes are in their 40s.

gray hair don't care

Gray Hair, Don’t Care by Karen Booth

Newly divorced 47-year-old Lela has a one-night stand with her college crush Donovan and accidentally confesses her feelings. He leaves in a hurry, but they are thrust back together when she becomes the face of his daughter’s company, where he works in marketing.

cover of that kind of guy by talia hibbert

That Kind of Guy by Talia Hibbert

Rae is 40 and in need of a date for an event where her ex will be on the arm of his new wife. Her hot playboy best friend Zach is up to the task of pretending to be her boyfriend. Now he just has to convince her his feelings are real.

cover of Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

This book is on every list, and for good reason! Bertrice is 73 and has no interest in her terrible nephew. Violetta is 69 and tired of said terrible nephew causing problems at the boarding house she runs. The women team up to get revenge on him, and find love as they buck the patriarchy.

cover of royal holiday

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Vivian’s daughter Maddie convinces her to take time off work (a rarity for Vivian) and accompany her to England to style a member of the royal family. Malcolm is the Queen’s private secretary, and is suddenly interested in taking some time off to show Vivian around. Both protagonists are in their 50s.

cover of second chance

Second Chance by Jay Northcote

Nate moves back to his hometown with his teenage daughter and reconnects with his best friend Jack, who’s back in town recovering from addiction. Nate has always had a crush on Jack, and Jack is attracted to Nate now that he’s come out as trans, but they both have fears in the way. Both heroes are in their mid-40s.

cover of Wrong Number, Right Woman by Jae

Wrong Number, Right Woman by Jae

When straight Eliza accidentally texts stranger Denny, they strike up a friendship and Eliza slowly figures out that she is not a straight as she thought. Denny is 41 and Eliza is 30.

Bonus: Tommy Cabot Was Here by Cat Sebastian — Tommy and Everett are only 38 years old in this second-chance novella set at a private school in the 1950s, but they honestly feel older and it’s just lovely. This one may not count for Read Harder, but you should read it anyway.

Want even more? There are dozens of suggestions in reply to this tweet from Beverly Jenkins in which she linked to Jess’s essay!

Happy reading!


Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

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Read Harder Task #6: Read a Nonfiction YA Comic

In recent years, YA fiction has expanded to include more genres and formats than ever, I am so here for it. We’ve seen an exciting expansion of YA graphic novels, and nonfiction for teens has gotten more diverse, more interesting, and more accessible. This year’s task of reading a nonfiction YA comic is meant to get you picking up some of the best this confluence of genre and format has to offer, and I promise you—there are so many good ones! Here we go!

cover of Almost American Girl

Almost America Girl by Robin Ha

When Robin was a teen, her mom told her they were going on vacation to the U.S. Only once they were there did she reveal the truth: they weren’t going back to Seoul, they were there to stay. Furious, hurt, and betrayed, Robin struggled to fit in and make friends, but it wasn’t until she began taking art classes that she made real friends…and began to face the complicated reasons behind their move and her mother’s choice.

passport book cover

Passport by Sophia Glock

Growing up, Sophia and her family moved around a lot and she was never really clear on what her dad did for a living. When she was a teen she discovered the truth: her parents worked for the CIA. This kickstarted a long and introspective coming-of-age process for Sophia as she reckoned with what it means to be American but grow up abroad, and to have her family life defined by secrets.

huda f are you book cover

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy

When Huda moved with her family from a small town where they were the only Muslim family to Dearborn, MI, a town with one of the largest Muslim populations in the U.S., she suddenly had to contend with her identity beyond the “hijab girl” because now her outward appearance and religious practices weren’t what set her apart. This is a funny, probing book about figuring out who you really are.

March cover

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

In this moving personal history, the late Representative John Lewis shares details and memories from his young adulthood, when he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma and fought for Civil Rights. His journey spans decades, from being beaten by police to receiving the Presidential medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Dragon Hoops book coverr

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Gene is a story nerd, but he doesn’t understand sports. As a kid, he was never into basketball and now as an adult he still doesn’t get it, but when the high school he teaches at has a basketball team so good they might go straight to the State Championships, Gene gets to know the players and their journey and finds a story as thrilling as any comic epic.

The Fire Never Goes Out cover

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

Written by the author of Nimona, this is a memoir in pictures and snapshots of Noelle Stevenson’s life and their experiences and influences that led them to create Nimona, co-create Lumberjanes, and work on She-Ra. It’s a collection of memories, influences, and thoughts about being a working creative, which will inspire and provide fascinating insight to their creative life.

spinning book cover

Spinning by Tillie Walden

As a kid and teen, Tillie was excellent at figure skating. She skated competitively, and her entire life and schooling were arranged around her sport. But the older she gets, the less passionate she feels about the sport, and when she realizes that she is attracted to girls, it begins a process of quitting figure skating, despite her skill, and figuring out what she really wants.

Honor Girl cover

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

This is one of the most memorable memoirs about coming-of-age and first love I’ve read, and it has a really thoughtful arc. Maggie was fifteen when she went to summer camp and discovered she had a crush on a camp counselor named Erin. As the summer progresses, and Maggie’s feelings become known, it leads to a moment that changes Maggie’s perspective on camp forever.

Hey Kiddo book cover

Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

As a kid, Jarrett J. Krosoczka grew up with an unconventional family. His dad was pretty absent from his life, and his mom was in and out of his childhood thanks to addiction. But he always had his grandparents, who raised him and supported his art, even if they don’t always understand it. This is a loving tribute to the couple who raised him, and a memoir that tells other kids and teens whose families are struggling with addiction that they are not alone.

I hope you find something great to read for this year’s challenge! Happy reading!

Tirzah Price

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

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Read Harder Task #5: Read an Anthology Featuring Diverse Voices

Contributing Editor Kendra here! Today we’re chatting about the 2022 Read Harder Challenge, task #5: read an an anthology featuring diverse voices.

When I heard that anthologies by diverse voices was going to be one of the 2022 Read Harder prompts, I couldn’t have been more excited. I LOVE anthologies! They are the buffets of the literary world. You get to try a little bit of everything, and if you discover something you really like, you can go back for more. It’s really the best of all worlds.

I remember when I first read LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia. My favorite story in the collection was by a writer named Silas House. When I looked him up, I realized he had an incredible backlist, all of which I read in quick succession. Let me tell you, that was an incredible reading year.

Anthologies typically center around a particular theme, idea, genre, or really anything that brings all of the authors together. Now maybe you are new to the wonderful world of anthologies—not to worry! I have plenty of titles from a wide range of nonfiction and fiction genres. Plus, there’s books for both kids and adults, so if you’re doing the Read Harder challenge with a kid in your life, there’s something for them too.

So settle in and get your TBR ready—onto the books!

A graphic of the cover of A Measure of the Belonging

A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South edited by Cinelle Barnes

Out from one of my favorite indie presses, Hub City Press, A Measure of Belonging features essays from authors of color from across the Southern United States. Each contributor gives their perspective on what it’s been like living in or being in the South.

A graphic of the cover of Disability Visibility

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong

As a disabled person, I rarely see that part of myself in a book, so I couldn’t have been more excited for Alice Wong’s anthology, Disability Visibility. Each contributor adds their own perspective on what it’s like to live as a disabled person in an ableist society. There are stories of both struggle and joy, truly capturing an incredible range of experiences.

A graphic of the cover of Growing Up Disabled in Australia

Growing Up Disabled in Australia edited by Carly Findlay

Australian disability rights advocate, Carly Findlay, gathered together disabled writers from across Australia, each with their own unique perspective on what it’s like growing up disabled. Writers with a range of disabilities write about everything from autistic representation in theater to competing in paralympic events.

A graphic of the cover of It’s Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race edited by Mariam Khan

It’s Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race edited by Mariam Khan

This incredible collection features Muslim women from around the world, each with their own unique relationship with their faith. The selections cover topics like marriage, modesty, careers, sexuality, and women’s rights. I love the different styles of writing throughout the book, each unique piece combining with the others to create a chorus of these women’s stories.

A graphic of the cover of LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts

LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts

Unfortunately, stories of queer Appalachian people are all too often few and far between. But Jeff Mann and Julia Watts have put together this anthology to do their part to help fix that. LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia features queer writers from across the region, highlitghing the incredible talent in these mountains.

A graphic of the cover of Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

This anthology features stories from different Native Nations, each based in their own unique history and culture. The stories center around an intertribal Powwow in Ann Arbor Michigan, working together to weave a larger picture as you read through each selection. Perfect for kids of any age, these selections often center around themes of heritage, family and community.

A graphic of the cover of Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

This delightful collection of short stories for kids features 15 different Eid celebrations. Muslim children from around the world come together to celebrate the holiday with their own traditions—and learn to create new ones!

A graphic of the cover of Black Futures edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

Black Futures edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

First off, this book is STUNNING. With it’s beautiful design and full-color photos throughout, Black Futures draws the eye. And once you open the cover, you find a celebration of Black lives, featuring contributors from a range of artistic backgrounds and experiences.

Anthologies invite readers in to experience new kinds of stories and to find new-to-them authors. That’s what makes them so great! Whether you choose a book from this list or discover one on your own, you are in for a treat.

That’s it for now, but we will be back with even MORE Read Harder recommendations. Until then, happy reading!

~ Kendra

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

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Read Harder Task #4: Read a Book in Any Genre by a POC That’s About Joy and Not Trauma

BIPOC stories and identities aren’t defined by trauma. Yet a lot of the books by authors of color that made the bestsellers list and got all the attention in end-of-the-year lists in 2020 and 2021? They’re stories that focus on pain, trauma, and racism. While these stories deserve to be told, there are so many wonderful books out there that focus on the triumphs, accomplishments, and everyday joy that are also an important part of everyone’s experience.

This is why I’m so glad that “Read a Book in Any Genre About BIPOC Joy,” is one of the “tasks” for 2022’s Read Harder Challenge. Really, I put “tasks” in quotes because this one shouldn’t be challenging at all. There are so many wonderful books out there across many genres that fit this prompt. It was difficult to choose which ones to share with you. Here are eight books that are excellent examples of the types of stories you could read for this challenge, but of course there are plenty more!

cover image of Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Bolu Babalola’s short story collection is a powerful reimagining of West African folktales and Greek and Middle Eastern mythology that centers Black women in the stories. This book retells the stories of Nefertiti, Thisbe, Psyche, and others, focusing on romance, love, and, yes, joy. This is a must-read collection for anyone who loves love and magic… and who doesn’t love those things?

wow no thank you

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

I first came across Samantha Irby’s humorous writing on her blog Bitches Gotta Eat, which now has a substack. My point? Samantha Irby is funny. This essay collection focuses on the changes in Irby’s life as she turns forty, leaves her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, moves into a house with her wife, and settles into a life of gardening, mason jarring, and book clubs. If you’ve never read Irby’s essays before, I’m so excited for you. You’re going to love this.

Arsenic and Adobo cover image

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

This book is the first in a new cozy mystery series, featuring a humorous storyline and plenty of delicious recipes. And what’s more joyful than food and murderrrrr? This book is about Lila Macapagal who moves back home after a particularly nasty breakup. She’s working towards healing and helping out at her Tita Rosie’s restaurant. Everything’s going fine until a nasty food critic (who happens to be Lila’s ex-boyfriend) drops dead in the restaurant.

The Wedding Date Book Cover

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

One thing I’ve learned about myself the more and more I read romance novels? I love a good fake dating story. I don’t know why, because never in my life have I actually encountered a situation where two people were pretending to date (that I know of). And yet it happens all the time in romance novels, and I love it. The Wedding Date is one of those really great fake-wedding-date-turned-to-real-romance love stories. If you’re like me and you also love this trope, bump this to the top of your list for this challenge.

cover of instructions for dancing by nicola yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon’s books always make me feel all the feels. And her latest, Instructions for Dancing, is no different. This one has an especially interesting premise. Evie Thomas has this strange ability to see a couple’s full love story from beginning to end whenever she witnesses a kiss. She sees the highs, the lows, and soooo many breakups. Now that she knows how each and every love story ends, it’s difficult for her to believe in love at all anymore. But then she starts taking these dance classes, where she meets a boy named X.

amari and the night brothers

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

It probably sounds obvious to say a fantasy middle grade is magical, but that’s the best word to describe this book. It’s just magical. Amari’s brother Quinton is missing, but she’s convinced he’s still alive, no matter what anyone else says. Then she finds a strange briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, and she’s certain this will be the key to finding her brother.

cover of When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

I am forever a total fangirl for this book, so I had to include it on this list. When Dimple Met Rishi is just pure joy from beginning to end. Dimple is not interested in romance at all. She’s just recently graduated and is focused on attending a summer program for aspiring web developers. Meanwhile, her parents only seem interested in finding a nice Indian boy for her. So when they arrange for Rishi to meet Dimple at summer camp without Dimple’s knowledge, what could possibly go wrong?

the last black unicorn cover

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

The Last Black Unicorn is actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish’s memoir in essays, and unsurprisingly, it’s super funny. From growing up in one of the poorest parts of South Central Los Angeles to her career as a stand up comedian to her experiences as an actress, Haddish takes readers through her struggles and successes. This is a journey in which Haddish has had to contend with racism, classism, sexism, but that doesn’t take away from Haddish’s determination, her joy, and her unicorn-ness.

Is your favorite book on this list? What are you planning to read for this challenge? For more ideas, check out last year’s challenge: An Own Voices YA Book With A Black Protagonist That Isn’t About Black Pain. Or these 8 Great Books Celebrating Black Joy.

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

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Read Harder Task #3: Read Any Book from the Women’s Prize Shortlist/Longlist/Winner List

Hello there, Read Harder friends! Kendra here to chat with you about the prompt “Read Any Book for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.” I love this prompt because it draws attention to a prize that I’ve enjoyed following over the years. They always feature a wide range of books, so there’s something for everyone.

The origins of the prize began in 1991 when a group of women saw that The Booker Prize shortlist included no books by women and decided to create a prize that celebrates women’s writing. They awarded the first Women’s Prize in 1996 to Helen Dunmore for her novel A Spell of Winter.

Since then, they’ve been uplifting women’s literary work with their yearly fiction award and their writer development program, Discoveries. They even have a podcast and create videos to accompany their award announcements. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the Women’s Prize’s website for more info and the complete lists of titles nominated for the award throughout its history.

Over the years, the Women’s Prize has nominated dozens and dozens of excellent novels, but I want to share some of my favorite winners with you today!

a graphic of the cover of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (2021)

Piranesi lives in a magical house, more of a labyrinth, that contains an endless number of rooms. As he explores the house, Piranesi begins talking with a man he calls The Other, who keeps pestering him for more information about something The Other calls The Secret Knowledge. Piranesi doesn’t see anyone else as he wanders around the different rooms, but he begins to suspect there’s a third person somewhere in the house.

a graphic of the cover of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

Agnes lives in a small English village in the late 1580s. Her husband, a playwright, spends much of his time in London putting on his plays. Her husband’s career begins taking off when their young son, Hamnet, is struck ill by the plague. While many readers may be more familiar with her husband’s story, Agnes’s own life proves just as compelling.

a graphic of the cover of American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2019)

Celeste and Roy spend a night in a hotel to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary when Roy is arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the building. When he’s sent to prison, Roy and Celeste try to keep their marriage together through letters and visits, but will they be able to keep making their marriage work in the face of such odds?

a graphic of the cover of Home Fire by Kamala Shamsie

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (2018)

This retelling of Antigone (one of my favorite Greek tragedies) gives the story a whole new feel. Isma finally feels like she can pursue her own dreams in America after looking after her two younger siblings for so long. But when her sister Aneeka calls with the news that their brother has joined an extremist group, Isma must choose whether she goes home to keep delaying her plans for her life or to leave her siblings and follow her dreams.

A graphic of the cover of The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (2016)

Lisa McInerney, one of Ireland’s most talented contemporary writers, won the Women’s Prize back in 2016 for The Glorious Heresies. The novel begins when an older woman hits an intruder over the head, killing him. This single event brings together characters across a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences. And if you like The Glorious Heresies, there are two more books in the trilogy that are already out and ready for you to read!

A graphic of the cover of how to be both by Ali smith

How to Be Both by Ali Smith (2015)

In this glorious novel, we meet a young girl who keeps getting glimpses of a renaissance painter in her dreams. In another time, a young artist aspires for renown and acclaim. Smith’s prose, as always, flows across the page, drawing the reader in with every word. Some of the editions of the book have the artist’s story first, while other editions position the girl’s story first. These different editions create two unique reading experiences.

a graphic of the cover of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2012)

Before its TikTok fame, The Song of Achilles, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. In this retelling of the story of Achilles and Patroclus, we experience their relationship from youth to adulthood. As Patroclus narrates their story, it’s difficult not to become more and more attached to the characters as they fall more and more in love with one another.

A graphic of the cover of Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home by Marilynne Robinson (2009)

I adored Robinson’s novel Gilead, so when I picked up Home, I knew I was in for a treat. But I possessed no real understanding of what I was about to read. Home features Jack, the wayward son of a Methodist minister. Robinson’s characters shine, captivating readers on every page.

A graphic of the cover of On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006)

Zadie Smith’s debut White Teeth launched her career as a major talent, and On Beauty solidified her place as a literary star. On Beauty follows an interracial family in Massachusetts. The novel paints a complex reality for the family, each character possessing their own dreams for their future that often conflict with their family members’ ideas of what the family should be.

A graphic of the cover of Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)

Small Island follows a group of characters whose lives weave together and intersect. Hortense Joseph and her husband Gilbert try to make a life together after WWII, but the systemic racism of Britain essentially makes them second-class citizens.

That’s it for today! I hope you find some wonderful options for prompt 3. We’ll be back soon with recommendations for another Read Harder prompt. But until then, happy reading!

– Kendra

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

Read Harder Task #2: Read a Book Set in a Bookstore

It goes without saying that readers love bookstores. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone utter the sentence, “Oh I love reading; but I hate bookstores.” It just doesn’t happen. And if it does happen, I’d be worried that meant the end of the world was nigh. 

Personally for me, bookstores have always been a place of comfort. When I was a teenager and went to the mall, B. Dalton was always my first stop. And I almost never went out of there without buying at least one book. And it was usually just one since my inflow of money was much more limited back then. That said, it stands to reason that books that take place in a bookstore or have one heavily featured are a favorite of mine. 

Bookstores are just happy places. There is so much potential in them to find your new favorite book. I was excited that this was one of the prompts for the Read Harder Challenge in 2022  since I knew that would make a lot of my fellow book dragons happy. And without further delay, here are a few books to consider for checking off this box in the annual challenge. 


Cover of 84, Charring Cross Road

84, Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This classic chronicles the twenty year correspondence between Hanff, a free-lance writer in New York City, and a used book dealer in London. Even though the two never met face to face, they built a lifelong friendship on their mutual love of books. Which is always a good foundation for that type of relationship.

Cover of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

This memoir is about the real-life story of Welch and her husband who decide to open up a bookstore in a struggling coal mine town in Virginia. Despite everyone telling them they were crazy, they persisted with their dream to open up the store. In this book, you will read about the set up and the unique and memorable customers that walked through their doors. This is a must read for anyone who has ever dreamed of opening a bookstore.


Cover of Meet Cute Club

Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon

Jordan is less than pleased when snarky coworker Rex asks to join his romance book club. However, as the club is floundering, he can’t really get into the habit of turning down new members. As the men work and read together, both realize that they may have judged one another too quickly and too harshly and that there is always an opportunity to make a good second impression.

Cover of Read Between the Lines

Read Between the Lines by Rachel Lacey

Rosie is shocked to find out that the person behind her favorite lesbian romance Brie is in fact property manager Jane—the same property manager that sent her a letter informing her that they would not be renewing her lease at the end of the calendar year. When the two women find out who one another really is, will this previous interaction doom a relationship before it even starts? Or will they be able to look past that to find a happily ever after?


Cover of The Ghost and Mrs. McClure

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure by Cleo Coyle

Widower Penelope moves back to Rhode Island with her young son to open a bookstore with her aunt. Little does she know that the store comes with its own ghost, that of Jake, a private investigator from the forties. After an author drops dead in the store shortly before his book-signing event, the two unlikely allies must team up to solve the mystery. This is the first in a series of cozy mysteries.

The Plot is Murder cover image

The Plot is Murder by V.M. Burns

This mystery includes another widow, Samantha, who has always dreamed of owning her own bookstore and being a published author. Her grand opening is threatened when a shady realtor is found dead in her backyard and she is the primary suspect. Sam must join forces with her grandmother and her merry band of fellow retirees to find the real culprit.

Young Adult

Cover of Words in Deep Blue

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

When Rachel returns to her childhood home, she ends up working at her former best friend Henry’s family bookstore. Her task is to catalog all the personal letters that were left in the Letter Library before the store closes down. This puts her in close proximity with Henry who is eager to pick up their friendship, not realizing why it stopped in the first place. This is a wonderfully bittersweet novel about how books bring us together and you’ll fall in love with the bookstore that is destined to close.

Cover of Recommended for You

Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

Shoshanna loves her job at local independent bookstore Once Upon. Between her car issues and mothers constantly fighting, the store is her safe haven. When her boss announces a holiday bonus to whoever can sell the most books, she knows she has to win the prize. If only her new co-worker, Jake wasn’t equally as determined to win the prize. This book takes place during winter, but it is a perfect sweet read any time of the year.


Cover of Kingyo Used Books, Vol. 1

Kingyo Used Books, Vol. 1 by Seimu Yoshizaki

You can find almost any manga you can imagine at Kingyo Used Books. But it’s more than that since Natsuki and Shiba, the propetiers, are as equally as invested in the stories of their customers as they are in the books they sell. And you can find almost every type of manga and manga-reader in this series. This is the first volume so if you enjoy it you can always pick up the rest in the series.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

This is just a jumping off point for books to read to knock this challenge out. Whether you pick one from here or something else, I hope you have fun. Good luck on the rest of the challenge!!!