read harder challenge

Notes from “The Guns of August”


Here’s my first book for this year’s Read Harder Challenge!

I first started reading The Guns of August two years ago. “Started,” because work quickly caught up with me, leading to a slow abandonment of the book around the halfway point.

That was a shame, since this is–despite the heft and subject matter–an eminently readable book. Barbara Tuchman retells the ominous mix of personalities, beliefs, and events that led to World War I with clear and graceful prose. Really, it feels like getting a bedtime story from your grandmother with the twinkle in her eye.

I’ve been reading slowly to digest all the brewing chaos properly, so I’ve just passed the third chapter. Still, there have already been some lines that bear saving. Here are a couple that I feel should be read together, considering events in many parts of the world right now.

On Clausewitz’s third object of war, the winning of popular support through crushing victory:

He knew how material success could gain public opinion; he forgot how moral failure could lose it, which too can be a hazard of war.

As much preference as many electorates last year showed for quick, concrete “wins” and supposedly quantifiable results at the expense of many vulnerable sectors of society, I’d like to think that the public won’t permit the total erosion of moral and ethical principles.

Although Tuchman also has this to say:

One constant among the elements of 1914–of any era–was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Does this “constant” persist more than 102 years later, and all over the world at that? Stay tuned.


2017 Read Harder Challenge

I read around 30 books last year, many of them during the later months when work became less hectic. The final 2016 list is front-loaded with a lot of science fiction before turning into a pretty scattershot collection of titles. Since I am one of those corny cheeseballs who theme their new years, I intend to turn 2017 into a time of balance — and that goes for my reading list, as well.

As an occasional reader of Book Riot, I’ve seen (but never attempted) their annual reading challenges before. Dubbed “Read Harder,” each year’s challenge prods participants to read outside their comfort zones and pick up books from authors, genres, perspectives they’d otherwise never checked out before. That’s a goal I can get behind, so I signed up for this year.

Here are the prompts and the books I plan to read for them. I tried to fill each prompt with books I already own but haven’t read yet. Titles subject to change!

1. Read a book about sports.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

2. Read a debut novel
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

3. Read a book about books.
The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt
When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis

5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

6. Read an all-ages comic.
Princeless, Vol. 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley

7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

8. Read a travel memoir.
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler

9. Read a book you’ve read before.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
1984 by George Orwell

10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
Desaparesidos by Lualhati Bautista

11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

12. Read a fantasy novel.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett
Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzsold

14. Read a book about war.
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
George by Alex Gino
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
Noli Me Tángere by Jose Rizal
El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal

17. Read a classic by an author of color.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
She-Hulk, Volume 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule

19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

21. Read a book published by a micropress.
Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam by Isaac Donoso

22. Read a collection of stories by a woman.
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector

23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.
Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems

24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang