Welcome to 2023’s Champaca Reading Challenge! We’ve put together a list of prompts designed to help us, and you, read widely and more diversely. Let’s discover something new together!
You don’t have to follow the prompts in the order that they are listed, and you don’t have to finish the challenge within the year (or even at all). We encourage you to think of this as a way to read beyond our horizons, discover new voices, and experience new worlds through the books we read.
Remember to use the hashtag #ChampacaReadingChallenge when you post on social media, and let us know what you’re reading!
Read on to find our curated recommendations for each prompt.
Reimaginings and retellings of fairy tales, folklore, and mythology come in many forms. Some give voices to marginal characters, and some recast classic stories for the present time. Pick up:
- After by Vivek Narayan – a collection of poems inspired by Valmiki’s Ramayana, that brings the epic into conversation with the present.
- Circe by Madeline Miller – a retelling of a woman who grows up in the shadows, but soon discovers that she has a powerful gift: witchcraft!
Interlinked short story collections are some of the most fascinating books! In these, something connects characters through different short stories – whether they all take place in the same city, or characters weave in and out of each other’s stories. We recommend:
- City of Incident by Annie Zaidi – set in an unnamed city, each of these stories focuses on a character on the periphery of the others.
- A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – this decade-spanning novel is told through multiple characters in multiple stories, orbiting around a record executive and his family/
Science fiction is a genre that’s often associated with male writers (as many genres are). But there are tons of inventive, groundbreaking SF books written by women. If you’re a science fiction reader, discover something new with us. And if you’ve never read SF before, we hope we can help you find the perfect book to broaden your horizons! Consider:
- The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin – set on a planet inhabited by peaceful forest-dwellers, this is a thought-provoking novel about exploitation and colonialism.
- Analog/Virtual and Other Simulations of Your Future by Lavanya Lakshminarayan – this book takes us to dystopian Bangalore, and asks hard questions about the disparities we live among.
Cookbooks! Memoirs! Novels! If it’s about food, it fits this prompt. Pick up one of the many food memoirs on our shelves, or a story that holds food at the heart of it. We recommend:
- Those Delicious Letters by Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta – in this charming novel, Shubha finds herself receiving letters with Bengali recipes from someone claiming to be her grandmother.
- The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story Of Italy And Its Citrus Fruit by Helena Attlee – this unique history of Italy is told through the history of its citrus fruits, through politics, art, and geography!
We love picking prompts that encourage multiple possibilities. For this one, there’s a wealth of books to choose from – immigrant narratives, travel memoirs, or even just a book where the protagonist takes a plane ride. Pick up:
- Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat – in this novel, we travel from present-day Shillong to past England, Italy, and Lapland, tracing a botanical history across time.
- Atlas of an Anxious Man by Christoph Ransmayr – in more than seventy vignettes, all starting with the words “I saw…”, Ransmayr takes us across the world, bringing us lyrical and moving observations of people and places.
For this prompt, judge a book by its cover, and not its content. (The birds may be relevant to the plot, or not – you’ll have to read to find out!) We recommend:
- Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith – this is a love story full of metamorphoses and changes, challenging a world of binaries.
- H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – a grief memoir that reflects on a unique connection to hawks, this is a powerful and honest book.
Reading translations gives us a glimpse into different cultures, voices, and experiences. There’s a wide range of incredible writing coming to us in these four languages, across fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Pick up:
- Farsi: The Enlightenment Of The Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar – this sprawling magic realist novel set during the Iranian revolution celebrates the power of stories.
- Norwegian: Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tiina Nunnally – from a Nobel Prize-winning author, this is the story of a young woman in fourteenth-century Norway, blending coming-of-age, history, and myth.
- Swedish: The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson, translated by Agnes Broome – in this memoir, Svensson gives us a glimpse into the mysterious and unknowable nature of the eel, and his mysterious and unknowable relationship with his father.
- Japanese: Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd – a story of bullying, friendship, and morality, told from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old boy.
There are books where houses have a presence, almost as much as its characters. Haunted house stories, stories of people moving homes – pick up a book where a central setting is the physical space of a house. We love:
- The Alcazar by Simon Lamouret, translated by Prutha Narke – central to this beautiful graphic novel is the bones of a building – and the people who are building it.
- The Likeness by Tana French – in this compelling murder mystery, a young detective must infiltrate a house inhabited by a close-knit group of friends, pretending to be one of them.
We thought we’d go back in time a bit. Pick up something set before 1900. You have millenia to choose from – go as far back as the Big Bang, or to the 1857 revolt; dip into history, geology, or historical fiction. It all counts! We recommend:
- The Tale of the Horse by Yashaswini Chandra – this unique history tells the story of “India on horseback” – from trade routes to political symbolism
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – in this moving reimagination of Shakespeare’s life, O’Farrell explores the possibilities that led to one of the most celebrated works of all time, Hamlet
We wanted to pick three countries from across the world, where we could travel through books. You can choose one of these, or even all three! Here are some of the ones we love:
- France: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – in 1950s Paris, a young man begins an affair with an Italian man, Giovanni, in this intense, beautiful novella.
- Afghanistan: Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran N. Khan– a story of Kabul told through ruins, monuments, and memory, as the author walks the streets of the city.
- Australia: The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean McKay – in near-future Australia, a flu sweeps the nation, allowing humans to understand the language of animals.
As you can guess from our logo – and the plants that fill our space – we love the colour green. Pick up something with a green cover for this prompt. Here are a few to get you started:
- Why Cook by Archana Pidathala – this lovely cookbook brings together the recipes and stories of fascinating, inspiring women.
- The Demoness: The Best Bangladeshi Stories, – this collection brings us a range of stories across time coming to us from Bangladesh.
Since it’s the Champaca Reading Challenge, pick something starting with our first letter – C! We recommend:
- Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis – this is the story of love, queerness, and the extraordinary power of communities, set in 1970s Uruguay.
- Chai, Chai by Bishwanath Ghosh – travel with Ghosh to railway junctions across the country, where there is always a cup of tea to enjoy and a story to be heard.
The Pulitzer Prize was started in 1917, and annually awards prizes to American writers in twenty-one categories. Pick a book from decades’ worth of prize-winning works, across the categories of fiction, drama, history, poetry, biography/autobiography, poetry, or general nonfiction. With hundreds of books to choose from, we recommend picking up something outside of your comfort zone. We like these ones:
- The Return by Hisham Matar – this is the moving story of Hisham Matar and his father, who was kidnapped and taken to prison in Libya when the author was just nineteen.
- 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri – The Pulitzer committee described this collection of poetry as “a compelling collection of poems [...] in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”
Novels written in a series of letters can be a fascinating form. And they last to the present day, even if we rely less on snail mail – modern novels sometimes do this in the form of emails and texts! Whether you’re interested in fiction or nonfiction, this prompt has a lot to offer. We recommend:
- Dear Mrs Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian – a school project to write letters to anyone, dead or alive, grows into something more when twelve-year-old Sarojini begins writing about her life to Sarojini Naidu.
- Love Letters by Virginia Woolf & Vita Sackville-West – this collection of letters between Virginia Woolf and her close friend and lover, through the years, offers us an intimate glimpse into a revolutionary relationship.
An unusual setting for a book on a boat or a ship. Pick a book partly set at sea! Fishing narratives, rowing adventures, Moby Dick – interpret this however you wish. To get you started, we recommend these books:
- Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood – this delightful murder mystery, featuring glamorous 1920s detective Phryne Fisher, takes place on a cruise ship.
- The Cane-Cutter’s Song by Raphaël Confiant, translated from French by Vidya Vencatesan – in this book, we hear a story we don’t hear often – the experiences of Indian migrants to the “West Indies”, crossing a turbulent sea on French ships, to Martinique where they work as indentured labourers.
We’re surrounded by nature and wildlife in India – even in our cities, we are constantly coming across urban nature, whether surviving or thriving. There are fascinating and eye-opening books coming out of the country about these topics, whether in fiction or nonfiction, about conservation, ecology, and the wild world that surrounds us. We recommend:
- Superpowers on the Shore by Sejal Mehta – this accessible nonfiction book is the first of its kind – a science book about the wonders of Indian coastal life, from venomous jellies to wily octopuses.
- Blue Sky, White Cloud by Nirmal Ghosh – the three novellas in this collection explore the connections between humans and animals across the country, and the curious ways in which we impact each other.
17. That's a play
- The Muslim Vanishes by Saeed Naqvi – a witty satirical play, combining history and fantasy, asks the question: what would India be if the Muslim vanishes?
- Blood And Laughter: The Collected Plays Vol. 1 by Manjula Padmanabhan – the plays in this collection explore dilemmas of morality, relationships, and justice
In 2023, instead of choosing between a binge-watch or a book, why not do both? Discover your favourite stories in two different mediums! We recommend:
- Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – this taut thriller is the story of a small-town murder, and the complexities of memory, trauma, and family relationships.
- This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay – by turns humorous and heartbreaking, these are true stories from Adam Kay’s time working in the NHS.
19. About a sport
Is there a sport you’ve always wanted to try, but never got around to it? Is there one you used to play in school? A sport you follow obsessively? For this prompt, pick any sport – whether cricket, tennis, swimming, running – and pick a book or two! Consider:
- The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan – India’s cricket team decides Zoya is their lucky charm in this laugh-out-loud funny romance.
- Revolutions: How Women Changed The World On Two Wheels by Hannah Ross – going back to the 1880s, this is a fascinating history of women in a traditionally male-dominated world of cycling.
20. That's an Indian novel published in 2023
We encourage you to explore the landscape of contemporary Indian writing, whether in English or in translation. Pick up something new in 2023!
When we think of crime, we often think of murder mysteries that end in a room full of suspects, with Hercule Poirot pointing an accusing finger. For this prompt, find a book that is about a crime, but that isn’t about finding a killer. This could be a book whether the killer is announced on the first page, or one about a crime that has nothing to do with murder – like an art heist or espionage! We recommend:
- Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead – a heist novel set in 1960s Harlem, this is the story of crime, race, social history, and family, all in one!
- Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – two people meet on a train with a dilemma, and work out a solution: each of them will kill the other’s enemy. They have no connection to each other, and will leave no trace. It’s the perfect crime – or is it?
For this prompt, pick a book where the protagonist is a woman over fifty years of age! For multiple reasons, these aren’t stories we hear of often. Pick from a wide range of books where older women are everything from athletes to witches to film stars – but always at the centre of their story. Consider:
- Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout – woman reconnects with her ex-husband in this gentle story of a decades-long, ever-changing relationship.
- Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – the story of a community of “traditional” women, who come together in the most unusual of circumstances.
- Women Dreaming, written by Salma and translated by Meena Kandasamy – In a tiny Muslim village in Tamil Nadu, we read of three generations of women who dream of better futures, and are sustained by the power of their friendships
- Little Eyes, written by Samanta Schweblin and translated by Megan McDowell – A layered, tense and entirely inventive speculative fiction novel that depicts our hyper-connected world, and examines how technology can help, but also harm connection.
And to end the year, pick up something set during winter! Feel free to interpret this prompt however you like. Is it a book that takes place during a Chennai winter, or a Delhi one? On a part of the world – or a planet – where it is winter year-round? What does winter mean to you? We recommend:
- Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones – an eccentric old woman in a remote, snowy Polish village is thrown into a world of intrigue when her neighbour turns up dead.
- Wintering by Katherine May – in this gentle nonfiction book, Katherine May thinks of our lives in terms of seasons, offering us a way through our personal winters.