Welcome to the Champaca Reading Challenge for 2022!
We believe that a good bookshelf should hold voices and stories from across time, place and experience. We’ve put together a list of prompts — some fun, some unusual — designed to expand our reading this year. Let’s read together to discover new worlds, and read diverse!
Pick a book (or two!) for each prompt, You don't have to read in order, and you don't have to finish the challenge — we're just excited to discover new books together.
- Download the list of prompts here, and print it out
- Buy books from the collection here
- Buy a special-edition Reading Challenge notebook
Read on to find our curated recommendations for each prompt.
This year, read a book…
Reading translations gives us a glimpse into different cultures, voices, and experiences. If you happen to live in Karnataka, we recommend Mandra by S L Bhyrappa, translated from Kannada, which explores the fundamental question of art versus morality through the story of a famous Hindustani Classical singer Mohanlal. For those of you from Perumal Murugan’s home state Tamil Nadu, we recommend Poonachi or the Story of a Black Goat, translated from Tamil by N Kalayan Raman, the story of an orphan goat that captures what it feels like to be a woman in this day and age.
Graphic narratives are a new and growing genre in India, where authors and artists are doing unique and interesting experimentations! First Hand, edited by Vidyun Sabhey and published by indie publisher Yoda Press, is a remarkable set of non-fiction graphic narratives, ranging from biography to oral history to reportage. If you’re looking for fiction, we recommend Malik Sajad’s Munnu, a coming-of-age graphic novel set in Kashmir against the backdrop of militancy and military occupancy, illustrated in stark black-and-white.
The history of published writing by trans writers internationally is not very long, and in India even shorter! We’re highlighting books by trans writers that speak to experiences you may not have otherwise read—and that are just very good books! We recommend Akwaeke Emezi’s Dear Senthuran, a memoir of their life, their relationship with gender and their body, and their journey as a writer. Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg is set in the eighteenth century London underworld, it reimagines the life of thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard to tell a profound story about gender, love, and liberation.
Click here to explore our section of books by, and about, trans and nonbinary people and experiences.
When we were thinking about prompts for this, we wondered—whose stories may we be missing out on? One that came to mind was the stories of fisherfolk, whether fiction, nonfiction, in India or internationally. Fireflies in the Mist by Qurratulain Hyder, translated from Urdu, is an expansive novel set over decades in Bengal, at the centre of which is a politically fraught love story. The Cliffhangers by Sabin Iqbal is a novel set in a tranquil fishing village on the southern coast of the country. It explores the communal intolerance that is beginning to fracture the Hindu and Muslim fishermen and villagers after a dark incident on New Year’s Eve.
Who doesn’t wish to see their cities come alive in the pages of a book? If you’re from Mumbai, or looking to read more about it, Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale is a love letter to the living, beating heart of Mumbai from the 90s. If you love Calcutta, its food, and its history, A Taste of Time: A Food History Of Calcutta by Mohona Kanjilal takes you through a delightful journey through the ever-changing landscape of Calcutta’s cuisine.
Whether you like these activities, or if you’ve never thought of doing them, here are two books we recommend to you. Without Ever Reaching The Summit by Paolo Cognetti is a thoughtful account of Cognetti's voyage through the Himalayas, as he takes the path that the author of The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen, had taken many years before him. For cycling, we bring you Nautanki Diaries, a travelogue by Dominic Frank, a quirky and humorous account of a twenty-two-day journey on a cycle from Bengaluru to New Delhi, as the author aims to reach in time for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The Women’s Prize for Fiction is awarded in the UK, for fiction written by women from all over the world. In 2021, Susanna Clarke won the Women’s Prize for her unique and poignant novel Piranesi, about a man who lives in a strange, labyrinthine, partially ruined House that has become his entire world. In 2020, Maggie O’Farrell won the Women’s Prize for Hamnet, a novel that tells the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s child, Hamnet, who died tragically when he was eleven years; his wife Agnes, a woman relegated to the footnotes of history; and the loss that inspired Shakespeare’s most striking tragedy, Hamlet. Other books that won, or were shortlisted, include An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
For a quick read, or something that packs a powerful punch in very few pages, we recommend these two books. In An Island, Karen Jennings’ taut, tense novel, a refugee washes up on the shore of an island inhabited only by Samuel, an old lighthouse-keeper. Set in an unnamed African country, and taking place over just four days, this is a story of solitude, xenophobia, and the lasting effects of colonialism. Sigrid Nunez’s A Feather on the Breath of God is a short but compelling exploration of immigrant identity, family, and belonging, structured in fragmented recollections.
Click here to explore a curated section of books, from across genres, that have less than 200 pages.
On our shelves, you’ll always find books about our natural world, and specifically the trees and plants around us—sometimes educational, sometimes celebratory. Greenwood by Michael Christie is a unique novel that’s structured like the rings of a tree, a thrilling multi-generational family saga about the Greenwood family and the greed, crime, and secrets that ties them together. For nonfiction and nature enthusiasts, The Pine Barrens by acclaimed author John McPhee is a compelling account of the The New Jersey Pine Barrens, the largest untouched wilderness east of the Mississippi.
There’s tons of writing coming out of Nigeria, and we’re spotlighting a few here! Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities is a novel written in the mythic style of the Igbo traditions, a modern twist on The Odyssey. It tells the story of a young farmer who falls in love with a woman, when, one day, he prevents from falling to her death. For a quick, fun read, we recommend My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, a satirical novel about two sisters: one of whom is a serial killer, and the other who she calls when she wants to get away with murder.
The prompt “read a book about music” gives you so many options—biographies of your favourite musicians, books of lyrics, memoirs, and fiction. We recommend two to you here. Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music is a modern classic, a novel about two gifted musicians and the circumstances that bring them together. If you want real-world explorations of the magnificent power of music, Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia explores exactly that through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people.
We want to spotlight women occupying the forefront of crime and detective fiction, a genre that has a long history of stoic male detectives. We recommend The Likeness by Tana French, featuring the complex and refreshing Detective Cassie Maddox. Cassie is drawn into a destabilising mystery when the police realise that their latest murder victim looks exactly like her. This is atmospheric, character-driven crime, less of a whodunnit than a clever exploration of the complexities of characters’ motivations, the nature of friendships, and of the fragility of memory. Work for a Million, written by Amanda Deibert and illustrated by Selena Goulding, is a noir graphic novel set in the 1970s, featuring a lesbian private investigator!
Indian fiction is enriched by complex Dalit narratives from all over the country. How Are You Veg? is a short story collection by Joopaka Subhadra, translated from Telugu. These are stories of everyday lives and subtle discrimination, written by a poet, author, and activist. Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla is a unique personal history of India. Through interviews and testimonies with her own family, the author explores her own family history, their experiences as being of the Mala caste, and the social and political forces that structure our country.
While the main difference between a short story and a novel is, obviously, the length, the short story form features fascinating gems that play with pacing, narrative, and emotional impact. In India, we have a large history of short stories, in translation and written in English. From Bangalore-based Indira Chandrashekhar, we have Polymorphism, a collection of nineteen stories that shift realities and offer strange, twisted perceptions as they swerve into speculative fiction. Unclaimed Terrain by Ajay Navaria is a piece of Dalit literature that features a bold collection of short stories that explore spaces of ambiguity: of identity, morality, and politics. They are translated from Hindi for the first time by Laura Brueck.
Many of us start our New Year promising to finally read that classic we’ve been meaning to—and we hope this prompt finally gets us to do that. If you’re looking to read more classic writing, we recommend Orlando by Virginia Woolf, whose title character is playfully based on Vita Sackville-West. A genre- and gender-bending novel, Orlando is unexpected and hopeful, an homage to her friend and lover, Vita. We also recommend Toni Morrison’s Sula, a modern classic about two black women in 1970s America as we follow them through their lives.
The Shakti Bhatt Prize, till 2019, was given to “first books” (or debuts) published in India (in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and drama). Now, it is awarded in recognition of a writer’s body of work. The JCB Prize for Literature selects a distinguished work of fiction by an Indian author each year. Rohini Mohan’s The Seasons of Trouble, which won the Shakti Bhatt prize in 2009, is an incredible work of nonfiction by a journalist, exploring the aftermath and effects of the Sri Lankan civil war on its people. Delhi: A Soliloquy by M. Mukundan, translated from Malayalam and winner of the 2021 JCB Prize, is the story of Malayalis living in Delhi in the politically fraught years after the 1960s.
We’re firm believers that children’s books are not restricted to children alone. The books may stay the same, but revisiting them as we grow and change can often be incredibly rewarding! Pick up AA Milne’s classic Winnie The Pooh books, featuring the original beloved illustrations of the bear and his friends. Many of us at Team Champaca also love Louis Sachar’s Holes, a story about a juvenile corrections facility, a hidden secret, and many mysterious holes.
For this fun prompt, we thought we’d pick up books with beautiful, bold covers (which also hold bold thought within their pages). Maya Angelou’s Celebrations is a moving collection of poetry, bringing together the renowned poet’s work over decades. How To Cook A Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher is a book of essays about food, written in 1942 during a period of wartime shortages. It’s full of wit and wisdom, on shopping, cooking, and eating fearlessly even when food is scarce.
There are profound books from talented writers we might not always notice because they’re not written in languages we understand. Translations help bridge these gaps. These languages aren’t often easily available in English translations. Harijan by Gopinath Mohanty, translated from Odia for the first time here into English by Bikram Das, brings to life the story of a group of Mehentars living in a slum, told through a fourteen-year-old girl who lives there. Age of Frenzy by Mahabaleshwar Sail, translated from Konkani, is a historical novel set in 1500s Goa, where religious and societal rifts charge the air.
There’s a lot of unique literature that comes from South East Asian countries, in English and in translation. If you like complex characters and short stories, we recommend Lake Like a Mirror by Sok Fong Ho, a Malaysian author who writes in Chinese. Sometimes dark, sometimes surreal, these stories are of women living in structures that trap them. If you like folklore and mysteries, Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith is a puzzle of a novel, about two women who go missing decades apart in Vietnam. It weaves in Vietnamese history and folklore, and features an intricate plot set over decades.
For unforgettable animal characters, we recommend His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, part fantasy and part science fiction, and for readers of all ages. They’re set in a world of armoured polar bears, magic “dust”, and dæmons—external, intelligent animal forms that represent your inner-self. And in the forests of central India, we have Naturalist Ruddy: Adventurer. Sleuth. Mongoose, a humorous comic by Rohan Chakravarty, that follows amateur sleuth (and mongoose) Ruddy, as he investigates nature’s weirdest mysteries (and teaches us a thing or two about the natural world in the process!).
Books written by women in translation form a disproportionately small percentage of all translated work. With this prompt, we’re highlighting the work of women translators of women authors from India and elsewhere. Here are two from our shelves. A Very Strange Man by Ismat Chughtai, originally published in Urdu, and translated by Tahira Naqvi, is an incisive look at fame and fortune in the glamorous film world of 1940s Bombay. Women Dreaming, written by activist Salma and translated from Tamil by Meena Kandasamy, is set 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. Find more recommendations here.
Was the movie better than the book, or was the book better than the movie? The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage forms the basis for the 2021 Netflix film directed by Jane Campion, a compelling, stunning story set in early twentieth century america. Frank Herbert’s Dune is famous for its numerous adaptations, most recently the 2021 film directed by Denis Villeneuve. It’s the story of Paul Atreides, and a galaxy-wide struggle to control the spice ‘melange’, that’s only found on one planet — the desert planet Arrakis. Dune is one of the grandest epics of the genre, whether on the page or on the cinema screen.
We bring you writing about the sea that truly captures the enigma it is. View the sea from a marine biologist’s perspective in The Sea Around Us by acclaimed author Rachel Carson, one of the most influential books written about the natural world. In this ever-relevant book, Carson writes of the world’s oceans, their history, and their inhabitants, as well as the future that threatens them. Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds tells us the story of consciousness via one of the most fascinating creatures on our planet — the octopus.
Sometimes, poetry is simply meant to be felt and enjoyed. Nonsense Rhymes by Sukumar Ray, translated by Sukumar’s son, the renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray, is a wonderful collection of Bengali nonsense poetry written in the 19th century. Dancing By The Light Of The Moon by Gyles Brandreth collects poetry for every mood and feeling!