Welcome to the Champaca Reading Challenge! This year, we’ve put together 24 prompts for 2024. They’re designed to help us read widely, more diversely, and more adventurously. Let’s discover something new together!
How this works: Just pick a book to read that fits each prompt! You don’t need to fulfil prompts in the order they are listed, and you don’t even have to finish the challenge. Think of this as a way to discover books beyond our horizons and comfort zones – discovering new voices and new worlds in the books we read! If you’re curious, you can even revisit our prompts for 2022 and 2023, for more ideas to add to your TBR.
Remember to use the hashtag #ChampacaReadingChallenge when you post on social media, and let us know what you’re reading!
Remember to use the hashtag #ChampacaReadingChallenge when you post on social media, and let us know what you’re reading!
If you’re wondering where to get started, look below for our recommendations for each prompt. We’ll also be posting them throughout the year on our Instagram. Find links to get yourself your copies from our online store below!
Where do you want to go? Books can take you there! Travel to Italy in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Roman Stories, where we meet characters from all walks of life — foreigners, natives, families, and strangers. Visit Japan with Pallavi Aiyar in her memoir, Orienting: An Indian in Japan. Or perhaps you’d like to take a trip to Goa, or Haiti, or simply browse through our travel section, full of fiction and nonfiction from around the world!
Books can offer us perspectives we don’t otherwise have access to – or offer us a mirror to see our own experiences differently. We encourage you to explore stories about oppression, which comes in different forms. In Yashica Dutt’s Coming Out As Dalit, the author reflects on her experience of caste, and the oppression – and eventually, the liberation – she’s felt through her life. For a different perspective on similar themes, Ambedkar’s Outside the Fold collects the writer’s essays on untouchability. Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail is an important, powerful narrative about Palestine, a story of oppression, violence, and survival. And Angela Saini’s Inferior is an illuminating read that challenges scientific misconceptions about gender, based on in-depth research. For more ideas, you can visit our caste and feminism shelves.
We’ve got three recommendations for this fun prompt for you! Enter Ghost by Isabella Hammad is a beautiful story about the power of art and resistance – following an actress who returns home to Palestine and becomes involved with a local production of Hamlet. Girish Karnad’s memoir, This Life At Play, translated by the author and by Srinath Perur, collects the playwright’s reflections on his life in theatre.
Pick up a book about a historical tragedy – perhaps a new perspective on a well-known event, or a tragedy you’d never heard of before (there are far too many that do not make the headlines). We recommend: Farthest Field by Raghu Karnad, the story of Indians in the Second World War. Heavy Metal by Ameer Shahul is the astounding story of an industrial tragedy that resulted in mercury poisoning among workers in Kodaikanal. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a graphic memoir that tells the story of the author’s coming-of-age against the backdrop of Iranian politics. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild is a chilling, important story of colonial violence in Africa, in what is now Congo.
Pick up Alison Bechdel’s moving graphic memoirs, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? in which she explores her relationships with her father and mother respectively – by turns hilarious and heart-wrenching. Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom is a beautiful novel about a family dealing with their mother’s bipolar disorder. Shirley Jackson’s Raising Demons is a laugh-out-loud account of the author’s chaotic domestic life, upending gender norms and expectations in 1950s America.
In Hisham Matar’s incredible memoir The Return, the author returns to Libya twenty-two years after his father was kidnapped and imprisoned. In Search of Sheba by Barbara Toy is a classic of travel writing, a recounting of the author’s solo travels across North Africa. Leïla Slimani’s Sex and Lies is a collection of essays about gender expression and conservatism in Morocco.
With vampires, you could go the classic route: pick up the timeless books Dracula by Bram Stoker, or J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla – or pick up something that reimagines the classics, like Octavia Butler’s Fledgling or Sarah Andersen’s graphic novel Fangs! If you’re looking for dragons, we recommend Samantha Shannon’s epic The Priory of the Orange Tree, or Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (a Champaca favourite!).
This is a fun prompt – we encourage you to judge a book by its cover! Come by our store and pick up something blue that stands out to you. Fitzcarraldo Editions is a UK-based indie publisher, whose books are innovative, global, and ambitious – and recognizable by their signature blue or white covers! We recommend picking up Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, or one of Fitzcarraldo’s wonderful fiction titles, like Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead or Guadalupe Nettel’s Still Born.
Poetry in translation is an interesting act of double-creation – by the author in its original language, and by the translator as they bring it to us in English. Pick up Magadh by Shrikant Verma, translated from Hindi, or Out of Sri Lanka, a groundbreaking collection of poetry from Sri Lanka and its diaspora, partly translated from Tamil and Sinhala. We also love The Penguin Book Of Haiku for a celebration of that simple and evocative Japanese poetry form.
There are so many interesting dimensions to the clothes we wear and see around us. Sofi Thanhauser’s Worn takes a historical-cultural perspective of five fabrics as they travel across the world, exploring the craft involved in, and the impact of, clothes-making. Mineke Schipper’s Naked or Covered is a fascinating deep dive into the ideas of dressing and undressing across cultures – how the body in covered or uncovered forms are used to signify different things in different places.
A steadily growing genre, books with themes of queer horror explore the strangeness of bodies and desire by literalising that strangeness – through magic realism, monsters, or just a creepy sense of unease. We recommend Julia Armfield’s beautiful literary novel Our Wives Under The Sea, in which a woman returns to her wife after a deep sea mission, but she seems to have returned wrong in an unidentifiable way. Carmen Maria Machado’s genre-bending short story collection Her Body and Other Parties is inventive and unforgettable. Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland is a powerful exploration of race, trauma, history, love, and horror – in a vivid and fantastical setting. And Indra Das’s The Devourers is a powerful story of transformations, set in present-day Kolkata and infused with magic.
Yaari, edited by Shilpa Phadke and Nithila Kanagasabai, is a collection of ninety-five contributions about friendship, written by women and queer folx. Carolina De Robertis’s Cantoras foregrounds female friendships between queer women in the midst of the Uruguayan dictatorship. Elena Ferrante’s modern classic My Brilliant Friend has gained quick cult status for its powerful story of two friends, Elena and Lila. And Sally Rooney’s latest, Beautiful World Where Are You?, is structured around the friendship between two women, Alice and Eileen, as they make their way through our confusing world.
We love books that have a sense of expanse – set across time periods, spanning decades, even imagining what our world could look like in the future. Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility takes us from quiet forests in the early 1900s to future settlements on the moon, all the while reflecting on the ways our strange universe is strung together. Siddhartha Deb’s intricately structured The Light At The End Of The World is a fantastical portrait of India, that takes us back in time from present-day Delhi, to 1984 Bhopal, to Calcutta on the eve of independence, and finally to 1859 – reflecting on the ways in which patterns repeat over and over. Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees follows three generations of beekeepers across time, as the manmade and natural world struggle to co-exist. And Janice Pariat’s Everything The Light Touches takes us from the present into the past and back again, in a spiral of connectedness that reminds us of the magic of the world around us.
We’ve given you a lot to choose from here – glimpses into different societies and cultures via the language they speak and write in! Here are a few we recommend for each language (you can click the language to find more options). Urdu – Ismat Chugtai’s Obsession and Wild Pigeons, translated by Tahira Naqvi. Assamese – The Greatest Assamese Stories Ever Told, selected and edited by Mitra Phukan. Mandarin/Cantonese – Invisible Planets, edited and translated by Ken Liu. And Polish – The Possessed by Witold Gombrowicz, translated by Antonia Lloyd Jones.
Srividya Natarajan’s The Undoing Dance is the story of Kalyani, from a lineage of famous devadasis, who must keep her origins hidden in a modern world. Dive into Anita E. Cherian’s Tilt Pause Shift: Dance Ecologies In India which is an investigation of movement, particularly dance. Noel Streatfield’s classic children’s book Ballet Shoes is a delight for readers of all ages.
We recommend picking up a book published by Adivaani, an indie publishing project that brings together works – fiction, poetry, nonfiction – by the indigenous Adivasis of India. Hansda Sowvendra Shekar’s The Adivasi Will Not Dance is a short story collection that explores the lives of ordinary people and issues of Adivasi identity. Indigenous stories are equally important and interesting to seek out from other parts of the world. Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman is the award-winning novel set on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, USA, inspired by the life of the author’s grandfather. Amanda Peters’ The Berry Pickers is a powerful story of family, identity, and the search for truth, about a young Mi’kmaq girl from Canada.
The Baillie Gifford Prize is an annual British prize awarded for best nonfiction. The books nominated span all kinds of topics, from climate science to political history to biographies of authors. We recommend picking up Richard Fortey’s Trilobite, an engaging and accessible book about the curious fossil creatures from millions of years ago. Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk is the author’s experience of grief coupled with her experience of raising and training a goshawk. Katherine Rundell’s Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne is the award-winning biography of poet John Donne and his many dimensions. And Samanth Subramanian’s This Divided Island is an account of the Sri Lankan war told through stories of the people who were affected by it, in different ways.
Interpret this prompt as you wish — are you a fan of cookbooks or food memoirs? Perhaps you’re drawn to books where they use garlic to fend off vampire attacks? All of those work for this prompt! If you’re looking for recommendations, we suggest Michael Pollan’s This Is Your Mind on Plants, an exploration of three plant drugs, including caffeine, and their effect on our body. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass draws from American indigenous knowledge to understand human interactions with the natural world. And Cherry Red, Cherry Black by Kavery Nambisan traces the history of coffee in India, from its introduction to the subcontinent to its ubiquitous popularity today.
Political humour can be laugh-out-loud funny, or quietly and sharply satirical, and finds a place in nonfiction and fiction both. Pick up Mohammed Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes (a Champaca recommendation from 2020!). Or why not read a play? Saeed Naqvi’s The Muslim Vanishes is a witty, funny, fantastical play — one that draws from our political reality.
There’s a lot of wonderful, inventive writing in Spanish by women writers. If you’re wondering where to start, we recommend Samanta Schweblin’s short story collection Seven Empty Houses and her novel Little Eyes, which tap into modern anxieties of loneliness and connection (both translated by Megan McDowell). Hurricane Season, by Fernanda Melchor and translated by Sophie Hughes, is the award-winning story set in a small town in Mexico. Isabel Allende’s The Soul of a Woman is a delightful memoir of the author’s relationship with the feminist movement, from one of the most celebrated and thoughtful women writers in Spanish.
Essays are such an interesting form — books of essays can be incredible introductions into new ideas, or new ways of thinking. Read Amia Srinivasan’s thoughts on sex and its meaning in our politicised, online world, in her feminist collection The Right to Sex. Olivia Laing’s Everybody draws on cultural, political, and personal history to explore the body as a source of power. The Book of Indian Essays, edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, is a unique collection of Indian essays from across time, showcasing a range of both styles and topics, and functioning both as a glimpse into the impressive corpus of Indian essays as well as the multiplicity of our country.
Do you know about creation stories from different cultures? Some of these may be scientific, some may be mythical, some religious. We recommend dipping into Amar Mitra’s Dhanapatir Char: Whatever Happened To Pedru's Island?, translated from Bengali by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey, a novel that blends myth with allegory. The Blaft Book of Mizo Myths contains, among other myths, a retelling of the Mizo creation story, all transcreated from oral folklore by Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte. And for a change of pace, Martin MacInnes’s In Ascension is a novel about one scientist’s hunt for the science of life’s origins — a cosmic creation story.
We recommend picking up Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, a novel that follows Cora Seaborne’s hunt for a mythical serpent, against the backdrop of nineteenth-century scientific and social advancements. Tashan Mehta’s wildly imaginative novel Mad Sisters of Esi features islands that have lives of their own, and an entire universe that resides within a cosmic whale. And Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed is a tremendous work of science fiction — one of the earliest examples of Afrofuturism — featuring two African immortals who can shapeshift and inhabit different bodies.
Read a book written in verse! Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is told in the form of an epic poem. Vikram Seth’s award-winning novel in verse The Golden Gate follows a group of people in San Francisco. And Christoph Ransmayr’s The Flying Mountain, translated from German by Simon Pare, is written entirely in blank verse, telling the story of two brothers on a journey to an unnamed mountain.