Monthly topic challenges on Lit.SE don't get a whole lot of attention. Christopher Strobbe rightfully points out that participation has been almost negligible in recent months. This is in spite of overall site participation on the site remaining relatively constant.
One of the major difficulties with a monthly challenge is just in reading speed. Lit.SE participation is something a lot of us do in our free time, and having the investment to acquire and finish a book within the specified time frame, when most of us either don't have time to read or are busy reading other books, is... high. This also normalizes non-participation: since it's difficult to ask questions within the allotted time, and you get no credit for missing the window even by a day, it becomes more normal to avoid topic challenges entirely. (It's even more worrying to me that people might learn to ignore changes to the sidebar entirely.)
I think we can revisit the actual aim of the topic challenge, though, without normalizing non-participation. The original desire for the topic challenge wasn't just to drive activity to the site; it was to provide a list of recommendations outside our usual reading to help bring diversity and variability in literature to light.
So: can we fulfill this aim in another way?
The general social requirements on this are:
- It has to be difficult to normalize non-participation. Once people start feeling like it's normal not to join in the challenge, that's a problem.
- It has to be relatively easy to have discourse about. The disadvantage of the Q&A format is that most of us aren't academic essayists, and formulating a good question and good answer is a snippet of factual information exchange. We really need something we can talk about meaningfully.
- It has to encourage highlighting unique, diverse, and variable works, as with the standard topic challenge.
I'm open to ideas here, but I have one of my own.
We replace the "topic challenge" with a Lit.SE Reading Recommendation List. At first, the list comprises every book that has been a topic challenge to date. To add books, at set intervals, we either: hold a small vote; or just select a top voted response. Then we add it to the list of reading recommendations with a date. This part should hopefully drive discussion by itself.
We can even expand this to fiction, nonfiction, essays, critical theory books, etc. -- not just literature, but also content that helps when trying to approach literature, like Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison.
There's no time pressure to pick these up, there's no expiration date past which you fail to get credit. Maybe if you want, you can list yourself as having read that book in the recommendations list, but it doesn't really matter when you do it.
This allows us to compile the kind of compendium of diverse reading that could really help the site, and encourages interesting & deep questions. There's no pressure to ask a question; there's no failure if you don't. But the books are interesting and you found them here, so if you have questions, why not?
Totally open to other ideas, though. I'm mostly sketching this one out to see how it floats.