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Topic challenges for Literature SE were first proposed and enacted in March 2017. The motivation for these, as well as to bring our users together in a community activity of reading the same books or stories together at roughly the same time, is to increase the diversity of literature covered on our site, as well as perhaps our own diversity of reading material.

We ran 26 topic challenges, with varying degrees of success, between April 2017 and July 2019, each one lasting for one month. After that we had a brief hiatus to discuss the issue of waning participation, and then re-ignited the topic challenges in October 2019 under a new system, which is described as follows.

Each topic challenge lasts for two months, and is announced one month in advance. Each month a new one begins, so that at any given time, there should be two overlapping topic challenges ongoing.

Topic challenges are proposed by posting an answer to this very meta question - everyone feel free to join in with an answer below! Each month the highest-voted answer will be chosen and a new meta post will be created for that topic challenge.


Guidelines for Voting on a Topic Challenge

Voting on these challenges is pretty simple, but make sure you do it with care and thought.

If the post fulfills the spirit of the reading challenge, and does indeed offer exposure to culture or thought that many people might not otherwise see, we'd suggest voting up.

If the post does not fulfill the spirit of the reading challenge, and does not offer exposure to new culture or thought, then we'd suggest voting down. And maybe leave a comment about why you're not sure it's a helpful challenge suggestion, because it's possible someone just misunderstood the purpose behind this.

The above is copied from the original thread. From the 2019 discussion, another potential criterion for topic challenge success emerged: the existence of shorter works that are available online as part of the challenge. Thus it might be suggested to bear this in mind when voting: a topic challenge is generally more likely to be a success if it includes some shorter works available online. But of course, feel free to vote however you see fit. Diversity of topics is the most important criterion.

Guidelines for Suggesting a Topic Challenge

Here are the most important principles, again taken from the original 2017 thread and the 2019 discussion. The bullet points below are also largely inspired by the original 2017 thread, but I've edited quite heavily for brevity.

Your challenge suggestion can be... honestly, whatever you'd like it to be. Please do make challenges that fall outside of what users of the site might predominantly already read. That's sort of why we're doing this.

Post more proposals for shorter works that are available online. This makes the proposal more accessible to everyone. The potential downside to this suggestion is that it may be harder to find find non-English texts, especially non-English texts that are also available in an English translation, especially online, unless the content is so old that it is in the public domain.

When you propose a topic challenge, please consider the following:

  • Why is this topic interesting? A short explanation to motivate people to take part in it is helpful. Motivations might include learning about a culture which is represented in, or which produced, that work of literature, or listing different types of interesting questions that might arise about it.
  • What is included? If the challenge is wider than a single book or story - e.g. an author, or a wider set of works such as a genre - please try to include at least a partial list of some works included. Ideally, with links: either to more information about those works, or (if possible and legal) to sites where the works themselves are available to be read.
  • Describe the sort of prior knowledge you think would be helpful to have. Please be mindful of the difficulty some texts pose. If a text would be valuable to study, but has a knowledge and time barrier that makes the book unreasonably difficult to delve into for someone outside of it, it may not be a good fit for a reading challenge.
  • Please remember that the minimum age for the site is 13, and a percentage of our users are young, so please, within reason, attempt to suggest books that are not too graphic, or contain inordinate amounts of strong language. This doesn't mean that the book can't have language, but please keep this in mind.

Currently Ongoing Topic Challenges

Upcoming Topic Challenge

Previous Topic Challenges

Older ones (one-month topic challenges) are listed in the older meta post.

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    Why a new meta post for this? Because we've rebooted the topic challenges in a slightly different system, not all of the stuff in the old post still applies, the list was getting long, and - perhaps most importantly - votes were stagnating on the old post. The hope is that, with a fresh new start, we can re-attract people's interest to posting and voting on proposals in answers. – Rand al'Thor Apr 19 at 12:04

31 Answers 31

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The works of Theodor Fontane

The German novelist and poet Theodor Fontane (1819 - 1898), whose bicentenary was celebrated last year is known as a representative of realism and is known for novels such as Effi Briest, Frau Jenny Treibel and Der Stechlin. His works are now in the public domain; see Theodor Fontane on Wikisource and Archive.org.

Below are a few English translations that are either in the public domain or publicly available for other reasons:

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Os Lusíadas / The Lusiads

Os Lusíadas by Luís Vaz de Camões is one great classics of Portuguese literature. This epic poem, first published in 1572, "celebrates the discovery of a sea route to India by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (1469–1524)" (Wikipedia).

The text can be easily found online, for example:

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Mem and Zin (Mem û Zîn)

This story is one of the most important works of Kurdish literature - a language group so far entirely unrepresented on our site. It's a Romeo & Juliet style romantic tragedy, written by Ahmad Khani in 1692 based on oral traditions. It's been adapted into a film (in Turkish) and a TV series.

  • Being such an old story, it has an English translation freely available online.
  • Also freely available online is an entire book about the story, containing various studies and analyses, uploaded to the Kurdish Institute Library.
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Gargantua and Pantagruel

The series of five novels on Gargantua and Pantagruel by the French humanist François Rabelais (between 1483 and 1494 – 9 April 1553) are, as Wikipedia says, "written in an amusing, extravagant, and satirical vein, and [feature] much crudity, scatological humor, and violence". The novels are not to everybody's taste (for example, George Orwell didn't like them), but Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, saw himself as Rabelais' successor in humour writing.

Rabelais is irreverent towards narrowmindedness (even though he was a monk, he also criticised the Church in a time when this was still dangerous) and pretentiousness. (Annotated editions from the 1950s still contained some partially censored footnotes.) His work has been the subject of much analysis, such as Bakhtin's study Rabelais and His World.

The series contains the following books (identified by their conventional short titles):

In the preface to Gargantua, Rabelais wrote:

Mieulx est de ris que de larmes escripre,
Pour ce que rire est le propre de l'homme.

English (Burton Raffel's translation):

I'd rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.

(Originally suggested on the old list under a different user name. This is a longer reading challenge, but Rabelais is just too funny.)

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  • The quoted lines in French don't say anything about courageous: I'd translate the second line as "For laughter is the property of man". Maybe the "courageous" part comes from the next line? – Rand al'Thor Apr 19 at 19:29
  • @Randal'Thor You have a point about the mismatch, but those are the last two lines of the "Aux Lecteurs". – Tsundoku Apr 19 at 19:33
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    @Rand al'Thor: The courageous part was added by the translator for the sake of a rhyme. A different translation, by J.M. Cohen, is "Mirth's my theme and tears are not, / For laughter is man's proper lot." – Peter Shor Apr 23 at 20:04
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Author challenge: Munshi Premchand (Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava)

Since this site needs more questions about non-Western literature, I'm submitting a proposal for one of the most important 20th-century authors from India. Munshi Premchand (1880 – 1936) is not well known in the West, even though he "is regarded as one of the foremost Hindi writers of the early twentieth century" (Wikipedia). He published novels, short stories and plays; not all of them have been translated into English.

Some of these translations were published on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of Premchand's birth or shortly thereafter. There are also a few German translations.

The novels Godan and Nirmala are available on Archive.org, but only in Hindi.

A monograph by Madan Gopal, published in 1944, is now available on Archive.org.

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Muhammad Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal, sometimes called Allama Iqbal or Iqbal-e Lahori, was a 19th-to-20th-century Muslim multlingual poet, philosopher, and politican, one of the most important figures in Urdu poetry and also influential in Farsi poetry, the so-called "Poet of the East" and national poet of Pakistan. He is considered an important figure in the cultural and political history of several countries:

  • In Pakistan, his birthday Iqbal Day was a public holiday until 2018. He was a major figure in promoting the idea of an independent Pakistan even in the 1930s, and he is still honoured as the national poet of Pakistan.
  • In Iran, his work was popular especially in the 1950s to 1980s, and Ayatollah Khomeini said that "We have a large number of non-Persian-speaking poets in the history of our literature, but I cannot point out any of them whose poetry possesses the qualities of Iqbal's Persian poetry. [...] In spite of not having tasted the Persian way of life, never living in the cradle of Persian culture, and never having any direct association with it, he cast with great mastery the most delicate, the most subtle and radically new philosophical themes into the mould of Persian poetry, some of which are unsurpassable yet."
  • He was awarded a knighthood by Britain (his acceptance of which was criticised by some others in British India) for his poetry written in Farsi.

Iqbal wrote poetry primarily in Farsi in the earlier part of his career, starting in 1915, but after 1930 most of his works were in Urdu. He also wrote two non-fiction books and many letters in English, and some poetry in Punjabi. His writings cover philosophical, religious, social, political, and moral issues. He received a BA from the University of Cambridge and a PhD from the University of Munich, and spent some time working as a professor and as a lawyer as well as writing poetry.

A topic challenge on this poet would be able to feature several different language tags and explore a variety of cultures and viewpoints through his literature.

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Maltese literature

The Maltese language is unique in the world. With only around half a million speakers worldwide, it's the only Semitic language which is an official language of a European/EU country, and the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet. It's similar to Arabic, but evolved independently and heavily influenced by Italian. One topic we might explore is whether the uniqueness of the language has affected its literature (e.g. do metrical feet in poetry work like those in Arabic or in Italian, or even in English?)

Due to the bilinguality of most inhabitants of Malta, there's not a long history of Maltese literature. The body of literature in this language is remarkably small and recent, especially for a European language. For this reason I'm not suggesting a particular Maltese-language work or author for the topic challenge, but rather the whole collective. Examples of Maltese literature freely available online:

  • The oldest known Maltese text is Il-Kantilena, a 15th-century rhyming poem rediscovered in the 1960s.
  • Two books of Maltese poetry with English translations are freely available from their author.
  • I found a site which recommends some texts both of and about Maltese literature.

This is a very niche topic, so let's help to promote it!

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  • Reposted from the old thread. – Rand al'Thor Apr 19 at 18:57
  • Do the works of Pete Buttigieg qualify? – verbose Oct 7 at 11:41
  • @verbose Has he written anything in the Maltese language? (The x-literature tags refer to the language in which the literature is written, not the country of origin of the story or author.) I didn't know about any Maltese connection of Buttigieg, but if he wrote in Maltese, bring it on! – Rand al'Thor Oct 7 at 12:15
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The Works of Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902 – 1991) was a Polish-American writer who wrote in Yiddish and who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. He wrote both novels and short stories:

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The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed

This book was written by a computer. That throws out a lot of possible ways to approach questions - authorial intent, in particular, becomes irrelevant - and introduces some fascinating new approaches: knowledge of computer science and artificial intelligence might be as useful as literature expertise.

Simply exploring and thinking about how to ask and answer questions here would be an interesting experience. Not much point trying to ask about plot, as there is none, but the book could be analysed in other ways, such as why certain patterns appear in the choice of words, or which existing works of literature might have inspired some of the names or passages.

It's also a perfect delight to read, at least for anyone who appreciates the weird and wacky. Consider the following excerpts from the text, and try to keep a straight face while reading them:

RICHARD. A week is obscurely like a night.
BUCKINGHAM. My Lord, chicken is like lamb.
RICHARD. Yet weeks can be killed as can chicken.
BUCKINGHAM. Tis true, my Liege, yet ambiguities adorn our pain as ambiguities broaden our issues.

There once was a furry brown noun
Had window shades which could not pound
They excreted and boggled
But still always goggled
But please sadly call them a crown

Tomatoes from England and lettuce from Canada are eaten by cosmologists from Russia. I dream implacably about this concept. Nevertheless tomatoes or lettuce inevitably can come leisurely from my home, not merely from England or Canada. My solicitor spoke that to me; I recognized it. My fatherland is France, and I trot coldly while bolting some lobster on the highway to my counsellor. He yodels a dialogue with me about neutrons or about his joy. No agreements here! We sip seltzer and begin a conversation. Intractably our dialogue enrages us. Strangely my attorney thinks and I gulp slowly and croon, "Do you follow me?"

Reading this book will guarantee you a good laugh, and Q&A about it will guarantee our site some new perspectives and ways of analysing a very unusual piece of literature.

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  • Copied from the old list, where it was a bit controversial in voting. I've edited the blurb a bit to try to justify it more as a topic challenge. – Rand al'Thor May 5 at 8:37
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Omenuko (the first Igbo novel)

We haven't had many topic challenges for African literature - only one, as far as I remember - and Igbo is one of the most spoken languages in Africa. This novel is particularly well-suited for a topic challenge because:

  • The full text is freely and legally available online, both in the original Igbo and in English (translated by Frances Nkiru W. Pritchett, secretary of the Society for Promoting Igbo Language and Culture in America). So it can be read without any effort or expenditure.
  • From the translator's preface, it seems that reading this book might be an interesting experience for learning about Nigerian history, Igbo culture, and some facets of their language:

    “Omenuko,” by Pita Nwana, is described as the first novel to be written in the Igbo language. It was published in 1933 after winning an all-Africa literary contest. [...] The book is still a classic in Igbo literature, and continues to be used in Nigerian schools. [...]
    The novel is set at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. There are 15 chapters, dealing with Omenuko’s life and deeds in the land of his refuge, his rise to and fall from power there, his efforts to locate and repatriate those whom he had wronged, and the maneuvers that permitted his eventual return to his native place without suffering the wrath of the villagers. Omenuko is shown to be adept at exploiting both the British colonial officials and the traditional practices of his home area. Perhaps this partially explains its popularity with modern-day Igbo people who, like Omenuko, are called on to reconcile two worlds.
    Nwana, following Igbo custom, has employed many proverbs throughout his text. I have set these apart by putting them in italics. Elsewhere, some words and phrases were inserted by the translator and are enclosed in square brackets.
    I hope that the universal elements in this tale will appeal to all readers.

  • Columbia University maintains a whole site with all sorts of useful info about Igbo language and culture, which might be useful as surrounding material if someone wants to learn more and deeper as well as reading the book. Also other Igbo novels and plays are available there.

  • As an extra bonus, if we can attract, or nurture, good knowledge/expertise about Igbo culture on this site, we may be able to get one of our highest-voted unanswered questions resolved.

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The works of August Wilson

Theater (other than Shakespeare) is somewhat underrepresented on our site, and August Wilson's works are particularly relevant now in light of recent events. August Wilson (1945 – 2005) received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and a number of other awards.

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Topic challenge: Nazi Holocaust literature

This includes both fiction and non-fiction books - examples include

(Originally suggested on the original post.)

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    I downvoted this suggestion because it seems too broad to me: there are so many different works and authors here, the proposal doesn't even have clear boundaries, so it's hard to inspire people to take part and hard to keep track of posts in the challenge. – Rand al'Thor Jul 27 at 6:42
  • @Randal'Thor - I'd say the broadness is a point in favor; it's easier to find works that count for the challenge for a broad challenge rather than having to find one specific work. It allows for much wider participation, while still encouraging works in different languages and focusing on different cultures. – Mithical Aug 22 at 21:47
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The works of Min Jin Lee

Min Jin Lee is a Korean-American author who typically writes about Korean-American topics. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, but emigrated to the U.S. when she was seven. Many of her works explore what it means for one to be "Korean".

  • Pachinko is her second and most famous full-length novel.

"Published in 2017, Pachinko is an epic historical novel following a Korean family who eventually migrates to Japan, The character-driven tale features a large ensemble of characters who become subjected to issues of racism and stereotypes, among other events with historical origins in the 20th-century Korean experiences with Japan." -Wikipedia

I haven't finished reading Pachinko, but from what I've read so far, it's an exceptional book. It deals with the prejudice Koreans faced during World War II and the Japanese occupation of Korea, but also the reverse prejudice of Koreans and their attitude towards their captors. It brings to light a tragic part of modern history which I think many European and Americans may not even be aware of.

  • Food for Millionaires is her first full length novel.

"Casey Han’s parents, who live in Queens, are Korean immigrants working in a dry cleaner, desperately trying to hold on to their culture and their identity. Their daughter, on the other hand, has entered into rarified American society via scholarships. Free Food for Millionaires offers up a fresh exploration of the complex layers we inhabit both in society and within ourselves and examines maintaining one’s identity within changing communities." -Synopsis

A forty-page excerpt is found here.

She also has some other short-story works which can be found online.

  • Axis of Happiness
  • Motherland. Pachinko has a slightly modified version of this story in it. (As an aside, I don't know if that link has the entire work. I think it does.)

You can find several interviews with and talks by Min Jin Lee on YouTube.

2

Old English Literature and its Afterlife

"Cædmon, sing mē hwæthwugu"

The English language came into being in the years between the Romans' departure from Britain (c. 400 CE) and the Norman Conquest (1066 CE). The first iteration of the language seems far removed from modern English. For one thing, Old English was mutually intelligible with Old Norse, whereas a contemporary English speaker would not get very far with Norwegian. It had funny letters like ð and þ, which are still used in Icelandic. And it sounds pretty far removed from how we speak today.

Despite these contrasts, English 1.0 shares deep continuities with English 3.0, the version we all use. Ninety-nine of the hundred most common words in English are of Anglo-Saxon origin. And as the video of the Lord's Prayer above demonstrates, when Old English text is placed alongside its modern English equivalent, the connections between the two become readily apparent.

Old English literature, too, continues to make its presence felt in contemporary culture. For example, there are several graphic novels that retell the most famous (and longest) Old English poem, Beowulf. Literary works such as Headley's The Mere Wife and Gardner's Grendel retell the story. There's even an opera. Old English scholarship informs Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings as well.

Since Old English texts predate copyright laws, they're easily available online. The entire corpus of Old English poetry is available at the Sacred Texts site. Translations of nearly all these poems are available at Aaron K. Hostetter's site; spoken versions of the poems are at Michael D C Drout's site. Prose texts such as the Old English translation of Bede's Ecclesiastical History are also available online, in the original, in translation, and in scholarly monographs. The In Parentheses site has some translations as well. Finally, there's a handy site for those who care to learn the language.

Old English Literature has been discussed on this forum about three times, not counting the many passing mentions the language receives in various Tolkien-related questions. A Topic Challenge could encompass not only the original Anglo-Saxon texts (in the original and/or in translation) but also their afterlife in popular culture, such as the Beowulf comics, Tolkien's books, other novels, etc. Questions about the continuities and discontinuities between Old English and Middle English literature, or the relationship between Norse mythology and Old English texts, would also be relevant to this topic.

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  • 1
    Great suggestion and you have my +1. It will also give us an opportunity to revisit this old meta discussion and decide whether Old English is sufficiently different from modern English to merit its own language tag. – Rand al'Thor Oct 7 at 12:17
  • Old English also has the best sheepdogs. I have heard tell of one named Beowoof. – verbose Oct 7 at 23:59
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The works of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (1894 – 1950) was an author from West Bengal in India and his works are mostly set in rural Bengal. According to the British poet and critic Martin Seymour-Smith, author of Guide to Modern World Literature (1973), Bandyopadhyay was "perhaps the best of all modern Indian novelists", adding that "probably nothing in twentieth-century Indian literature, in prose or poetry, comes to the level of Pather Panchali".

His works include the following:

  • Pather Panchali, an autobiographical novel published in 1929, which brought him to prominence,
  • Chander Pahar, "one of the most-loved adventure novels in the Bengali literature" (Wikipedia), published in 1937,
  • Aranyak (literally "Of the Forest"), a novel that "explores the journey of the protagonist Satyacharan in the dichotomy of the urban and jungle lives" (Wikipedia).
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Magda Szabó

Magda Szabó was a Hungarian author who wrote novels, poetry, essays, short stories, etc. Her works have been translated into many languages, many of them into English. These include:

  • The Door (Az ajtó), a 1987 story about the complex relationship between a woman (who may be modelled on the author herself) and her housekeeper;
  • The Fawn (Az őz), a 1959 story about an actress and her struggles in post-war Hungary;
  • Für Elise (2002) is a more recent adult novel that is well received.
  • Abigél (1970) is the most famous youth novel of Szabó Magda. The story takes place during the world war, and concerns a girl who is suddenly sent away from his father to a very strict religious school. Abigél is sometimes used in primary school literature courses. There is a tv film adaptation (1978) with screenplay by the author and an all-star cast of actors. The novel has been translated to many languages, including French, German, Romanian, Czech, Polish, Latvian, Italian, and there's an English translation published in 2020 (translator Lin Rex).
  • The Elf Prince Lala (Tündér Lala), a 1964 children's fantasy story about the misfit prince of a fairy kingdom. Has a
  • The Lamb and Lawrence the Lamb (Bárány and Bárány Boldizsár), two collections of poetry published in 1947 and 1958.

More details about some of her books can be found here. Demeter Tibor's catalog also lists some translations of Magda Szabó's works to foreign language.

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The Works of Jorge Amado

Jorge Amado (1912 – 2001) was a Brazilian novelist whose works have been translated into 49 languages. He started his writing career as a modernist but later adopted a more conventional style. In 1937, his books were publicly burned in Brazil; they were also banned in Portugal, though they were successful elsewhere in Europe. His novel Jubiabá, for example, was hailed by Albert Camus as “a magnificent and haunting” book.

According to the obituary in The Guardian,

[r]eaders in 60 countries have been attracted by his sensual and socially critical depiction of Brazil's immense cultural diversity and by his celebration of the vitality and resilience of its people - above all the poor and dispossessed of his native north-eastern state of Bahia. In the 1940s and 1950s, Amado spent several years in exile because the Brazilian authorities did not appreciate his political views.

According to the obituary in Los Angeles Timese, Amado was revered as the "Balzac of Brazil"

Some of his books can be borrowed on Archive.org, for example, the English translation of Dona Flor and Her Two husbands. Several translations have been published by Penguin Random House.

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Chingiz Aitmatov

Chingiz Torekulovich Aitmatov is one of the most famous figures in Kyrgyz literature. He wrote in both Kyrgyz and Russian, and many of his works have been translated into other languages including English.

His most well-known stories include The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, about which we had an ID question here, and Jamila / Jamilia, a romance set in rural Kyrgyzstan during World War Two. (The French poet Louis Aragon described Jamilia as "the most beautiful love story in the world".) His works are of varying length, some called short stories, some novellas, and some novels.

See also his Goodreads page.

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Alberto Moravia

I wish to propose the name of Alberto Moravia, pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle (born 28 Nov 1907, died 26 Sep 1990, both in Rome, Italy). His works are available online.

This Italian journalist,short-story writer, and novelist is known for his fictional portrayal of social alienation and loveless sexuality. He was a major figure in 20th-century Italian literature. His major works are:

  • Agostino (1945)
  • Two friends
  • Boredom (1960)
  • The time of indifference (1929)
  • The conformist (1947)
  • Journey to Rome (1988)
  • Roman tales (1954)

The woman of Rome is a 1947 novel by Alberto Moravia about the intersecting lives of many characters, chief among them a prostitute (whose mother is also a prostitute) and an idealistic intellectual who, after an interrogation by the Fascist forces, betrays his colleagues.

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The works of Arthur Koestler (1905 – 1983)

Arthur Koestler was a Hungarian-British author and journalist. He was born in Budapest and grew up mainly in Austria. He became a member of the Communist Party of Germany in 1931, from which he resigned in 1938 because he had become disillusioned by Stalinism. His works include the following:

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The Works of Carlo Goldoni

Carlo Goldoni (1707 – 1793) was a playwright and librettist who lived in the Republic of Venice. His libretti include one for La finta semplice, an opera Mozart composed at the age of 12, and one for Vivaldi's opera Griselda. His best-known play is possibly The Servant of Two Masters, which draws on the tradition of the commedia dell'arte.

Online versions of some of his works include the following:

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Hayy ibn Yaqdhan / Philosophus Autodidactus

Hayy ibn Yaqdhan by the 12th-century Arab Andalusian Muslim polymath Ibn Tufail is described on Wikipedia as "the first philosophical novel". It tells the story of a little boy who grows up on a desert island, who is raised by a gazelle and "discovers ultimate truth through a systematic process of reasoned inquiry".

The novel is currently not well-known in the Western world but was a best-seller in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It may have inspired Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719.

The Wikipedia article Hayy ibn Yaqdhan lists translations in English, German and Dutch; some of the English translations are available online. More recently, Jean-Baptiste Brenet published a French adaptation of the novel, Robinson de Guadix, which would also be part of the reading challenge. Other adaptations of the same novel would also be covered by this challenge.

At the time when I am posting this suggestion, we have not yet had a reading challenge involving works in Arabic and we have only 13 questions tagged . In addition, the fact that the work was once so influential makes it intriguing.

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The Works of Georg Büchner

Georg Büchner (1813 – 1837) never reached the age of 24 but counts as one of the most important figures of 19th-century German literature. While still a student, he published the pamphlet Der Hessische Landbote / The Hessian Courier, which criticised the social injustice that existed in Hessen at the time.

Due to his death at a young age, his works fit into a single volume:

  • the play Dantons Tod (Danton's Death, 1835) is set during the French revolution and makes use of many historical sources;
  • the novella fragment Lenz is based on a document about the author J. M. R. Lenz, more specifically an episode in the author's life during which he suffered an attack of paranoid schizophrenia;
  • the play Leonce and Lena is a satire on the nobility;
  • the play Woyzeck is his best-known work and was frequently adapted into various media, most famously Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck.

One of the most important literary prizes for German literature is the Georg Büchner Prize, which has been awarded since 1951.

Büchner's works, including translations, can be found online, e.g. at Project Gutenberg and at Internet Archive.

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The Koran

  • Along with the Bible, this has got to be one of the most read and most culturally significant books in the world. Reading it would give a connection with a very large group of people and an understanding of a culture which perhaps cannot be achieved in any other way.
  • Some experts on this book already exist on Stack Exchange, so this could be a great opportunity for cross-site pollination of expertise. If we can attract people for Koran questions, they may also stay for other Arabic literature or religious literature questions.
  • Of course, the text is easily available online in practically any language (including "simple English"), and so are many interpretations and discussions of it, in cases where there is difficulty in understanding or following it for those without religious context.
  • We've had only two questions about it so far, neither of them answered, so despite its ubiquity in many parts of the world, it seems not especially popular among our site's users. I think many of us could learn a lot from this topic challenge.

This definitely meets the criteria of being culturally significant and outside of our site's main bailiwick. I'd love this opportunity to learn more about it.

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  • Previously proposed on the old topic challenge thread, where it was not popular. Despite that, I'm posting it again here because I still believe it would make a good topic challenge. – Rand al'Thor Jun 27 at 13:26
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The works of Maryse Condé

Maryse Condé is a Guadeloupean/French novelist, playwright and critic. Her "novels explore racial, gender and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales" (Wikipedia). She has won awards for several of her works, which include the following:

  • Hérémakhonon (1976), her first novel, "was so controversial that it was pulled from the shelves after six months because of its criticism over the success of African socialism".
  • Segu (French: Ségou: Les murailles de terre, 1985) is set in the 19th-century Bambara or Ségou Empire of Mali and is the novel that brought her to prominence.
  • I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (French: Moi, Tituba, Sorcière…Noire de Salem, 1986) creates a character, Tituba, who was thrown into the same cell as Hester Prynne from Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.
  • Windward Height (French: La migration des coeurs, 1995) is a reworking of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
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The works of Isabelle Eberhardt

The Swiss explorer and author Isabelle Eberhardt (1877 – 1904) led a short but eventful life. The illegitimate daughter of a Russian anarchist and a member of the Russian aristocracy, she grew up in Switzerland, where she learnt French, German, Russian, Italian, Latin, Greek and classical Arabic. She began wearing male clothing at a young age, moved to Algeria in 1897, converted to Islam, married an Algerian soldier in 1901, survived an assassination attempt and died in a flash flood at the age of 27.

Posthumously, she was seen as an early advocate of feminism and decolonisation. Most of her writings were published after her death and include the following:

Isabelle Eberhardt was the subject of several biographies and non-fiction works:

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Cheese by Willem Elsschot

Everybody likes cheese, so why not read a novel about it? Cheese (in Dutch: Kaas, 1933) is a novel by the Flemish author Willem Elsschot (1882-1960) in which the main character, Frans Laarmans, a clerk, decides to become a sales agent in cheese. Without spoiling too much, I just want to say that he is out of his depth in this job.

Willem Elsschot wrote several other novels, all of which are relatively short. Cheese is "the most translated Flemish novel ever" (see Flanders Literature, where you can find a sample of the 2002 English translation).

Reviewer Chris Baker wrote,

Cheese is one of the very few comic novels that is able to escape its era and its culture. Though written almost seventy years ago, its situations are as fresh as today's office place.

It's a delectable novel ;-)

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The works of Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid is an Antiguan-American novelist and essayist who grew up in poor conditions but managed to become a published author and a professor at Harvard University. At the age of 16, she was sent to New York City to work as an au pair and she started attending evening classes at a community college. Later, she started writing for a teenage girls' magazine and eventually got employed as a staff writer by The New Yorker.

She has a unique style that has sometimes been described as magic realism, a label that she doesn't find an accurate description. Giovanna Covi described Kincaid' style as follows:

The tremendous strength of Kincaid's stories lies in their capacity to resist all canons. They move at the beat of a drum and the rhythm of jazz…

Kincaid's works include the following:

  • "Girl" (short story, The New Yorker, 1978)
  • "In the Night" (short story, The New Yorker, 1978)
  • "Wingless" (short story, The New Yorker, 1979)
  • At the Bottom of the River (short stories, 1983)
  • Annie John (novel, 1985)
  • Lucy (novel, 1990)
  • The Autobiography of My Mother (novel, 1996)
  • Mr Potter (novel, 2002)
  • See Now Then (novel, 2013)
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The Works of Thomas Middleton, "our other Shakespeare"

Thomas Middleton (1580 – 1627) was one of the most prolific Jacobean playwrights but is less well known because his work, unlike that of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, was never published in a folio edition. He wrote at least thirteen plays by himself and collaborated on numerous others. They include

The first critical edition of his works, Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works edited by Gary Tailor and John Lavagnino, was published in 2007. Gary Taylor has called Middleton "our other Shakespeare" and said in an article on Florida State University's new pages,

Middleton’s work should resonate with contemporary audiences, given his themes of money, politics and sex, and his dialogue, which is easier than Shakespeare’s on the modern ear. (...) Middleton’s plays read like they could have been written yesterday.

Those who want to read Middleton's plays online and for free can do so on Chris Cleary's website The Plays of Thomas Middleton (1580-1627).

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Literary Hoaxes

Every few years, the literary world becomes aware of a new hoax perpetrated on it. The persona of JT LeRoy and the fake memoir of James Frey are two relatively recent examples. Examples of literary hoaxes go back at least as far as the 5th century BCE, when Onomacritus inserted forgeries of his own devising into his edition of Musaeus's oracles.

Literary hoaxes sometimes retain influence even after the hoax is exposed, whether by the perpetrator or somebody else. Thomas Chatterton, for example, became a figure of great interest among the Romantics because of his tragic life and the role his faked 15th C. Rowley poems played in it. Sadly, another hugely influential hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, continues to circulate as part of the propaganda of anti-semitic, right-wing conspiracy theory groups.

The category of "literary hoax" raises interesting questions about truth in a creative context. Frey's so-called memoir, A Million Little Pieces, would still be a well-written and moving work if considered as fiction rather than memoir. Yet its being marketed as the latter, and the scandal that ensued when its fictitious nature was revealed, demonstrate that part of the value attributed to the world rested on a truth-claim that would be inoperative if it had been marketed as fiction. What does this tell us about the truth-value of a literary memoir as opposed to that of a work of fiction?

As a thought experiment, what would happen if we were to take a reader who was unaware of the scandal surrounding A Million Little Pieces and had her read the work as fiction? How would her response and evaluation change, compared to that of a similar reader (one similarly unaware of the scandal) who read it as memoir? By definition, creative writers indulge in world-building. What are the ways in which the presentation of the built world as fiction or as memoir determine how the reader responds to and evaluates the work?

The same holds true for poetry. If the Rowley poems are good poems, does that depend on their "really" being 15th C. poems? Evidently not, since the Romantics found them well worth reading anyway, and they continue to be anthologized in reputable collections.

There also seems to be a distinction in the reception of a literary hoax depending on whether it's exposed by a third party or by the hoaxer. Frey and Chatterton attracted opprobrium. But Rabindranath Tagore, as a very young man, passed off a pastiche of poems in the 15th C. – 17th C. Vaishnava Padavali tradition as the real article. After the sequence had been published and praised, he admitted that Bhanusingher Padavali was his own creation rather than a rediscovered older manuscript. He suffered no enduring blowback.

The category of literary hoax forces us to ask what the boundary is between creative writing and deception. This is an ancient question, going back all the way to Plato, who flat-out denied that there was any distinction. A topic challenge about literary hoaxes would provide Lit SE the chance to indulge in both theoretical questions about the nature of fiction, and discussions of specific instances of literary hoaxes.

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