A few days ago, I asked about starting up reading challenges, with a particular goal in mind. Many of our questions are about the same authors, the same stories, the same genres, the same cultures. This isn't anyone's fault - it's just the way we were raised to read. We tend to pick out books that are "literary" or widely-recognized within our own cultures and our own personal reading scopes. But in reality, this restriction is harshly limiting on cultural and literary exposure.

You can read more about the reasoning behind topic challenges at that meta post. Here's what it boils down to: as first steps toward alleviating the breadth problem of Literature.SE, we're going to start reading challenges, similar to topic challenges on other sites (e.g. Pets, Gardening, Worldbuilding, and Sustainable Living).

Our reading challenges are typically going to last one month, unless a particular suggestion specifies otherwise, which they're certainly free to do. While this is much longer than other Stack sites typically do, this should allow us to read and approach a topic at a casual pace, while not too harshly limiting the number of topics we'll get to explore.

Guidelines for Voting On a Reading 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.

Guidelines for Suggesting a Reading Challenge

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. (It's also worth bearing in mind that these challenges are less a tool of study, and more a tool of intersectional exposure.)

In practice we expect to see mostly three categories: specific books, authors, and genres. The following aren't hard and fast rules, but are worth considering.

  • When you create a book challenge, please consider doing the following:
    • Ensure that the book(s) is/are reasonably available. Books from other cultures are a priori harder to obtain in English-speaking countries, so there's a good bit of slack here. But make sure that it's still possible to obtain a copy of it at all.
    • Books are usually translated by native speakers of the target language in order to ensure that the translation is idiomatically correct, uses the correct nuances of the target language, etc. In some cases, it may be advantageous that the translator of the book is from the country of origin of that book; this can help preserve the meaning of a translated text, but isn't a requirement.
    • Describe the sort of prior knowledge you think would be helpful have before/during reading the book.
    • 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.
  • When you create an author challenge, please consider doing the following:
    • Briefly describe what about the author motivated you to suggest them here. This doesn't have to be long, but it's helpful to have some more context so that people get a better sense for why you'd suggest it here.
    • List around 2-4 of the books by the author that you think are particularly important or relevant, and maybe if it's not immediately clear, how they tie into your motivation for the author.
    • If an author doesn't have very many published books, their works may be more suited for a book challenge.
  • When you create a genre challenge, please consider doing the following:
    • Highlight a reasonable number (3-5ish) of recommended authors who have written works in that genre.
    • Highlight one or two of each author's books, as per the above advice. This might seem like a lot of work, but your answer is going to serve as a starting point for people to discover what they want to read in this genre.

Additionally, if you think your topic challenge is suited for a time period different than one month, you're welcome to indicate this in your answer. One month is sort of the assumed default; one week challenges might be an easier sell, longer than one month might make it a fairly hard sell. It's all up to you, though.

Some time after the previous topic challenge ends, someone in the community, anyone, can make the next one. The new topic challenge should be asked in its own question. If the answer offers useful information about that topic, that content should be copied over, too.

We'll also keep a running list of topic challenges here:

(answers below for used topic challenges have been deleted, you'll need 2k rep to view them)


28 Answers 28


Emily Dickinson

Yes, Emily Dickinson is a well-known poet. However, the tag only has two questions. This is both surprising--I thought she was popular as well as well-known--and something that should be rectified--her poems are definitely worthy of more attention on this site. And I've noticed that the tag tends to be dominated by male poets--this would add some diversity to that tag.

Her poems are also short, which would make it more likely that people could commit to reading them and asking questions about them.

  • 1
    -1, I don't think a well-known American poet is really in the spirit of the topic challenges.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 21:48
  • 1
    There are lots and lots of good questions one could ask about Emily Dickinson poems, since many of them are still not that well understood.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Jun 29, 2019 at 21:21
  • @PeterShor Are you interested enough in this proposal to re-propose it on the new thread? Since the original proposer has deleted their account.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 12:13
  • @Randal'Thor: I'm undecided. I'll think about it.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 19:50

Author challenge: Rabindranath Tagore

I would like to suggest Rabindranath Tagore (1861—1941), a Bengali writer who wrote poems, short stories, and novels.

This is in part a response to the suggestion of Munshi Premchand (1880—1936), a Hindi writer whose works seem quite difficult to get in English. I expect that choosing Premchand for a challenge would fail for the same reason that many of the recent challenges have: the author is too obscure and people will not be able to find his books.

Tagore is an Indian writer from roughly the same period. However, his work appears to be much more available in English: many of his poems can be found on the internet, and Stories from Tagore is available from Project Gutenberg. His novels have also been translated, although I don't know whether they are available online.

  • @PeterShort In what way are Premchand's works hard to find in English? The entry on Premchand lists 6 English translations.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 15:43
  • @ChristopheStrobbe: My local library system (which is quite good) has two books total by Premchand (one copy of one and two copies of another), while it has over a dozen books by Tagore, with several copies of many of them. I expect that this ratio is representative of libraries across the U.S., so that less extensive library systems quite possibly would not have any books by Premchand.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 15:53
  • @PeterShor We've started a new rebooted thread for topic challenge suggestions. Just FYI in case you'd like to port your existing answer over to the new thread and keep the proposal alive :-) This is a nice one for the reason you say, his works being readily available online in English, which is now being treated more seriously as a criterion for good topic challenges.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 5:15
  • This suggestion has been copied over to the new thread.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 16:04

Pavane by Keith Roberts (1968)

This is an alternate history science fiction novel, although it contains hardly any SF elements. It is set in England and the basic premise is that Elizabeth I was assassinated before she could establish her rule. The Spanish invaded and the Reformation was suppressed throughout Europe. The use of electricity has been outlawed by the Pope, and so technology is basically that of Victorian England.

This is not a steam-punk novel. Rather, it is a collection of loosely interconnected stories that only come together at the end of the book, and describes the struggles of various characters as they cope with the strange version of England that they find themselves in.

At about 200 pages, it is an easy read, and it can be picked up on Amazon Marketplace relatively cheaply. Note that one chapter, The White Boat, is not included in all editions, and it is not clear (at least on Amazon) which editions include it (my copy doesn't). There are some good reviews on Amazon.

Wikipedia: Pavane (novel)

  • Hey @Mick, we've started a new rebooted thread for topic challenge suggestions. Just FYI in case you'd like to port your existing answer over to the new thread and keep the proposal alive :-)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 5:13

Author challenge: August Wilson

With the exception of William Shakespeare (currently the most popular author on the site, followed closely by Ayn Rand), theater seems relatively underrepresented here. A random sampling of a few well-known playwrights:

  • Eugene O'Neill (0 questions)
  • Arthur Miller (2 questions)
  • Tennessee Williams (0 questions)
  • Samuel Beckett (2 questions)

August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry both have cultural significance and would contribute to site diversity. While these authors are obviously fairly well-known, I think that doing a challenge on one of them would be good for the site.

I would like to suggest August Wilson (1945 – 2005) in particular for an upcoming challenge. He received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and a number of other awards.

  • Hey @EJoshuaS, we've started a new rebooted thread for topic challenge suggestions. Since you have three answers here, would you like to port any or all of them over to the new thread? :-)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 19, 2020 at 19:15

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.

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

  • He lived quite a while ago - is any of his stuff (preferably in translation) public-domain and available to read online?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 21:22
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor The Hindi versions would be in the public domain; e.g. Godan and Nirmala are available on Archive.org. Any translation that was published after 1944 would still be copyrighted in most parts of the world.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 18:21
  • This suggestion has been copied over to the new list.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 16:02

The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed

I'm quite certain this book is unlike anything else that's been asked about on our site so far: it was written by a computer. That simple fact throws out a lot of the possible ways to approach questions here - the concept of authorial intent, in particular, becomes essentially irrelevant - while also introducing some fascinating new approaches: knowledge of other topics, such as computer science and artificial intelligence, might be as important as literature expertise for answering these questions.

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.

  • 1
    I actually think this is a solid suggestion, largely because it nullifies authorial intent questions.
    – user80
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:06
  • 2
    The question is if the complete lack of any concious decision in writing it the way it is doesn't nullify every possible approach to getting an idea of its meaning, since there is none. It doesn't just nullify authorial intent, but also authorial unintent, because there is no author at all. An utter stream of conciousness seems to lose its relevance when there is no actual conciousness. Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:49
  • The site's crusade against any form of authorial consideration in all honours, but what is there left in this to look into other than analysing the story's construction process from an entirely technical viewpoint, which I doubt would be the point of this site? It doesn't tell you anything about life, the world, its surrounding universe or anyone's position to it, other than a programmer's attitude towards literature, but maybe that's what you're looking for. Interesting suggestion, though. Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:50
  • 2
    @Cahir The question of how to analyse such a book is a very interesting one which I'd hope a topic challenge might explore. One viewpoint might analyse the purely technical construction of the text by the computer. Another viewpoint might derive meaning from the text independently of who (or in this case what) wrote it. Yet another might say that there simply is no meaning, because no author or consciousness. There are surely several different ways to analyse it, some unique to this particular text; I'd be very interested to see what people come up with and how they justify their approaches.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:56
  • As long as noone ask for what the programmer wanted to tell us with this specific algorithm. ;-) Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:58
  • 1
    For those interested in how (or whether) this book fits into common definitions of literature, I posted a question on that here. Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 5:10
  • Also, I asked a question about authorial intent asking how advocates of authorial intent respond to this. Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 5:11
  • 3
    I think people who will downvote this answer should consider its value towards expanding our own understanding of "literature" as we experience it.
    – user80
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 9:26
  • 1
    I'd also like to stress that questions about this book might not be the same type of questions as we get about other books. Even if something like "what is [passage] supposed to mean?" could best be answered by a framing challenge, there are still questions like, say, "why are there so many synonyms in the book?" or "is there any unified structure or is it just a series of vignettes?" or indeed the questions @EJoshuaS has already posted.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 15:15
  • Would technical details of the program be on-topic, or could there maybe be some cross-site stuff with Stack Overflow? Could actually be interesting for Artificial Intelligence SE, too. I wonder if it's possible to hold a cross-site challenge. Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 3:53
  • 1
    @EJoshuaS We might get some scope-stretching stuff out of this. Maybe technical details of the program are on-topic because they're part of the creation process of a piece of literature; maybe they're off-topic because they really require programming expertise rather than literature expertise.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 15:58
  • Update, there might be a... slight problem obtaining this book. I have tried twice, and neither time was successful. I'll keep trying, I guess.
    – user80
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 20:06
  • @Zyerah That review sounds like a joke or troll. The book is available online and I've read some of it.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 23:56
  • @Randal'Thor Truthfully, I just attempted to purchase it twice on Amazon, and twice this exact thing happened to me. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was sent the wrong book both times. I'm trying again a third time, just because the curiosity is worth $5 to me :)
    – user80
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 0:12

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.

  • This suggestion has been copied over to the new thread.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 16:03

Author challenge: Nick Joaquin

Nick Joaquin (1917 – 2004) was a Filipino journalist and author whose works include the following:

  • This suggestion has been copied over to the new thread.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 16:05

The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji, written in the early 11th century by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu, is almost consistently described as the oldest novel in Japanese literature. Depending on how you define "novel" it may be the world's first novel.

There are English translations of the novel by Suematsu Kenchō (1882), Arthur Waley (1921-1933) and Edward Seidensticker (first volume 1976).

The novel has also been adapted to other media, including mangas: The Tale of Genji by Waki Yamato and Genji Monogatari by Miyako Maki.

  • This suggestion has been copied to the new thread.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 16:52

Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill is a fantastic author. She writes about topics such as sexual assault and gender relationships. It's hard for me to describe her writing, but here's a review: What Men Talk About When They Talk About Mary Gaitskill.

This would be a topic challenge that would involve some difficult topics.


Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison

This is one of the most insightful pieces of literary criticism that I have ever read. It's very accessible, the ideas are not couched in academic language. The ideas of the piece are simple but powerful. It's brief (three chapters). If I had to make a list of the books that impacted me the most, this book would be in my top ten.

This book is a look at racism in various works of fiction. It looks at the minor characters -- the servants in the background, the savages who appear briefly only to be killed by the white protagonists, the slaves who never speak -- and demonstrates that these characters are in fact central to the story.


Topic challenge: Nazi Holocaust literature

This includes both fiction and nonfiction books - examples include

  • Hmmm, I thought we had more questions about these works than we actually do.
    – user111
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 20:36
  • Not really sure why this is downvoted tbh. I've looked, and we don't have that many questions about these works.
    – user111
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 0:51
  • 3
    @Hamlet I've downvoted because I think this is too broad (it covers hundreds if not thousands of different works), and possibly not well-defined enough (what counts as "holocaust literature"? Must it be written during the Holocaust? Is it enough to be set in that time, or must it be primarily about the Holocaust? Do you define the Holocaust to cover the entire Nazi-committed mass murder operation, only certain subsets of it, or other holocausts too such as the Armenian one? ...)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 19:03
  • @Randal'Thor narrowed a bit.
    – auden
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 20:43
  • Why only nonfiction? For instance, we could get some questions about Milkweed and other such books.
    – Mithical Mod
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 20:54
  • @Mithrandir Rand al'Thor thought it was too broad in its original form (I just edited; originally it was meant to be Nazi Holocaust literature though I only wrote Holocaust literature).
    – auden
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 20:55
  • I personally don't think it's too broad; Holocaust & WW2 literature would be a good topic challenge IMO.
    – Mithical Mod
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 20:56
  • 2
    @heather some people will like a topic challenge, some won't. No need to please everyone; just submit a challenge that will interest you and see what the votes say.
    – user111
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 22:25

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!


The works of Theodor Fontane

On the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Theodor Fontane (1819 - 1898) I would like to propose the works of this novelist and poet for a reading challenge. Fontane 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:


The Works of Gottfried Keller

On the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Gottfried Keller (1819 - 1890), I would like to propose the works of this Swiss novelist and poet for a reading challenge. Like Fontane, Keller is known as a representative of realism. He is best remembered as an author for novels, novellas and short stories, for example:

The Gottfried Keller Foundation in Switzerland was established in 1890. See also Review: The Fanciful Novellas of Gottfried Keller.


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:

  • This suggestion has been copied over to the new list.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 18:34

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;
  • 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.


They Thought They Were Free: the Germans, 1933-45, by Milton Mayer

I realize our topic challenges haven't been much for nonfiction, but it does still fall under "literature," and this book is a fascinating slice of history.

It offers insight into how ideology and dogma can take root in people and cause them to voluntarily injure their own political freedom - without even necessarily realizing that it's happening. It's a study of human nature in the context of caustic political environments. And it's about quite a lot more than this, too, but it's difficult to summarize.

The prerequisites for reading this really aren't much more than a general, close-to-passing familiarity with the events of World War II. The social and political climate are explored within this book. It's relatively accessible, even if a somewhat chilling read.

There's really only one accessibility downside: new copies are relatively expensive (though used copies are still $6-7 in the US).

  • There are cheap copies of this available now. The Kindle edition is only $9.99 on Amazon, or $15.96 for the paperback. $22.86 for the audiobook CD. Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 13:20

A genre challenge : the Autobiography !

Because it is so interesting to dive into someone's own story by himself.

I think the incipit of the Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau well depict why this can be an interesting challenge :

I have entered upon a performance which is without example, whose acomplishment will have no imitator. I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity of nature; and this man shall be myself. incipit of Confessions

How committed one may be to telling the truth about himself and how much he lies sometimes and hides from shame by preventing exposing him show himself too much ? Just by its title sometimes it commits the author to the truth, Confessions of Saint Augustine and Rousseau for instance, I Pierre Rivière ... The writer wants to tell us everything, he wants to give us his soul. But can we believe him or her ? And does it brings any literary value to write it's own story. It may then be interesting to dive into this theme by echoing the quote of the French writer Michel Leiris :

To expose certain obsessions of a sentimental or sexual nature, to confess publicly some of the deficiencies or cowardice that cause him the most shame, such was for the author the means-gross, no doubt, but that he gives to others in hoping to see him amend - to introduce even the shadow of a bull's horn into a literary work.

in The Autobiographer as Torero, Michel Leiris 1946

This bull's horn is the metaphor that the author chooses and cherishes to ask the question whether it is necessary for the writing to be literary valuable to confront a sanction, social, legal, "if there is nothing, in the fact of writing a work, which is an equivalent of what the bull-horn is to the bullfighter, who alone - because of the material threat it conceals - confers a human reality to his art, prevents him from to be something other than vain ballerina graces?", says he. Let's discuss about it reading autobiographies ! I clustered with the help of this document different books according to different point of views :

Do you believe suspicion of narcissism prevents autobiography from delivering a truth ?

  • Confessions, section 1 and 2 by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Confessions are animated by the constant search for a perception of Jean-Jacques by the reader more benevolent than in life.

  • Childhood by Nathalie Sarraute.

For those who are concerned that the style tempers the unveiling of oneself. Nathalie Sarraute names in Enfance the "connections" ("You made a nice little connection ... how to resist so much charm?")

Or do you believe that the Autobiography is Strategies at the service of a truth ?

May it be strategies in the service of an anthropological mission such as Aimé Césaire or Victor Hugo ?

  • Return to my Native Land, poem by Aimé Césaire.

Where the widening of the lyrical subject to the larger condition of the black man constitutes an enunciative (and political) choice that allows us to go beyond the narcissism evoked by Leiris. The stylistic bias, contrary to what the author of the subject argues, has a strong anthropological value.

  • Contemplations, poem by Victor Hugo.

For an example of one that believes that to tell about oneself is, in the same gesture, to tell about humanity. "Is this the life of a man? writes Hugo on the threshold of his Contemplations. Yes and the lives of other men too. My life is yours, your life is mine. When I speak of myself, I speak of you; Ah! fool who thinks I'm not you"

In addition to it, style can also contribute to the emergence of a truth about the world and about oneself.

  • Contemplations, poem by Victor Hugo or The Words, book by Jean-Paul Sartre

For instance a signifying structure is set here, identifiable in Hugo's Contemplations ("Formerly" / "Today") and in Sartre's Words ("Reading" / "Writing"), is therefore not necessarily an escape from confession.

Or is the Autobiography still a pure literary invention ?

Leiris's assumption implies an infusion of autobiography into the material of life. Now, it seems, autobiography is not reduced to restoring life, but it is perhaps also to create and invent it or perhaps it is the abandonment to writing that counts, not the writing ?

  • Aurelia, poem by Nerval

One may not use tell his life, but composes a story more eloquent than the story of life. Here the poet creates at the frontier between fiction and reality using his dreams when doing drugs.

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, study by Jean Starobinski

Maybe it is the writing that gives a literary value, not what is told: "The problem of language vanishes from the moment the act of 'writing is no longer seen as an instrumental means used for the purpose of revealing the truth, but as the very unveiling'. Henceforth, stylistic experimentation is no longer a brake, nor a vehicle for the advent of a truth, but a literary project in its own right.

With this three starting points, why not start to read and fight for what we believe the Autobiography is about with this original genre challenge !

  • We've started a new rebooted thread for topic challenge suggestions. Just FYI in case you'd like to port your existing answer over to the new thread and keep the proposal alive :-) I know this one's been a bit controversial in voting, but just wanted to inform you anyway.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 5:17
  • @Randal'Thor Thanks for letting me know ! Yes, it seems it didn't drove a lot of enthusiasm. But if you think it is worth it I am happy to consider reapplying it. :) Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 9:03
  • It's up to you. I personally didn't support this proposal, but if others do and it gets upvoted, it certainly could work.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 12:16

Author challenge: Max Brod (1884 - 1968)

Max Brod is best known as friend and biographer of Franz Kafka (1883 - 1924); Kafka ordered Brod to destroy many of this unpublished and unfinished works after his death. Fortunately for us, Brod did not do this. However, Brod was also an author in his own right. Like Kafka, he was a German-speaking Jewish Czech. He published mostly novels and novellas; in addition, he wrote poems and translated a number of opera libretti, especially of operas by Leoš Janáček.


Yale Open Course: Introduction to the Theory of Literature

Course taught by Paul H. Fry at Yale University in the Spring 2009.

The course web site is available here. It features videos of the lectures as well as transcripts for convenience for copying and pasting into our questions. The audio of the lectures are also available on iTunes.

I think that this would contribute to site diversity. After all, we have yet to have a listening challenge, and we have entirely too little non-fiction on the site.

And besides, literary theory on a literature site is never a bad thing :)


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.


Author Challenge: Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler is an author who crosses genre boundaries. Some of her work borders on fantasy or horror, but more than falling into the standard genre tropes, Fowler's work often touches on the numinous, the ineffable, the impossible. Whether she does that within genre our without, the result is fantastic.

I think of Fowler as a literary genre writer -- she breathes depth, nuance and insight into fields where you'd hardly expect them. And she's a master of characterizations and detail -- so often, individual paragraphs feel like complete stories in and of themselves, giving you a vivid portrait with just a few well-chosen details.

Notable books include:

  • The Jane Austen Book Club: Six friend read Jane Austen together -- each their own character, each with their own interpretation of Austen; and each finds reflections of Austen in their own tumultuous lives.
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A portrait of a dysfunctional family. Excellent, excellent characters, as usual. Hard to say more without spoiling the book (please, please, don't let anybody spoil the book, not even the back cover).
  • What I Didn't See And Other Stories: An excellent collection of Fowler's short fiction.
  • Sarah Canary: A weird variety-show take on 1873 America, where a Chinese railroad worker finds himself accompanying an apparent madwoman wherever she goes. Mystifying.

One of the things I love about Fowler is that her books are dense and rich; they'll provide so much material for questions and discussion. I think she'd be an excellent selection.

  • Hey @Standback, we've started a new rebooted thread for topic challenge suggestions. Just FYI in case you'd like to port your existing answer over to the new thread and keep the proposal alive :-)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 5:16

Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

We don't have all that many questions about nonfiction here, so it could be good for site diversity. Plus, literary theory (tag: ) is always a good thing here.


The Iron Ring, by Lloyd Alexander

Driven by his sense of "dharma," or honor, young King Tamar sets off on a perilous journey, with a significance greater than he can imagine, during which he meets talking animals, villainous and noble kings, demons, and the love of his life.

Alexander's latest epic adventure is rooted in the mythology of ancient India. A losing game of chance with a mysterious stranger seems like a dream to young King Tamar, but the iron ring on his finger is a very real token that his life may be forfeit. A journey to the stranger's distant kingdom seems his only chance to discover the truth. Many adventures and diversions crop up along the way as Tamar gains some surprising companions, including a brave and beautiful milkmaid, a cowardly eagle, and a wiley monkey king who used to be a man. The author's flexible style moves smoothly from comedy to tragedy and back again; from battle scenes to ridiculous situations, Alexander never loses the thread. Set within the action are small gems of poetry and folktales. The concept of dharma, or proper conduct, and the rigid caste system deeply affect Tamar's actions. Plot, characters, and setting all have their parts to play, but it is the tension set up among the lively characters and the cultural conventions binding them that create the structure of the story and lead inevitably to its conclusion. This wise and witty adventure can be enjoyed on many levels.

I don't think that this is such a well-known book, and I haven't seen any questions about this yet. I think we could get some good questions about it.

  • 6
    I don't really think this meets the spirit of the topic challenge. This is an American author writing a story that attempts to mirror Indian stories. Why not just propose an Indian story instead?
    – user111
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 16:13

Batman: Noёl

This graphic novel is different from (most?) other Batman comics - for one thing, because Batman is not the hero here. Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this story (written and drawn by Lee Bermejo1, who also did the artwork for Joker) offers an interesting perspective on the crusades of the Dark Knight, and how they change the lives of the ordinary people who might involuntarily get involved on Batman's wrong side.

Click for full resolution

With its touching story and stunning visuals, this book will be a valuable contribution to our collection of questions, and it's also convenient for the purposes of the challenge - it's an ~80-page-long one-shot comic, which is available for purchase in multiple venues.

Amazon | Google Books | Apple iBooks | Comixology | Barnes & Noble

The novel has earned very positive reviews both from critics and from readers (me included), mostly praising the art and the non-trivial story.

Goodreads | Batman News | How to Love Comics | IGN

1 Coloured by Barbara Ciardo and lettered by Todd Klein.

  • 1
    I'm at loss as to why this is being downvoted - seems far enough from what people generally read here, even if it's not foreign (I don't think the aim of the challenge was ever to read foreign writers), and no one seems to be reading the challenge books anyway. I thought a shorter book would be better. Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 18:43
  • 3
    I'd have to be actively persuaded that a DC Comics publication featuring their most well-known franchise property is outside our demographic's typical reading range.
    – BESW
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 23:03
  • 2
    Is the fact that no one asked any questions about them not enough? Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 8:34

The Koran

  • We don't have all that many questions about religious works, and as far as I recall most of them are about the Bible, the best-known piece of religious literature in the West.
  • We also don't have that many questions, despite the rich and illustrious history of Arabic literature - probably a longer continuous history than almost any European language - and the unique aspects of the language which make it hard to do justice to in translation.
  • It could be a great way to attract experts of a new kind (some of whom already know the SE system) to our site. Scholars of Islam might come to answer our Koran questions and then stay to answer other questions about Arabic literature or religious literature.
  • The text is easily available online in many languages.

Of course it is a 'classic', and probably one of the most-read pieces of literature in the world. But I think it still fits the spirit of the topic challenges, given the lack of interest in it or any similar literature on this site so far. I suspect most of our users have never read any of it and don't know that much about it, so this could provide a great learning opportunity for them.

  • 5
    The Qur'an is an extremely difficult read for people without the religious context to understand it. I might instead recommend Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, which may be more readable.
    – user80
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 17:34
  • @Emrakul Ah, but a popular 1983 book by a British author doesn't have the mystique, cultural history, and international interest/appeal that the Koran itself does.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 9:30
  • 1
    @Emrakul In fact, I'll go further and say that your suggestion is at best against the spirit of the topic challenge, at worst (sorry) even patronising. Do we really want to say that reading a great classic of non-western literature is too "difficult" for our users and we should encourage them to read something by a modern western author instead? I feel like if we're going to read literature from e.g. Arabic culture, we should do so directly rather than through the filter of a British or American writer.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 16:04
  • 3
    @Randal'Thor "I feel like if we're going to read literature from e.g. Arabic culture, we should do so directly rather than through the filter of a British or American writer." That is a fair point. But I can't for the life of me see how it's patronizing to suggest that reading the [however you spell it] might not be the best way to introduce people to a subject.
    – user111
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 21:01
  • 4
    @Randal'Thor I should've mentioned, but I recommend His Life Based on the Earliest Sources because I've had multiple of my Muslim friends recommend it to me as a starting point for understanding Islam. They also explicitly recommended against reading the Qur'an directly, as it would make very little sense to me, lacking religious context. I even ignored their advice and tried to read it anyway - they were right. I didn't have the tools to understand it. (It can also be dangerously misleading to read any religious text without appropriate context and prior knowledge.)
    – user80
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 3:26

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters


The Dream Hunters is a standalone novella in The Sandman universe, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated, exquisitely, by Yoshitaka Amano.

The story, while inspired by Japanese folk tales, is invented y Neil Gaiman. It tell a tale of a monk, and a fox spirit, and sacrifices made for love.

From Neil Gaiman's website:

Featuring striking painted artwork, this love story, set in ancient Japan, tells the story of a humble young monk and a magical, shape-changing fox who find themselves romantically drawn together. As their love blooms, the fox learns of a devilish plot by a group of demons to steal the monk's life. With the aid of Morpheus, the King of All Night's Dreamings, the fox must use all of her cunning and creative thinking to foil this evil scheme and save the man that she loves. This book also boasts an eight page section highlighting Yoshitaka Amano's amazing painted art.

While it's not a foreign story in the strict sense of the word, it's an interesting adaptation of the Japanese folk lore, and the artwork by Yoshitaka Amano makes it look even more authentic.

IGN | Tor.com | Biblio.com | Vertigo | Amazon | Book Depository

Note that The Dream Hunters has also been adapted to a 4-issue comics by P. Craig Russell, but I'm talking specifically about the novella.

  • 3
    Neil Gaiman seems like a pretty well known author to me.
    – user111
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 12:51
  • Sure, but we haven't had a graphic novel, or an illustrated novella yet. I thought this book would be nice because it uses narration in tandem with visual art, and draws from Japanese folk lore. Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 13:12
  • 1
    If we want to read about Japanese folklore we can always read actual Japanese folklore.
    – user111
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 13:50
  • 3
    We already have 15 the-sandman questions, nearly half of all comics questions on this site. I can't see how this would help to broaden site scope in any way, cultural or otherwise.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 17:28