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Read Harder: Library Edition

Jessica Pryde

Contributing Editor

Jessica Pryde is a member of that (some might call) rare breed that grew up in Washington, DC, but is happily enjoying the warmer weather of the desert Southwest. While she is still working on what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s enjoying dabbling in librarianship and writing all the things. She can be found drowning in her ever-growing TBR and exclaiming about romance in the Book Riot podcast (When in Romance), as well as on social media. Find her exclamations about books and pho on twitter (JessIsReading) and instagram (jess_is_reading).


The first book in #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson's action-packed middle-grade fantasy—now in paperback with an all-new cover! | On my thirteenth birthday, I, Alcatraz Smedry, received my inheritance: a bag of sand. I thought the sand was a joke until Evil Librarians came to steal it. It turns out they’re actually a secret cult keeping the truth from you—a hidden world filled with magical eyeglasses, talking dinosaurs, and knights with crystal swords! Now, Grandpa Smedry and I must invade the local library and get that sand back before it's used to conquer the world.

We’re not quite at the half-year mark, but it’s as good a time as ever to check in on your Read Harder progress. How’s it going? Still going strong? Still looking for recommendations? We’ve got a lot of options for you at Book Riot, but today we’re going to talk about some books that feature or focus on libraries and library workers.

For the folks who are potentially new here, the Read Harder Challenge is a 24-task challenge designed to broaden your horizons and pull you out of your comfort zone. The goal is to inspire you to read beyond what you might usually read, whether it’s a specific genre or type of book. But if, say, you wanted to try reading on a theme, there’s nothing in the rules (hah, rules) that say you can’t do that. So I’m here to offer you some potential books to pick up that would fit within the parameters of some of the tasks in Read Harder. You’ll still be on your own for a good number of them — I don’t know what year you were born, for instance — but you’ll have a nice place to start from when it comes to Read Harder. 

And if you want to know a little more about the challenge, you can always read up on the 2022 challenge and get your printable and editable PDF.

Here are some books you can check out that will help you not just Read Harder, but discover more about libraries and librarians of all kinds!

Read a Biography of an Author You Admire

Several well-known authors of yore have a history working in libraries, including Jorge Luis Borges, Lewis Carroll, Madeleine L’Engle, and Beverly Cleary. This one is open to interpretation, depending on who you might admire. But we all can share a sigh about the great words of Audre Lorde

cover of Warrior Poet

Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux

Audre Lorde was a Black poet and essayist best known for Sister Outsider and The Cancer Journals. This biography covers her youth in Harlem, her adult years of discovery in regards to her own ideals and sexuality, and the development of her writing as part of the modern American canon. 

Read a book from the Women’s Prize shortlist/longlist/winner list

The Book of Form and Emptiness cover

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki 

Having made it to the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist in 2022, The Book of Form and Emptiness follows a young man dealing with grief and strange occurrences. After his father dies, Benny starts to hear the voices of objects around them. He seeks refuge in a local public library, where the books around him tell a very different kind of story. 

Read a Book in Any Genre by a POC That’s About Joy and Not Trauma

It should be no surprise that I picked a romance novel for this one.

cover of Hearts on Hold by Charish Reid

Hearts on Hold by Charish Reid

When university professor Victoria goes to the local public library to propose a partnership with the local children’s librarian, she is not expecting to see a wildly attractive man with long hair and tattoos in the position. Especially not one who might be interested in her for things beyond a professional partnership. 

Read an Anthology Featuring Diverse Voices

This is a bit of a stretch, but I couldn’t help it. 

cover of The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe

The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monae et al

Have you watched and/or listened to Janelle Monae’s sci-fi space opera concept album and film? Whether you’ve had the experience or not, you can immerse yourself in the stories written by Monae, partnered with several authors who are known to be experts in their craft. The titular Memory Librarian isn’t specifically a librarian like the ones we think of, but can definitely count as an image of where librarianship could go in the future. 

Read a Romance Where at Least One of the Protagonists is Over 40

cover of Hottie Scotty and Mr. Porter by R. Cooper

Hottie Scotty and Mr. Porter by R. Cooper

R. Cooper writes delightful romance novellas, and does wonderful work when it comes to the opposites attract trope. Here, outgoing and body-focused Scott is a firefighter in a small town where there aren’t many people of any gender to date, let alone hot guys. The taciturn and sarcastic widower who runs the school library is definitely someone Scottie might be interested in, but it doesn’t seem that the stylish Mr. Porter is interested in someone like Scott. 

Read a Classic Written by a POC

Cover of Say Jesus And Come To Me

Say Jesus and Come to Me by Ann Allen Shockley 

Instead of a story about a librarian, this is by a librarian. Ann Allen Shockley is one of the earliest known writers of sapphic romance featuring Black characters, and was also a librarian for several years. Even after retiring from the library, she has been an activist for systemic change in the library world. In Say Jesus and Come to Me, Shockley introduces us to a charismatic preacher and the blues singer who can’t resist her — and who she can’t walk away from. 

Read a Book with An Asexual or Aromantic Main Character

His Quiet agent cover

His Quiet Agent by Ada Maria Soto

His Quiet Agent is a quiet novella featuring an analyst at a government agency and the quiet coworker who he can’t stop watching in the break room. Their quiet courtship is sweet and delightful, and you’re probably wondering how the heck it’s on this list. Let’s just say there’s a really great scene in the library, featuring some kids and a guy named Merlin. (And there’s a bonus short as well!) 

Read an Entire Poetry Collection

You’re welcome to read something by one of the aforementioned author librarians, like Borges, Carroll, or Lorde. Or you can try something a little newer. 

cover of Allegheny, Monongahela

Allegheny, Monongehela by Erinn Batykefer

This collection focuses on the lives and experiences of two sisters living in Western Pennsylvania. The collected poems focus on everything from experiencing and recovering from trauma to ruminations on Georgia O’Keefe. The author has written other works about library life and art as well. 

Read an Adventure Story by a BIPOC Author

“Adventure story” is broad enough that I think we can include a story about someone on a quest to find answers, even if there is no swashbuckling in sight.

cover of The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Nell Young used to be a highly sought-after cartographer working with her father at the New York Public Library. But now, she’s working in a dinky shop creating facsimiles. When her father turns up dead, presumably from a heart attack, she finds that he’s secreted away the one thing that tore them apart: a cheap gas station map from the 1930s. From there, she goes on a quest to discover the truth about her parents, her life, and the importance of this random map. 

If you’re looking for a more “journey” type adventure, try:

over of The Sound of Stars

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow

An alien population has invaded, colonized, and essentially enslaved the people of Earth. Ellie, who has amassed and hidden a collection of books in her apartment building’s lower levels, acts as a secret librarian to her fellow captives. When she is caught, a sympathetic alien officer helps her escape, and the pair go on a journey to save the people of Earth from an even worse future. 

Read a Book Whose Movie or TV Adaptation You’ve Seen 

The Name of the Rose book cover

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

In 14th Century Italy, a Benedictine investigator arrives at a remote abbey to look into possible heresy. The perfect time for there to be mysterious deaths, amirite? The abbey’s library holds a central and important role in the investigation, and in the lives of the monks within it. I don’t remember much about the film besides Sean Connery in a robe, but the book is even more library-y. 

Or if you’re looking for something where you can watch the adaptation, read the book, then watch the adaptation again…

The Time Traveler's Wife cover image

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Did you know there was a new adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife coming out this year? But instead of the meager couple of hours we got last time around, this one is a whole series! Theo James will play the titular time traveler, and Rose Leslie the titular wife. Henry, the time traveler, is also a librarian in most parts of the story. Clare, the wife, is an artist who meets Henry at age 6, and marries him 20 years later…when he’s a few years younger. The timeline is interesting, to say the least. But the book is incredibly captivating!

(Also if you want something else time travel and library related, there’s A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, which doesn’t feature a librarian but will make you want to look up the Selden End of the Bodleian Library…and then move there.)

Read a Book Recommended by a Friend with Different Reading Tastes

Think of me as your friend, and I’ll tell you this book may not feature a librarian, but Library As Setting is pretty prominent in this one.

cover of The Dragon's Bride by Katee Robert

The Dragon’s Bride by Katee Robert

When Briar signs a deal with a demon, she finds herself married to a dragon in another realm. The two don’t build much of a rapport until he introduces her to his library, à la Beauty and the Beast.

So really, you can also think of this as a queer retelling, because everything Katee Robert writes is inherently queer.

Read a History About a Period You Know Little About

personal librarian cover

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Technically this is fiction, but it’s based on a real person, and you’ll still learn a lot. At the center of the story is Belle da Costa Greene, who worked as J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian — and also passed as white in public circles. 

If you’d rather read a true history book, try The Library Book by Susan Orlean or Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheim

Read a Book by a Disabled Author

cover of Mrs. Mix Up by Candace Harper

Mrs. Mix Up by Candace Harper

Disability is a broad spectrum, but this librarian friends and colleagues to lovers romance was written by neurodiverse author Candace Harper, who also writes as Ceillie Simkiss. While some books that feature librarians don’t particularly include much library work, this one is partly set in the library where the main characters work, and partly set at the conference where they’re mistaken for a married couple. It’s delightful. 

So there you have it! A few books to try in order to fulfill a good number of Read Harder tasks and read about librarians. Want to read more by and/or about libraries and library workers? Check out our Library archives!