The 2023 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge marks the ninth consecutive annual challenge created by the eponymous lifestyle media company, which is dedicated to “expanding the horizons” of readers with a list of 50 specific prompts. The prompts range from standard suggestions like “a book about a family” to niche proposals like “a book with a rabbit on the cover.”
This is the second installment of Daily Arts’ ongoing undertaking of the challenge, which will hopefully serve to strengthen morale and inspire other readers. Read on to find out how we have completed the prompts and what our thoughts are on the books that we’ve read so far.
Check out the first installment of this series here.
A book where the main character’s name is in the title
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab
I am close to losing count of how many times I’ve read V.E. Schwab’s “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.” After praying for more time and freedom to live her life as she chooses, Addie is given her wish, but with a twist: She becomes immortal, but everyone she meets will forget her the moment she leaves their sight. Readers follow Addie for 300 years from 18th century France to New York City in the 2010s as she lives through important historical moments and wrestles with the consequences of her Faustian bargain — until one day, she meets someone who remembers her. The book has remained a popular favorite on BookTok since its publication and is currently being adapted into a film. It’s easy to get lost in the questions the novel asks about what it means to be remembered. Unlike everyone in Addie’s world who is doomed to forget her, I return to her story time and time again because of how memorable it is. Schwab has created something magical with this one.
— Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti
“Eileen” by Ottessa Moshfegh
Whether you’re a hardcore or casual reader, odds are you’ve heard of Ottessa Moshfegh by now. Her 2018 book “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” took BookTok by storm and has only increased in popularity since. I’ve read three of Moshfegh’s works so far, including “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” and “Eileen” is undoubtedly my favorite. Eileen is a prudish, perverted woman working in a prison in the town she grew up in, a town she’s desperate (but too afraid) to leave. She lives with her alcoholic ex-cop father and spends her days locked in her bedroom pissing into a mason jar when she’s not working at the prison. One day, a new woman, Rebecca, starts working at the prison, and leaves Eileen grossly infatuated. Eileen is desperate for her approval, affection and friendship and is naively willing to do whatever it takes to win her over. When the two women take particular note of a young boy in the prison, the story reaches a point that Eileen can never turn back from. Like most of Moshfegh’s work, “Eileen” is gross, but it’s also incredibly original.
— Daily Arts Writer Lillian Pearce
“Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf
I am a reader who is easily entertained. A slightly childish yet adorable teen romance novel? Absolutely. A magical, fairy-filled YA fantasy? Yes, please. A 100-year-old British classic novel following the events leading up to an upper-class woman’s house party that explores the passage of time and the human condition a la “Mrs. Dalloway”? Sign me up. The story is a deceptively simple one, yet profound in its characters. The titular Mrs. Dalloway, a middle-aged upper-class woman, is throwing a party, and the novel follows her and a small cast of characters as they prepare for the big event, navigating personal struggles and relationships along the way. Woolf set out to write the unconventional novel and succeeded, and though it may not be so very unconventional in the 21st century with its fairly simple plot and setting, the opportunity to dive into the inner thoughts and narrations of the novel’s peculiar cast creates an immensely enjoyable reading experience. A quick but fulfilling read, it seems as though Virginia Woolf’s contributions to the literary world are truly endless.
— Senior Arts Editor Annabel Curran
A book with “Girl” in the title
“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank
Though “The Diary of a Young Girl” is regarded as a global bestseller and a “classic of war literature,” it is still Anne Frank’s diary. She recounts what she did at her birthday party, reports gossip about her friends and classmates, and writes about how much she loves her cat, but those details are interspersed with lines like, “Not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say, and I’m terrified our hiding place will be discovered and that we’ll be shot.” It’s jarring to read about the events of the Holocaust from a teenage narrator — the phrase “Anne’s diary ends here,” which marks not only the end of her writing but also the end of her life, never fails to break my heart. Yet, it is precisely these youthful anecdotes against such a harrowing backdrop that make this book deserve its status as a classic. Having this kind of account of such a prominent historical event was ahead of its time. As both an important piece of history and an intimate portrait of growing up, I can’t recommend this book enough.
—Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti
“The Other Boleyn Girl” by Philippa Gregory
My sister and I once dedicated two entire days to creating a family tree of the royal family, going back as far as Henry VIII and stretching to include today’s monarchs. We were, of course, inspired by “SIX: The Musical,” which introduced us to the fascinating, horrifying history of Henry VIII and his six wives. My decision to read “The Other Boleyn Girl” was a product of my curiosity to learn more about the women that have gone down in history for being attached to this disloyal, aggressive and, in my opinion, altogether terrible man. The book, unsurprisingly, tells the story of Henry’s life with his first two wives through the eyes of the other Boleyn girl — the one that Henry VIII didn’t marry: Mary. We watch as she rises in social status, going from a 12-year-old wife of a courtier to the 14-year-old mistress of the king to the 16-year-old mother of the king’s illegitimate child. Soon, though, her sister Anne catches the king’s eye, and, as history goes, leads King Henry VIII to divorce his first wife — only to later fall from the king’s favor and the public’s favor when Anne, just like Queen Katherine, could not provide Henry VIII with a son and heir to the throne. The book itself is interesting, enthralling at times, but its frank and nonchalant discussion of sexism and scandal was at times discomfiting. It’s true that the book is based in fact, so that may be no fault of Gregory, but it still made it difficult to get through some moments. There were also moments of repetition due to the long, drawn-out nature of the story.
Overall, “The Other Boleyn Girl” isn’t a bad read if you’re interested in learning more about Mary. Since I’ve finished it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what might have happened had the king married the other Boleyn girl and claimed her son as his legitimate heir — I think it’s safe to say that history would have unfolded very differently. Maybe Henry would have stopped at two wives, and his son with Mary might have gone on to be King Henry IX, ruler of England. I guess we’ll never know.
— Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami
“Hurricane Girl” by Marcy Dermansky
The only reason I chose “Hurricane Girl” for this prompt was because Roxane Gay gave it a five-star review on Goodreads. I was sold. “Hurricane Girl” was quite literally a hurricane of a read. Allison Brody has just left her career and old life behind and has moved into a beach home on the East Coast. After only a week of living in her new house, a hurricane destroys it, leaving her with nothing. Following this tragedy, disaster after disaster unfolds: Allison meets a man, is later harmed by said man, suffers a brain injury, escapes and has brain surgery. What’s left of the book is spent seeing the world through Allison’s unreliable eyes as she suffers from memory loss, hallucinations, headaches and worse. Dermansky’s ability to captivate the reader should be studied — I could not put this book down. I was obsessed with Alison’s story, my heart racing a million miles per minute as her story continued to escalate. For anyone looking for a short, fast-paced read that will have you sweating and spooked, “Hurricane Girl” is it.
— Daily Arts Writer Lillian Pearce
A book becoming a TV series or movie in 2023
“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid
It didn’t take long for “Exit West” to become a new favorite of mine. Author Mohsin Hamid’s writing is so lyrically elegant that I was drinking his words like water. “Exit West” follows the rise and fall of the romance between Nadia and Saeed, whose story occurs in a country on the brink of civil war. I was quickly enamored with Nadia and her unbothered — yet never quite indifferent — attitude. For instance, when Saeed asks Nadia about her choice of conservative clothing, she breezily replies, “So men don’t fuck with me.” Saeed, on the other hand, is affected by everything; he is especially in tune with his emotions, and for that reason, compliments Nadia’s colder disposition. The pair sticks together in the face of growing unrest and violence in their home country and eventually leave in search of refuge and safety. Hamid’s effortless pen consoles and exposes Nadia and Saeed’s story, which is altogether as striking as it is melancholic.
— Daily Arts Writer Lillian Pearce
“The Power” by Naomi Alderman
A thrilling and somewhat terrifying dystopian novel, “The Power” is a striking thought experiment that imagines a world in which women and girls develop a deadly superhuman ability that allows them to send out electric shocks from their bodies. When the first cases are discovered, society all but crumbles as the world struggles to figure out how to handle this new, all-powerful coalition of women. The novel follows the stories of four characters, each with their own roles to play in the revolutionary political and religious movements that follow the emergence of this mysterious power that turned the world, with its gender roles and typical power dynamics between men and women, upside down. While a world in which women are given a leg up in the political and social spheres may sound ideal, the extreme violence and atrocities that follow the discovery of this peculiar power can be hard to stomach. Although the world and narrative Alderman weaves is, at first, an interesting one, the cruelties and violations against humanity that we see swarms of women commit all throughout “The Power” were ones I could not bring myself to believe. The idea that a brief brush with power could lead women to become completely and remorselessly villainous was, to say the least, unappealing.
But, despite the bleak picture of humanity Alderman paints in “The Power,” the novel is redeemed by compelling characters who provide a small glimpse into the reasonings behind the senseless actions of those women in power. This novel was like a car wreck — violent and with disastrous consequences, but too intriguing to look away from. As the gripping yet disturbing story of “The Power” moves on-screen, I’m unsure if I’m prepared to see the events of this novel unfold before my eyes.
— Senior Arts Editor Annabel Curran
“Daisy Jones & the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid seems to be taking the literature world by storm. “Daisy Jones & The Six,” though not her first novel, is certainly one making a great impact on fans currently — in part because of the television adaptation distributed by Prime Video, which aired a few weeks ago. I haven’t seen the show (and I still haven’t decided if I will), but the book is certainly worth the hype. Reid does something amazing by making so many of the characters people that you shouldn’t root for, but who you can’t look away from either. Billy Dunne best exemplifies this notion. Right from the start, I knew I wouldn’t like him. There was nothing I could put my finger on specifically at the beginning, but soon after, when he started spiraling into a life of addiction and cheating on his wife, I felt validated. He was a bad person, end of story. But even still, I couldn’t look away. Every moment where he was on the page, I wondered if he was going to make his own life worse for himself by, once again, making the wrong decision. The titular character Daisy Jones was similarly engrossing: In so many ways, she’s a character that you just feel sorry for. It’s not even sympathy most of the time — it’s pity. She’s rarely lucid, constantly falling for the wrong people and just in desperate need of someone to understand her. And yet, even when she frustrated me, I was fascinated by her. Camilla Dunne, the third part of this love triangle (if you can even call it that), was somehow the most confusing character. At times, I questioned if she was being willfully ignorant and wondered why she didn’t take greater control of her life when she absolutely could. But by the end of the book, even if you don’t understand her, you’re impacted by her.
Reid weaves together this enthralling story due to her complex, confusing, captivating characters. The unique interview testimonial medium in which she writes only serves to further intrigue readers, as there is not one reliable narrator in the entire text. So even after you close the book, you’re left wondering, What really happened between the band that was Daisy Jones & the Six — will we ever know? And, well, isn’t it always the best books that leave you with those kinds of lingering questions?
— Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami
Daily Arts Writers Hannah Carapellotti, Lillian Pearce, Annabel Curran and Sabriya Imami can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.