Scribd’s December reading challenge

Scribd’s December reading challenge, completed

In Community, Reading Challenges by Ashley McDonnell

Scribd’s December reading challenge

And here we thought 2020 was a wild ride. As another year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic comes to a close, our Feed Your Mind reading challenge prompts reflect on the highs and lows of 2021. Plus, we’ve got some prompts to prepare you for whatever awaits in 2022.

Here’s how the Feed Your Mind challenge works:

Each month, we create five prompts to follow; you can challenge yourself to complete one, all five, or any number in between. These prompts are designed to motivate you to:

  • Read more 
  • Explore new content types 
  • Help you find works that are outside of your usual go-to genres 

The challenges are a mix of timely prompts and random, fun ideas. Here are December’s prompts:

Read one of the best books of the year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: The time where we round up the best books of the year, that is. Start reading the great book that’s been on your to-read list all year (or the one that you didn’t know about until now).

Suggested reading list:
The Best Books and Audiobooks of 2021

Look back on the year’s biggest events

A global pandemic and subsequent shipping crisis, the summer Olympics, the rise of NFTs — these are just a few of the world-changing events that took place in 2021. Now that the dust is settling, it’s helpful to take a step back from the in-the-moment headlines to read about these occurrences in context.

Suggested reading list:
The Books That Explains 2021

Embrace a minimalist mindset

The holiday rush to buy buy buy is upon us. After all, retail therapy is probably faster, easier, and cheaper than talking to a therapist regularly. This season, learn more about the benefits of minimalism not just on your wallet, but on the planet and your mental and physical health as well. Breaking the vicious cycle of consumerism might not be as hard as you think. 

Suggest reading list:
Live Like a Minimalist in a Consumer’s World

Get organized

Why wait for spring cleaning to get organized? Find a book on time management and other organizational techniques to stay ahead of the holiday chaos and jumpstart your New Year’s resolutions.

Suggested reading list:
The Best Books of 2021 to Finally Get Organized

Read the book before seeing the movie

We’re living in the golden age of book-to-screen adaptations. Gear up for next year’s book-to-screen slate by reading the book(s) first. (We still think the books are usually better.)

Suggested reading list:
Book Adaptations Coming to a Screen Near You in 2022


What we fed our minds in December

Here’s what Scribd employees read for the challenge, and how much they enjoyed diversifying their (digital) bookshelves:

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Read one of the best books of the year

World Travel by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever

It’s no secret that Anthony Bourdain traveled everywhere or that he had impeccable taste in food. In other words, he was the ultimate off-the-beaten-path traveler who uncovered the tastiest local secrets and didn’t do anything touristy — exactly how I aspire to travel. So when I canceled my trip to Portugal, I decided to console myself by reading World Travel. I was slightly concerned that I’d be more resentful than happy to read a book about all the best things to do in seemingly every inch of the planet, but I didn’t have to worry. I felt like I was right there — globetrotting from place to place — with one of the coolest, iconic world travelers.

From Helsinki to Hong Kong, Mexico City to Melbourne, and every nook-and-cranny of this world, you can be relatively sure Bourdain covered it in this travel guide. Sometimes it details essentials like how much to tip, but mostly it sets the stage for the reader to be a lucky armchair traveler.

— Sarah S. (Editorial)


Start LISTENING

Alice and Eileen have been friend soulmates since college. Now, close to their 30s and living in different cities, they have reconnected through regular emails after some time apart. Through these insightful letters, the reader gets to know how these women make sense of the other’s life chapters, in which they have, at certain points, fallouts with their respective significant others.

Even less plot-centric than her previous works, Rooney’s third novel is essentially a book about relationships as a concept. As the author said in a conference in 2019 (long before starting to work on Beautiful World, Where Are You): “There is no ‘you’ without others. There is no version of yourself that isn’t constantly influenced by everybody else in your life,” an idea that seems to permeate her writing. Here it’s not only individuals who influence each other: Friendship influences not only individual worldviews but also romantic relationships and vice versa.

This is a novel with higher stakes than Conversations with Friends and Normal People. If you’re engaged, it’s actually not an easy read. Most of the book deals with characters that see the world they live in collapsing, and a few have lost their will to live. But it keeps you engaged because you need to know if they’ll reconcile with the world by mending their relationships.

— Andrea B. (Editorial)


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You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

After seeing the cover and reading the description of You’ve Reached Sam, I thought, “This feels oddly familiar and like I must read it immediately.” Eventually my brain put it together: It had all the aesthetics of a Makoto Shinkai film (Your Name is easily my favorite movie), and I was delighted to find out my anime nerd senses were correct (author Dustin Thao has said in multiple interviews that the book was inspired by Shinkai's works).

Unlike Shinkai’s movies — many of which find fantastical, inspiring ways to avoid or reverse tragic outcomes — You’ve Reached Sam uses magical realism to tackle issues of survivor’s guilt and grief directly. Julie’s boyfriend Sam died in a car accident on his way to see her, and she’s devastated by the sudden loss and the idea that it’s her fault. After getting rid of many mementos of Sam and not showing up to his funeral, Julie calls Sam’s phone to hear his voice on his voicemail message — and is surprised when he answers instead. Despite their frequent phone calls, the book always makes it clear that Sam really is dead. But their chats help them both find closure and keep their connection alive, even if there can be no new chapters in their story. Don’t be a fool like me, who listened to this while painting closet doors: Have tissues handy while you read this.

— Ashley M. (Editorial)


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The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

After a twisty-turny 2021, what better way to end the year than with a twisty-turny plot?

London-based psychotherapist Mariana rushes to Cambridge University after a distraught call from her niece, Zoe. Zoe’s best friend has been brutally murdered. The more Mariana learns about the victim, the more suspicious she grows of charismatic professor Dr. Fosca and his exclusive (and questionable) student society, The Maidens — especially when more Maidens begin to die.

Mariana is certain she knows who the killer is. I felt a sense of loyalty to Mariana; I wanted her to be right and prove everyone else wrong. But hints throughout the story chipped away at my confidence until I wasn’t sure what to believe. I loved how subtle the hints were. Author Michaelides doesn’t spoon-feed: He expects you to keep up.

This book includes satisfying detective work, but it’s far from your predictable murder mystery plot. Besides serving up one of the most surprising twists I’ve ever read, The Maidens incorporates themes of Greek tragedy to explore how trauma subconsciously informs our decisions. I’ll be diving into Michaelides’ hit debut, The Silent Patient, next to see if it measures up.

— Lanie P. (Editorial)


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CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Embrace a minimalist mindset

Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline

Throughout the pandemic, my interest in fashion, like many others, waned. (Cut to me wearing and washing the same sweatshirts and yoga pants over and over again.) But it wasn't always like this. As a teenager, I searched the plentiful racks of thrift shops, vintage stores, and consignment boutiques in NYC and altered my treasured finds myself. This was almost two decades ago. Recently, I decided to explore the most popular thrift shops around Los Angeles and found that 75% of the collections consisted of used clothes in dingy condition from big box stores like Target, H&M, and Old Navy.

What the heck happened? Enter Elizabeth L. Cline's book to fill in the blanks.

In Overdressed, Cline — a renowned journalist published in The New Yorker, Vogue Business, and The Atlantic — explores the cultural, economic, and ecological shifts that happened over the last few decades that resulted in fast fashion's current domination of the clothing landscape. Cline shows how society once had a very different attitude towards clothing; while we once prioritized longevity and good craftsmanship, now it's all about the bargain. Clothing is now — for lack of a better term — disposable and quality is seemingly irrelevant (after all, if that $3 tank top from Forever21 rips, you can just throw it out). This would shock previous generations who took care to mend clothes. As someone who often spent her pre-pandemic lunch breaks wandering around the Forever21 by my office to snag a cheap dress or pair of shoes, I’m guilty of taking part in this shift.

Overall, if your goal in 2022 is to be a conscious consumer or do your part in regards to the climate crisis, let Cline's book show you a different way to regard fashion. I know I will definitely be rethinking my habits after reading this.

Dana H. (Editorial)


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CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Get organized

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Year after year, I find myself making (and subsequently falling short of) lofty, ambitious goals for the New Year. I’m no stranger to buying an outrageously overpriced planner every December all under the pretense of tracking my progress towards said goals, which are usually something along the lines of eating healthier, exercising more, networking more, making more money, or just generally getting more done.

“More” has been a consistent theme for my goals, but it’s one that I’ve realized lately hasn’t been doing me any favors. Rather than turning to the same self-help gurus for time management advice I’ve heard but for some reason can’t heed (You must do these 10 things every day to get shit done! Only winners wake up at the crack of dawn!), I wanted to explore other approaches.

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman offered two uncomfortable truths that I needed to hear: 1) If I live until I’m 80, I have approximately four thousand weeks of life and in that time I will never do everything I want to do and 2) Rather than distracting myself with to-do lists, I need to embrace my inevitable demise and spend time doing things simply for the sake of enjoying them.

Basically, we’re all going to die and, in the end, it’s not going to matter whether I ever hit inbox zero or not. His philosophy might come off as a bit morbid, but I would encourage you to read this book if you find yourself wondering why the usual self-help tips and tricks aren’t working for you or if you struggle to be present. In any case, this audiobook was a much better use of my time than buying another overpriced planner that will undoubtedly end up collecting dust in my closet.

— Emma C. (Editorial)


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Stop Overthinking by Nick Trenton

I feel so seen. Overthinking (where one concern turns into another, turns into another, and then another, with no solution and more stress) is my modus operandi. In some ways, overthinking helps me, since it is a way to process all possible scenarios. Of course, overthinking means you spend a lot of time in your head and the actual living of life can sometimes pass you by. The first chapter of this book describes the ways overthinking and stress occur; the remaining chapters help give you tools to address it. The book is clearly written, and is short enough for even someone who is constantly fretting about time management to complete. It's the kind of book that is easy to return to, to check in with the various tools, without getting bogged down in elaborate rehashing of the basic premises.

— Megan F. (Content Operations)


Start READING


CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Read the book before seeing the movie

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

A sucker for a good thriller novel, I've read a lot of Karin Slaughter's books in the past, and this one didn't disappoint. What starts as a normal day with a lunch between a daughter and a mother turns into anything but, when a gunman enters the restaurant and kills two patrons before turning the gun on the protagonist Andrea (Andy, for short) and her mother, Laura. Laura is quick to stand up to the man, using her body as a shield to stop the deranged man from doing further harm, killing him in the action, and saving her daughter's life. Where did this side of her sweet, serene mother come from? How well do we truly know the ones we love? What follows is a series of twists and turns, with Andy on the run uncovering the truth about her mother as she goes. Oscillating between the past — where readers start to get a glimpse of what Laura was like in her youth — and the present day, Pieces of Her takes you on a wild ride. Now I just cannot wait for the TV series to air on Netflix.

Janelle G. (Marketing)


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The reading challenge was originally published on December 6, 2021; updated with Scribd staff choices.

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About the Author: Ashley McDonnell

Ashley is a Senior Editorial Associate at Scribd who loves Ernest Hemingway, “The Hunger Games,” and ice hockey. When she’s not reading or at the rink, she’s making nerdy podcasts about anime and manga.

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