Scribd’s September reading challenge

Scribd’s September reading challenge, completed

In Community, Reading Challenges by Ashley McDonnell

Scribd’s September reading challenge

September is a strange, liminal month: Summer turns to fall, and everything gets more serious. At the same time, everyone’s gearing up for end-of-year holiday cheer (could be a bit early, even if we’re excited about Halloween). As our team members have endured everything from the wildfires in California to historic flooding caused by Hurricane Ida on the East Coast (to say nothing of the ongoing global pandemic), we’ve found ourselves looking for explanations and solutions. Many of this September reading challenge prompts encourage tackling today’s biggest problems head-on.

If you’re up for the challenge, here’s how Feed Your Mind 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 September’s prompts:

Read diversely: Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

From September 15 to October 15, the U.S. celebrates its Hispanic communities and cultures. Why September 15 and not September 1? The 15th is when Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua celebrate their independence over Spain. Reading books by Hispanic authors is one of the best ways to join in the festivities.

Suggested reading lists:

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Moving YA Reads for Hispanic Heritage Month

Rethink work

The coronavirus pandemic has revolutionized how we work. But this is only the beginning of the rapid changes. Prepare for the innovations to come by reading about the future of work and learning new business skills.

Suggested reading lists:

Reimagining Work and Compensation

Polish Your Time-Management Skills in an Hour or Less

Look back at the 20 years since September 11, 2001

This year marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the end of the US occupation of Afghanistan. Much has changed in the decades since the attacks made The War on Terror top of mind for many Americans. Get a clearer view of how the plane hijackings immediately altered the trajectory of the 21st century.

Suggested reading lists:

Remembering 9/11 Through Fact and Fiction

Essential Reads to Understand the Afghan Crisis

The Best Books Set in NYC

Understand the current climate crisis

We’ve been pushing climate change books a lot throughout the year’s challenge because it remains frighteningly relevant. Wildfires threaten Lake Tahoe and a hurricane caused historic flooding all the way up in New York after initially making landfall in Louisiana. Learn how we can still prevent the true climate apocalypse.

Suggested reading lists:

The Best Books About Climate Change

Considering Climate Change in Fact and Fiction

Read a banned book

Banning books might seem like an antiquated practice, but plenty of parents and patrons try to get certain titles removed from school curriculum and libraries every year. While we support censorship when it comes to, say, slowing the spread of false vaccine information, we’re not big on banning books because they feature LGBTQ+ characters. This year, Banned Books Week is September 26 - October 2, so be sure to pick up a controversial title in celebration.

Suggested reading list:

Banned Books Week: Celebrating Marginalized Voices

What we fed our minds in September

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


Scribd’s September reading challenge, completed

“Productivity” Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me) from the Tim Ferriss Show

At first, when our working world changed in response to COVID-19, it wasn't a terrible shock to my system because I've worked from home for several years. But I’m finding that the mental health challenges of a seemingly never-ending pandemic are taking a toll on my ability to get things done. While productivity is certainly less important than overall well-being, checking items off the to-do list does gives me a confidence boost, and I'd like to do it more often. Fortunately, there are many new ideas on how to work smarter instead of harder and protect our well-being in the process. For this month's challenge, I encountered two of these interesting ideas.

Tim Ferriss is well-known for his book The 4-Hour Workweek, but in this episode of his podcast, he talks about how even productivity specialists aren’t perfect at getting things done. He shares eight steps he uses to focus his days on the highest priorities. My biggest takeaway here was the reinforcement of an idea I've heard before: Realistically, you can only have a couple of true priorities on any given day. Ferris suggests dedicating one single 2-3 hour block of time to just one real priority. “If everything’s important, nothing’s important.” Prioritizing in this way allows Ferriss to accomplish his biggest goals.

Meghan F. (Content Operations)


Scribd’s September reading challenge, completed

“Kill the 5-Day Workweek” by Joe Pinsker [The Atlantic]

In “Kill The 5-Day Workweek,” by Joe Pinsker from The Atlantic, I got a glimpse of how allocating fewer hours in the week to work may also help us more adequately prioritize. It seems counter-intuitive that less working hours means more productivity, but case study after case study seems to show just that. Pinsker details the success of various companies in moving to a four-day work week and shares that workers in the four-day model “often focus more ruthlessly on their most important tasks.” Focusing on fewer things for less time seems to lead to better outcomes — professionally and personally — than trying to do more things in more time.

Meghan F. (Content Operations)


Scribd’s September reading challenge, completed

Energy Management by Dana Malstaff

As we approach the last trimester of 2021 and my TBR pile grows taller by the day (thanks Sally Rooney), I have to be more strategic with my choices. When I saw this book from Scribd Coach, I was immediately won over by the title. Maybe it’s the yoga addict in me, but it already sounds so much healthier to manage your energy than to manage your time. What’s the difference? A change of perspective. The subtle change of gears in wondering “when am I at my most inspired to do a given task?” instead of “when should it get done?”

According to Boss Mom CEO Malstaff, the first step to conquering your energy waves is to get to know yourself well, accept who you are, and work around that. Malstaff’s audio course turns these abstract statements into very practical advice. How do you feel after a morning of meetings? Some people feel pumped up, some people feel exhausted. Plan your day around that knowledge. Her wisdom is especially useful for content creators. There are lots of tips in her course on how to go about your more operational tasks and how to protect the creative juices for writing and design.

I believe it to be a very powerful tool to center your schedule and expectations around your state of mind and how it plays out with external factors. Maybe if I become a better manager of my own energy, I’ll get through that pile of books before New Year’s Eve. We’ll see.

Andrea B. (Editorial)


Scribd’s September reading challenge, completed

A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind

A world where we don’t have to work anymore sounds lovely — assuming robots provide us with all the sustenance we need and we find fulfilling things to do in our abundant leisure time. This view goes against the grain in our capitalist society where social media has taken over the world and we now all have “personal brands.” It’s certainly not the view science fiction stories portray when they discuss the rise of AI and robots becoming our overlords.

But it is the view Susskind tries to hold onto throughout this book about the inevitability of machines completing most of our tasks far more accurately and efficiently than we do. And as I said, I want to buy his vision, even if, as a creative person, I loathe our current enslavement to feeding algorithms and other encroachments of tech. Susskind’s succinct walkthrough of how technological upheaval has worked in the past, the history of artificial intelligence, and survey of the current landscape does have me resting easier, though. In the past, fears about machines taking all our jobs were unfounded — they took over some tasks but freed us to do others — but Susskind makes compelling arguments for why those predictions of job loss will be true in the near future. Our lives will be totally different, but different doesn’t have to mean bad. I’ll try to prepare for and embrace the future where the robots do all the toiling. (Now, if only I could get over the cybersecurity implications… Guess I know what I’m reading about next.)

Ashley M. (Editorial)


CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Understand the current climate crisis


We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer

In 1991, I gave up eating beef after learning we were destroying the rainforest to graze cattle. At that time, we knew about climate change, but it seemed so far off that most people weren’t concerned that we were rolling back fuel economy standards, increasingly opting to drive SUVs, and consuming tons of plastic (while feeling virtuous for recycling, as if that would be enough). Most people assumed I gave up meat to be healthier and looked at me quizzically when I said it was actually about the health of the planet. 

Fast forward to the present, and nobody questions my logic anymore, which is why reading Foer’s book, We Are the Weather, made me feel validated. His main argument is that if we give up meat for breakfast and lunch, we could make a major dent in some of the most important emissions. He points out that while the focus has been on industrial emissions, there is a lot to be gained from reducing farming emissions.

It was a dense but really interesting read as Foer tries to uncover why we aren’t acting with more urgency. To him, the climate crisis should be treated with the same urgency as the world wars: as times when we came together and were willing to sacrifice some comforts for the common good. Also, our ultimate reaction to these hard times sparked game-changing innovation and cultural reform. I was left hopeful that there’s still an opportunity for us to pull together and make sacrifices as individuals to collectively help future generations. At this point, we owe it not to generations in the far-off future, but to our own children. This is becoming uncomfortably tangible — it’s now very much our immediate problem. Not eating meat before dinner is just the beginning, but as Foer argues, it’s a good place to start.

Sarah S. (Editorial)



CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Read a banned book


In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Growing up, I loved Angela Carter’s dark, kinda gory, feminist interpretations of folktales, so it’s no wonder I fell for Machado’s 2017 short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. And then recently, when I heard about calls to ban Machado’s 2019 memoir, In the Dream House, I immediately started reading it. (I have to say, I get a kick out of knowing that demands to ban a book often encourage more readers to pick it up!)

In her memoir, Machado courageously speaks up about a taboo topic: she shares her story of surviving an abusive relationship with another woman to combat the harmful silence surrounding queer domestic abuse. That’s why an effort this year to ban the book feels extra awful. In her New York Times op-ed addressing the ban, Machado writes:

When I was in my early 20s, I was in an abusive relationship with another woman. Soon after it ended, I did what I always did when I was heartbroken: I looked for art that spoke to my experience. I was surprised to find shockingly few memoirs of domestic violence or verbal, psychological and emotional abuse in queer relationships. So I wrote into that silence: a memoir, In the Dream House, which describes that relationship and my struggle to leave it.

This book is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, genre-bending testimonial with a powerful message that deserves to be heard, especially for anyone who has experienced an abusive queer relationship: You are not alone.

Katie W. (Editorial)



Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

While this collection of interviews gives slices of what a transgender or gender-neutral teen’s experience might be (and all six of the interviews present a variety of views), it seems to be written for cis people to get an idea of what the transgender/gender-neutral experience is like. It was interesting to hear from the various teens, especially in how their friends and families reacted, but each interview definitely presents an idiosyncratic view, and isn’t necessarily a guide to help teens navigate transitioning. That said, this cis person found some of the stories surprising — for example, that a transgender male would date a person who used the wrong pronouns — and it kept my interest, even as my heart hurt for some of the interview subjects. 

Megan F. (Publishing Operations)


Scribd’s September reading challenge, completed

A Day In the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo, Jill Twiss and EG Keller

How did a children’s tale about a fluffy bunny catapult to the top 10 of the most challenged books in 2018 and 2019? The key element is fabulously subversive wit.

Featuring a fictionalized and anthropomorphized version of vice president Mike Pence’s pet rabbit, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo is a loose parody of Marlon Bundo’s Day in the life of the Vice President. However, rather than following “Grampa” Mike, this version of the BotUS (Bunny of the United States) meets Wesley, a male rabbit with whom he falls deeply in love.

After spending time hopping together, they decide to wed, which raises the ire of The Stink Bug, who believes that “Boy Bunnies Don’t Marry Boy Bunnies.” What follows is a parable about accepting that everyone is different and everyone can enact change with the power of voting.

While it’s a tale to inspire children, its subject matter, its depiction of the then sitting Vice President as a stink bug, and the fact that proceeds of its sale were donated to The Trevor Project and AIDS United, raised ire in several circles.

Bob F. (Marketing)


The reading challenge was originally published on September 10, 2021; updated with Scribd staff choices.


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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