Subscribe to The Horn Book

>Because fried potatoes go with everything.

>Becky’s Book Reviews led me to the Grasping for the Wind blog and this seductive challenge: to read “5 books you think will challenge your thinking about any topic.” My first thought was to reach for a book by Ann Coulter, but then I realized that, if properly taken up, the challenge is subtler than that. After all, I don’t think reading a book by Coulter would seriously challenge my thinking, and it would be only lip service to equal time. So what will it be? What book could make me seriously consider the arguments for atheism, creationism, the death penalty? Which one could talk me out of my aversion to Westerns? What would convince me to believe in astrology? Who could make marine biology interesting? That Stephen King is not a hack? That hamantashen are better than latkes?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Andy Laties says:

    >I can’t read anything by Buckminster Fuller without wanting to scribble frantically in the margins.

  2. philotheus says:

    >TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis. Yep – the very one that was made into a John Wayne movie. It would be hard to exaggerate how generally unattracted I am to the idea of ‘westerns’ – and I’ve enjoyed this book over and over. I cannot resist pushing it to people who would otherwise see the title and flee. It is truly great and hilarious.

  3. >”Lisey’s Song” and “On Writing” should convince you Stephen King is not a hack. I think his short stories are pretty darn good as well.

    Believe it or not, I’d be too afraid to post about which books would challenge me.

    P.S. Nothing would be able to convince me of the justice of the death penalty either. (Or creationism, for that matter. My daughter just lost a friend to the ol’ evolution debate. And she’s 11.)

  4. >I suppose this only works if you care passionately about teaching, but books by Alfie Kohn on the one extreme and, I don’t know, Ron Clark on the other challenge me to work out my dissent because they both care so deeply about their students and they’re both so obviously effective.

    As for Stephen King, the middle section of his otherwise-mediocre Hearts In Atlantis is a tightly constructed being-young-and-American-in-the-sixties novella, with no oogy monsters in it, if that sort of thing turns you off instantly, which it does me. (My other works in this category are Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and a short story by Dave Barry about an internet romance: Books that made me go “Eesh, if you’re capable of doing this, there must be some reason why instead you choose to do that.”

  5. >My favorite religious works don’t challenge my atheism, exactly — I don’t think they’d be presumptuous enough to try — but they let me glimpse what it might be like to believe. Maybe even envy it a little. Marilynne Robinson and Anne Lammott (sp?) are good for that.

  6. >For a book that touches briefly on any number of topics (and actually has a really good piece on atheism, for example) try “This I Believe”. It’s a collection of some of the best essays from the NPR show of the same name with a few essays included from when the show started in the 1950s as well as about 80 from the current run. None are longer than maybe four pages long and every one is worth reading. It’s a fantastic book. I highly recommend it.

  7. >i think latkes and hamentaschen are both good. they are just different. maybe there should be some sort of eternal stuffed triangle: the knish, hamentaschen, and kreplach.

  8. >For a book that makes marine biology fun, try Lady with a Spear by Eugenie Clark. Fascinating stuff.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >Books that have challenged my thinking in the last few years tend to be in-depth critical looks at mainstream ideas I haven’t necessarily considered deeply: The Skeptical Environmentalist, for example, or The Obesity Myth. If there are things you tend to accept but, on reflection, you realize you have gotten all your information about it from the mainstream media, or that it’s just something “everybody knows,” it might be fruitful to do some reading on those subjects.

  10. rindawriter says:

    >I’ve been gobbling up every new book, boring or not, on the European invasion of the Americas I can find since I read

    Guns, Germs, and Steel: By Jared Diamond which will shake you up if you thought the Puritans and others of like ilk actually came over here and DID something super spectactularly unusual…

    I actually secretly do not hate all chick litty books either…not after reading Georgia Nicholson…

    I don’t think I’ll ever find a book to convince me about anything good about that war in Irag, though. Sorry.

  11. >I don’t know if it will challenge YOUR thinking, but when I read Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan it challenged my thinking on so many, many things: superstition, healing, faith, mediums, astrology and tarot, alien abduction, alien life, belief and skepticism, the importance of science literacy in and out of schools, and lots of other stuff (I was not at all skeptical about ANYTHING before I read it).
    It also was my first small step towards atheism, although Richard Dawkin’s Blind Watchmaker had a lot more to do with that.

  12. >Hmm, a book that challenges what I believe. Agnostics get kinda screwed here.

    (Note to self: Find something to believe in . . . Pick a religious leader and settle already)

  13. John Ottinger says:

    >Thanks for checking out my challenge. I hope you will join up and try to meet the goal. I think we will all learn a lot from moving away from patting ourselves on the back to trying to understand different views and lives.

  14. >Okay, since Jules is so brave, I’ll mention the topic that would challenge me: books that could convince me there is anything beyond the material world. (Oh, and I have read the Bible.)

  15. rindawriter says:

    >To encounter much bigger challenges than even books can give to all, I most highly recommend living in another culture for a while…

    I recently met a retired couple; he’d been in the Air Force in Thailand during the Vietnam era; we had a blast talking over our long ago and varied experiences in that beautiful, mysterious country, but he made a comment that has stuck with me ever since about his and his wife’s own short experience with living there:

    “It changes everything,” he said, “it changes everything.”

    Books can do that also but on a more limited, subtler, less invasive basis, I think.

  16. >Kelly, The Life of Pi purports to do just that, but instead it just made me want a hug from someone, anyone. Good book, but I thought he simplified the matter.

  17. >On Writing, the author read audio version, in particular, changed my opinion of Stephen King’s work.

    Stephen Pinker’s The Blank Slate; The Modern Denial of Human Nature, pushed my thinking about several topics.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >You obviously missed the hammentaschen at Clear Flour Bakery this year, Roger.

  19. >Try Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian – it’s a Western the way Flannery O’Connor is a nice Southern lady writer.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind