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2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: A Foreword
Oh, hello! 👋🏽 New blog, who dis? After 2020 and the thick layer of dust that settled on this blog, I decided I needed a fresh start. So, I’m back, with my list of selections for the 2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge.
I will list my selection for each prompt, and, where relevant, I also included other titles that work for said prompt. So, whether you’re looking for book suggestions to fill some stray prompts or your TBR just needs some inspiration, here are 50+ ideas for your own list!
I will update this post throughout the year with ratings and links to reviews and wrap-ups where relevant. You can also easily view this list (without my ramblings) on Bookshop.org or Goodreads. Links to both can be found at the bottom of this post.
🍒 Snack Alert 🍒 This is kind of a long one, so you might want to grab something to eat before diving in!
Now, on to the list!
2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: Regular Prompts
1. A book that’s published in 2021.
Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Slated for publication in May 2021, Son of the Storm is the first installment in the author’s upcoming African fantasy series, The Nameless Republic. I fell in love with this book when I saw its cover reveal on Twitter, but as soon as I read the synopsis, I knew I needed it in my life.
Another book I’m looking forward to with a 2021 release date is Naima Coster’s What’s Mine and Yours, set to be published in March.
2. An Afrofuturist book.
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
I’m so excited about all the diverse prompts in the 2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge. Despite Afrofuturism being quite nebulous as a genre, it makes me happy to see people reading more Science-Fiction and Fantasy written by Black authors.
N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy (which starts with The Fifth Season) is another excellent option for this prompt. I would also recommend her short story collection How Long ’til Black Future Month? if you want a sample of her writing style.
3. A book that has a heart, diamond, club, or spade on the cover.
Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie
After the year formerly known as 2020 (and the number it did on my reading), I’m looking forward to slotting these in whenever I need a change in pace and don’t want something too demanding.
4. A book by an author who shares your zodiac sign.
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
When scouring my list for Gemini authors, I learned that I, apparently, have a disproportionate amount of authors with third-quarter birthdays on my TBR. Out of the 120+ books on my TBR, my choices for this prompt came down to The Poppy War, The Divine Comedy, and anything by Thomas Hardy.
Ultimately, I picked The Mayor of Casterbridge. This was partly because, for the life of me, I couldn’t decide what translation to read for The Divine Comedy, and partly because if I read The Poppy War, I’d have to commit to the whole trilogy (due to my lack of self-control) and that would have added a lot of pages to my list this year 😓!
5. A dark academia book.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret History is one of a handful of books on my reading list for this challenge that could fit under the “A book everyone seems to have read but you” prompt. Still, at least I’m finally getting to it.
I also considered Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas for this prompt, which intrigues me not only in its premise but also in its apparent polarizing nature. Nevertheless, The Secret History was already on my TBR, so I figured I had better check it off the list.
6. A book with a gem, mineral, or rock in the title.
Read my thoughts on The Nickel Boys in my February Wrap-Up.
7. A book where the main character works at your current or dream job.
Confessions by Kanae Minato
I currently work in marketing and, let’s be honest, nobody wants to read about that. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher. Now that I know how awful teenagers can be, I can’t think of a better way to indulge my past self than to read about a teacher tormenting her students. 😈
I also considered Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco for this prompt; the main characters, Belbo, Diotallevi, and Casaubon, work at a publishing house.
8. A book that has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Here’s another title that could fit under the “A book everyone seems to have read but you” prompt. There were several excellent options for this one, but I was most fascinated by The Song of Achilles and Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet (which I chose for Prompt #38, so it’s a win/win).
The list of previous winners of the Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously known as The Orange Prize for Fiction) can be found on their website.
9. A book with a family tree.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
If you’re revisiting this post after its initial publication, you might recall my selection for this prompt was originally Peter Ackroyd’s Tudors. Well, after buying Foundation (which I will still be reading for Prompt #48), I was shocked to discover the books don’t actually contain family trees! So I had to change my selection for this prompt and remove the next book, RFebellion, from my list for this year’s challenge.
On the bright side, reading this now means I can watch the BBC miniseries featuring one of my many girl crushes, Claire Foy.
10. A bestseller from the 1990s.
Blindness by José Saramago
Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s dystopia tells the story of a city hit by an epidemic of “white blindness.” Among the scores of afflicted persons is one woman who witnesses the depravity that begins to take hold of the city.
Honestly, the epidemic situation might be a little #toosoon, but it could be worse; I could be reading Albert Camus’ The Plague… What’s that? I will be reading The Plague? Well, then I don’t know what to tell you. I guess I just like the pain.
11. A book about forgetting.
The Binding by Bridget Collins
In this fantasy historical-fiction (which could also work for Prompt #21, hint-hint), people of all sorts visit bookbinders to tell stories they want to forget. Once these stories are set to page and bound in a book, their memories no longer have the power to haunt them.
I struggled to find a book that interested me for this prompt, but I eventually decided on this one. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high, but this sounds like it could be a lovely story.
12. A book you have seen on someone’s bookshelf.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Alright, I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to read A Little Life. I need to add the disclaimer that I really don’t vibe with book community-induced FOMO when it comes to reading (or choosing to abstain from reading) popular books, but since I needed some standalone books, I figured, though long, this would be a good one to finally check off the list.
A Little Life was spotted by the Bookshelf Detective on Andy Cohen’s bookshelf. Here’s a list of other books on other celebrity shelves ranging from Yo-Yo Ma to Charlamagne Tha God.
13. A locked-room mystery.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
This is the second of three Agatha Christie novels on my list for this year and the only one that isn’t part of the Hercule Poirot series. In this standalone entry, a group of people is invited to a deadly getaway weekend on the island of a mysterious millionaire.
Ignoring the sordid history of this book’s title, I’m quite excited about this one. A more modern choice (and one with less questionable history) would be Karen M. McManus’s detention whodunnit, One of Us is Lying.
14. A book set in a restaurant.
Read my thoughts on Kitchen Confidential in my March Wrap-Up.
15. A book with a black-and-white cover.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
If you were following this blog last year, you might recognize this book (and a few others) from my now-retired post listing what I planned to read for the 2020 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
In a way, though, I’m glad. Since I’ve read Simon Montefiore’s Romanovs: 1613 to 1918, I now have added context about the authors of the time (both Dostoevsky and Tolstoy). I also understand more about the socio-political landscape that will undoubtedly play a role in the authors’ novels.
16. A book by an Indigenous author.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Another great diverse prompt for this year’s challenge. I have, admittedly, not read enough books of any kind by Indigenous authors. So I’m glad POPSUGAR 2021 is getting me out of my comfort zone a bit more.
Steven Graham Jones has been dubbed “the Jordan Peele of horror literature.” This book is said to blend classic horror with social commentary. So, um, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna dig this one.
17. A book that has the same title as a song.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is yet another title I could have used for the “A book everyone seems to have read but you” prompt. I feel like I have been hearing about this book for years but have never picked it up for whatever reason.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2010 novel has the same name as a Florence + the Machine song. And, if you want even more lore about the song, it apparently underscored a long-awaited kiss in an episode of The Vampire Diaries. 🌈the more you know🌈
18. A book about a subject you are passionate about.
19. A book that discusses body positivity.
Read my thoughts on The Body is Not an Apology in my February Wrap-Up.
20. A book found on a Black Lives Matter reading list.
21. A genre hybrid.
Read my thoughts on The Devil and the Dark Water in my March Wrap-Up.
22. A book set mostly or entirely outdoors.
Read my thoughts on Black Leopard, Red Wolf in my February Wrap-Up.
23. A book with something broken on the cover.
Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly
Surprisingly, I didn’t have any books on my existing TBR to use for this prompt, so I was on the hunt for something interesting to slot in. Enter: Jennifer Donnelly’s retelling of the classic fairytale, Snow White.
Without going into the semi-spoilery details I discovered when researching this book, Jennifer Donnelly describes Poisoned as much darker and less pretty than even the Brothers Grimm version. Jennifer, consider my interest piqued.
24. A book by a Muslim-American author.
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
So, uh, I really don’t know why POPSUGAR decided to require the author in this prompt to be American. I think it would have pushed for a bit more diversity if we included Muslims of all nationalities.
Nevertheless, I chose the first entry in New Jersey-born Shannon Chakraborty’s Davebad Trilogy. Its sequel, The City of Copper, works for Prompt #8 of this challenge.
25. A book that was published anonymously.
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
I’m pretty proud of myself because Frankenstein is the only re-read on my list for POPSUGAR 2021. Reading (close to) fifty new books (i.e. no cozy re-reads of old favorites) is as big a part of this challenge for me as anything else.
I read this for the first time last year and had my (probably not unpopular) preconceived notion of this book being “scary” proven wrong. It was much more philosophical and, honestly, sad than I was expecting. Am I selling you on this? It’s good, I swear!
26. A book with an oxymoron in the title.
The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
Masha Gessen’s The Future is History takes us from the past into the present (wait, what?), following the lives of four people born at different points in time that promised to be the dawn of a new, improved Russia.
As a totally non-book-related aside: does the cover remind anyone else of the video game Papers, Please? No? Just me? Alright, cool.
27. A book about do-overs or fresh starts.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West is Mohsin Hamid’s novel about a young couple fleeing a country on the brink of civil war. Nadia and Saeed embark on a journey to find doors they have only heard of in rumors. These doors have the power to whisk travelers away to lands and lives far from those they currently call home.
And, just because I gushed about it earlier, I’ll add that The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle would also work for this prompt. And, if you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend it.
28. A magical realism book.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
What better choice for the magical realism prompt than a book by the father of magical realism himself, Gabriel “Gabito” García Márquez. Márquez’s masterpiece focuses on the Colombian settlement of Macondo throughout seven generations of the central family, the Buendías.
This book, and Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits (which is also on my reading list for this challenge) can both be used for either this prompt or Prompt #33.
29. A book set in multiple countries.
The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
So, the time has finally come for me to read the cultural touchstones known as The Vampire Chronicles. I know there are like fifteen books in the series at this point, but I managed to fit each of the first three into this challenge, and that’s all I’m willing to commit to at this point. I’m told the proverbial shark is only jumped around or shortly after Book 3, so I’m hoping to endure my Anne Rice Readathon with minimal injury to my psyche.
For this prompt, I also considered Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, wherein the main characters travel from Milan, Italy to Paris, France.
30. A book set somewhere you’d like to visit in 2021.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
Oh, cool, another cultural phenomenon to which I am several years late. Okay, maybe only two years, but still. I feel like everyone was talking about this when it came out in 2018.
I don’t plan on doing much traveling in 2021 for what I hope are obvious reasons, but Ireland has always been on my bucket list. It’s obviously a more realistic destination than, say, Middle Earth and definitely a more attractive destination than, say, Russia. So, Say Nothing it is!
31. A book by a blogger, vlogger, YouTube video creator, or other online personality.
32. A book whose title starts with “Q,” “X,” or “Z.”
The Queen of the Damned by Ann Rice
Not gonna lie; I struggled a bit with this prompt at first. Initially, I wasn’t going to read more than Interview with a Vampire, so I was hesitant to add another Vampire Chronicles book on the list for POPSUGAR 2021. Not to mention this is the third book in the series, which would force me to read the second one, The Vampire Lestat, as well.
In the end, this was the best, minimal-commitment option I could find, besides David Baldacci’s Zero Hour, but, as much as I love a good detective story, I’m trying to cut back on my copaganda consumption. So, yeah, I’m gonna go with the vampire one.
33. A book featuring three generations.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
This is another title you might recognize from my reading list last year that I didn’t get around to reading. Isabel Allende’s novel follows the Trueba family, starting with patriarch Esteban and ending with his eventual granddaughter Alba.
Between this book and One Hundred Years of Solitude up at Prompt #28, I’m really excited that POPSUGAR 2021 is giving me an excuse to read two of the most enduring works of magical realism in the literary canon.
34. A book about a social justice issue.
Read my thoughts on Hood Feminism in my March Wrap-Up.
35. A book in a different format than what you normally read.
The Iliad by Homer
One of my goals this year (and in general) is to read more poetry. Since I never had the opportunity to read The Iliad or The Odyssey in high school, and Greek Mythology nerd that I am, I figured what better place to foster an appreciation for poetry than with what is considered one of the greatest works of epic poetry in human history.
I’ll be reading the Robert Fitzgerald translation since I have an audiobook for this (and The Odyssey), which will probably be a great help for both books.
36. A book that has fewer than 1,000 reviews on Goodreads.
The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey
This is another pick from my now-defunct POPSUGAR 2020 challenge list. It would have been picked for A book with an upside-down image on the cover. I was surprised to find out, when identifying options for this prompt, that this book only has 300 or so ratings on Goodreads. An adult science-fiction dystopia written by a San Francisco-based author? Sign me up!
Now I just have to hope the book stays under 1,000 ratings by the time I get around to reading it for the challenge.
37. A book you think your best friend would like.
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Okay, I have a few confessions to make:
- “Best friend” in this prompt refers to my mother, who loves mysteries.
- I chose this because I know she wants to watch the movie that’s supposed to be coming out in September.
- I just needed a few extra easy reads to place on my POPSUGAR 2021 list because we all need a cushion here and there.
Don’t judge me. Just keep scrolling.
38. A book about art or an artist.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction (hint-hint, Prompt #8), Maggie O’Farrell’s novel is inspired by the death of William Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet. It is not known, but it is speculated, that certain aspects of the boy’s tragically short life provided inspiration for my personal favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet.
Shakespeare, a playwright, is the artist in question here, in case that needed clarifying. I also considered The Silent Patient for this; the main character, Alicia, is a painter. I ended up picking that book for Prompt #50.
39. A book everyone seems to have read but you.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Between this book and The Hobbit, I will have read half of the Lord of the Rings books (not counting the Silmarillion, which is a long-term goal of mine), and will therefore have no excuse not to finish the series. I already have all four books on audio, so it’s really only a matter of time.
There are probably a lot of books on my list for the challenge that I could have picked for this prompt, but I like to think of book selection for the challenge as a kind of strategy game, and Fellowship made the most sense to slot in here.
40. Your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Yes! I love it when POPSUGAR gives us freebies like this one. I’ll admit, I did pick a pretty easy prompt to fulfill for this one, but only so I could have a complete trilogy fit in this year’s challenge. The prompt I chose was A book that was made into a movie from the 2015 challenge.
2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: Advanced Prompts
Or, as I like to call it, the Bingo Free Space section of the 2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge.
41. The longest book (by pages) on your TBR list.
Read my thoughts on War and Peace in my February Wrap-Up.
42. The shortest book (by pages) on your TBR list.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Another book from my now-defunct 2020 reading list, The Fall is the first of three novels in Camus’ self-described “cycles.” This installment is based on the myth of Sisyphus.
I also own The Plague, which is slotted in at Prompt #46, and The Fall, which is at Prompt #48, and I’m hoping to read all three in succession. The fourth novel in Camus’ cycles is The First Man, published posthumously.
43. The book on your TBR list with the prettiest cover.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
So, full disclosure, this book was not on my list for the challenge from the beginning. But, after seeing it all over bookstagram for the first three months of 2021, I caved and swapped it in. Don’t worry, The book that was sacrificed was only Tolkien; I think he can handle it.
Shout out to Kirsty (@kirstyreads_ on Instagram) for writing the review that tipped the scales and convinced me to put this one on the list. I truly cannot wait.
44. The book on your TBR list with the ugliest cover.
Metamorphoses by Ovid
Y’all. This cover really gives me the heebie jeebies. I don’t know what it is about the stone fingers turning into leaves that just makes me cringe. I can’t look at it for too long or else I get itchy. (Un)fortunately for me, I own this copy and have an audiobook of this translation, so I guess I’ll finally be reading it.
To be honest, I almost chose Milton’s Paradise Lost for this prompt. I just couldn’t find any edition with a cover I’d actually call ugly. So this is what I chose. My apologies to the Penguin Classics publishing group, who chose this cover, and Gianlorenzo Bernini, who designed the sculpture.
45. The book that’s been on your TBR list for the longest amount of time.
The Odyssey by Homer
No exaggeration, this has probably been on my TBR since at least middle school. Ever since I read the Percy Jackson series and found out Greek Mythology was a thing that existed, I knew I wanted to read this.
As I mentioned when discussing The Iliad (up on Prompt #35, my high school lit career had other plans. Here’s hoping that 2021 will finally be the year! Also, you probably figured, but I’ll be reading the Robert Fitzgerald translation of this one, too.
46. A book from your TBR list you meant to read last year but didn’t.
The Plague by Albert Camus
Alright, between this and Blindness, I might be overdoing it on contagion-related literature after… you know… the global panini we have found ourselves in since March 2020. However, humans are nothing if not self-destructive, and I’ve been waiting for my first date with Camus for quite some time, personal pan pizza be damned!
This is the second of four books in Camus’s cycles. This installment is based on the myth of Prometheus.
47. A book from your TBR list you associate with a favorite person, place, or thing.
Read my thoughts on The Hobbit in my January Wrap-Up.
48. A book from your TBR list chosen at random.
The Fall by Albert Camus
And now, the last of the Camus books on my list for this year. It is also a book that was a pick for my 2020 challenge list, A book with the same name as a movie or TV show but is unrelated to it. The show in question being the BBC Two series starring Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson, which, if you haven’t seen, go, now. This post will be here when you get back.
In all my research on the myths that Camus’s novels are based on, I can’t seem to determine from which myth The Fall gets its roots. If you know, please pass on the information!
49. A DNF book from your TBR list.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
So, this will be an interesting one. I nearly DNF’d Sharp Objects back in 2019. While I had no problem with the subject matter, I felt the writing was, as international treasure Mary Berry might say, inelegant. And like it was trying hard to be edgy.
I do, however, think Gone Girl is a masterful film, and I thought the screenplay was just fine. So I’m eager to learn whether my issue is with Gillian as a writer, or if Sharp Objects was just… not for me.
50. A free book from your TBR list.
2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: An Afterword
Thanks for checking out my list for the 2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge! Check out the list of prompts for yourself on the POPSUGAR website. I’d love to know what you’re planning to read in 2021. Are you attempting any reading challenges, or are you tackling your TBR? 📢 Sound off in the comments below!
As always, thanks for reading!