The 52 Book Club’s 2021 Reading Challenge Guide

We are so excited to take a closer look at our 2021 Reading Challenge! In this post, we’re going to examine each of the fifty-two prompts on the 2021 challenge. If you’re stuck on a prompt or have a specific question about it, this is the place to check first!

Before reading the 2021 guide:

  1. We recommend that you first check out our original 2021 challenge page. You can find a downloadable copy of the list there too!
  1. Don’t forget to stop by our rules and list of FAQs to get better acquainted with how this challenge works!
  1. Keep in mind that we always encourage participants to get creative with the prompts. You never have to take them exactly at face value. Think outside the box and have fun with it!

We’ll be adding to this list throughout the year as we see new and creative ideas pop up — so feel free to check back or add your own ideas in the comments.

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1. Set in a school

Any type of school works for this one: Preschool. College. Highschool. Veterinary school. Flight school. It’s all good! You could pick a favourite childhood story like Kit Pearson’s The Daring Game (children’s novels count towards the challenge too!) or a heavier, non-fiction read like Dave Cullen’s Columbine.

You can check out this helpful Goodreads list for books set in High School, Or check out this Book Riot list for books set in a boarding school.

2. Featuring the legal profession

This one automatically brings books like John Grisham’s legal thrillers to mind or Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer.

For non-fiction, there are also a ton of great memoirs and autobiographies out there by lawyers or judges, such as Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. (You could also check out this 52 Book Club review about Canadian Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin’s memoir, Truth Be Told.)

For more helpful suggestions, see this Goodreads list of legal thrillers or this Book Riot list about the law and social justice.

3. A dual timeline

A dual timeline is a book that takes place in (yep, you guessed it!) two separate time periods. This is a style often found in historical fiction or contemporary reads. (Examples include books by authors like Kate Morton, Kate Quinn, or Jaime Jo Wright.)

For more ideas, check out this Goodreads list of dual timeline novels. Or take a look at this 52 Book Club Review featuring a dual timeline: Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes.

4. An author that is deceased

This category is fairly straightforward — read a book by an author who is deceased. This could be any genre and could be a book that was published either before their death or posthumously.

This could be a great opportunity to pick up one of those classics you’ve been meaning to read. (Check out this list of classics from Goodreads.) Or perhaps, an author who died this past year, like Mary Higgins Clark or Clive Cussler.

5. Published by Penguin

This category is open to any book published by Penguin. Penguin Books is a British publishing house co-founded in 1935 and is now an imprint of the worldwide Penguin Random House.

To get started on book ideas, you can check out their bestselling books here or scroll through this list of 100 Essential Penguin Classics.

6. A character with the same name as a male family member

This book will have a character that shares the same name as a son, husband, half-brother, step-nephew, father, grandfather, your great-great-great-uncle… etc. It could be any male relative — and they don’t have to be alive to qualify, so dig through your family tree if you need to!

Remember that family isn’t always just blood! It could also be someone who’s held a father-like role in your life or a friend you consider to be a brother. A Facebook group member also suggested the name of a male pet — they’re family too!

Any one of their names works for this category. It could be a first name, middle name, last name, or even a nickname.

If the name is quite unique, try looking up a translation of the name in a different language, or a variation of the name. (Example: The name John could also be Jonathan, Jean, Johannes, Ian, etc.) You could also try to look up the meaning of the name and finding another name with the same meaning.

The character themselves could be the main protagonist or a minor character. While they may share a name with a male relative, the book character could be any gender. Don’t forget about non-fiction options too. Is there a famous person in history sharing the same name? What about a memoir or an autobiography?

Still stumped? Don’t forget to join our Facebook Group and ask for suggestions!

7. An author with only 1 published book

For this category, we’re picking any author who has only one published book to their name. Some of the books that immediately come to mind are Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind or Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Creatively, you could also pick an author with other published work but only one novel, like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or J.D Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye, (Here’s a Goodreads list of books by authors with only one published novel.)

You could also pick an author whose debut novel was recently released. Here is a BookBub list of 21 debut novels from 2020.

8. A book in the 900s of the Dewey Decimal System

The Dewey Decimal System is a library classification system used for organizing books. This was a category voted upon by our Facebook group, and you all chose the 900s!

The 900s are dedicated to history and geography, including sub-categories for geography & travel, biography & genealogy, history of the ancient world, Europe, US, Asia, Africa, etc. You can find these categories and more information on the Dewey Decimal system here.

My suggestion: Visit a local library or bookstore and see what they have. (You can check with a librarian if you’re having difficulty finding the 900s.) Browse around to get a better idea of what books sound interesting for this category.

If your library isn’t open / you don’t have access to one: Research non-fiction history books that sound interesting. If you find a book, check the Dewey Decimal number on your library’s website or via google search. OR if we’re thinking outside of the box, use the above themes and sub-categories to find a fictional read about explorers, maps, travel, ancient history, etc.

9. Set in a Mediterranean country

Mediterranean countries are ones that border the Mediterranean Sea, such as France, Italy, Egypt, Greece, Malta, Morocco, etc. (You can find a full list of Mediterranean countries here.)

This prompt is for books set in one of those countries but it doesn’t necessarily have to be set along the coast or even mention the Mediterranean. (Bonus props if it does!) This would be a great prompt for some ancient history reads too!

10. Related to the word “fire”

This prompt is fun because there is such a wide variety of options! You could pick a book with the word fire in the title. (Examples: Suzanne Collin’s Catching Fire, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, or Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.)

It could be a book with fire on the cover. A character who is a firefighter. A character who is an arsonist. Book titles with words like “smoke, ash, ember, burn, heat,” etc. A non-fiction book about a famous fire or a memoir by a firefighter. For more book ideas, check out this Goodreads list of book titles associated with fire.

11. Book with discussion questions inside

This category is for books that include discussion questions within them. Oftentimes these books may be popular bookclub picks or have a “P.S” symbol on the cover — indicating that there’s extra content at the back.

Other self-help style books or faith-based books may have discussion questions at the end of a chapter to help you dig deeper into the content too.

12. Title starting with the letter “D”

On The 52 Book Club’s 2020 challenge, we had three prompts for titles starting with the letters “A” “B” and “C.” We thought it would be fun to continue that on in 2021 with a title starting with “D.” You can probably hazard a safe guess as to what at least one of the 2022 categories will be. 😉

Here is a Goodreads list of YA titles starting with the letter D. You could also get creative with this prompt and pick a series title that starts with the letter D. Or for more ideas, scroll through this Goodreads list.

13. Includes an exotic animal

According to Wikipedia, Exotic” animals often refers to a species which is not native or indigenous to the owner’s locale — a definition which allows for a fairly broad interpretation of this category. This book could have an exotic animal featured prominently within the story or one who plays a smaller role in the plot.

Books fitting this category also could have an exotic animal in the title or on the cover. Another fun interpretation is to choose a book with unicorns or some other type of exotic, fantasy-based animals.

For non-fiction ideas, check out this list of wildlife books. (Gorillas in the Mist, anyone?)

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14. Written by an author over 65 (when published)

Choose any book written by an author who was over the age of 65 when the book was first published. They could be an established author with previously published work or this could be their very first book. See this Goodreads list for more ideas.

15. A book mentioned in another book

For this category, we’re reading a book that is mentioned in another book.

For example: In the book Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, the author mentions The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie. So for this category, I would read the ABC Murders — the book that is mentioned in another book.

You don’t have to read both books. (Although that could be a fun way to complete category #52!) You may see a book mentioned in a book you’re already reading for this challenge and decide to use that. Or, you could choose to do a little research first. Alternatively, you could choose to interpret this prompt as a book that mentions another book.

For more ideas, see this list from the Chicago library, these books listed in the book Eight Perfect Murders referenced above (read them first as Eight Perfect Murders contains a ton of spoilers!!) or this list from Literary Hub.

16. Set before the 17th century

A book set before the 17th century is any book set before the year 1600. These books could be set during the Tudor period of the 16th century, or a book set during the medieval times (check out this Book Riot list for ideas.) It could also be a non-fiction historical read or a book set in ancient Rome or Greece. So many fun options for this one!

17. A character “on the run”

Books fitting this category will include a character who is running away from something. The character could be running from the law (example: Frank Abagnale’s Catch Me If You Can), a teen who has run away from home, or someone running from / refusing to face their problems. It could also be a memoir or non-fiction read about an Olympic runner or track and field star. (Take a look at these inspirational running memoirs!)

18. Author with a 9-letter last name

This category is good for any author whose last name (real or pseudonym) is nine letters long. Some examples include: Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, James Patterson, Ann Brashares, Börge Hellström.

Tip: Review your TBR pile first and see if you have any nine-lettered authors already waiting to be read!

best books of 2020

19. Book with a deckled edge

A deckled edge is an unfinished or ruffled look to the book pages. It can be found in older books but may also be used as a specific printing style for newer books too. You can see examples of what it looks like, by doing a quick Google image search for “deckled edge.”

What if I only read ebooks? What if I don’t want to buy a new hardcover book? Or if my library is closed? Not to worry! You can still make this prompt work — we’ll just get creative…

First, do a bit of research to find a book that has a deckled edge. (You can search online or use our Facebook group to see what others have used.) THEN instead of reading that specific hardcover copy, borrow or download the ebook version.

20. Made into a TV series

This category is specifically for books made into a TV series. You can check out this Goodreads list for ideas. While the prompt is originally for a TV series you could creatively stretch this to include the made-for-TV movies too.

21. Book by Kristin Hannah

This year, we took a Facebook vote on which author you’d like to see on the 2021 challenge. The winner was Kristin Hannah! Visit her website to see a full list of her books.

Already read them all? Her new novel, The Four Winds is set to be released in February 2021. You can pre-order from Amazon, here.

For those who haven’t read any yet, we also highly recommend The Nightingale or The Great Alone.

22. A family saga

According to Wikipedia, a family saga is defined as “…a genre of literature which chronicles the lives and doings of a family or a number of related or interconnected families over a period of time.” This could be a book in a series or a standalone.

You can see this list of 25 Family Sagas That Will Sweep You Away (from the Modern Mrs. Darcy) or this Goodreads list of family sagas.

23. An ending that surprises you

This is one of those categories that you can’t really plan for in advance. Once you start reading through other categories, you may stumble across an ending that surprises you. Throughout the year, challenge participants often shuffle and re-shuffle their books choices for certain prompts — it’s all part of the fun!

Remember that it doesn’t have to be a mystery or a “twist” to surprise you. There are many different kinds of surprises in novels. But, for those who want to plan in advance, thrillers or mysteries may be a good place to start. Here’s a BookBub list of 18 New Books With Shocking Endings, or this Goodreads list of “Best Twists.”

24. A book you think they should read in schools

This category is open to wide interpretation and may not be one you’re able to plan for in advance. This is for a book that isn’t currently being used in teaching curriculum, but you think it should be!

Maybe you think schools should introduce better fiction authors. Maybe it’s a controversial novel or a book that deals with subject matter that really makes you think. Perhaps it’s a non-fiction read on a subject that fascinates you personally.

We’re excited to see what reads you come up with for this category!

25. A book with multiple character POV

This category is for books with multiple character narratives. You can find this writing technique across all genres. Some books may be written in first person, some in third person, or a mix of both. Most of Jodi Picoult’s books have multiple points of view, as does George R.R Martin’s Game of Thrones series, to name two quick examples.

For more ideas, here is a Goodreads list of multiple POV books.

26. An author of color

This category is open to any book written by an author of colour. We love diversity in our reading lists and invite you to also participate in our POC authors mini-challenge — to have a minimum of half of this year’s reading challenge books written by POC. (We’ll be releasing a post soon with a full list of “mini-challenge” ideas for those interested in increasing the difficulty of the 2021 challenge!)

You can check out this Book Riot list of 25 Favorite Authors of Color or this list from Penguin sharing 33 Books by Contemporary Black Authors.

27. First chapter ends on an odd page number

Open to any book where the first chapter ends on an odd page number. This could be an ebook (you can adjust your settings to find page numbers if you don’t already see them) or a physical copy. You could also choose an audiobook. (First check the physical copy at a library, bookstore, or on Amazon preview online to confirm that the first chapter ends on an odd number.)

This is another great chance to chip away at your TBR list!

28. Includes an historical event you know little about

Looking for a non-fiction read? This category could be perfect. Want to try a historical novel? That’s great too! It could be about a war, a crime, a natural disaster, a fire, a pandemic… the options are near endless. Whatever you chose, the book simply has to feature a historical event that you personally know little about.

Here’s a BookBub list featuring 8 Novels Based On Little Known Events in History or this Book Riot list of 50 best historical fiction reads. Or for non-fiction options, check out this Goodreads list.

29. Featuring the environment

If it features the environment, it fits in this category! You could pick a book like Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small To Make a Difference, Andrew Blackwell’s Visit Sunny Chernobyl, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, or John Grisham’s Gray Mountain. The book could be set in the forest, have an environmental scientist as the main character, discuss renewable energy, or feature a natural disaster of some sort. Again, there are so many options for this prompt!

For more specific environmental reads, here’s a Book Riot list of Best Environmental Reads or this Goodreads list of fiction featuring the environment or sustainability.

30. Watch out for dragons!

As always, we encourage you to get creative with prompts. If you’re into fantasy, this will probably be an easier category to check off the list. (Check out this Goodreads list of books with or about dragons.)

For more creative options: A book set in medieval times (even without actual dragons), an author whose last name is Dragon, a snapdragon on the cover, a dragon on the cover or in the title (Examples: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang).

The dragon could also be a symbol or representation of something else. Example: an obstacle in life that you’re battling, or a character who has horrible dragon-like qualities or characteristics.

Another suggestion from the group is a book that was published in the Year of the Dragon (2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, etc.) Here’s a Goodreads list for the best books of 2012 or another one here for 1988, to get you started!

Have other ideas? Don’t forget to share them in the comments!

31. Book that shares a similar title to another book

For this category, pick a book that has a similar (or identical) title to another book. You don’t have to read both books, just one. (But if you find a way to work the other book into the list too, bonus props for you! Could be a fun option for prompt #52?)

Here are a few lists of ideas: this list from Bustle or this list of 21 books from Entertainment Weekly.

32. A character who is selfish

As always, this prompt fits almost any genre and could be fiction or non-fiction. The character could be the main protagonist, an antagonist, or any other major or minor character. There are some selfish characters we hate and some that we love.

Here’s a Goodreads list for selfish main characters or this Bustle list of 20 books with villain protagonists to get you thinking.

33. Featuring adoption

There are a lot of characters in literature who have been adopted (see this Goodreads list of adopted characters.) This could be a key part of the storyline or a minor note.

You could also pick non-fiction options, like a book for individuals who may be considering adoption, or memoirs by individuals who have been adopted or who are adoptive parents themselves (Example: Kisses from Katie.)

Or, for this category, you could also find a book that features animal adoption.

34. A book you’d rate 5 stars

A five-star book could be any book that you personally feel is amazing. This is another tricky category, in the sense that you won’t really be able to plan for it until you’ve finished reading the book.

My suggestion is to start on the other categories first and see if any of those end up being a book you’d rate 5 stars. You can then reshuffle your other categories.

If that doesn’t work, try reading a book by a favourite author or a book that is highly rated (here is a Goodreads list of top-rated books). You could also take this as an opportunity to re-read one of your favourite books.

35. Set in a country that starts with the letter “S”

Sweden, South Africa, Slovenia, Switzerland, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore… who can list all the countries starting with the letter S? (Find a full list here.)

Some ideas to get you started on this category: a list of books set in Sweden, 36 books set in Spain, 10 books set in Singapore, or books set in South Korea.

36. A nameless narrator

Shoutout to my fellow 52 Book Club admin, Liz Squires for this one! (Yes… there are two Liz’s here…)

A nameless narrator is a literary technique in which the narrator is (surprise!) unnamed. For ideas, check out this Goodreads list of books with nameless narrators.

37. An educational read

There are a couple of ways you could interpret this prompt. You could, for example, choose a book that is often read in schools. (Here’s a Goodreads list of books for high school required reading.)

You could also choose to interpret it as a book that is educational for you. This could be a subject that you’d like to learn more about, or even a textbook that is required reading for work or for a course you’re taking. This book could also be about the education system, or a book about a current social issue.

38. Recommended on BookBub

BookBub is a free service that helps readers find book recommendations based on their preferred reading choices. If you’ve already signed up for BookBub, this will probably be a relatively easy category to complete.

But what if you don’t have BookBub and you’re not interested in getting one? Not to worry! BookBub also shares articles with recommendations too.

Check out these articles: “56 Books and Novels Everyone Should Read In Their Lifetime,” or “18 Great Mysteries That Everyone Should Read” or even this one, “73 Must Reads for Teens” for BookBub recommends!

39. An alternate history novel

Alternate history is a genre of fiction that speculates on what might have happened, had history occurred differently.

Examples include: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (exploring if Germany and Japan won the Second World War), American Royals by Katharine McGee (if George Washington was crowned King after the revolutionary war), or 11/22/63 by Stephen King (a new take on the JFK assassination.)

Here’s a few more lists of alternate history novels if you’re stuck: these 8 novels from Penguin, this BookRiot list, or this Goodreads list.

40. Found via #bookstagram

This is for any book found using the #bookstagram. While this is often used on Instagram, you could also search Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag as well. (Or try a google image search for #bookstagram) Any book that pops up works!

If you’re stuck, you could check out books that we’ve listed on our Instagram here or some popular book accounts like these.

41. An endorsement by a famous author on the cover

This one is for any book with an endorsement by a famous author on the cover! The endorsement could be on the front or back cover. You also don’t have to read the physical copy. If you find a book that has an endorsement on the cover, you could read the ebook version or listen to the audiobook instead.

42. An epistolary

An epistolary is a book that is composed of letters, diary entries, e-mails, text messages etc. Some examples include: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, or The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Check out this Book Riot list of 100 Must-Read Epistolary Novels or this Goodreads shelf.

43. A character with a pet cat

This category is open to any character with a pet cat! The cat could be featured prominently or merely mentioned from time to time. The book could involve anthropomorphism or not.

44. Includes a garden

Another category open to wide interpretation, this is for a book that includes a garden. It could be a book about gardening, a character who is an avid gardener, or have a garden on the cover in or in the title.

Some examples include: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, or The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.

Here’s a Goodreads list of novels featuring gardens.

45. A coming of age novel

A coming of age novel is a book where a character becomes an adult. For this category, it could be the primary focus of the book or a secondary storyline. Here’s a list from Literary Hub about 50 Coming of Age Novels or another 50 ideas from this Book Riot list.

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46. Winner of the National Book Award – any year

This category was another winner from one of our Facebook group polls!

Established in the 1950s, the National Book Award is an American literary prize. There are several winners for each year including fiction and non-fiction winners, and depending on the year, translated works, poetry, and young readers options, etc. You can browse the winners by year here.

If you wanted to stretch this category a little, you could also include books that were finalists or made the longlist for each category.

47. A character with a disability

Books in this category will feature a character (or characters) with a disability. There are many different types of disabilities, including physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, mental health disabilities, various types of chronic disease, etc.

Some examples include Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, Roll With It by Jamie Sumner, House Rules by Jodi Picoult.

See this Goodreads list for more ideas or this Book Riot list for YA reads.

48. A cover with a woman who is facing away

Every year, we invite the Facebook group to come up with category ideas for the following year’s challenge. We then throw all the ideas into a hat and do a random draw for the final two or three prompts. This year, a cover with a woman who is facing away was one of our winners!

There are a lot of books out there with the back of a woman on the cover. Examples include Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris, Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, or The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

For more examples, check out this Book Riot post specifically featuring WWII era books with women facing away.

49. A book with a flavour in the title

This was another one of our winning Facebook group suggestions! This category is title related and can include any book with a flavour. Examples of words in the title could include: salt, sweet, savoury, spicy, bitter, sour, chocolate, vanilla, hot, rosemary, sugar, basil, peppermint, etc…

Here’s a Goodreads list for books with taste in the title. (As one of our Facebook group members said — if it can be an ice cream flavour, it counts!)

50. A book with a shoe on the cover

This was our final winning category for 2021 and was drawn from our Instagram suggestions. The cover must have a shoe on it (could feature prominently or not.) You can scroll through this Goodreads list for ideas!

51. Published in 2021

This is always an exciting category in our annual challenge. Who doesn’t like to explore newly released books? Books in this category can be published anytime between January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021.

52. Re-do one of the previous 51 categories from this 2021 challenge

This category invites participants to re-do one of the previous prompts from this 52 Book Club 2021 challenge. You can pick any one of the previous 52 categories and find another book that fits. You can get widely creative the second time around or not — up to you! We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Now that we’ve made our way through all 52 prompts, don’t forget to comment below with any questions or ideas you may have! 2021 is looking like a great challenge year and we look forward to seeing your fabulous book choices!

Happy reading, everyone!

3 thoughts on “The 52 Book Club’s 2021 Reading Challenge Guide

  1. This is an amazing explanation of each of the prompts for the 2021 – 52 Book Club Challenge! Thank you so much Liz!!

  2. Great explanations. For the book mentioned in another book. A great book source that mentions lots of other books is The Book that Matters Most. It’s about a book club where each month the characters read books based upon one of the members selections of the book that matters most to them. Lots of books listed in it and it’s a good book itself

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