It’s not too late to start a 2021 reading challenge

Struggling to decide which books to add to your 2021 TBR pile? Let these challenges help you out.


My biggest reading-related problem can be summed up quite simply: there are always too many books. The minute I have compiled what feels like a manageable stack, I see several more I want to add.

It’s a never-ending struggle to keep that TBR list realistic, but this year I am trying something new to help me decide. I am finally going to attempt a reading challenge.

Reading challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Some are just goals, as in, the number of books you hope to read in a year. Others provide a bit more structure. They encourage you to keep reading while providing ideas and inspiration that can help you out of even the deepest reading funk.

If that isn’t enough to sell you, many reading challenges also come with a built in community of other readers. There is nothing better than having people around you to provide recommendations, and in these isolated times, who doesn’t want to connect with more book lovers?

So, if you want to shake up your 2021 reading, here are some ideas for challenges you can start right now:

Book clubs

I have already shared my deep love for my book club. My favorite day of the month is the Sunday afternoon where two of my best friends and I video chat to discuss our latest pick.

However, if you are looking for something a bit bigger, or hoping to make some new friends through reading, there are a ton of online book club options as well.

There are the famous ones, run by the Reese Witherspoon’s and Emma Watson’s of the world. And then there are more local options. Meet Up is a great place to find book clubs in your area, and these days, most of them are remote. You can discuss a book, meet some new people and never put on shoes. What could be better?

And, if you want to hear some fun Bookstacked people discuss a YA selection, you can also check out our new book club! Our first pick is Angie Thomas’ Concrete Rose and the podcast episode should be coming to you soon.

Local library

If you are looking for a way to connect with readers in your immediate community, as well as get some great suggestions from people whose lives literally revolve around books, you could also see if your local library has a reading challenge.

Some will do just a general number challenge, especially during the summer months, but many of them will put out a more comprehensive list.

Challenges are great, because you get to turn them into what ever you want them to be.

The rules are simple, just read something that applies to each item on the list. It could be anything from a book with a purple cover, to a fantasy romance, to a book translated from another language.

Challenges are great, because you get to turn them into what ever you want them to be. The options are broad enough that you have plenty of freedom, but specific enough that you don’t end up aimlessly wandering the rows of your local book store.

And the best part, because it is run by the library, there is usually a social media campaign full of librarians and other avid readers who are ready to make suggestions when you get stuck.

If your local library doesn’t have one of these challenges, you can always find one online that does. Personally, I live in New York, but this year I am doing the challenge from the Portland Maine public library. Their 24 book list is a great option for anyone looking for a place to start.

Online challenges

As well as your local library, there are a ton of other list based reading challenges online. There are the general ones, like the very popular Popsugar reading challenge, and then there are more niche selections.

Personally, I like ones that come with a bit of a theme, but still give you room to personalize the selections. Some for this year that caught my attention were those for fantasy specific choices, and lists that encourage travel based reading.

Whichever list you pick, these challenges are great. They give you just the right amount of structure while still allowing you to pick your own adventure. And just like with the library, they generally come with a social media component where you can share suggestions and announce your successes.

TBR pile

Now, if your 2021 reading goals are more focused on getting through the books on your shelf, another fun idea is to turn that into a reading challenge all on its own.

Tell yourself that each month you will read at least one book from your TBR list, or create a rule that you can only add a book to the shelf after you have finished one.

You could even make this a bit more exciting by including your friends. If each of you reads a book off your own piles, then you can swap and…voila! Not only have you made space on your shelf but now you get to talk about two new books.

Best of lists

If you like to stay up to date on the most buzzed about books of the year, 2021 is a great time to try to read all the “Best of 2020” books you missed.

You can use the old stand-byes like the GoodRead fan voted selections, or the NPR book concierge, but you can also get a bit more specific. Check out your favorite Booktuber (or blogger or instagramer) and see what their favorites of last year were.

You could even check out what books got the best reviews from websites whose option you trust. It just so happens that we have a list of our favorite books of 2020, if you are looking for a place to start.

My favorite part about this idea is that if you are a library or bargain book enthusiast like me, these books tend to be a little easier to find. They have been out for long enough that the hype has died down a bit, but you know you are still getting something good.

To be filmed

If you love movies, but hate to watch something if you haven’t read the book first, you could create a challenge based on Netflix’s release schedule.

If you work it out ahead of time, you can stay up to date on all the entertainment you can’t wait to watch, while also getting a heads start on the story. Plus, who doesn’t love to see the world they imagined come to life?

For me, I just finally completed the Grishaverse novels, and I am now literally counting down the days until ‘Shadow and Bones’ is released.

Whatever else works

If you can’t find a challenge that feels right to you, then create your own.

If you can’t find a reading challenge that feels right to you, then create your own. Maybe you want to try and read an Own Voices novel a month, or perhaps you have been missing travel and want to read something from each continent.

You could even combined your other hobbies. Try to find all the books you can about your favorite sport or every novel that centers on home cooking. I know, for me, I recently started a bookstagram and am trying to find books with interesting covers.

Anything that gets you reading is a good idea. And don’t be afraid to try something, even if you’re not sure. The worst thing that happens is you maybe read something you don’t love, or you don’t complete a list.

At least you tried, and you never know. You might just discover a passion for a genre or an author or a topic you never knew existed.

Chelsea still can't believe that she lives in NYC and works to make movies happen. You can find her checking out way too many books from the library or getting lost in an audio book on a long walk.

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