Reading Challenge 2021

Photo by Polina Zimmerman

A new year beckons and bookworms around the world will be eagerly planning their 2021 reading, scribbling new additions to sprawling lists, and stacking piles onto piles onto piles…

We’ve got an additional offering to help structure your New Year reading: the annual Briefly Reading Challenge. There are 12 categories which we hope will extend and enrich your 2021 page-turning. The aim is to open you up to new opportunities, genres, styles and themes; these aren’t the sorts of prompts that will restrict and limit you to specific or arbitrary selections.

Use this list as you wish: read one book from each category, in order, reverse order, or no order at all; read two, three, four or more books from one category that really takes your fancy; or skip straight to the bonus prompts if you’re feeling rebellious!

Whatever you choose to do, good luck and happy reading in 2021!


The Briefly Reading Challenge 2021

  1. A book made into a film (if you’ve seen the film and not read the book!)
  2. A book to heal the generational divide
  3. An epistolary novel
  4. A book about mental health
  5. A book you can read in one day
  6. A book about cooperation
  7. A book you’ve owned a long time and (still) never read
  8. A book written in or about prison
  9. A book that was banned
  10. A book that teaches lessons from history
  11. An author from your hometown
  12. A book set somewhere you want to travel

BONUS:

  1. A book about a dystopian future
  2. A book that offers hope

Don’t forget, you can follow @BrieflyWrite on Twitter to stay up to date with all things Briefly!

‘The Burning Chambers’ by Kate Mosse


Gripping plot. Fast-paced action. Lifelike characters. So what’s missing?

The Burning Chambers is an epic adventure that takes the reader to the heart of sixteenth-century France, a country in turmoil amidst the bloody Wars of Religion. Set primarily across three southern cities — Carcassonne, Toulouse and Puivert — the historical backdrop is painted vividly, showcasing the author’s extensive historical research and interest in her subject.

Mosse manages to convey the fear and uncertainty of a country ravaged by years of infighting by creating believable characters that bring the history to life. Particularly strong are her portraits of Vidal, a power-hungry Catholic priest, and his deranged mistress, Lady Bruyère.

At times, however, these characters can tip over into types. The formulaic, rather predictable plot is constructed along starkly divided oppositional lines and each character is included to fill a particular role. Moreover, in the closing scenes, Mosse relies a little too readily on unlikely coincidences to advance the plot to its dramatic denouement. This diminishes some of the vraisemblance she had earlier developed.

If I may allow myself to offer a piece of writing advice to an international bestselling author whose novels have been translated into thirty-seven languages, it is that she often overuses rhetorical questions. This becomes more noticeable as the story progresses. Presumably, Mosse’s intention in doing so is to increase the suspense, but this is not the effect: the constant questions frustrate the reader and slow our progress.

It is this sort of contrived technique that raises our awareness of the book’s formulaic structure and ultimately stops the reader from fully engaging with the text. Of course, all books are artificially constructed, but the best ones are those that are able to hide this and make you forget you are reading. The Burning Chambers doesn’t achieve this because the plot follows a predictable pattern and is engineered to progress through a series of unbelievable coincidences.

Despite these minor grievances, The Burning Chambers is a lively and addictive historical novel. It won’t be your book of the year, but is well worth a read.

Kickstart Your Reading with this Four-Week Challenge

With so many “must-reads” out there, which should you pick first?

Most of us have more time on our hands at the moment. And reading is one of the best ways to make the most of it.

If you’ve fallen out of love with books, it’s time to get the reading bug back!

Get the stats working for you

Like many bookworms, my reading has often been sporadic. I will read any book in any form: fiction or non-fiction, horror or romance, paperback or e-book, classic or contemporary. It’s rare I don’t have at least four on the go at any one time.

I would guess that I finished more than 50 books in 2019. But since I didn’t record them, I have no idea what percentage were written by women, or how many different cultures I explored.

Similarly, I would struggle to say whether I read more first- or third-person narrators, and whether I spent more time in the past or future.

Of course, you may wonder why you should be interested in this data. After all, you read in order to enjoy a good book not so that you can create pie charts.

This is the argument I repeated to myself for years to justify not tracking my stats.

To be clear, I firmly believe reading is about feelings not maths. It boils my blood when I see an article like “Ten tricks to hack any book”, invariably written by some “self-made entrepreneur” who would sell his grandmother’s kidneys if the price was right.

Reading is a pleasure not a commodity. But having a greater awareness of your preferences allows you to enjoy reading more.

Keeping track of your books isn’t just statistical. Here are four major benefits of recording your reading:

  • It helps you read more widely and therefore experience more cultures, genres and styles
  • It opens your eyes to subconscious prejudices that may be creeping into your choices
  • It makes it easier to remember everything you’ve read
  • It motivates you to keep reading!

Picking the right books

Reading opens the door to new cultures, new experiences and new ways of thinking. And the best way to do this is by making an effort to include writers, themes and viewpoints you might (unintentionally) be neglecting.

There are an overwhelming number of challenges available online though, bizarrely, many seem to restrict rather than extend your reading.

This should not be the case. Categories like ‘A book with the letter X in the title’ or ‘A book about the medical profession’ are far too arbitrary and won’t help you become a better reader.

These sorts of challenges dictate to you, rather than help you make more informed choices.

The following four-week challenge was born out of this frustration. Its six categories are open ended enough not to constrain you, whilst still offering a framework to guide your selections.

The Challenge

How many categories can you tick off in four weeks?

  • A “classic” you’ve not read before
  • A book with a child narrator
  • A book recommended by a friend or relative
  • A book that’s been sitting on your shelf unread for a long time
  • A book set in a location significant to you
  • A prize-winning book

Here’s what I’ll be reading:

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (recommended by my sister)
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (has been sitting on my shelf for at least ten years)
  • Yuki chan in Brontë Country by Mick Jackson (set in Haworth, West Yorkshire)
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (winner of the Man Booker Prize 2017)

What books have you picked? Leave a comment below!