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The well-read reading challenge summer 2021

Summer is here and with it comes lots of sunny afternoons and evenings that are perfect for digging into a good book out in the garden.

But somehow, we always end up on our phone, or distracted by a housemate or some task or another. It's hard to get into the habit of really settling in with a book for the long haul these days. 

So we decided to come up with a reading challenge for summer 2021. We've selected 20 book criteria that you can peruse and pick out a book for (or even just pick out a few of the criteria that appeal to you) so you'll have the motivation to finish your book and move on to your next read this summer. You have freedom over what you pick (though we've included a few recommendations) and by summer's end you'll be one well-read bookworm with your love for reading - and attention span for it - reborn! Good luck!

Woman Lying on Beach Reading Book

A new release

We have plenty of recommendations here, like ‘Widowland’ by CJ. Carey (if you like an alternative, feminist history), ‘Snowflake’ by Louise Nealon and ‘Madam’ by Phoebe Wynne, but go into any local bookstore and you’ll find recommendations galore. Give the staff a few titles you liked recently and they’ll recommend something just for you! It’s good to have something topical and recent to be able to chat about when books come up.

A classic you always said you’d read

We all have them. ‘1984’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ – we’ve nodded vaguely when asked about them, or skipped them on reading lists from our school days but this summer is finally the summer you’re going to get around to it!

A book by an Irish author

Purple Petaled Flower on Book \

Or an author from wherever you’re from! It’s good to have an idea of the kind of literature coming out of your country right now – what are the topics people are discussing, the big new authors – whatever you pick up will be well worth the read! Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Deirdre Sullivan are Irish authors I’m loving at the moment and are definitely worth checking out. Donal Ryan’s ‘Strange Flowers’ is a great read too.

Read your favourite athlete/celebrity/scientist etc’s biography

Find someone you’re fascinated by or admire and find out all you can! How did they get to where they are, where did they start from, what was their childhood like? You may learn something new!

An award-winning book

Everyone will be talking about them – the Booker, the Women’s Prize, the Booker prize – it’s good to have a little knowledge of these things. Cultural talking points are always handy!

A historical fiction from an era that fascinates you

Crop anonymous person enjoying plot of captivating book while resting on fresh green grass in sunlit park

If you don’t want to dive into an entire history book – which is very fair, fiction can be just as fun as fact – pick out a fiction book that appeals to you. Tudors era, World Wars, ancient Rome – whatever tickles your fancy.

A book that’s been turned into a movie

It’s even better if you haven’t seen the movie yet or if it’s been on your watch list for a while, waiting to read the book first. Read it and compare with the movie after. This is a fun one to get someone to do with you, because then you can compare notes about what you thought translated well to film and what didn’t.

A re-telling of a fairytale or a classic

Are you a Disney fan or just really into fairytales or myths as a kid? This is a great option for you if you’ve been in a bit of a reading slump, or find it harder to get into a book as an adult than you did as a kid. Deirdre Sulivan has a retelling of The Children of Lir called ‘Savage Her Reply’ that’s fantastic and I’ve heard Louise O’Neill’s retelling of the Little Mermaid ‘The Surface Breaks’ is a great feminist read too.

A classic children’s book

Woman in Brown Sun Hat Holding Blue Book

Some of my favourites were J.M. Barry’s ‘Peter Pan’ which is just as charming as the film and ‘The Secret Garden’ which was a little creepy, but has a great mystery to it.

A play

It’s fun to try something a little different now and again! Sure, maybe it isn’t your usual thing, but trying out something new means you discover new passions – or maybe you’ll hate it, but it’s worth trying at least! John B. Keane’s Sive is a gripping introduction to Irish playwrights and a classic (The Field is good too and you can watch the movie afterwards!) but you can also try out that one Shakespeare play you always hear about and haven’t read. ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ inspired Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles ’10 Things I Hate About You’, and ‘Twelfth Night’ inspired Amanda Bynes’ ‘She’s the Man’, so if this one is a challenge for you, those are two great options to try out to have a modern day film counterpart.

A book set in your favourite country or city

Paris, Rome, New York – wherever inspires you. There are millions of books out there, so there’s at least a few about your favourite spot.

A book ‘everyone’ has read and you always pretend to have read

Selective Focus Photography of Woman Holding Book

This one could also probably fall under the classics. ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Lord of the Flies’, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, all huge cultural moments that you’ll be seeing and hearing references to for the rest of your life, so it’s probably best to just read it and understand what everyone is on about – you may surprise yourself and love it!

A book you can finish in one go

A short little number that you can take out on the patio with you some afternoon and finish it all in one session. ‘Animal Farm’, ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ are all classics that are less than 100 words, but there’s plenty of others out there to suit your tastes.

A book you usually wouldn’t read

It’s good to challenge your perspective! If you usually turn your nose up at fantasy or nonfiction, search around for something within the genre that catches your attention and give it a go. It’s always good to step outside our comfort zones.

Your best friend’s favourite book

Person Holding Book Page on White Table

If they love it, there must be something in it that speaks to them. Get to know them a little better by stepping into the pages of their favourite read for a while.

A book from your local independent bookshop

Supporting local is essential, especially when it comes to books. Local bookstores where you can go in and browse and discover something you weren’t expecting to are so important to smaller, less known authors and genres. Buying online, you’ll be offered things that are similar to what you always read, based on what you’ve already bought, so you’ll get stuck reading the same kinds of things over and over. But browsing a shop you have the chance to discover something that just happens to catch your eye – and could end up being one of your best unexpected finds yet.

The bestseller the year you were born

This is just cool to research anyway and see what was all the buzz the month and year you were born. Check out book reviews released at the time to find out what cultural and social references were being talked about at the time, and ow they were influencing the book’s writing to get a real sense of the era.

A book of short stories

Photo Of Woman Wearing Beige Jumpsuit

Another something different to challenge your usual reading schedule, Ireland is particularly good for producing short story collections. I’m mentioning Deirdre Sullivan again but she’s just released her first adult collection of short stories ‘I Want to Know That I Will Be Okay’ which are great if you like a creepy, literary read, Edna O’Brien’s short story collections are always a fascinating look at Ireland’s social history and Tom Hanks also just released a collection of short stories which I’ve heard isn’t bad either.

A self-improvement book

Self-help, learn a new skill, change your mindset – reading can change us, which is sort of the point of this whole challenge really. If a book hasn’t changed made you think about something in a new way or expanded your mind a little or entertained you, it hasn’t really done its job. So whether you want to rethink you mindset or just dip into a little self-care literature, these can be a fun way to start.

Fiona Murphy is a freelance writer, specialising in book-related content, fiction and poetry. She can be found drinking tea, craving tapas or attempting to finish her never-ending-novel.

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