How to Create a Reading Bucket List that You’ll Actually Finish
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One of the best things I’ve done for my reading life this past year was create a book bucket list. I love the idea of a reading bucket list to prioritize that nagging, back-of-mind list of books to read before you die that everyone seems to have.
My list includes 50 bucket list books to read in my lifetime. These are books that I know I want to read…someday. Before I die. Most of them are books that have been around for a while. A few are newer, and I included them because I felt I might put off reading them, for various reasons.
(For example: Hunger by Roxane Gay. This was just published in 2017 and I knew I wanted to read it. However, I typically put off non-fiction in favor of fiction. Adding it to my list helped me prioritize it.)
The idea for a manageable list of books to read in my lifetime sprang from the many lists floating around with “books to read before you die!” Some of these include as many as 1,000 titles!
Considering that I’m likely to only read maybe another 2,500 books (if I’m lucky) before I die, these lists feel prescriptive, discouraging, and unhelpful. And, to be frank, kind of boring.
Who wants to read only from a list created by someone else? We are adults, and one of the perks is no longer having to follow a reading curriculum populated only by dead white men. We can read what we want!
Why You Need a Reading Bucket List
Is your Goodreads “Want to Read” list exploding? Is it even close to being up to date with ALL the books you want to read? Is it prioritized? (I mean, is there even a way to do that? Goodreads gurus, weigh in!)
Maybe you’ve got a system for how you choose what to read, and that’s great. But I’ve seen so many people say they are “mood readers”–and I’m one of them–who also say that there are certain books they really want to get to.
Or maybe, like me, you’ve had a lot of these “someday” books stuck in your head. They’re so well-known and their must-read status is so unquestionable, how could you possibly forget them?
But you do. And then the next time you see that book, you get another little nag, another to-do to add to your list. Who needs a reading list that feels like an unfolded laundry pile?
Not you, and not me.
The truth is, no one can read ALL THE BOOKS, much as we want to believe we can. And only you can define what the must-read books are FOR YOU.
You read for YOU, and your list should be tailored to your tastes, curiosities, reading quirks (see mine above: putting off nonfiction!), and to the ways you want to grow as a reader, thinker, and human being.
How to Create Your List Books to Read Before You Die
With these things in mind, here’s how I recommend creating a book bucket list:
Decide How Many Books You Want on Your List
Pick a number that feels doable, preferably one you can finish in a few years with slow, steady progress through the list. I like 50, because I see real progress by only reading about one per month from my list.
Don’t make a list that you’ll be chipping away at until you’re 80 (unless you’re already nearing 80). You’re more likely to abandon it and get frustrated by having constant “homework.”
Reading is not homework anymore, so don’t make it feel like it is!
Remember: once you finish this list, you can always make another one–if you want. Or you can feel smug about finishing your bucket list by the time you’re 40 and never pick up another classic again!
Review Your To-Be-Read List
This might be on paper, Goodreads, Amazon, your library wish list, a mental list that you need to put down on paper–or some combination of all of these (as mine was–I’m not very organized about my TBR list). Identify the books that have been on there a while, that you still really want to read. Add them to your list.
Look at Your Shelves
What books have been sitting there for years? I’m no Marie Kondo, but maybe now is the time to decide if you actually want to read them or if they’re just mocking you from the shelf (and that’s not joyful. Ahem. Sorry, I haven’t read Marie Kondo.). If you still want to read them, add them to your list. If not, donate them.
Check in With Your Favorite Book Recommendation Sources
There are some books on my list that aren’t on any universal must-read lists, but they come so highly recommended by other favorite bloggers that I had to include them–for me, they are bucket list books. If you have a trusted book blogger, check out their favorite books. Here are a few of mine.
Use Other Lists to Inform Yours
There are a lot of lists of “books to read before you die” out there, but most seem to include the same books and don’t consider the unique tastes and goals of readers. I think your book bucket list should meet your needs.
I’ve created a series of lists to help you choose the books that most appeal to you and meet your lifetime reading goals. These lists are meant to a be a starting place. They are diverse in their authorship, topics, and intended audiences, but they are not meant to be prescriptive. Take a look, take notes, and use them to guide your own list-making.
Bucket List Books
Ideas for books to add to your bucket list of books.
30 Memoirs and Nonfiction Books for Your Reading Bucket List
Memoirs and nonfiction books to read before you die.
30 Twentieth Century Classic Books by Women for Your Reading Bucket List
Some of the best modern women's fiction.
30 Contemporary Fiction Novels for Your Book Bucket List
Must-read modern fiction books.
30 Middle Grade Books for Your Reading Bucket List
Books aimed at middle schoolers and tweens that even adults will love.
30 Historical Fiction Novels for Your Reading Bucket List
Some of the best historical fiction novels that you'll definitely want to read.
50 Books on My Reading Bucket List
The 50 books I've added to my own reading bucket list.
Author diversity, of course, but also diversity in genre, audience, setting (time and place), and subject.
You won’t tick every box with a list of fifty books (mine is a little lacking in young adult, middle grade, and non-fiction, for example), but it feels pretty good to build and read a list of books that will take you to new cultures, places, and times.
Cross off any that you are sure you will read with no prompting. You would have read those anyway and they don’t need a spot on your bucket list.
Keep adding and crossing off until you reach your desired number of books.
Sit back and take a look at your list. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you really want to read all of the books on the list?
- Does the list include the diversity you want?
- Are there any authors or books that you’ve always wanted to read that are missing from your list?
Frame it. Bronze it. Bind it.
Or, you know, just post it on the internet. I’d love to see your reading bucket list. Please share if you create your own–either in the comments or with a link.
Now get to it!
What books are on your lifetime reading list? Share some of your own bucket list books in the comments!