How to Create a Reading Bucket List that You'll Actually Finish |

How to Create a Reading Bucket List that You’ll Actually Finish

One of the best things I’ve done for my reading life this past year was create a reading bucket list.

The list includes 50 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 last year 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 this list sprang from the many lists floating around with “books you must 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 Reading Bucket List

With these things in mind, here’s how I recommend creating a reading 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!

Want a printable template to create your reading bucket list? Get access to my Book List Library to print and fill in your own bucket list.

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. If you have a trusted book blogger, check out their favorite books. Here are a few of mine.

Use Other Lists to Inform Yours

Skim through some of those “must read before you die” lists–this is how they can be useful! Note the books that you might want to include. Here are a few lists to consider:

Consider Diversity

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–and if there are enough out there, I’ll write a round-up post with everyone’s bucket lists.

Now get to it!

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How to Create a Reading Bucket List that You'll Actually Finish |


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8 thoughts on “How to Create a Reading Bucket List that You’ll Actually Finish

  1. I need a bucket list something awful! I get so caught up in reading new releases that I rarely fit in older titles that I’ve been meaning to read forever.

    I also start with a fresh TBR list every year. I just started doing this the past 2 years and it’s really helped keep my TBR more manageable. Any books I didn’t get to and still really want to read get moved over to the next year’s list…but it’s usually in the single digits.

    • I’d love to see what would make your list! That’s a really good idea to start with a fresh TBR every year. I feel like that’s how everyone gets these huge lists; they add books when they first hear about them and then never revisit to see if they still want it on their list.

      I’m not very methodical about mine at all–my library wish list probably has my most up-to-date list, but I really should take a close look at it regularly and decide what’s really a priority.

  2. I have 539 books on my Goodreads TBR right now, so I think a 50-title bucket list is in order! One thing I might add to my list is the reason I want to read the book. I think being reminded of why a book is on the list would motivate me to read it over a new release.

    • I love the idea to add the reason you want to read a book! Especially for a bucket list, it might help make the book more of a priority. It would also be helpful with a TBR in general–even just a few words would help me remember why I added it in the first place.

  3. Very inspiring! It’s impossible to reach goals if you don’t have them, right? I’ve been trying to read more of what’s already on my shelf. It’s so hard to do when there are so many great, new titles coming out all the time!

    • Thanks! I’m trying to read my shelf this year, too. I usually have two books going at once, so I satisfy the craving for newer books with e-books from the library, and the physical book is always from my shelf. So far I haven’t bought any new books, and I even skipped Book of the Month last month. It’s a little slower getting through my shelf but it doesn’t feel too restrictive.

  4. I really liked this post! I have sooooo many titles on my TBR list on Goodreads that I feel like I “should” read, but that I’m not necessarily excited to read SOON. A smaller bucket list definitely seems like the way to go every few years—that way, like yous said, I’d be prioritizing what was most important.

    Of course, that’s not to say that it’s not GOOD for me to read some of those classics I’m not excited about; in fact, that’s the exact reason I started doing my “assigned reading” for this “school year”–it was so easy for me to just read by my mood and not push myself, and whenever I finish a classic or heavy-hitter I’ve been putting off for years, there’s almost always just such a great sense of satisfaction after (esp. because then I can see why that book made the classics list in the first place!).

    • Thanks! It’s definitely true that there’s merit in reading books you aren’t super excited about. I do have a few of those on my list. Last year I finally listened to The Great Gatsby because it felt like such a glaring gap in my reading–not because I was all that interested. I do feel pretty proud of myself after reading a hefty classic, though–they’re never very fast reads, and it’s great to finally know a book firsthand.

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