Our Reading Lives

8 Personal Challenge Ideas For Your Bookish Bucket List

Sarah S. Davis

Staff Writer

Sarah S. Davis holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's of Library Science from Clarion University, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sarah has also written for Electric Literature, Kirkus Reviews, Audible, Psych Central, and more. Sarah is the founder of Broke By Books blog and runs a tarot reading business, Divination Vibration. Twitter: @missbookgoddess Instagram: @Sarahbookgoddess

What’s on your bookish bucket list? Plenty of people have a bucket list of things they want to do in their life before they die. You know, swimming with dolphins, seeing the Northern Lights, and taking the Trans-Siberian Railway. But I have a bucket list of my own, and it’s filled with ideas for accomplishing major reading, writing, and bookish achievements. With the year having just changed over, now’s a great time to start a bookish bucket list and get started on crossing some of these off. Not sure where to start? These eight ideas for personal challenges, reading dares, and significant milestones will help you draft a bookish bucket list for your reading life in 2019 and beyond. Care to join me?

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1) Cross a few books off your “white whale” tbr.

You’ve doubtless got some books that you’ve always wanted to read, books that predate your TBR, even. For me, these include longer books, like David Copperfield and well, Moby-Dick, the “white whale” I reference in the title here. There are quite a few recent classics on my list, too, including A Little Life and Wolf Hall. I bet there are a few titles that are on the back burner of your to-read list, too. This year, get organized and write down the one book from your TBR you’d most like to cross off your list. Just one! The key here is momentum. Now, go for it!

2) Tame those bookshelves.

Books—both read and unread—tend to accumulate in my house like an invasive species. I get easily overwhelmed by the books overflowing in every corner, yet I also want to be done with it and organize my books. Sound familiar? During this year, I plan to tackle this problem once and for all and tame my bookshelves. Whether you aim to cull your shelves and weed your collection (we’ve got tips to help you do just that) or organize your shelves in a fun and/or useful way (like this), finally getting a handle on your books can help you focus on what you really want to read and take some of the stress out of reading.

3) Write a book.

Maybe you’ve had a sneaking suspicion that you could write a book of your own. Maybe you’ve looked at library or bookstore shelves and said to yourself, the books I want to read aren’t on there. Reader, write them! Make this the year you write that novel or memoir or even short story that you’ve always dreamt about. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You’ve got this. And, if you’re worried about publishing, know that the barriers to entry have changed over the years, with more people (like myself) opting for self publishing and promoting your book to reach the audience that needs your stories. Join a group writing challenge like NaNoWriMo, take a writing class, and read some books on writing craft. Go ahead and start writing the story you’ve always wanted to tell.

4) Read a book in another language.

This has been a big dream of mine for a while. I’m fluent in English, but in my high school French and college German? Not so much. Yet I’ve long been drawn to reading and possibly seeing what it feels like to translate a book in another language. Reading in another language helps you understand writing on a different level, as it makes you connect with the language down to the word and punctuation level that you might not in your native tongue. It also can help open up a global experience to learn about other cultures. This year, I’m planning on brushing up on my German and starting with reading Harry Potter, a book I know well enough to hopefully recognize some words. What about you?

5) Take a pilgrimage to a bookish place.

Are you dying to go to Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris? Would you love to visit the New Zealand landscapes that inspired the Lord of the Rings movies? Or see the London that Zadie Smith captures so perfectly in her novels? A great bookish bucket list challenge is to take a pilgrimage to a place that holds significance to your literary life. I still remember the chills I got standing in front of the Beowulf manuscript at the British Library. It was a special kind of connection for me to be right there in the presence of a book—and others in the gallery—that I’d studied and that my dad, an English teacher, had taught. I felt a deep stirring in my soul that reinforced how powerfully I identify with being a reader. So think about booking (pun intended!) tickets to a literary mecca site, a place that will immerse you in your love of books and the power of literature in your life.

6) Meet a favorite author.

Last summer, I met one of my favorite writers, the author-illustrator Jillian Tamaki. I’d read several of her books, ones that spoke to my inner teen misfit, and I was thrilled—and totally anxious!—at the opportunity to speak to her after her reading. I was an “autograph virgin,” meaning I’d never gotten an autograph before, but though it was nerve-wracking, it was really something special to be able to meet a writer who’d written books that moved me. That experience has made me more willing to try stifling my social anxiety and go to more author readings or author events. Meeting your favorite author might give you butterflies or heart eyes, but it also makes their work come alive for you. Most authors love meeting readers. After all, writing, like reading, can be a pretty solitary activity. Make this be the year you go see a favorite author speak at a local event and connect words to a person.

7) Start a book blog, vlog, or podcast.

You’ve got lots of thoughts and opinions on the books you read, and you’re finding that squeezing them into a #Bookstagram post or social media update isn’t going to capture all of them. Make this the year you amplify your voice and start a book blog, video blog (vlog) on YouTube, or podcast. Way before I even pressed Publish on my first book blog post four years ago, I craved having an outlet to write about my journey as a reader and the books that inspired all the feels. It took me a long time to find the courage to do it, but I’m so glad I claimed my tiny space in the world. Book blogging has been such a satisfying way to write about books on my terms and give space to all my little niche topics and causes. And I know the reading world wants to hear more from you and your bookish passions. Jump in this year and create a book blog, vlog, or podcast. What are you waiting for?

8) Help someone learn to love reading.

This might be the ultimate bucket list for me: teaching someone else to love books. Being able to read is by far the greatest gift I was ever given in kindergarten with help by my bookworm parents. Reading has opened new worlds for me, has connected me with people that my socially awkward self might have avoided, and quite literally saved my life at times—and I’m guessing it’s had a similar effect on you. What better way to pay it forward than by helping someone else learn to love reading? Start with the children in your life: Make reading together out loud a regular thing. Take them with you to a library or bookstore and encourage them to explore. Play audiobooks when you’re together. Go to a local story time program. And for older kids or adults, volunteering with literacy efforts can also be an incredibly rewarding experience as you pass on your ability to read to others. For people you know who “hate reading” (and I’ve met some of them in my life, too), don’t shove that passion down their throat and force them to convert. Rather, live bookishly and your excitement will spill over in an infectious way.

I suppose out of all these bookish bucket list ideas, that last one is less a measurable milestone. No, that one is more about incorporating books into your life by fusing literature to your being, developing a thoughtful reading practice, and committing to spreading a passion for books while you’re here on earth. And what’s that, if not the ultimate bookish bucket list challenge?