Not the bucket reading list

A few years ago I’d never heard of the bucket list. And then when I did hear the term, I was mystified. Why would anyone need a list to go and buy a bucket ? Surely its easy to remember just one item on your shopping list? Or was it a way some people used to control their purchasing habits – they could buy only what could fit into a bucket? It wasn’t until the film The Bucket List came out that I got the ah ha moment. Now I see these lists everywhere. For biblioholics, the Bucket List often involves delving into the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list .

I’m taking the road less travelled with a Not the Bucket List reading list. The five classic books I never want to read. No matter how much you tell me how wonderful they are. No matter that they are all on this 1001 Books List. They are just not for me. You may detect some patterns in my choices.


The Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Book  number 609 on the 1001 list is one I had on my ‘to read’ list for years. But felt I needed to do some warm up with other Russian authors before tackling this big one.  It wasn’t until last year when I read Andy Miller’s The Year of Reading Dangerously, that I realised Bulgakov’s novel contained elements that I find deeply off-putting in a novel.  The fact The Master and Margerita concerns a visit by the devil to the Soviet Union was a big red flag since I struggle with mythical, unreal characters usually. Worse was to come. One  character is a mysterious “magician”; another learns to fly and somehow, don’t ask me how, Pontius Pilate gets in on the act. This recipe had far too many elements I don’t like and I can imagine I would read it with teeth clenched, just waiting for the moment when the ordeal was over. Not what you want to spend your twilight years doing.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville 

Yes I know this is considered a Great American classic but this is 700 pages about an obsession with a whale. Where’s the fun in that?  I imagine there are plenty of dramatic moments but when I’ve peaked into this tome in the bookshop all I seem to find are lengthy descriptions of the natural history of the whale, how they move; what they eat; how to hunt and kill them and then extract the oil.  If I was that interested I’d just go and find a natural history book wouldn’t I? Seems to me that Mr Melville is one of those authors who does extensive research and then absolutely cannot resist showing off about it but including every last fact and piece of info in his book. The best part of this book is the opening sentence “Call me Ishmael.” (It’s fun to think how, by meddling with the punctuation, you could get a totally different meaning from just three words).

Lord of the Rings by J R.R Tolkien

My dislike of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit has endured for decades. It dates from my time at university where a sizeable number of friends became totally enamoured of these books and, it seemed, could talk of little else. Posters of some of the characters soon replaced those of David Bowie, Led Zepplin etc on bedroom walls. They even started to go to meetings of a newly-formed Tolkien appreciation club. Was I missing something special I wondered. Fifty pages of  The Hobbit was enough to tell me that a gulf had opened between myself and these friends. I found another set who had also formed an aversion to Middle Earth and never went back.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe 

I made an effort to read this much vaunted example of the Gothic novel, even managing to get half way through the escapades and misadventures of Emily St. Aubert. I think I kept going because there was a promise of a seriously creepy episode in a gloomy castle and a dastardly villein. But it was slow – slow – going because before we got anywhere near the castle we had to endure Emily’s long and meandering journey in a mountainous region of France. And after all that the episodes at the remote castle of Udolpho, failed to live up to their promise. I abandoned the book and don’t plan to pay a return visit.

Hitchhikers’ Guide to the GalaxyDouglas Adams

Book number 718 on the 1001 Books list is another ‘cult’ from the 1970s that I never latched onto. Didn’t watch the TV series, never listened to the radio program; didn’t go to see the film and have zero interest in reading the book. Why? It’s science fiction which doesn’t get my heart rate going anyway but add to that it’s comedy which is another genre I struggle with. It has to be brilliantly clever humour otherwise I’m not interested.

FrankensteinMary Wollstonecraft Shelley

I have actually read this but only got to the end because it was a set book on a university module. The best part was the scene fairly early on in the novel where Victor Frankenstein sees the result of his labours. Instead of beholding a beautiful creature he is confronted with a monstrous tall figure (hereafter called The Creature) with yellow eyes and skin that barely conceals the muscle tissue and blood vessels underneath. Shelley’s description of this scene is outstanding. Then it all goes downhill and we end up with the Creature and Frankenstein chasing each other around the Continent, Scotland and the North Pole.  Yes there were some moments where we are asked to sympathise with the predicament of this Creature who never asked to be brought into the world and now longs for a mate. But parts of the book are simply ludicrous – we are asked to believe for example that the Creature learns to speak by listening to a family living in the next room of a remote cottage and teaches himself to read after discovering a lost satchel of books. Full marks to Shelley for the idea and for cleverly balancing elements of Gothic and realism but I so wish it had been less silly.


So there you have it. I know some of my choices are ones which some of you might love and even count as your favourites. What would you put on your personal Not the Bucket List, perhaps some of them are ones I love.


About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on January 24, 2016, in Sunday Salon and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 54 Comments.

  1. I should add that I’ve not been reading any of the classics in my classics TBR reading list for quite some time now >.<

  2. The only ones in your list I’ve not read are the Bulgakov and the mysteries of Udolpho, both of which are on my classics reading list. I actually liked Moby Dick at the time I read it (possibly because of the whale hunting and sailing)…there’s something about nautical books that always gets to me.

    Books that I would rather pass are some of the great bulky (but depressing) Russian classics such as War and Peace, which I have started and stopped too many times, and basically anything which has been written before the 1850s, just can’t deal with all the archaic language.

  3. I’ve read all but the Bulgakov and he’s on my list! I loved them all too and have even read a few of them more than once. Different strokes and all that!

  4. Oh no! Most if not all of these I thoroughly enjoyed or plan to read! I am very hesitant about Moby Dick, but I will read it eventually. It’s just one of those that I’m fascinated by in that it’s become such a piece of pop culture. I’m especially sad about The Lord of The Rings, but more so The Hobbit, but I get it. If it’s worth saying I finally forced myself to read the Twilight Saga and enjoyed the story (not the writing) a lot more than expected.

    • (At least Tolkien would be much better written!)

    • I suspect Twilight is nowhere near as well written as Dracula which was another book I thought about adding. The thing is the first part of Dracula which is set in Trannsylvania is bone-chillingly scary. The section in yorkshire is good too but then we get to london and meet that dreadful Van Helsing character.

  5. I am sorry to hear you never want to read The Lord of the Rings, Frankenstein and Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy; as they are all up there with my favourite books of all time! However I don’t want to read Moby Dick either!

  6. ‘Udolpho’ and ‘Moby Dick’ would definitely be on my list as well, but I love ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Living, as I do, in the middle of The Shire and walking past one of the Two Towers almost every day, I could hardly do otherwise.

  7. A brave post! I must admit to never having read Frankenstein – although I still plan to, but like you have no yen to read Udolpho. However, I would recommend Moby Dick – I didn’t want to read it, but my book group chose it and I found it such a touchstone book for US lit – everything seems to reference Moby Dick, and I understood. It was fascinating, a good adventure – but I will admit that parts were boring… 🙂

    • Our book club would never chose anything as long as Moby but they did select Hitchhikers Guide for next month. Fortunately I will be out of the country so a ready made excuse. A narrow escape.

  8. I would have a lot of books to add to this list if I thought about it, I’m sure. Moby Dick would be one of them. I suspect there would be a few more classics that I’m not interested in, as well as a lot of fantasy and sci-fi. However, I did love Lord of the Rings, I even read it twice. I also read Hitchhiker’s Guide, but really didn’t think much of it (it was a book club read).

    • Im curious now – if you’re not a lover of fantasy how come you enjoyed The Rings??

      • Exactly! Even though I’m generally not interested in fantasy I loved The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure why, except that I think Tolkien must just be that good. I found his writing amusing to read – not serious all the time. And I really enjoyed the hobbit characters. They are human enough that you can pretend they are human. Other than that, I can’t explain it.

  9. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov but you know I live in hope that one day I’ll pick one of them up and …… The thing is I love Crime and Punishment so it sort of eats away at me that I can’t get on with them.

    • Yep I loved Crime and Punishment too and had Brothers Karamazov lined up on my classics club list. What was it about the book that you couldnt get into Vicky?

  10. Oh, my God, you’re really missing out with the Douglas Adams. It IS brilliantly clever humour. The science fiction aspect of it, too, does what the best sf does: uses slightly wacky scenarios to make points about how silly and irrational we “real-world” dwellers can be! I really do urge you to give it a shot–if you try it and still don’t like it, fair dos.

  11. This is such a good idea. A nice counterpart to all those lists which seem to induce guilt in readers and turn reading into a sort of aspirational chore. I’ve tried Moby Diick,largely because my partner loved it so much, but it’s not for me and I’ll put my hand up and admit to Lord of the Rings but I was fourteen!

  12. My anti-bucket list would include Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, the rest of Haruki Murakami, the rest of Paulo Coelho…

    The funny thing about Moby Dick is that most of the biology in it is wrong!

  13. I might borrow your idea for a proper post of my own but I reckon that Moby Dick will be on my list!

  14. Moby Dick is right up there on the NOT list for me.

  15. Good for you! Even if I don’t agree with everything (Lord of the Rings? Never?) it’s nice to see one make a stand.

  16. Oh dear! I haven’t read ‘Udolpho’, ‘Moby Dick’ was dull, but the others I enjoyed – some are my favourites. There’s a definite anti-fantasy vibe going on here though 🙂

    I would have put all of Jane Austen on my ‘Not Bucket’ list until last year when I read S&S – now I’d put all the others on it…and it would be nice if I could get back the time I spent on S&S. After trying Pynchon again last year, with disastrous results, I think I’d put all of his works on it…..and no doubt there are others…let me think….

    • I’m not surprised that we have an anti-fantasy theme here – i suppose if people were fantasy fans they wouldn’t be following my blog anyway.

      • I don’t know, I mean I like realism and fantasy – I liked Tolkien, sci-fi, horror as a child/teenager and like magic realism, surrealism, decadent & folk tales as an adult; it depends on how I feel. 🙂

  17. I think I need to start thinking about my Not the Bucket List! (Mine would also include Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series – to many people’s horror, haven’t read it and have zero interest!).

    • I got as far as the first Potter. I could see the appeal if I was a child and I did admire the imagination. But not enough to want to get through 7 more (not sure of the exact number) adventures in wizardry

  18. I have an allergy to the concept of the Bucket list, per se, but less so I think when it comes to books. I suppose I’d view it as just another name for the long haul version of the TBR list, and well, I do like a list. That said, I do like your idea of book avoidance. It is liberating to not have to read something everyone says you should but you don’t want to (‘Spool of Blue Thread’ didn’t make it on there I notice 😉 ) and I’m definitely with you on Tolkien, I nearly lost the will to live reading Lord of the Rings!

    • Ive seen many bucket list items which baffled me. Make a snow angel was one that caught my attention. I had no clue what this meant so looked it up. Come on its so dead simple why not just go out and do it … you really need to make a list

  19. Oh dear, I do think you’re missing out on some wonderful books here – but the anti-bucket list is a wonderful and liberating idea! As someone who is far to much in thrall to that 1001 Books book I really applaud your approach and suspect I’ll be copying you soon…

  20. Oh wow, this is a great idea. A book list THAT big will inevitably have some titles that don’t appeal to particular people. I’m a SFF person, so it’s the realistic stuff that doesn’t sound fun to me (complete opposite of you, haha).

  21. I was like you and was mystified by the term for ages. Your list – some I agree and some I disagree. Haven’t thought of a list myself, but can say for sure that War and Peace will be on it. It’s so hefty I might fill the entire Not Bucket. Have tried it either two or three times a officially totally gave up on it a couple of years ago. Lewis’ The Monk can also get thrown in the Not Bucket.

  22. Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this, as you mention a few of my favourite books in there: The Master and Margarita and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I even liked Moby Dick and The Lord of the Rings.
    But I love your reaction to the ‘bucket list’ – I have the same problem with ‘life hacks’.

  23. Haha I love your concept! I will never read Moby Dick either and although I resisted A Hitchhiker’s Guide when all my peers were raving about it, my son had the audiobook as a young teen and it wasn’t as awful as I feared – he loved it!

  24. I really want to reread Frankenstein because I’ve only read its children edition, and I have Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my TBR even though it’s currently not very interesting for me.
    It’s quite fun to see the books that so many people love but some people might not be interested in! Great post! 😁

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