An old book and open compass with the label "life is an adventure"

“I read it in a book”: Building a Literary-Inspired Bucket List

Perhaps you have an ongoing bucket list or life list of all the things you want to do before you die or before you reach a major milestone. It may include adventures such as skydiving, hiking the Appalachian Trail, seeing a Broadway show, or taking a cooking class. And perhaps your list already includes literary-themed destinations like Walden Pond, the House of the Seven Gables, or any number of American Writers Museum Author Home/Museum Affiliates.

But what if you took it a step farther and made plans to partake in some of the activities and adventures of our favorite characters in American literature? Why not try to live a day in the life, or perhaps just an hour, of the likes of Huckleberry Finn, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Holden Caulfield, or Nancy Drew? As Dr. Seuss might say, Oh, the places you’ll go!

Just think about it: how many times have you been reading a great scene about a character doing something or going somewhere, and you’ve thought, “I wonder what that’s like?” or “I wish I could try that sometime”? We’ve all been there. Perhaps that’s why we love to buy cookbooks featuring recipes from our favorite series or why thousands of people dress up each year for Hemingway look-alike contests, Gatsby lawn parties, and Laurapalooza (a festival and conference for Little House lovers). Anything that brings us just a little closer to the realms and realities of the books we love – devoted readers are down for it.

So, to get you started, here’s a sample bucket list inspired by some American classics. What would you add to your list?

  • Make hay like Laura Ingalls Wilder: Find a local farm and ask if you can help with the hay crop this fall. Let down those bonnet strings, leave the corset at home, and get to trampling! (Bonus if you can make some hay sticks for the fire!)
  • Build a makeshift raft and set sail down a stream or river like Huckleberry Finn: Wrap up a simple lunch and bring a straw hat (and sunscreen!). Remember, safety first! But no shoes are required. Check out Mark Twain’s historic home if you need more inspiration.
  • Have a drink at The Select in Paris like Jake Barnes: Hemingway’s protagonist in The Sun Also Rises (and the author himself) frequented this café/bar that’s been around since 1920.
  • Eat breakfast at Tiffany’s like Holly Golightly: Okay, we all know you can’t really dine at this famous jewelry store in New York City, but you can still enjoy a pastry and a cup of coffee while you window shop.
  • Spend the night in a museum: It turns out The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler had the right idea – and now museums across the country offer sleepovers for adults and children to get extra close to history, science, and more.
  • Go on a whale-watching tour: You’re unlikely to find a beast of a whale like Moby Dick, but try for a more peaceful trip on the Pacific coast to spot some of our most majestic creatures.
  • Hike the Pacific Crest trail: While you’re on the West Coast, go Wild and walk this 2,659 mile trail that stretches from California to Canada. Cheryl Strayed can give you some tips.
  • Ride in a hot air balloon like Dorothy: It probably won’t get you home either, but you’ll likely take in a few more sights from above than our ruby-slippered gal did.
  • Take sword-fighting lessons like A Game of Thrones’ Arya: Perhaps that’s a bit too violent, and more befitting for Westeros than the modern-day U.S. Take it down a notch and try your hand at fencing?
  • Write a novel like Jo March: Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women was inspired by her family, as are so many of our favorite books by American authors. Is yours worth writing about?

-Jenna Sauber

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