A couple of people remarked on my last few posts that they didn’t know how I keep my TBR so under control. The truth is, I didn’t always. Years ago, I had a huge TBR, both physical and virtual. I’d throw book recommendations onto Goodreads from the hundreds of book bloggers I followed in those days. I acquired books everywhere – book stores new and used, library sales, book swap sites, gifts, Amazon deals, blog contests, etc. I had an entire bookshelf devoted to unread books. I was drowning in them.
Honestly, I didn’t mind so much in the beginning. I was reading around 200 books per year, so if I had 400 unread books on my shelf, that didn’t seem too unreasonable. Periodically I’d put myself on a book-buying-ban and proceed to completely ignore said ban. I wanted ALL THE BOOKS. Then one day, I reached a tipping point. The piles became overwhelming. I had too many books, and I suddenly didn’t want any of them. Books that had once sounded so interesting now bored me when I tried to read them. The waste of money, time, and space weighed on me. When I realized I had several books on the shelf that I didn’t even recognize, that was the final straw. This is when I decided to get my TBR down as close to zero as possible.
How I achieved this:
The process was daunting at first. I started work on both physical and virtual TBR piles simultaneously. First, I divided each into three categories: books by authors I loved and would likely want to read; books that sounded exciting when I first heard of them but I really knew nothing about; and books that I didn’t even recognize. In the following process, I began with the third category and worked my way in.
For the virtual pile, I put 15-20 books on hold from my library at a time. I also pulled 15-20 books off my shelves. With these piles of 30-40 books at my feet, I picked up books one by one, and read the first five pages of each one. From there, they went into three more divisions: books I definitely want to read, books I definitely don’t want to read, and books I need to investigate further. In the latter division, I read a further five pages before putting them in the yes or no pile. In hundreds of books, there were only a handful that I had to read a further five pages to make a decision, and none that needed more than ten. (As a writer, this really reinforced for me how important those opening pages are, not just for future readers, but to get the attention of agents/editors in the submission process!)
The whole process took about two years, but I whittled my pile from the too-many-hundreds-to-count to a much more reasonable number made up entirely of books I’d previewed and verified that I wanted to read. Notably, not all of those books ended up being great. Some, after the initial pages, ended up being real duds, and I’m sure some of the books I culled would have ended up being wonderful. I have no regrets, though. Sure, there’s always the what-if: what if I missed something truly wonderful by culling? But honestly, if I still had hundreds of books on my shelves, I probably never would have gotten to them anyway, and I’d’ve missed other wonderful books because I’d feel obligated to read from my TBR. Plus, I know my tastes very well, and I can guess pretty quickly if a book is going to appeal to me.
These days, I have protocols in place to prevent my TBR from growing out of hand again. With few exceptions, I read books from the library before buying them. When a book catches my eye, I add it to a “to investigate” list on Goodreads instead of to my TBR. I then follow the same procedure to decide if those books should be deleted or moved to my TBR. Finally, when I begin a book that previously survived the process, I have no qualms about giving it up the moment it no longer appeals to me. This system works well for me, and actually, I went through the process yesterday. My to-investigate list had grown to about 40 (way too high!), so I spent several hours at the library. I gathered the books pictured here and previewed each one. Only four survived the process, and I feel good knowing that the books waiting on my TBR are ones I know I want to read.