The TBR Dilemma

There was a time when I was pretty disciplined about my To Be Read stack. I would place books on it in the order I intended to read them, so I always knew, at a glance, what book I would be reading next, and which one after that and so on.

Three-quarters or more of these books, in a TBR area in 2008, are still unread. I couldn’t even tell you where half of them are right now.

I admit I didn’t always follow the stack, sometimes something else would demand my attention and slip in at the top, but most of the time I stayed “true to the stack”. For better or worse that’s changed, or perhaps I should be kinder to myself and say my TBR has evolved. Now there are simply stacks, piles and bookcase sections that contain a lot of books I’ve bought and intend to read, someday. When I finish a book, I add it to my Books I’ve Read list, mark it read in my book catalog, and then scan the piles to decide what I’ll start next. The only exception to this is if I have a book from the library waiting. Because that’s a deadline book, it will always come first.

That exception aside, instead of some kind of prearranged, or at least orderly, reading process it’s now willy-nilly; whatever strikes my fancy, the whim of  the moment. Because there are several places to look, and I tend to make the decision on the fly, the only guiding thought I may have is deciding if I want to read another of the same genre/sub-genre as the last book. If I’ve just finished a mystery, I tend to lean towards a fantasy or science fiction title, or else straight fiction or non-fiction.

I’ve considered trying to organize all this back into the ordered I-know-what’s-next method I used several years ago, but haven’t haven’t had the time or energy (read: I’ve been too lazy) to even begin that process. I suspect if I did try it, I’d rediscover things that might once have been at the top but got buried in piles behind other piles. One thing is certain: too many of the books I do read are going onto – or back onto – the shelves, and not into the Out Of The House Box (hereafter OOTH). You know the one, that box with 2 books in it that never gets filled up.

I guess if the present arrangement isn’t causing any harm there is no point in changing it, but I have a deep suspicion that I’m reading more of the latest arrivals and less of the things I’d intended to read, back when I brought them into the house.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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18 Responses to The TBR Dilemma

  1. Carl V. says:

    Boy does this sound familiar, with the exception of the fact that I’ve really never been too organized about what I’m going to read next. Ever since venturing into the world of book blogging I have become even more of a whim reader than I used to be. I think a lot of that has to do with exposure to so many different books which leads to me a): buying them or b): requesting them from the library. The results of both a and b are piles of books waiting to be read.

    I considered it quite the accomplishment that 5 books came in from the library the other day all at the same time (unexpected as most of them were new releases) and I read 2 of them over that weekend, finished one more a few days later, and am reading a 4th. The 5th will probably end up going back, but this is highly unusual for me to be that disciplined.

    I have begun to put together a Summer Reading List of sorts, largely because I love making lists like this. There are a wide variety of books that I feel are clamoring for my attention now and in addition to putting them on the list I am very tempted to line them up on the same shelf in the downstairs basement just for the fun of doing so. Then I could re-shelve them in their rightful place as I read them.

  2. Richard says:

    Carl, That summer reading list, and shelving them together until you read them, sounds like a terrific plan! Take a picture of that shelf, list the books, sort of make a personal reading challenge of it?

    I try to never request more than 1 library book at a time, so I don’t have to feel that pressured.

  3. Like Carl,
    I’ve never been very disciplined in my TBR pile. Things I once felt were must reads seem to work their way down the pile as newer stuff come in that look as equally important. If things go as usual, some of those new, exciting finds will drift down as well as even more stuff comes in. Like all good readers, I’m greedy about new books(whether actually new or some old book that slipped by in the past; damn that forgotten books!).

    I think I’ve said it more than a few times. Real readers are like a kid in a candy store. You want everything you see and don’t know where to reach first. We will glut ourselves given half a chance.

  4. My problem now is the ebook TBR stack, which is piling up on my Kindle because of all the free books I see advertised and I’m picking them up just in case.

  5. Carl V. says:

    You are so right, Randy. That is exactly what it is like. Heck, I just bought Scalzi’s new book Monday (my BN put it out a day early) and I’m not even a third of the way through that and I went out today at lunch and bought a copy of Alastair Reynolds’ latest, Blue Remembered Earth, because early reviews have me very excited about this one. But will I get to it next after finishing Scalzi? Unlikely considering other books I have on the pile, but maybe. But I *had* to have it, ha!

  6. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I always have at least a handful of library books and those do tend to take precedence. In general I have at least one book of short stories going (if not, I have a pile of EQMMs and AHMMs) in addition to whatever novel (or, more rarely these days, non fiction book) I am reading. When we go away (especially the six weeks in Florida) I do take my own books of course, which helps for a short while at least. But now that I have the Kindle coming with the same problem Charles mentioned, it will complicate things more. I already have it downloaded on the PC and smart phone.

    Like Carl I used to make a summer reading list but not any more. Like you I’ve been trying to vary my reading among genres though I am reading way fewer mysteries than usual these days and more science fiction, young adult and straight fiction.

    Oh, hate to add to your piles but I sent you a book yesterday.

  7. Walker Martin says:

    One problem is that as you get older you develop more interests. For intstance as a teenager I was crazy about SF and thats all I wanted to read. But then in my 20’s I was in college and exposed to all sorts of mainstream literature. Then in my 30’s I started to collect pulps and vintage paperbacks. In my 40’s I got interested in literary magazines and film journals. In my 50’s I had more income and expanded my interests even more. Now in retirement I look back and see that I’ve read thousands of books but I also have thousands in my TBR piles.

    This is what happens in a lifetime of reading and being interested in all sorts of subjects. We just don’t stay the same; we evolve and move on to more and more interesting things. So I don’t think you will ever get your TBR pile under control. I never did. And frankly, I don’t want to!

  8. Richard says:

    Yes, Walker, I couldn’t agree more. I’m 66, and if I realistically assume another 15 years of reading (could always be way less, of course) and I read about 100 books a year, less if there are thick ones, then that’s 1,500 books. I have way more than that here, unread, of all fiction genres and non-fiction. I want to, or wanted to at one time, read every one of those. Yet I buy new things that catch my eye. I’ve become interested in pulp fiction and have many, many reprint collections, more than I can keep up with. I have westerns I haven’t read, historical mysteries. Twenty years ago I wasn’t interested in any of those. Sigh.

  9. Carl V. says:

    Real readers are exactly like a kid in a candy store, that is so correct. I go through periods where I am in good control and others where I cannot help myself.

  10. Patti Abbott says:

    Most of my house is the TBR stack. It has to number well over 500 books.

  11. Carl V. says:

    In fact, I got “out of control” again yesterday when I went out and bought Alastair Reynolds’ new book, Blue Remembered Earth even though I had just bought Scalzi’s newest, Redshirts, the day before. I didn’t *need* a new book, but I just *had* to have it. 🙂

  12. I’m reading BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH. I dropped everything I was reading and plunged into Alastair Reynolds’ new book. Like most of you, I read library books first (since they have due dates) but I do have a REAL REAL SOON stack of the books I most want to read. There are plenty of other stacks of books that consist of titles I want to read, but there’s no urgency.

  13. Richard says:

    Patti, it’s getting that way here, too, or it feels like it is.

    Carl, believe me I understand the need to have it thing! I have Caliban’s War on order and I haven’t read Leviathan Rising yet! Plus Friday Forgotten Books gives me things to think about, need, or have to have every week! Then there’s YOUR blog… and so many others. This was all simpler before the internet.

  14. Richard says:

    Jeff, the fact that you read a short story every day is a feat in itself. I have tried but just can’t get there. So far, at least.

  15. John says:

    What Patti said. I think my TBR mountain range surpasses 500 books. I keep promising myself on the first of each month no more book buying. And every month I have a shopping bag filled. Addiction, right?

  16. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I checked last night and I’ve read over 250 short stories so far this year. I finished 13 collections of shorts by the end of May and I’m a couple of hundred pages into the Cheever Library of America collection now.

  17. Richard says:

    That sure seems like a lot to me!

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