What does your “to be read” pile look like?  Right now, the cabinet in which I keep the books I plan to read very soon contains only 107 books.  This pile is a constantly shifting mass.  Some are from the library so they have to be near the top, generally according to the date they are due to be returned.  Of course, sometimes a newer book comes home and that book might go right to the top.  Right now, my husband has a stack of 26 books next to his chair.  I have 51 which I keep neatly in a pile on top of the cabinet.  I make extensive use of the library network’s inter-library loan system that allows me to have 20 books on hold.  My husband goes to the library every Saturday with a list of books to find on the shelves.  These, coupled with the available holds, brings about 25 new books into the house.  I have a very elaborate system of keeping track of everything and I am comforted by the notion that if we had a blizzard of long duration I would have plenty to read.  In that I read, generally, five books a week, it takes a lot of books to keep me comfortable that I won’t run out. (I haven’t mentioned the built-in book closet that contains all the non-fiction).

I have not gotten into e-books in a big way…yet.  I did download the Kindle application for PCs and I have four books hiding behind the Kindle icon.  I hadn’t thought about e-books as something that would require another “to be read” pile but I came across an article today from Salon magazine.  It opened up a whole new world of obsessive behavior for me in the near future.

Sunday Salon: Taming the Virtual TBR Pile   October 24, 2010 by Teresa

Since my post last year about my frustration with my growing TBR pile (then at 208 books), I’ve learned to be at peace with the number of unread books in my house. As much as I’d like to have a more reasonable number of unread books (say, 100-ish), I’ve come to terms with the fact that my own stacks will probably continue to hover at around 200. (Right now, I have 196 unread books.)

Today, though, I want to talk about another TBR pile—the virtual pile, the running list of books that I read about online and elsewhere that sound interesting. Until recently, I’d been keeping track of those books on a spreadsheet, blithely adding any books that sounded at all interesting and then not thinking about them again. A few weeks ago, after something like the millionth invitation, I finally joined Goodreads and decided to use it to keep track of my virtual TBR. I like having an online home for this list, in case my computer ever dies, and as wonderful as LibraryThing is, I’ve found that it doesn’t work so well for the virtual TBR.

So I’ve spent some time in the last few weeks transferring the books on my spreadsheet into Goodreads, divided into library books and books not at the library. As I was adding books, I realized that I had absolutely no idea what some of them were about and why they were on the list. Sometimes I had links to blog posts and articles on my spreadsheet, but I’ve not been consistent about that, and since adding some of these books, I’ve learned more about different bloggers’ tastes and realized whose tastes match mine more precisely. I also discovered some books that I’ve since learned more about and feel sure I wouldn’t like. But I never took them off the list (because I forgot they were there).

I love having a TBR list. When I bother to look at it, a TBR list can remind me of low-profile books that haven’t gotten so much attention and that may not be prominently displayed in bookstores and libraries. However, it seems to me that if I want this list to have any meaning at all, it should only include books that I’m reasonably sure I’ll like. I don’t want to take the trouble of tracking down a book only to realize after a few pages that it’s not my thing at all.

Over the last few months, I’ve gotten a lot choosier about what goes on my TBR list. When I learn about a book that sounds interesting, I now try to find sample chapters online to see what the writing is like. I may also seek out more reviews, paying special attention to negative reviews to see whether its flaws are the kind that annoy me. But a lot of books on my TBR were added before I got choosy.

What to do? I’ve decided to work back through the list, doing more research on the books listed. Mostly I’ve been reading sample chapters online. I like to consider the first couple of chapters—or first 10 pages if the chapters are long—an audition; this is the time when the book convinces me (or not) that it’s the kind of book I’m looking for. If I don’t know anything about a book, those first pages give me some sort of idea what kind of book it is. So I’ve created a “to-audition” list on Goodreads. As I find time, I’ll be researching these books and deciding whether they shall stay on my list. I don’t have a particular goal in mind. I just want the list to be meaningful, to include books that I’m likely to enjoy or appreciate.

So how do you keep your TBR list under control? Do you even maintain a list? How do you decide what to add? Do you ever purge that list?

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5 Responses to THE “TO BE READ” PILE

  1. kathy d. says:

    It’s a wonderful photo of books.
    I am impressed by how well-organized you are with your TBR lists and piles, using a spreadsheet and other methods to keep track of it all.
    I have two places where I piled up books, but they are small piles. I have TBR lists in four places. I was adding to them and also I print out recommended lists from favorite websites, rather than copying the titles down. Also, I bookmark book reviews that recommend books I’d like, so I’m actually downsizing the lists. But there are more suggestions than ever, due to the great websites I’m reading. This website has given me very good reading suggestions.
    Also, I also enjoy having books on shelves in my environment, and like looking at them all of the time.

  2. Beth says:

    Kathy, there is no spreadsheet. I have no idea how to do it. My lists go on sheets from a legal pad. My resolution to the problem of mountains of books is to have reams of notes, some organized, most not.

    If I kept track of the to be read pile on my laptop, I would never get away from it. As it is , I may go blind from eyestrain.

  3. kathy d. says:

    Oops, sorry, it must have been the article cited above, regarding spreadsheets and internet lists, that I saw. (Problem with reading blogs in the middle of the night.)
    Anyway, I’m trying not to have so many TBR lists by bookmarking websites and reviews or printing out bloggers’ “best of…” lists with several books listed.

  4. Condorena says:

    I have the same obsession to number my TBR pile and it it way tmtc – too many too count. It is in the hundreds as in that picture of yours. I always question my motivation in keeping this stockpile. Am I a hoarder, am I preparing for a disaster, or on a more positive note am I looking forward to a long period of leisure at some time in the future ?

    In any case it is like a garden, I add to it, prune it down, weed it, add new species and look it over frequently with pleasure and then pick a small collection for the table.

    • Beth says:

      Condorena, that picture isn’t my pile. I found it on Google Images. My to be read pile is actually to be read stacks. The china cabinet has books in it, every flat surface has books on it, all beds have books under them.

      With three bedrooms empty of children but not empty of their belongings, my books aren’t noticed among all their books.

      The books in that picture were better organized.

      I like the garden simile. No one complains when there are more roses and gardens are much more work.

      Keeping a numerical record of the “to be read in the near future” serves a two fold need. It is comforting to know there are so many at hand and it is satisfying to have proof that I have actually read some of them.

      I wish the rest of my life was as well organized.

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