Share Your Story: The Art of the TBR Pile

It may not feel like it, but summer is on its way -- and that means summer reading! Our theme for Adult Summer Reading this year is "Share Your Story," and you can learn more about the challenges and prizes at our website. (The "Share Your Story" program is just for grown-ups -- if you're looking for summer reading for children or teens, that's a different page!) I hope that you'll be able to make time for reading this summer, and that it will bring you comfort and joy.

If you're taking part in the adult summer reading challenge, one of the many ways you can participate is by reading a book from your "To-Be-Read" pile. Now, I know most people don't take the TBR pile to the same extremes that librarians do. We are the professionals, after all! But maybe the wisdom of my experience (and past mistakes) will help you get organized, get reading, or get free of books you don't really want to read!

How Do You Remember What You Want to Read?

Some people (e.g. me) like to have a simple method for keeping track of the books they want to read: they take the book and put it in a pile. I'll be the first to admit that this is not the best system if you have a lot of books you want to read! It takes up too much space, and it's wasteful. By the time I actually get around to a book I bought because I wanted to read it five years ago, I may not even want it anymore. If you're worried about your pile getting out of hand, you may want to keep a list of titles rather than the books themselves. It doesn't have to be high-tech -- the note app on your phone or a page in a paper journal works fine. If you're looking for a technological solution, many people use Goodreads to track both the books they're reading and the books they want to read. Your account comes with a pre-made "Want to Read" shelf! All you have to do is add the titles you're interested in. You can watch a tutorial on using Goodreads here if you need help getting started.

An alignment chart describing various methods of tracking books to read. There are three columns and three rows. In the top row we have the following from left to right: Lawful Good: Bullet journal; Neutral Good: Remembering what you want to read without memory aids; Chaotic Good: Placing holds on library books. In the middle row we have the following from left to right: Lawful Neutral: Goodreads Want to Read Shelf; True Neutral: No pile, no list, no planning ahead; Chaotic Neutral: A literal pile of books. In the bottom row we have from left to right: Lawful Evil: Custom spreadsheet; Neutral Evil: Waiting for your friends to ask for their books back; Chaotic Evil: Adding books to an Amazon cart and not checking out.
How do YOU keep track of what books you want to read?

You can also use your library account to keep track of your To-Be-Reads! When you're logged into the BPL catalog, you can add books to your For Later Shelf. That's not the same thing as placing a hold! All it does is remember the book for you. I've also gone through stages in my life where I kept track of the books I wanted to read by placing holds, but this is a risky strategy. If a bunch of your holds come in at once, you may not be able to read them all, and then some slip through the cracks!

How Do You Keep Your TBR Pile From Ballooning?

Librarians have a nice word for getting rid of the books we don't need any more: weeding. Like non-metaphorical weeding, it's regular task that helps maintain the health of your garden, or in this case, book collection. And yes, we have to weed our personal TBR piles, too! Whether it's a physical pile, or a page in your diary, or a list in an app, you should go through your to-be-reads at least once a year and remove the books you aren't excited about anymore.

A lot of people, myself included, feel guilty about chucking an unread book. I made a commitment to that book! I meant to read it! How can I possibly just give it away without reading it first to find out it I want to keep it? Or, if it's just an entry on my Goodreads Want To Read Shelf, how can I even justify deleting it when it's not taking up space? But it's important to be realistic about whether you're really going to read all those books. You know yourself and your reading habits better than anyone else, so there's no point trying to pretend that you're going to get to that book you've been carting around for the last ten years. Tastes change, and it's not a bad thing! 

Whether it's a paper book, a file on your eReader, or a line on a list, it's taking up space in your head when you're trying to choose what to read next, and you don't have infinite space in your brain. You can't read every book in the world. If you decide that you're not as excited to read a book as you were when you first put it in the TBR pile, you won't hurt the book's feelings by taking it back out.

Your TBR list will be tidier, more appealing, and less likely to overwhelm you if you weed it regularly. Your future self will thank you when you're picking your next read!

How Do You Choose What to Read Next?

There are many reasons to pick a book to read next: it's due back to the library in a week, the person who loaned it to you wants to know what you thought, you saw something about it on the news, your book club is discussing it, you need something fluffy/grim/realistic/short/whatever. But absent any compelling outside reason, let Marie Kondo be your guide! If the thought of reading a book doesn't spark joy, you don't have to read it. Life is too short to read the books you think you should instead of the books you want to. Pay attention to what you're in the mood for! Find the book in your TBR pile that you're really excited to read, right now. Maybe it's the shiny new purchase that you've been putting off reading because you have so many others that you really should read first. Maybe it's the one at the bottom of the pile. Maybe it's the one with the prettiest cover. That's the book you should choose.

Just don't forget to cross off the "Book From Your To-Be-Read Pile" square on your summer reading bingo card when you do!

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of Boston Public Library