Thursday, August 6, 2015

Handling An Overwhelming TBR List

I used to keep a handwritten list of all the books I wanted to read. If I saw a book in a store that looked interesting but forgot to write it down on the list, it would be forgotten. Probably forever, never to be read. Generally, my written list would have anywhere from 50-100 books on it at any given time. This system wasn't perfect, but it worked usually. Unfortunately, I forgot to write new books down often, and a lot of books I wanted to read or meant to read never actually got read. This both frustrated and saddened me. And then I discovered Goodreads (thank the Book Gods for Goodreads!) 

Now I could browse new books, rate and keep reviews of the books I’d read, AND keep a TBR that wouldn’t get misplaced or forgotten! I’m crazy about Goodreads, I absolutely love it. I never forget to add a book to my list anymore. BUT (yes, there is a but) I also have more books on my TBR list than I ever had before.  My TBR list on Goodreads is over 700 books long. That is a crazy amount of books. Even if I read 100 books a year (my goal for next year is only 50 – double what it was this year) it will take me SEVEN years to get to the end of the list. That’s before considering all the books I will probably add to the list during the 7 years it take me to finish the list in the first place. 700 books, and it’s not getting any longer.  

When my list was around 500 books long, I started to let it stress me out. I started to think, “maybe I should stop adding books to my TBR until I’ve read all of these first”. And then I realized that if I stopped adding new books, I would forget about them – and then I would never have the chance (however unlikely) to get to them. 

The way I look at my TBR list now is as more of a “someday maybe” list. It’s for books I don’t own, or don’t have the desire to get at the library in the immediate future. The books I choose to read are very often chosen by how I feel – do I feel like reading a mystery just because it’s on my TBR? More often than not, the answer will be no. And I’ll choose something else on a whim. Even though I take such a relaxed approach to my TBR list – (which is very different from my TBR pile, which is unread books I actually own) not everyone does. If looking at an overwhelming TBR list gives you hives, I’ve put together a list of tips that might help you. [If you've read anything on project management, some of these may look familiar to you ;)]
Unless it’s for school, your TBR list is supposed to have all the books you want to read on it for fun. Are you going to enjoy your current read if you’re stressed about finishing it so you can move on to the next book on the list? Probably not. Reading for pleasure is usually a relaxing pastime. It’s not homework. It’s not your job (unless it is your job, if so, you probably don’t need a list like this one). Give yourself a break, cut yourself some slack. Stop telling yourself you have to finish all the books. You don’t have to, you want to, and that’s a different beast entirely.
If you can – personally, I don’t like to do this, but if your list is out of control and driving you nuts try it out. How many books did you read last year? Double that number and you have your TBR limit, it'll be challenging, but not insanely overwhelming. Try not to let your list get past 50 titles, or 100 if that number doesn't scare you.
If keeping a running list of 50 or 100 is still too much, try giving your lists a time limit such as books you’d like to read in the next month, or in the next year. Once that time is up, consider if the books left are still interesting to you. If they are, and you intend to read them soon, add them to next month’s/ year’s list. If not, forget about them. (You can always re-add them later if you really want to)
Try to avoid adding too many books to your list at once (my downfall), maybe consider adding a new book to your list every time you cross one off? My mom taught me to employ this method when it comes to clothes shopping and believe me when I say that it has saved my closet. Why not your TBR list?
I am not under the illusion that I will somehow win millions of dollars in the lottery, retire at 25 and devote the rest of my free time (which would be ALL of my time) to reading all of the books that I could ever want to read ever. (I can admit that it is a dream of mine, but I know it’s not a realistic one.)There is no way that I will ever, realistically, get to the end of my ever growing list. And I’m ok with that. Be realistic about your expectations and keep your list to a number that you think you can actually get to the end of, if getting to the end really matters to you.
Your list I mean. Compare the books that you want to read against each other. Are there books on your list that are very similar to one another? Do you really need to read 3 different series about fallen angels? Do you really need to read 4 different epic fantasy sagas – all with more than 10 books in each series? (That one may just be me). Probably not. Compare similar books closely, read reviews of each. Decide which books you may prefer, and say goodbye to the others. Trust me, I spent the better part of a year reading nothing but paranormal/vampire-centric romances, I read everything from Twilight to the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) series. And while I loved them, I can readily admit that I am sick of the genre overall. I don’t have to read another vampire romance again. You’ll feel free. And the sight of yet another fallen-angel series on a book store shelf won’t make you nauseous.
Be choosy. Be picky. Be persnickety. Scrutinize every book you consider adding to your list. Are you familiar with the author? Are the reviews good? Generally, unless it’s a book I KNOW I will love, I tend to trust in the popular opinion. If 1000 reviewers on Goodreads gave a book less than 3 stars, I probably won’t love it. It might be an OK book, but when it comes to the books that I actually want to give my limited time to, I prefer great ones over the mediocre. 
I modified this tip from a project management guide. While it may not be feasible to get someone to do your reading for you à la Cath and Levi of Fangirl, you can get your audio reading on while you are doing other things, like driving or walking the dog. Try audio books and you can knock off a book that might take you a couple days to read in a  much shorter amount of time, without even trying.
Try sorting through your TBR list and try separating the books you want to read into different categories. Maybe separate your YA from your adult fiction. Try separating your classics from your contemporaries. Maybe separating them by topic would work for you, all fallen-angel related books on one list, all zombie novels on another (maybe reconsider tip #6). Looking at smaller lists that are sorted into categories will be less overwhelming, and it will make it easier to find the books you feel like reading at the moment. Feel like reading a horror? If you’ve got a list dedicated to the genre, you’ll find something quicker than searching through a list that has every book you could ever dream of reading thrown in together.
There are a lot of books on my TBR that I consider books I “should” read. The autobiographies of Nelson Mandela and Gloria Steinem come to mind, but there are lots of others. Remember tip #1 (it may just be the most important tip of all) this isn’t homework. No one is telling you that you have to read anything you don’t really want to. Not crazy about classics but feel like you should read more Jane Austen? Don’t. You don’t have to make a fun hobby into work. I tried forcing myself to read stuff that wasn’t exciting me and that’s how my last reading slump happened (someone remind me to write a post about how to get out of a slump). If thinking about reading a book on your list doesn’t excite you and make you want to pick it up now, ditch it. You can always re-add it later if you change your mind.
BONUS TIP – for the utterly desperate
Throw it away. Delete it. Get rid of the whole thing. Take a break from Goodreads and move forward on a book-to-book basis. Choose your books based on what you want to read right now. And once that book is done chose your next read. You can go on like this indefinitely or you can return to a TBR style list if you ever get stuck on what to read next. Or you can try a website like
 How do you handle your TBR List? Do you have a separate TBR Pile of physical books like I do? Have you tried any of the above tips? Will you? Got any other tips to share? Let me know!


  1. I also use Goodreads for my TBR list - so much easier than juggling slips of paper. My other trick is taking pictures of books when I'm in bookstores that I'm interested in reading but not ready to buy - it's faster and easier than bringing up the app and hunting every single time.

    That being said, my TBR list in Goodreads is... unmanageable. So I don't really think of it as a TBR list. It's more of a 'would be nice to read someday' list. Goodreads is nice because you can organize books however you like - I've made a couple of custom bookshelves, one for books I own but haven't read, and the other for books I want to read SOON (within the next month or two). The latter list I keep to no more than 15 books at a time. It's mostly helpful for me to keep track of books I've borrowed from the library or from friends so that I don't let them sit too long before reading them.

    1. I take pictures of books in the bookstore that I want to buy ALL THE TIME! I try not to make the salespeople nervous. I think of Goodreads the same way - all the books I'd like to get to someday, maybe. I think of the hundreds of books I have piled unread around my house as my actual tbr. Thanks for the comment!