Reading plans

My TBR Book Jar Experiment — Is It Working?

Text reads Update on My TBR Jar Experiment with a background of book covers

It’s nine months since I decided to revisit the TBR book jar idea so I thought I’d share some insights on how the experiment is working out.

For those of you who haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about, I should explain that the TBR book jar is a way of helping indecisive readers (me!) choose the next book to read from all the hundreds of unread titles on the bookshelves.

You fill the jar with slips of paper each bearing the title of a book you own but have yet to read. Then, when the time comes to choose your next read, you pull one of the slips from the jar.

Glass jar containing coloured pieces of paper - each bearing the title of a book I own but have yet to read. .This is my TBR  jar

I’ve modified the standard approach a little. My “rules” are that at the start of each month, I choose three slips and commit to reading one of the selected titles within the next two months. If I fail to read the selected book, then it goes straight into the donation bag ready for my next trip to a charity shop.

I started doing this in February and the experiment has been remarkably successful. Ten books chosen of which I’ve read eight — the remaining two includes the November choice so doesn’t “need” to be read until end of January. The only month I failed was June when I ended up with Angel by Elizabeth Taylor. Though it was the best of the three titles picked out that month, I couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm to actually read it so into the donation bag it went. Here’s a run down of what I read from each month’s selection:

February: Fox Fires by Wyl Menmuir — Read

March: The Survivors by Jane Harper — Read and reviewed (here)

April: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh — Read and reviewed (here)

May: The Christie Affair by Nina Gramot — Read

June: Angel by Elizabeth Taylor  — Fail so have donated

July: Consequences by Penelope Fitzgerald   — Read

August: Nada by Carmen Floret — Read

September: The Snow Hare by Paula Lichtarowitcz— Read

October: The Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny — Read

November: Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple — to be read by end Jan 2024

To my astonishment I have actually stuck to the “rules”. I confess that when I first used the TBR jar (I’m estimating that was around 2014) I frequently cheated — if I picked out a book I wasn’t in the mood to read that month, I would put the slip back in the jar and pick another …. and another… and another until I got a result I could live. So really there wasn’t much point in having the jar!

This time around I feel less constrained because I have three choices AND more time in which to read the chosen book.

It’s too early to declare victory of course but I’m encouraged that the experiment has got off to a good start. Let’s hope it continues.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

30 thoughts on “My TBR Book Jar Experiment — Is It Working?

  • I’m impressed! I’m fairly methodical with my TBR but I have two stages which includes a physical move from a pile in one room to another during which I might decide that I really don’t want to read the book at all.

  • I’m glad it has worked for you and I’m rather taken with your flexible.approach to varying the rules, so much so that I’m seriously considering whether I should adopt as a way, like you, of making a serious dent on those book piles. My initial plan though for 2024 was for it to be a Year of Reading Randomly, but now I’m dithering …

  • While my jar isn’t as full as yours, I am doing this as well with the books I got before Book Depository went down. I have only a few left, but when those are finished, I’ll start taking books I’ve had for much longer and putting them in the jar. Now, I am also alternating these with things like the Classics Club spin books, and my personal reading challenge to read (or re-read) all of Agatha Christie’s Tommy & Tuppence books. I’m reading one of those right now, and afterwards, I’ll be reading the William Boyd book “The Romantic.”

  • I do read as the mood takes me so being limited to one choice just meant frustration when the book that I picked didn’t suit my mood at the time. This new approach is much less frustrating

  • I think I’ve commented before that I like this idea. But I have too many TBRs to write them all on slips, so I think I’ll use a random number generator with my LibraryThing TBRS (my oldest ‘real book’ TBRs to pick three titles. It might work!

  • Sounds like a good plan, though my TBR is so huge that I suspect my jar would be gigantic, but it’s obviously working for you. Sorry you didn’t like Angel though – I enjoyed it very much!

  • I’m interested in the Fox Fires by Wyl Menmuir, I read The Draw Of The Sea (non-fiction) by him. Did you enjoy it?

    • Fox Fires is superb Rosie – hugely atmospheric. Can highly recommend it

  • Happy to hear the TBR jar is proving to be more successful this time around.
    Amending the rules to give yourself more flexibility was inspired.
    Well done Karen.

  • Well done on finding a version of your rules that works for you. Once you finish the book do you also donate it, or keep it?
    I’m doing a clear out this week, there’s an English book sale here this weekend, a grand opportunity to clear the shelves and see what’s in the second layer behind as my shelves are beginning to double up and obscure some titles.

    • Majority of the time I donate the book Claire. There are very few I keep now because, despite good intentions, I never get around to re-reading. Depending on the book I either circulate it to two members of my walking group who are avid readers or donate it to a National Trust second hand book shop.

      My shelves are also doubled up so I can relate to your problem!

  • I might just try this. But getting that jar organised….It would have been a good Lockdown job, but that ship has sailed – I hope.

    • I have a spreadsheet where I list all the books, when bought, when read etc so it was just a case of printing out the list and cutting them up!

  • I’ve been choosing my reads this year with a TBR jar too! It’s been so much fun! So much fun in fact that I actually invested in a toy bingo wheel for next year 😂

  • I really like this idea. Especially the pick 3 and 2 months to get it read. I might have this project for the new year. See if I can do it, haha. Though I will use the app I have my books logged on and not the jar. I would need a large jar. 🌻

    • It’s surprising how many slips of paper you can fit into one jar Pam. The photo I used was showing work in progress. It now has many more included but the slips are tiny

      • I can use a random number and apply iy to the library app. Let’s see how this goes. 😉🌻

  • Sounds like your new system is a success! It’s always satisfying to finally read one of the books that have been lingering for a while, and if they turn out to be great that’s an added bonus!

  • Teresa Chatterton

    Shame you didn’t read Angel – I loved it!

  • Glad it’s working for you, but I reckon it’d take me 6 days to write all the names down so the TBR jar isn’t something I’d ever contemplate trying for myself 🤷🏻‍♀️😆

    • That’s where my TBR spreadsheet became very useful. It took time to put that together but so necessary because I kept forgetting what I owned already – and would then end up with duplicates/triplicates. So for the jar, I could just print out the list and cut into slips.

      • Ah well, yes, that would save a bit of time! I was imagining having to hand write them all, which would take FOREVER!

  • Well, that is a success!
    I don’t have a jar, but what I do have is an Excel file with all my books listed by year of acquisition to the TBR, with one flaw, which is a big one, that it only dates from my computer disaster in 2012 when I had to reconstruct it with a 2008 file so there’s some books among the 29 titles for 2008 I’ve actually had since before that.
    And every now and again, I sort this file into year of acquisition and read something from the 2008 list.
    I’m not stressed about what’s on the TBR. I like having hundreds of books to read. But I don’t want my shelves cluttered with books bought a while ago that now seem ‘meh’ and that I’m unlikely ever to read.
    So I’m thinking, I might introduce a rule that mimics yours. To choose the 1st book in that list and if I don’t want to read it, out it goes.

    • Your idea for a new “rule” would work just as well Lisa. Having a jar or a list is just a way of ensuring i dig into those books I bought a very long time ago and actually read them or if my interest has waned, letting them go. Since my TBR shelves are double stacked I often don’t see what I have.

      • Yes, I think the jar on the desk is a visual prompt which a digital file doesn’t have.

  • I’m glad the system works for you. I never give books away so it wouldn’t work for me. I don’t receive unsolicited books, but I have my father’s library and I buy second hand Australians by the box if I get the chance, so I have plenty to read when I retire.

    I hope you liked Nada, I thought it was excellent.

    • I did enjoy Nada, Bill. She created a tremendous picture of the atmosphere in the house where Nada lives

      You never give books away!! If I didn’t do that I would be stepping over books everywhere in the house

  • 3 sounds more reasonable! With just one choice, I would cheat as well! Good work in finding a system that works for you! 🙌📚


We're all friends here. Come and join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: