Site icon BookerTalk

Revisiting The TBR Book Jar Experiment

woman in beige long sleeve shirt sitting on chair

Photo by cottonbro studio on

I don’t know who came up with the concept of the TBR book jar . It was very popular among book bloggers several years ago though I haven’t seen it mentioned for quite a long time now.

It was meant to act as an incentive to read some of those books that had been lying unread for months/years. The idea was that you wrote the titles of every book in your TBR onto slips of paper and placed them in a jar. Then, when it came time to choose your next book, you put your hand in the jar, and read whatever you picked.

I gave it go even though my stash of owned-but-unread books was half the size that it is today. But it was an experiment that didn’t last long. I confess that I kept cheating! If I picked a book i didn’t fancy reading, I’d return the slip to the jar and pick another one. And another one if the second choice didn’t appeal. Even I realised that’s not how it’s meant to work.

I’d forgotten all about this until earlier this year when, in the darker recesses of a cupboard, I found a jar of brightly coloured slips. Each slip had been tightly folded to keep the title hidden.

I don’t remember exactly when I created this jar but it has to be around 2014 because on one of the little bits of paper were the words Moon Tiger, a book by Penelope Lively which I know I read in February that year.

Out of the 83 slips still inside the jar, I’ve read 47 — primarily Booker prize winners and books on my first Classics Club list. Ten titles I no longer own such as The Thread by Victoria Hislop (I recall reading just three pages of that one) and Family Romance by John Lanchester.

There are 26 books I still haven’t got around to reading including Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

As an experiment this jar had its flaws. But I’ve been thinking that there could be a way to make it work. So I’m going to give it another go.

My “plan” such as it is for this year includes reading more of the books I already own so this could one be a useful way to choose the next book to read. I know I could just create a pile of the books I want to get to this year but I really don’t find that this level of planning ahead works for me. I much prefer the idea of randomly choosing a book to read.

This time however I’ll make it more flexible to try and combat the danger of “cheating” which was my downfall last time.

What I’m thinking to do is to pick out three titles from the jar at the beginning of each month. From those I’ll choose at least one that I’ll commit to reading within two months — the rejected title/s will go back into the jar for another day.

I’ve done slips for books that have been on my TBR the longest. By including only those bought from 2005 up to the end of 2019 I’m giving myself a choice of more than 150 books. The “oldest” is Daniel Deronda by George Eliot which I bought in 2005, there are numerous other classics by Trollope and Zola and a sizeable number of books in translation. I’ve also included a number of neglected Net Galley titles

So there should be a variety of books to suit different moods

Maybe the experiment will work this time. Maybe it won’t but I’ll have lost nothing by giving it a go.

If you’ve ever used a TBR book jar to help you pick your next book to read, do leave me a comment. I’m curious whether they’ve fallen completely out of fashion and if so, why.

Exit mobile version