Sunday Salon

Slimming plan for Mount TBR

sundaysalonBook blogs should come with a surgeon-general style health warning. For those of us who have an inborn disposition to collect more books than one human can possibly need, reading such blogs is akin to letting a child loose in a sweet shop with unlimited funds.

I’ve long had a propensity to acquire books but, in the last year the combination of discovering scores of great book blogs, joining a book club and taking part in some reading challenges has meant my mountain of books yet to be read has now achieved Himalayan proportions. I’ve used every inch of  shelf space in the house and outgrown the storage boxes which were meant to be temporary solutions until I cleared out the shelves. My most recent acquisitions are consequently stacked in piles in various corners of the house, attracting many deep sighs and glowering looks from Mr Booker Talk.

Action is clearly needed. Mount TBR needs to be taken down a size or two. But how is the question?  Having given this much thought in the last few days I’ve realised that, much like dieting to get rid of fat, there are really only two approaches — restrict the input or step up the output.

Since there is no Slimming World or Weight Watchers for Readers as yet, I’ve had to come up with my own ideas.

1. Cosmetic surgery. A drastic option in which I’d chop down the mountain with a few nip and tucks here and there. A cull of books (especially non fiction) I’ve had lingering in the back of the cupboard for years, would certainly bring some relief. There are certainly enough candidates for a cull. There’s Charles Handy’s The Empty Raincoat for a start. It’s lain unopened since I bought it at least 5 years ago And then there’s David Smith’s The Dragon and the Elephant: China, India and the New World Order,  that bought in 2009 after a business trip to those countries. However much my yearning to sound knowledgeable about world affairs, tealistically, the answer is that I’m unlikely to get around to these for some time so why hold onto them? The answer is that it feels such a waste of money.  Perhaps I’ll hang onto them for another year and if I’ve not so much as opened them during that time, I’ll put them up for sale.

2. Go on a fast.  Another drastic action. In other words stop buying books. Stop borrowing books from the library. Stop getting free advance copies from publishers. Stop downloading free e-copies from Project Gutenburg. Drastic measures these. I could manage this for say three months but I’m sure my resolve would wobble after that. And three months of this diet, given my rate of reading, isn’t going to make much of an impression on the stack of unread books.

3. The calorie controlled approach. If complete abstinence isn’t likely to be something I can endure for long, how about if I stopped buying/borrowing/downloading everything for the rest of the year except the books chosen for the book club read?  Given that I already have July’s read and I will probably skip August since I don’t like the sound of the selected book, that means I’ll only be buying four books between now and Dec 31. Problem with that is, I might end up wasting ‘calories’ on books I don’t really enjoy.

4. Calorie swapping. The problem with options 1 and 2 is that the minute someone tells me I can’t have something, I want it even more. Maybe better to say I can acquire new books but only if I swap them for ones I already have. Swapping one for one won’t get the mountain reduced, so I’ll have to go for a 3: 1 ratio. So I can get a new book only when I’ve read three from my TBR pile. Hmm, I like this idea a lot better…

5. Pump up the volume. I thought I was a quick reader but compared to the eye-watering number of books some bloggers seem to read, I am way behind in the field of runners and riders. Short of taking a speed reading course (which seems rather pointless) or taking early retirement (please!!) , my ability to get through more books in a year is rather limited. Maybe if I focused on the shorter novels in my collection, I’d feel psychologically that I was getting somewhere.

And there you have it. A plan, though not one I approach with any relish. I think I’ll have to start with the softer options of numbers 5 and 4 and build up my courage for the others maybe next year.

How do you all tackle this issue? Anyone tried a fast or the calorie controlled approach? Did it work??

Let me know if you have any bright ideas to share.


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

29 thoughts on “Slimming plan for Mount TBR

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  • I went on a reading diet once. That was hellish but it was to prove a point to my partner and who can resist proving a point (the challenge: only read 2 books per week for a year. I managed it for 6 months having failed at the first attempt when I was ill in the March!). Amusingly, I do read less now than I did then!
    Anyway, as regards TBR, I have been posting a photo of the current state of the TBR every month for a while now (find all the posts under their category here if you want to: ) I do find it interesting to see that it stays about the same size all the time, waxing and waning a little (waxing large in December and January when Christmas and my birthday come along!). I find that taking the picture and posting when I acquire new books has NOT stopped me acquiring new books but is quite fun …
    I do get them out of the house if I’m not going to re-read, so the TBR tries not to add to the main bookshelves toooooo much (ha). And I try not to acquire any new ones during my twice-yearly Months of Re-Reading, but that’s not always achieve.
    Be full of books: be happy. You could be addicted to a lot worse. That’s what I say!

    • You limited yourself to only two books a week! I struggle to read even one book a week sometimes so that diet would be very easy for me. I like your idea of taking a picture of the TBR stack – i think I need to wait until husband is out of the house so I can do this in secret. I stack my things in secret places sometimes so he doesn’t see how many books I have bought..

  • Ah Mount TBR, a worldwide mountain range. I personally go for calorie control with the occasional splurge allowed. It forestalls binging and I still feel like I get to have new books. Good luck!

  • I’ve done a three year book buying ban to clear my TBR pile and learnt a lot from it… and I have written about it but not recently and not in enough detail. Really must write about the how, why and what happened properly. *slapping own wrists* Anyway, I like the sound of the 3 out for every 1 in policy. It sounds very do-able. 🙂

    • Three years without buying a book would be torture. Do write about it again because I’m fascinated how you got the will power

  • Don’t think that early retirement is the answer. I don’t seem to read anymore books now than I did when I was at work. There is always so much to do. I don’t know where it all comes from. Where the tbr is concerned, sometimes you just have to be ruthless and recognised that there are some books in there that you are just never going to read and give them away so that they can prop up someone else’s pile.

    • now Alex don’t you dare destroy my fantasy of lazy afternoons wrapped in a book. A girl has to dream…

  • Great post. I once was quite fat and happy with books, but a major move changed habits. Surgery was the answer. When I had to cull through books and haul many I once had to library book sales, I vowed not to collect again. (I still had a few books from college and high school on shelves) — dusty, yellowed, crumpled old things). I still buy books, but I try not to hold on to them. When I finish a book, I give it away. I take pleasure in the giving. I don’t buy books long in advance of reading them.

    • wish I could be half as disciplined as that! I give books away but only ones I know I will never read again.

  • I have been trying for three years to get my TBR under 100 books and I think for one week the count was at 99 but that was just before Christmas and everyone knows what my favourite present is 🙂 On the other hand I have been able to keep it pretty stable at under 130 by trying to only buy books that look amazing rather than just anything that takes my fancy. Where I’m less sure about a book I try to borrow it from the library instead. Very occasionally I take a look at the TBR and cull a handful that have sat there for several years and just don’t appeal as much as the rest.

    • Hm thats an intresting approach – only buy them if they sound amazing. I could buy less I was able to rely on my library to get new titles in quickly and to think beyond the Richard and Judy bookclub kind of level

  • Oh, goodness, you could be talking about me. Books to the ceiling, books on the floor… The piles in my house are a drop in the bucket compared to the 600+ on my Goodreads to-read list. Here are some of the things I’ve tried, with very limited success:

    1. Only buy a book if I know I want to keep and re-read it. The corollary to this one is to use the library a lot, for anything I want to read but might not want to keep. (Works well for new books, especially if I can read them from the library before deciding to buy. It’s not as effective when I go to the library book sale and walk out with 30 books because I’d like to read them someday and they were so cheap that I couldn’t resist.)

    2. Periodic purges of the TBR shelves and piles. If it’s been sitting around to read “someday” for several years, maybe I’m not really that interested. Maybe I just think I should be interested.

    3. Switch to ebooks. At least that way, they only take up memory on my computer, not space on my shelves. Unfortunately, they’re still there, unread and taunting me.

    4. Cultivate “let the universe store it” thinking. Let it go until I really want to read it. I’m not very good at this, because I’m always afraid I won’t be able to find it when I want it. But I keep trying. And the truth is that if a bunch of the books on my TBR shelves/list disappeared, I wouldn’t miss them all that much.

    5. Purge the shelves of books I have read and am not likely to read again. This gains a little space for the unread books I want to read, but not a lot. After years of occasional purges, most of the books I’ve owned for a while are old friends, and I do re-read them, so they stay.

    It’s a constant struggle, both with the books actually in the house (whether tactile or electronic) and the ones on my Goodreads to-read list. If you find a foolproof solution, I clearly need one!

    • Oh dear I forgot about the wish lists I have in cyberspace. Luckily they don’t come anywhere near 600 otherwise Amazon would be pinging me every day to buy something.
      these are all excellent ideas ‘Lark’ – my problem with getting rid of books I have read, is that the minute I put a book in the pile to go to the charity shop, a certain husband pipes up “I might want to read that’ and so it goes back on the shelf…..

        • I shall have to come up with a cunning plan where I sneak the books out under cover of darkness

  • I like No. 4 because it is an option that allows you to read more and still make purchases. Hopefully we can all have more time to read all the books in our respective Mt. TBRs. I have my own mountain range to mind but I just ignore the fact that I buy more than I can read. It’s a problem that I like to have.

    • yes I like the idea of 4 better than the others Angus because at least that way I can still buy something that tickles my fancy. I suppose I could be honest and admit I do still like the idea of having my own private library to choose from and so it’s really a nice problem to have

  • Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    I’ve dabbled in all of those methods with some success 😉 I don’t buy many books, that’s habit I broke 10/15 years ago. Unless my children could start eating paperbacks I had to STOP! As of right now I’m on a self-imposed library ban. Every time I saw a book that looked good (darn bloggers!) I’d request it from the library. That led to a tbr disaster! If I could stop requesting books from Netgalley and accepting review copies I’d be golden. I don’t see that happening any time soon 😉

    • I think I can easily wean myself off Netgalley for a while. The library I can probably manage but can I walk past or even into a bookshop and not buy is the question. Love the image of you stuffing books into your kids just to get the tbr down Jennifer. Hopefully you varied the diet a bit and didn’t give them Dickens every day…

  • booksnyc

    great post! Like Kristen, I think I am in the denial camp – the books are all around but I keep looking away. I actually did take a bag to charity today . . .and then found myself browsing their bookshelves to see what they had! Fortunately, they had nothing that appealed so I got out with a deficit!

    • Phew what a lucky escape you had there. Bet you’ll be back there soon though……

  • booknaround

    Hmmm. I prefer the stick your head in the sand and ignore the problem option. 😉 But I am aware that others are not so resistant to actual solutions. Good luck with however you plan to make the bookshelf changes!

  • Such a dilemma, isn’t it? I’ve tried all of the above with (sad to say) limited success. What HAS helped is:
    1) After reading a book, making a conscious effort to keep only those books I have really loved (or, OK, really liked).
    2) If I know I am getting rid of the book, it needs to leave the house relatively quickly (i.e., get donated to the library on my next visit there, or be donated as part of the next Readathon prizes, or added to the next Goodwill box).
    3) Finally, if I have read, say, two books by an author I don’t like and I still have several of his/her books on the TBR shelf, I get rid of those. I figure if I want to read them later (highly unlikely, especially since I didn’t like the previous books, right?) I can get them from the library.

  • I think these are all great options. So I don’t feel so bad when I cull books, I check to see if my library has a copy I can check out at a later time. It’s rare that I actually want to read the books I give away. Also, giving books away to your public library is often tax-deductible. Good luck with finding a solution that works.

  • I’m on the calorie controlled option. I really hate having a ton of unread books around.

  • The TBR is an ongoing problem for most book bloggers. For the past three years, I have participated in a Mt. TBR Challenge…and have substantially whittled the stacks down. The unread books, anyway. I still have a bookshelf problem, and have partially solved it by borrowing from the library and downloading on my Kindle. And recently, I have done some book purging of books already read. I would never get rid of unread books!


  • I have the same enduring problem : ) I am trying to be strict in my book acquistion – but I can’t claim total abstinence – in fact I have a few to confess to on the confessional page of my blog. But I am trying – honestly. I know really that I don’t need to buy/borrow/download any more books this year – but knowing it and doing it are two very different things.


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