Little known secrets of my library



It’s time I came clean about the state of my library of unread books (otherwise known as the TBR).

I warn you that this could get ugly.

What’s a TBR? 

If you follow any blogs about books and reading you’ll already be familiar with this term.

But for the benefit of any newbies, TBR stands for To Be Read.

It generally means all the books lying around in your home that are unread. Some people chose to include all the books they want to read, but haven’t yet got around to acquiring.

I stick to the “owned by unread” definition for my TBR. I record all of these titles on a spreadsheet which lists when they were bought/acquired, the author’s country of origin and a category (classic, translated, crime etc). At one time my TBR included books I wanted to read but the list quickly became huge and I panicked so I now just put those into a Goodreads wishlist.

Seriously you have how many unread books!!!

I have in the region of 314 unread books at home.

It’s not an exact figure because I keep finding books in unexpected places around the house.

This is higher than the figure at the end of 2018 (for the record I got to Dec 31 with 302 books).

I was doing well until May, resisting buying too many new titles but then it all went  haywire. A combination of a buying splurge, a birthday and some advance copies passed on by other bloggers – yes they are to blame! ).

What would be an ideal number?

I don’t have a target for the number of unread books I think it would be acceptable to have in my library.

I’d like to  think I could make significant progress and get it down to around 270 by end of 2019 but I doubt that’s going to happen.  I’m trying to exercise some restraint (you might not believe it but it’s true) by avoiding NetGalley – I know if I look I will end up clicking. That way madness lies.

The breakdown…

I hadn’t realised I have so many non factual books on my shelves. They’re a mix of history (I have a few by Mary Beard), health related and memoirs. A lot of the books in translation are ones I acquired when I started my quest of reading more broadly around the world. I’m slowly making my way through them.

Booker Prize related               6 (two winners, 1 shortlisted and 3 longlisted)
Children’s fiction                     2
Classics                                    39
Crime/thriller .                       19
Fiction                                    164
Non fiction .                            27
Short story collections .          6
Fiction in translation .          40
Welsh authors                        13

The format…

Paper dominates in my house. Though I found an electronic reader a saviour when I was travelling a lot for work, now I’m retired I don’t have to worry about lugging heavy books around with me. There are 40 books on my e reader. They’re a mixture of classics from Gutenburg , Net Galley editions and some bargains I bought from that big company named after a river.

The oldest book in my collection is …

To the Lighthouse

According to my spreadsheet the book I’ve had the longest is To the Lighthouse. But that’s misleading because I bought it in 1975 and have read it twice. I think I kept it on the list because I meant to read it again at some point.  It shouldn’t really be there.

Next in line is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (a Booker prize shortlisted title).

never let me go

My record says I acquired it in 2010. I say “I” but actually it was a book I bought for my husband. He didn’t care for it but I rescued it from the ‘donate to charity shop’ pile. Now I’m thinking: do I still want to read this? It’s dystopian fiction which I haven’t read much of in the past but maybe this could be the book that helps get me more interested in that genre.

After that comes James Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late (what an apt title for book that’s been waiting eight years for me to get around to reading). It’s on the list because it’s part of my Booker Prize project. I did actually begin reading it and then put aside. I WILL read it this year……

The newest book (s) in my collection are…

Today’s purchases were:

West by Carys Davies: a novella about early pioneers in America. I bought it for two reasons. Reason One, I loved her earlier work The Redemption of Galen Pike.  Reason Two, she hails from Wales though sadly has moved home to Scotland.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. The accolades keep pouring in for this second novel by the Irish author. I’m curious whether it lives up to all those awards for which it’s been nominated.

Any  review copies in that pile?

Currently I have nine review copies still to be read.

Sounds impressive doesn’t it?

Unfortunately most of these are about three years old. They were the result of getting over excited on Net Galley and not paying enough attention to the book description before putting in my request. Lesson learned. Now I only request review copies or accept them if I am very certain I’ll be able to read them in a reasonable time frame.

Book number 200 on the list is 

The 200th book is in fact one of those old Net Galley review copies.  A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee is the first in his series set in 1919 British ruled Calcutta featuring a former Scotland Yard detective. I learned today he’ll be  doing an author event in a local bookshop this September so I should really try to read this before that date.

The books I most want to read 

I’ve put 15 titles from my TBR onto the list for 20BooksofSummer so that’s going to be my focus for the next few months. I’d also like to get to these three books soonish.


Now you’ve been introduced to the darkest secrets of my TBR, how about pulling back the curtains on your stash of unread books?


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

44 thoughts on “Little known secrets of my library

  • You sound like a kindred spirit. I work at a public library and am constantly going home with stacks of books I’ll never finish in time. I keep a list of TBRs on my library account, but surprisingly when I have the time go back to it some of the books no longer interest me. I guess being too busy is as good a way to winnow as any. Fun post.

    • Working in a library would do serious things to my list of books I’d like to read. It would go through the roof I fear. One wonderful thing about a library service is you can experiment without feeling you’re wasting money. So I often take out books that I would normally not buy – I dip into them but if they are just not for me, they can go back without any cost…..

  • So little time, too many books! Seriously, though…when I saw my GoodReads shelf I had to admit to myself that the TBR list was making me anxious. Actually, a bit depressed. I started calculating how long it would take me to read all the books. Yikes. I guess I have to be more discriminating. Then there’s finishing writing my middle-grade novel… Have you read The Library Project? I just reviewed it.

    • It’s easy to add books to a Goodreads wishlist – and that’s the problem, you can just keep adding and adding. I barely look at my list if I’m honest.. it could probably do with some pruning

  • I am in awe of your spreadsheet and wish I’d started one way back when the TBR was halfway manageable. I have no idea how many unread books I have but this is probably for the best because the number would be devastating and large enough to crush me.

    I am trying to chip away at it though by adding in at least one older book (one that’s been waiting patiently on the TBR) to each month’s reading.

  • Judy Krueger

    I enjoyed your confession. You are forgiven. At least they are not hats or shoes. I have given up worrying about this. I know I will never read all I want to before my life is over, but I am determined to keep trying. Last year I created a challenge to read a book a month from my TBR lists corresponding to the past 12 years of lists (I keep my lists by pub date.) It was wildly successful and I read 12 books I have been meaning to read. All were quite good to great! This year my challenge is to read at least one translated book a month, taking them from a pile of review copies I accepted some years ago. (I don’t do that anymore.)

    • My cunning approach to accusations of having a shoe buying fetish is that I don’t really own all that many pairs of shoes. I have sandals, and boots, and trainers, and pumps but shoes, not that many really…..

      I like your idea of the one TBR a month challenge. It’s perfectly doable at that level – easier than trying to read for the entire month just from the TBR

  • Oh, dear. Let’s just say my number is higher than 314…

    Your books of summer list looks like fun. I’ve read A Fine Balance & quite liked it, but it is grim.

    • Mine was higher too a few years ago – I did a big sort out……

  • I love all the data you have on your books, my spreadsheet which seriously needs updating just tells me year published, title author, and if it’s on kindle or not. I think I must be at about 260 or 70.

    • I did the spreadsheet out of necessity – I kept buying a book only to find I already had a copy at home

      • My job tonight is to update mine, you’ve inspired me.

  • If my TBR was in one place, contained and identifiable I might try this. But it isn’t so I shall steer well clear. Nice to hear about yours, though! 😀

    • The actual books are scattered in multiple places so I often come across ones I had forgotten I had and which were not recorded…..

  • I did #20BooksofSummer two times, and I do remember it being a great way to get through books that I own. Now, I continue following the method of reading the oldest and newest books I’ve put on my TBR, and that’s quite speedily reduced my TBR.

    • Oldest/newest is a good approach – certainly gets you over that feeling you want to read all the shiny new objects but then feeling guilty at the older ones you have neglected

  • I am definitely renaming my spreadsheet: from ‘tbr’ to ‘wishlist’. Then I can open a new spreadsheet which is a true ‘tbr’ although it might be rather terrifying to know quite how many books are really sitting unread on the shelves. Certainly one of them is Notes From An Exhibition – had it for some years and just never quite got around to it. The Hours, on the other hand, I own and love. Recommended.

    • I found it really helpful to have the two separated – when they were all mixed together I found I was getting confused and buying multiple copies of the same book

      • I’ve had that happen too once or twice. Looking forward to a free afternoon and some spreadsheet fun!

        • Not sure I would class this as fun. Better than ironing or cleaning of course……

  • You know you can mark books on NetGalley as not intending to read and review, so they get off your shelf and you can stop feeling guilty? I’ve done that with a few. I’m not quite sure how they affect your total and percentage reviewed, however, though I’m sure there is info on that.

    • No I never knew that – just had a look and discovered how to do that. It does affect the % but only in the same way that not reading/reviewing would do so no real loss. Thanks Liz!

  • I’m very impressed that you’ve read To The Lighthouse twice; it is on my Summer list because I have yet to read it once. Do get round to Notes From An Exhibition and The Hours as soon as you can; they are both superb books.

    • You astonish me, I would have put a large bet on the fact you had Woolf.

      • I’ve read vast quantities of her letters, journals and essays but only her very early novels. A terrible admission!

        • that’s probably more than most people have read of hers

  • Inconvenient though it is, my dislike of reading ebooks has saved me from the temptations of NetGalley! I like your approach, Karen. Setting targets would simply make me feel miserable about my ‘failure’.

    • You probably receive so many advance copies anyway that you don’t need any more via net galley 🙂

  • A Rising Man sounds very intriguing, and I’d love to read that sometime. I don’t dare look too closely into my TBR.

    • I hear you, sometimes I am afraid to look too at the spreadsheet.

  • I’m glad you’ve done this too – nice to know I’m not the only one with a large TBR list, and thanks for the link.

    I thought Never Let Me Go is one of the most chilling and disturbing books in its implications. I didn’t know what it was all about before I read it, so when I realised it quite took my breath away. I noted this quotation ‘… you’ve been told and not been told.’ I did the same as you with NetGalley books – it’s just so tempting and I’m surprised at how many of my requests are granted. I’ve read the Gale and Cunningham books, both very enjoyable.

    • a lot of the Net Galley books don’t appeal to me anyway so that helps. You have me more inclined now to give the Ishiguru a go…

  • I didn’t take the spreadsheet route, but I did have a hidden stash of books piled inside a cupboard, plus a designated shelf on one of the bookcases. Recently I excavated the cupboard TBR and ruthlessly decided: if I haven’t yet read the book for 2/3/4/ years, do I really want to? that culled two-thirds of the pile – I donated them. Keeping my upcoming (expensive) holiday in mind, I have not bought any books recently. And I am taking books off the TBR shelf to read, rather than checking the Book Club stock, or the Library shelves. Progress is slow, but its happening.

    • Wow, that was brave of you. I do periodically go through my stack and challenge myself to be brutally honest about whether I will read the book. Last week I took a pile to be donated. I have another pile to go tomorrow.

  • I have a spreadsheet too, and I’ve also stopped making lists of books I want to read but don’t own, it’s too crazy! Ive been sitting around 100 physical, unread for many years. Im pretty good at culling. The 20 books of summer should cut that by 20%… if I don’t buy anything!

    • I’d love to get down to 100 – I do view a TBR as a pleasure rather than a pain. It’s my own library in essence. But it would be nice to feel I could go into the room and not stumble over all the piles of unread books.

  • LOL I am not brave enough to contemplate doing a post like this.
    I recently added a tally to the bottom of my spreadsheet, and I wish I hadn’t. Not because I feel guilty about a big TBR, at 200 books a year I’ve only got about five years supply, but because I’m reading so many from my lovely library lately, I’m not making much impact on what I already have…

    • I hadn’t thought about doing the equation to see how many years worth of inventory I have…. Sometimes I think I will just read from the TBR but then I end up visiting the library and getting sucked in…

  • I don’t have a spreadsheet, but I’m sure my list is worse. However, I am making progress and have curbed my book buying.

    • When you say you’ve curbed your buying does that mean you buy at a lower level or stopped all together? Either way, I’m impressed Guy

  • I am enjoying discovering that everyone else’s TBR is even bigger than mine! I loved A Rising Man and also the two later ones – I have a feeling there must be another one due soon, so maybe that’s what he’ll be promoting in the autumn. I thought he gave quite a balanced picture of the Brits in India – neither all good nor all bad. Very impressed by the nine review copies – I’ve been trying really hard to keep mine down, but then I splurge and it’s as bad as ever again, and all the older books on the TBR just keep getting older!

    I’m glad you joined in – I love peering into other people’s bookshelves! And thanks for the link. 😀

    • Thanks are really to you for coming up with the idea. Good to know A Rising Man is worth reading. Just wish I could get to it quickly


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