My TBR Monster Is Wounded But Still Alive
Halfway through 2019, faced with a mound of unread books so big I couldn’t get into the attic space, I decided to take action.
I’ve tried various approaches over the last few years: TBR challenges; book buying bans; book culls. They had only a minor effect on the overall stack of unread volumes. I needed something more strategic.
The result was this nine step game plan:
- Reframe The Issue
- Measure the Beast
- Set A Goal
- Remove ‘Slow Moving’ books
- Get Off The Fence
- Deal With New Stock
- Read The Books
- Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
You can read the details of what each step involves here.
Seven months have now elapsed since I came up with the concept so I thought it was time to give you all an update on how this has worked out (or not).
Beginning at The Beginning
It was easy to adopt a different frame of mind (step 1) was easy. Though I’ve occasionally moaned about how many books I own that I’ve never read, that’s me being somewhat disingenuous. The reality is that I don’t really see it as a big problem.
It’s like having my own bookshop. One that’s always open no matter what time of day or night I want to enter. And it has exactly the books I like to read – I know that because (with a few exceptions, I was the one who chose them). The other benefits? No standing in a queue waiting to pay or finding that the book I want is out of stock.
The remaining steps got progressively more challenging.
Compiling a complete list of every unread book was time consuming and messy. I ended up with an enormous pile of books on the floor. I wish I’d taken a photo of the chaos but I’d effectively barricaded myself in among the books – and of course my phone was out of reach.
It took most of the day to get everything documented into a spreadsheet (I admit I got distracted and started reading too many jacket descriptions).
The exercise was a revelation. I discovered several duplicates. I found books I didn’t know I’d bought. And books I looked at and thought “Why on earth did I buy this?”.
It was a painful process but I’m glad I did it because now, when I want a book to fit in with a themed reading event, I can just look at the spreadsheet instead of dismantling the bookcases to see what’s right at the back.
I ended up with a list of 301 books purchased before start of 2019, of which I’d owned 67 for more than 5 years. I don’t know which book is the oldest because I don’t remember when exactly I bought some of these – I just know it was before I started blogging in 2012 and keeping some kind of track on Goodreads of what I was buying.
My goal was to reduce the overall number by 20% (in other words, 60 books).
I didn’t make it.
By the end of 2019 my TBR had definitely come down. Just not as much as I had hoped.
I got it down to 264 which equates to a 12% reduction.
I could have got it down lower, probably even reaching the target number, if I’d also put a book buying ban in place. I didn’t, for the simple reason that I tried this in the past. I managed it for three months but then, as if to make up for lost time, went on a buying splurge.
This time around I just exercised restraint (or at least more than I had for several years). I was doing reasonably well until November came around. After a meet up of South Wales bookstagrammers I walked away with 13 new books to add to my shelves (I didn’t buy them – they were all donated by publishers). That wasn’t supposed to happen!
Even so, I’m counting this exercise as a success because it pushed me to read books I already owned, rather than buying even more. Some – like A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West – turned out to be the best books I read last year. It made me wonder why I hadn’t read them earlier.
I also discovered a quick way to judge whether to discard a book or keep it on my shelves.
I put all books that were ‘five years or older” into one section of the bookcase. Every few weeks I picked one at random and read the first few chapters (somewhere between 30 and 50 pages). If it didn’t capture my interest by then, it went straight into a bag to take to a National Trust second hand bookshop.
Don’t get me wrong; I still have a lot of unread books. The list of ‘five years or older’ of ‘old books’ has of course grown because I now have to add in everything I bought in 2014. The TBR monster is merely wounded, not slain.
My strategy isn’t without its challenges and its flaws. It does require will power on my part to read the older books not just the shiny new ones and to abandon books I’m not enjoying.
But overall it does seem to work .
So I’ll be repeating it again this year, with a target to reduce by a further 20% to end 2020 with 211 unread books. I’d love to think I could get it below that 200 mark but I’m being realistic.
Wish me luck!