There was a time when I only bought books that I was ready to read. I was a poor college student, then a recent graduate. I couldn’t afford to buy many books, and I certainly couldn’t afford shelves to put them on. I’d stack books that I found at used bookstores around the house, stuff them in milk crates, and wedge them on top of books on my shelves, the chaos tended to keep me from buying more until I could make more space.
Eventually, I started earning enough that I could buy books—and shelves to put them on. I generally stuck to around one book purchase a month, usually for book club, and I relied on the library for everything else. I might have about one shelf of unread books in the house, but not more than that.
But then I discovered online book swapping sites like Paperbackswap and Bookmooch. Most of my book club books weren’t worth keeping so I traded them away for books that looked more promising. Soon, I needed another bookshelf. Around the time it got filled up, I moved to a condo with built-in bookshelves. So the books kept coming, and I kept going to the library and putting my new acquisitions on my new shelves and never actually reading them. Once I discovered blogging, it got worse. I found I could get review copies of brand-new books. I won giveaways. And the books kept coming, much faster than I could read them.
I started setting limits. I could only request books from a swapping site if my library didn’t have it. I could only request review copies through Library Thing. No more giveaways. These guidelines have helped, but the books are still coming in faster than I’m reading them. According to my LibraryThing inventory, I now have 209 unread books in my house, 80 of which I acquired this year.
I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve seen bloggers impose book buying bans on themselves, and I’ve come across four reading challenges devoted entirely to reading from TBR stacks. With so many good books out there, it’s hard to say no to getting more, and there’s great comfort in knowing I have a stockpile of books I can turn to when I’m looking for something new to read. Litlove had an excellent post explaining why she think it’s important that we support the book industry by purchasing the kinds of books we want to see published. I agree with her in principle, and because of that, I don’t want to quit buying books altogether, but, alas, the books are taking over.
I have stacks of books on the bottom of my main TBR bookcase, and I can’t stand stacks because I want to see what I have. I’ve also created two TBR annexes: one annex is for review copies, my Morland dynasty books, and books with a required time frame (book club and Classics Circuit); the other annex is the “top of the TBR pile,” and it lives at the top of my theology and reference bookcase. That annex can’t last because as my coursework continues, I’ll have books to put in that space.
As you can see from the photo of my white built-in bookcases above, I actually have room for more books, and I have considered reorganizing to make use of that space, but most schemes would involve bringing large numbers of TBR books into my living room, which I don’t want to do. The last time I did that, everyone who came over asked me about those books or (quelle horror!) asked to borrow them. (If I haven’t read it, you’re not borrowing it. That’s my rule.) That space is reserved for currently the unread books that will soon become dear friends I can’t part with.
So I’m torn. I want the shiny new books, I love visiting the library, and I want to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to books, but I don’t want my books to stress me out. And the stacks stress me out. The thing is, even though I havent read the unread books, I want to—I want to read every single one of them. So culling is out of the question. There are maybe two or three I’ve lost interest in, but when I pick them up and read the back, my interest gets rekindled.
Right now, I’m limiting myself to purchasing books that I need for book club or the Classics Circuit. I’m donating most of my Bookmooch points, just keeping a few in reserve for some books I want for my permanent collection. My Paperbackswap wishlist is on hold, except for a few permanent collection books. I’m not entering giveaways. I am continuing with LT Early Reviewers because that program has introduced me to some fabulous new-to-me authors—plus, it’s generally no more than one book per month, and you can go months without getting anything. I’m not, however, requesting other review copies at the moment.
And I’m reading from my shelves. At the moment, I’m trying to catch up on review copies, but my main TBR stacks will soon become the focus. There are some treasures there, several of which many of you have encouraged me to read. I have To Say Nothing of the Dog, The Count of Monte Cristo, a handful of Persephone books—I’m looking forward to them all!
How about you? Do you have a point when the number of unread books just seems to take over? Or do you think there’s no such thing as too many books?
Notes from a Reading Life
- The English Major by Jim Harrison. For my book club. Meh.
- The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. From Library Thing Early Reviewers. Much better than expected. A solid debut.
- Plato and a Platypus Walked into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. An amusing refresher on basic philosophy, but it sometimes seemed that the jokes were driving the philosophy.
- Winter’s End by Jean-Claude Mourlevat. Dystopian YA translated from the French. From LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I suspect I’ll finish it today or tomorrow.
- The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. Lessons in writing poetry. I’ve reached the chapter on odes, but I’m taking a break for a few weeks until the semester is over.
- Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum (audio). Scientific investigation of Victorian spiritualists.
- The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (reread). I first read this in college and consider it my favorite Eliot even though I remember very little about it.
- North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. For the Classics Circuit.
- Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (audio). Jenny loves Dennis Lehane, and I want to read this before the movie.
Books on My Radar
- Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope. I love Trollope but mostly know of his two long series that I can’t make time for at the moment. Litlove’s review of Miss Mackenzie alerted me to another good standalone to consider (along with He Knew He Was Right, which has been on my list for ages).
- Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig. Zweig is one of several authors who’s been around forever, but whom I’d not heard of until I started blogging. Danielle reviewed this book, and it sounds great.