The Care and Feeding of My TBR–and a Little Dare for 2016

2015-11-22 07.18.30It’s been a while since I’ve written a topical post, and Elle recently tagged me in a set of questions about managing all those books to be read (i.e., the TBR pile). These are good questions, coming at a good time, so I’m giving it a whirl.

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

I currently keep a list on LibraryThing of the TBR books that I own. I also sometimes use a spreadsheet that includes books I got from publishers, ebooks, and library books. I say sometimes because it’s a tool that I sometimes find useful and sometimes find overwhelming and obnoxious and that requires too much time to manage. So I use it when I’m feeling the need for more organization and don’t bother when it seems like too much.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

Truth be told, the numbers are probably equal, but I only bother to keep track of the print ones. I downloaded heaps of public domain books from Project Gutenberg when I got my e-reader, but they don’t take up space and didn’t cost me any money, so I mostly don’t give them much thought. Earlier this year, I decided to try to read one e-book for each book I read from my physical TBR. That lasted for about a month.

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?

If it’s a review copy, I try to read it within a month or so of its publication date, although I make no promises when accepting review copies (and I don’t accept that many). I’ve also tried this year to read new books shortly after purchasing them, while the conversation that led me to purchase them is still happening, but I haven’t held myself strictly to that.

Besides that, I start with the books that have been on my TBR the longest and go down the list until I find something appealing. I have a rule that I need to read all TBR books within 5 years of obtaining them. Otherwise, there’s no point in keeping them around. (The rule used to be four years but got bumped up to five last year because, well, you can probably guess.)

A book that has been on my TBR the longest?

CarmenCarmen and Other Stories by Prosper Mérimée, added in February 2011. I’ll be reading that early next year, if not sooner.

A book you recently added to your TBR?

I just got a copy of Slade House by David Mitchell through the LibraryThing Early Review program.

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

MitfordHmm… this is difficult because I rarely buy books entirely for the cover. Perhaps the closest to being there entirely because of the cover are the two Nancy Mitford books, which I ordinarily would plan to get from the library. I got a beautiful Folio edition of Love in a Cold Climate from Thomas when he was cleaning out his bookcase a while back, and then I saw a matching edition of The Pursuit of Love on a bargain shelf at a used bookstore and couldn’t resist getting it. And, of course, now I think they’re too pretty to part with.

I also have a habit of always picking up green Viragos when I see them. I don’t always buy them, but I often will it they appeal to me at all. The same would apply if I were to come across a grey Persephone edition in the wild.

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

I intend to at least start reading them all, but I’m pretty quick to quit a book if it isn’t working for me, and there are a few books I’ll be surprised if I can finish. Most of these are books I got through a signed First Edition Book of the Month program at Politics and Prose. They had some great selections during the year I subscribed, but I really have no interested in Jon Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson, and John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk really doesn’t look like my kind of book. Ditto Capital by John Lanchester. However, I paid good money for them, and you never know what will end up being great. I intend to give them a few chapters to win my over, but I’m skeptical.

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

I also recently received a copy of Curtain Up: Agatha Christie: A Life in the Theatre by Julius Green, which I requested from a Harper Collins blogger e-mail because I’ve been in a couple of different Agatha Christie plays (and read lots of the others), and reading a book about her theatre career sounds like fun. It’s due to be published in December.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?

They haven’t been recommended to me specifically, but everyone seems to love and recommend Americanah by Chimamandi Ngozi Adichie. And Jenny at Reading the End has recommended Joan Wyndham’s books many times, which is why I grabbed a copy of Love Lessons when it popped up on Paperback Swap last year. And Simon frequently recommends The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks and Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker. (I believe he put the latter in my hands when we were book shopping during his visit to the U.S. a few years ago.)

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

It’s not so much a specific book but specific authors. There are tons of authors that many of my friends seem to have read extensively, but that I’ve barely read at all. But I collect books by those authors anyway, assuming I’ll like them. So there’s Nancy Mitford, as noted above; Barbara Pym, whom I’ve only read once (and adored); Anita Brookner, whom I’ve also read only once; and Penelope Lively, whose books I’ve never read at all.

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

Oh, dear, so many! I’m really excited to read most of them… eventually. But let’s stick to something I anticipate reading soon. There’s Masculinity in Breaking Bad, an essay collection all about how the show approaches masculinity. I found that show really important for its spot-on depiction of a certain common type of American masculinity and the abusive dynamics that sometimes accompany it. LibraryThing offered this in a recent Early Reviewers giveaway, and I was glad to get a copy.

How many books are on your TBR shelf?

LibraryThing shows 179 on my print TBR shelf, and I know I have a couple to add. I used to want to keep it to 100 or fewer, but I guess that’s not happening. I would like it to all fit on a single bookcase, but that’s not happening either.


tbr-final-dareThis meme comes at a good time because today also marks the announcement of the TBR Triple Dog Dare with James Reads Books. The Dare (which James says he’s running for the last time) asks participants to commit to reading only books from their TBR Pile from January 1 to April 1. You can make exceptions for book club books or whatever else you want. You can even choose to participate for just one month.

Some years, I make lots of exceptions. Last year, for instance, the Tournament of Books was a big exception because I wanted to follow the competition. This time, however, I’m going to see if I can really commit to my TBR. I may even return whatever library books I still have out on January 1. (But between now and then, I’ll probably read only library books.) With a little luck and a lot of determination, I might be able to read the 20 unread books I acquired in 2011 and need to read or discard by the end of 2016. It’s a goal anyway.

All are welcome to join–just leave a comment on James’s sign-up post!


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18 Responses to The Care and Feeding of My TBR–and a Little Dare for 2016

  1. Thanks for plugging The TBR Dare here. I appreciate it. I can recommend Carmen pretty highly. It’s an entertaining books, an interesting book. Probably not a great book, but I think you’ll enjoy it.

  2. Lisa says:

    I love reading about other people’s TBR collections! I am currently working on the books from 2002 – one more to go. I keep thinking of your approach – just to clear out the oldest – but there are some that I still do want to try reading, at least. At least I’ve weeded out everything that, realistically, I wasn’t ever going to read.

    • Teresa says:

      I do want to try everything before getting rid of it, even though I’m skeptical that I’ll end up finishing them all. I’ve thought about going through them all one day and reading the first chapters, but I think I’d just end up mad that I can’t read a bunch of them simultaneously.

  3. The good news is that the long, long list for the ToB comes out in mid-December so there is adequate time to arm yourself with your best guesses for the short list before January 1. If, you know, you are serious about not cheating. I always cheat but I also did make my goal last year of moving 20 books off the TBR pile. :)

    • Teresa says:

      I tried reading off the long, long list last year and I don’t believe any of the books I read ended up on the list. So I’m just going to hope my Booker reading and some of my other new book reading will give me enough to root for (or against, because you and I both know I’ll be doing some serious rooting against this year). I maaaaay change my mind on that strategy when the long, long list comes out. We shall see.

  4. Simon T says:

    I love reading these sorts of Q&As, Teresa, so this was lovely – and especially pleased to see The L-Shaped Room and Miss Hargreaves mentioned, of course! I was toying with a version of the TBR challenge this year – but Shiny New Books makes that difficult. Hmm. I would like to read far more from my tbr shelves in 2016.

    Oh, and that Agatha Christie book sounds excellent!

    • Teresa says:

      You could just make an exception for your books for Shiny. Exceptions are allowed :)

      I’m excited about the Agatha Christie book. I don’t love her novels, but her plays are tremendous fun, especially if you’re acting in them because she creates such vivid characters. Even the smaller parts get something meaty to do. (I played not huge but not small parts in both of the plays I was in.)

  5. Thomas says:

    I’m gasping for air over your response to this question: “A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?” Two of my favorite author’s in one answer. When you do get around to Lively, I recommend starting with Consequences. I can flat out state that you will enjoy it, you may not find it perfect, but you will enjoy it. Although I universally like her work, I can see how some of her other novels could be less than enthusiastically embraced.

    • Teresa says:

      It might be your praise that makes me feel everyone else has read them! And I want to and will! I’ve had Consequences out from the library at least once, but ran out of time.

  6. Stefanie says:

    That was fun! I am totally impressed with your five-year TBR limit. I could never manage it. I do not dare the Dare, I wouldn’t be able to face the failure. However, I have a small table next to my reading chair piled with TBR and in progress books that I am determined next year to clear off. My husband constantly worries about just how much weight this little table can bear and I want to clear it off before it collapses and he he gets to say I told you so :)

    • Teresa says:

      We’ll see if I can stick to the five-year limit, given that I couldn’t stick to the four-year one. I’ve really kept the inflow of books to a minimum this year, which will help five years from now! But, really, it’s a matter of limited space, which I’m close to running out of.

  7. lailaarch says:

    I love to read about the hows and whys of other people’s TBRs, so this was great. And thanks for linking to the TBR triple-Dog Dare. I just might do it!

  8. Pingback: Tackling the TBR in 2016 | Big Reading Life

  9. OH I massively want to read The L-Shaped Room, also from Simon’s many recommendations. And I reaffirm my recommendation of Joan Wyndham. She’s my girl. Another blogger read Love Lessons and hated it, found her unbearably self absorbed and totally uncharming, though, so your mileage may vary. :/

    • Teresa says:

      The L-Shaped Room is one I plan to read next year for certain. It may take me longer to get to Love Lessons, if I stick to my plan of reading the books I’ve had longest first.

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