February 23, 2012

The Dreaded TBR Pile: One Approach

I'm not some OCD guy or anything (just look at my office in the library, ugh) but I do have a few little systems in place that help me get some things done.  Some of them help me make decisions, some of them help me from having to make decisions.  The most obvious example is the tickler file I keep in my office.

Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) tweeted recently that her pile of To Be Read books was so big she might start choosing them by color.  That got me thinking that I should share my new approach to my reading list.

Now I must take a moment to define my terms.  I consider my TBR (To Be Read) pile the books I actually own or have been given that I mean to read.  But I also like to keep lists of books I may want to read someday.  Well that has gotten completely out of hand.  I have lists of books I'd like to read on my Goodreads site and on my public library site and on my Amazon wish list and scribbled on notecards.  Now those lists are even better than my actual TBR books because they cause less guilt.  I may get to them, I  may not, but I haven't actually paid for them (yet) so I'm free to scratch them off the list(s) whenever I feel like.

In his recent book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs talks about the oppressive influence of people who write books of lists of books you "should" read at some point.  He espouses the much freer idea of reading on Whim.  Yes, I meant to capitalize that.  "Whim" differs from "whim," in that it's somewhat more purposeful.  It's not complete randomness.  But you look at the things you want to read and you pick based on what you want then.  Not what everyone else is reading.  Not because it won an award.  It may have, but that's not why.  You're reading it because it brings you pleasure.  Whether it's a light teen comedy or a deep examination of the tax code, it doesn't matter as long as it interests you.

My problem is I like lists.  I guess that's one reason for the whole librarian thing.  I hear about an interesting book and I need to write it down.  But then how do you go about tackling this huge list of books.  If you read them chronologically you'll never get to that cool new sequel of that book you read last year. If you read only the newest stuff, you'll never go back to that book you meant to read after college.  If you read alphabetically you'll never get to that cool Carl Zimmer science book.

Nah, straight adherence to any list will drive me crazy.  It kills the spontaneity.  No, I need the structure of a list but the freedom to pick on a whim.  So here's what I'm trying now.  I made a spreadsheet [I know, I know, but please don't make fun of me yet] and I put all the books from all those lists on there.  It was a good exercise because some of the books didn't make it onto this list.  When things get unwieldy, it's okay to start separating the wheat from the chaff.  Then I sorted it alphabetically by author.  I highlighted the books I actually own in red.  Those take precedence for the TBR Double Dare.  Since we pick our book club books a few months out, I added those and put the due dates next to them.  Also, since I'm not a format snob, I added a note about how the book is available.  Is it available at the library?  In book or audio?  Or will I get it on the Kindle?  Or will I have to actually buy the physical book in a book store.  (It happens.  The Paulsen book for tonight's book club meeting wasn't at the library in any format and not available as an ebook.)

Now what I do is work the list alphabetically, but not strictly so.  For example, let's say I just finished a Phillip Pullman book.  I look at my list, see there are no Qs on the list, but many Rs.  Rick Riordan, Bertrand Russell and Mary Roach.  Each with more than one title.  So I'm limiting my huge list to just these few authors and titles and picking within them.  I can choose an older Russell or the newest Riordan.  It's up to me. Then I'd look at the Ss.  I have Michael Shermer, John Sandford, Neal Stephenson (always), and some others on there.  The Patty Smith Just Kids jumps out because it's an up coming book club book.  Then  I look at the Ts and so on.  I would obviously make adjustments for book club books or anything I had to read for school or whatever.  And it's not set in stone.  I'm free to do whatever I want.  If I feel like I must read all three Riordan's in a row, well then I'll knock myself out.  If I decide to skip the Ts altogether for now and jump to the Vs, that's fine.  Nobody gets hurt.  It's just a skeleton of a structure to give me a little guidance and to keep books on the list from never getting read.  If I get to the Es and all that's on there is one book there and I've passed it up twice before, that might be a hint that I'm just never going to read it. That's okay.  There are so many books and so little time!

I tend to have one book I'm listening to on audio and one I'm reading in either print or electronic form. I also read various blogs, magazines, etc.  But my point is I might have two books highlighted in different portions of the list, one on audio and one book.  That's just me.  And things are a bit messed up because of the TBR Dare and the need to finish a couple things I stared before the last book I finished.  So I'm in the middle of two collections and an audio book from the library which came in that's not strictly part of the order.  No biggie.  I'll go with the flow and then pick up either where I left off or after that author's name.

I like it because if there's an author you love, it keeps them in the loop without draining you.  If you want to read the last four Stephen King books but you have other things to get to, you know you'll be reading a King every time you get to the Ks for a while.  It's not even every 26th book since I don't have any Is or Ns or Us or whatever right now.

Until the TBR dare is over (and maybe for a while after) I'm looking at books in red first.  Then I'll open the list up a bit more, making sure to fit in the next book club book (if I feel like it, of course).  Does that all make sense? Or am I just crazy?  Okay, now you can make fun of me.

Let me know what you think or how you handle your TBR pile and the other books you want to get to someday.  And especially let me know if you don't do any such thing and read without any plan whatsoever. That would be interesting...

7 comments:

C.B. James said...

A couple of years ago I developed a system of dice rolling to choose my next book. Roll one dice to see how many dice I should roll. Roll that number of dice and then count up the total rolled. Roll a third die to see if I should start cvounting at the top or the bottom of my pile, even top and odd bottom. Count and the read whatever book come up.

That lasted for about seven books.

Your article makes me thing about using one of those randomizer websites that some people use to pick winners for their giveaways. I wonder if you can save your set of entries to avoid typing them up every time.

I can tell you that once the TBR Double Dare ends, I'm going to do a major culling of the TBR stack. There are just too many books there that have been there for far too long.

C.B. James said...

A couple of years ago I developed a system of dice rolling to choose my next book. Roll one dice to see how many dice I should roll. Roll that number of dice and then count up the total rolled. Roll a third die to see if I should start cvounting at the top or the bottom of my pile, even top and odd bottom. Count and the read whatever book come up.

That lasted for about seven books.

Your article makes me thing about using one of those randomizer websites that some people use to pick winners for their giveaways. I wonder if you can save your set of entries to avoid typing them up every time.

I can tell you that once the TBR Double Dare ends, I'm going to do a major culling of the TBR stack. There are just too many books there that have been there for far too long.

Kathy Martin said...

I tend to buy books that I am interested in reading. I don't make lists of books I might want to read someday. It costs me more money but I have the book on hand if I actually get a chance to read it. I currently have about 1000 unread books either in print or on my Kindle.

I find myself reading a lot of review books these days. They are on a spreadsheet sorted by publication date. Those I read in order of release date. If I can fit in another book, I choose the one I am most interested in at the time from my TBR mountains.

I usually read one book at a time but will occasionally have both an adult book and a young adult book in partially read condition as I do now. I started Dark Eyes by William Richter for review and then got Timeless by Gail Carriger in the mail. I have never wanted to be twins so much in my life (or at least be able to split my eyes and brain so that I can actually read two books at once.)

Beth said...

The only thing better than a list is a System. A system on how to approach a list -- pure delight!

I've sorted my TBR book case into shelves of nonfiction, classics, kidlit, and Just Plain Fun books, and I try to pick from a different shelf each time. That gives me a variety to pick from while making me look at them all so that I can cull anything that I admit I just don't really want to read.

Linda at teacherdance said...

I have been messing with a wish list on Amazon that I update constantly, trying to figure out how much to spend in an Indie bookstore, what old books I want that I can find used on Amazon, what I can get from the library that I'm in no hurry to read, and what has been reviewed that I can find at school. I was thrilled to hear you discuss this; I thought I was the only one trying to figure out the management of it all. I will return to see if anyone else has more ideas. It's fun to read them! I may have to try out your spreadsheet idea. I use Excel for many things, but never thought of this. Happy reading!

Ms. Yingling said...

I finally have a system-- seriously, I never had enough books in the TBR before this year, so I just read whatever I had. Now I read library books first, then have a list of books in order of publication date. Right now I have about four library books, about 10 books being published in March, and another 10 E ARCs on my Nook. I'll get through about ten books this weekend. I NEVER buy books, so nothing is there to make me feel overly guilty!

Madigan McGillicuddy said...

Funny, I posted today about reducing my TBR.
I track everything on Goodreads, and obsessively order and re-order what order I want to read everything in.