In Defense of the TBR Pile

I’ve been diving into the BookTube recently (the community of book vloggers on YouTube) where “hauls” are common- videos about all the books the BookTuber has purchased over the past week or month or whatever. There’s common language across these video channels when it comes to adding these books to TBRs (To-Be-Read lists): language of guilt or embarrassment, “I’m so bad,” language that you see on any blog post/Twitter discussion/comment section about a TBR. It’s not surprising to me that people feel automatically defensive when exposing the books they own that they haven’t read. One of our own recently wrote about her TBR and had to be defended from accusations of being a hoarder,* a term that comes up frequently whenever someone talks in public about having a personal library.

I say: let’s put an end to TBR shame.** Not just the shaming of people who own a lot of books they haven’t read yet, but the guilt from the people doing the owning. If having a TBR stresses you out or your physical TBR is so large that it’s reduced the functionality of your living space or you’re spending money you don’t have on an increasingly large pile of books you won’t read, by all means, re-evaluate your choices and ditch the pile. But if none of those things apply to you, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about your reading life.

TBRBecause here’s the thing: you shouldn’t feel badly about something you enjoy. I have about 160 unread books in my house- enough to fill to overflowing an entire IKEA bookshelf-and I just like the sight of it. Will I get around to reading all of those books? Who cares! It’s an ever-evolving pile: stuff is constantly being culled out and discarded, or read and moved to the other shelves, or being added as I pick up new books I want to read. That shelf is part of the daily rhythm of my life, it’s something that brings me a measure of contentment, and I don’t see why I should feel badly about those things just because someone else (usually on the internet) might express disapproval.

There’s not a number at which a TBR becomes suddenly immoral. You’re not in an objective safe zone at 99 and in the Very Bad Person Zone at 100. You don’t need to apologize for loving an activity and owning the items you like in order to do that activity. A reading life is a rich experience that isn’t limited to the actual act of reading- it’s also wandering through the library and being suddenly aware of how loudly you walk. It’s petting a cover with an interesting texture. Picking a new ereader and a cover for it that has some pun on it. Discovering new reading apps on your phone. Building up a library (or not, if you don’t want to) of editions that make you happy, whether those are digital or physical. Developing a TBR (or not, if you don’t want to), that might *gasp, the horror* contain books you never actually get around to. There is no one-size-TBR-fits-all-readers wrong or right choice. There’s no good or bad book pile. There is only your reading life and what is right for your situation and your preferences.

So (TBR) pile on without shame, my friends. In the wise words of Dave Grohl, “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it.”

*And before anyone starts comparing having a library to hoarding, this article about the difference between collecting and hoarding from the  Anxiety and Depression Association of America might be of use. Let’s not use a term for an actual mental illness to make self-righteous statements about readers who have different reading lives than we do, kthanksbai.

**Especially if you’re a woman. Not that men don’t feel TBR guilt, but I see this sort of apologizing-for-expressing-joy-in-a-thing more often from the ladies and that’s a whole other post for a whole other site but seriously, stop apologizing.

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