TBR Lists Are Too Much Commitment

Samantha works in the digital textbook world by day, and lives in the book world by night and on weekends. She blogs at Book Beat and lives in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @bookbeatblog.

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I am not afraid of commitment in any aspect of my life except when it comes to books. Nothing is more dreadful than trying to finish a book I am not 100 percent invested in or interested in finishing. The guilt of not committing to a book is one of the worst feelings. I’ve ended up in many situations like this because I’ve felt obligated to read what I had on my to-be-read list, in the order I had listed them. This is why I have a problem with TBR lists. They require too much commitment.

My understanding of a TBR list is that it consists of a certain number of books you are planning to read in a certain order or in a given amount of time. Some people do this monthly, and others do it with no time frame in mind. I think TBR lists are a great concept, but to actually go through with it—I don’t know how some people do it. Perhaps my view of TBR lists is a little sour. I tend to see them as a set-in-stone vow, where if you don’t read the books in the order they’ve been listed, there will be hell to pay. Others may not see it as that serious of a commitment, but why, then, is there a need for TBR lists if not to completely follow through with it?

I’ve tried to stick to several TBR lists and they never work out for me. I once arranged one of my bookshelves to hold the books I was going to read in the order I was going to read them. Did. Not. Happen.

One of the reasons I can’t deal with TBR lists is because my reading depends on more than a list. My reading habits, unfortunately, revolve around my mood and schedule, both of which are unpredictable. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to read what I have planned. I might not feel like reading a collection of short stories and will instead browse my shelves for a novel over 400 pages. And if I know I’m going to be too busy to read a longer novel, I tend to read a shorter one or even pick up a couple of comic books. Having a TBR list does me no good when I can’t commit to it.

I understand the advantages of TBR lists. They can be great way for people to organize their reading. If you’re trying to diversify your reading, then a TBR list is good to have as you wet your feet in different types of books. TBR lists are also useful if you’re trying to finally read some of those books that have been sitting on your shelf for months. But if you’re already reading diverse books, and you don’t have many unread books, then a TBR list is a just commitment that can be a disadvantage, depending on how devoted you are with your TBR list.

Let’s say you have a couple of books on your TBR list, but you happen to stumble upon a book online or at the bookstore that you want to read ASAP. The allure of this book is too much, you just have to read it. There goes your list. And if you’re like me, the type to feel guilty about not sticking to something, then your TBR list has done nothing but create unnecessary guilt.

I think the commitment involved in a TBR list doesn’t always serve us well. Picking your next book should be a bit spontaneous, not something written down like a chore. There is a forceful nature to TBR lists that can take the fun out of reading. After finishing a book, I like to go through the books on my shelves, flipping through passages, reading a sentence here and there, until I finally find a book that I know I will have the time to read. It seems so much more personal to interact with a book right before I decide to read it or leave it. This way, deciding on what to read next feels more like a welcome ritual and less like a commitment that I will start to dread.

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