The 7 Convoluted Rules I Put In Place to Prevent TBR Overwhelm

I’m juggling five books right now. One, an academic book on research techniques for journalists, sits on top of the toilet tank in my upstairs bathroom, where I flip through it occasionally when I’m brushing my teeth. Another, Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questionssits in a magazine rack in the downstairs bathroom. I read it when I’m drying my hair and/or hiding from my toddler. A copy of Dani Shapiro’s Still Writingpint-sized as it is, fits perfectly in my mini backpack. I take it with me when I run errands, dipping into it when online at the supermarket or post office, sometimes making it through larger chunks when on the preschool pickup line. On my nightstand, meanwhile, is Vanessa Grigoriadis’s Blurred Lineswhich I read in the evening. But it’s about sexual assault on college campuses, which is a topic I can’t always stomach, and so I’m also reading an egalley of Julie Murphy’s forthcoming Puddin’ on my Kindle.

I know. It’s too much, right? It’s too much. But there are so many books and my list keeps growing and I want to read them ALL RIGHT NOW.

Which is why, over the past few years, I’ve developed a few rules around reading, which have only become more ridiculous and more convoluted over time.

1. Always Be Reading Multiple Books in Order to Accommodate Any Possible Mood

I write on topics like female sexuality and sexual violence and sex education for a living. So I often read heavily researched pieces of narrative nonfiction and deeply troubling feminist calls to arms and things that are just dry and/or…upsetting. And sometimes I need a break from that. So whenever I’m reading a more serious book, I always make sure to have something more easy-breezy on-hand, like a YA novel with a kick-ass female protagonist or a comic with a kick-ass female protagonist or a dark and creepy horror novel that scars me psychologically, but in a fun way.

2. Preview Each Book Before Making a Commitment

I DNF books a lot more than I used to. It used to make me squeamish to give up on a book once I’d already started it. Especially if I’d spent money on it. But then I realized that life is short. And there are too many books. And oh my god, if I keep adding books to my list of books that must be read, how will I ever finish all the books? Now, if at all possible, I read the free preview on Amazon before deciding whether to buy, borrow, or not bother.

3. Determine the best format/source for your book-reading

Sometimes I buy books. Sometimes I borrow. Sometimes I borrow a book and then realize it’s so damn good, I have to own it. And as for owning? Digital or print? Whither shall I turn? When it comes down to buy vs. borrow, I try to honestly answer the question: Will I read or refer to this again in the future? And because I am a re-reader, I do end up with a lot of print books sitting on the bookcase in my home office, a healthy mix of reference manuals, research-heavy books, and other books that have simply rocked my world. Print vs. digital? I use my Kindle primarily for Amazon previews, egalleys, and digital library copies, though I do also purchase ebooks when they’re unavailable in my library system. I also have a Kindle Fire that I purchased solely for reading comics. I buy single issues on it when it’s a comic I don’t love enough to own, and I also borrow comics on it using Hoopla.

4. Make It Through Every Book You Own By Establishing Order

The books on my main bookcase are those I have already read, and they are shelved in alphabetical order by author’s last name. I also have a tiny built-in bookshelf in my bedroom containing my TBR, which is also shelved in alphabetical order by author’s last name. This is the order in which I read the books I own, unless I have to write a review or read something for book club. I don’t know that I’d describe this as compulsive behavior as much as I’d describe it as a complete inability to make decisions. When I’m equally excited about five different books, how else am I supposed to choose which it’ll be?

5. Be Willing to Make Exceptions

If I have some single issue comics from my pull list come in at my local comic shop, that is the exception. They immediately jump the entire line and I read them that very night, all in one gulp.

6. Have A Place For Everything And Everything in Its Place

I keep the books I’m reading in either my handbag, in one of my bathrooms, or at my bedside. How do I decide which goes where? Well. I don’t like to carry around heavy hardcovers, so they’re usually relegated to the bathroom or to my nightstand. If I’m reading a book I know I’ll be taking lots of notes in, it automatically gets placed on my nightstand, where I keep various writing implements. And if a book is extra racy and I don’t feel like offending someone or fielding questions, it also ends up staying home. On the other hand, if I’m reading a book I want to tell everyone about (most recently Morgan Jerkins’s This Will Be My Undoing, Myriam Gurba’s Mean, or Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X), it is so coming to the yoga studio with me.

7. Share the Wealth

If I do end up in possession of books I decide I don’t need to keep, I place them in a box in the corner of my bedroom and, when it’s completely full, donate them to the Vietnam Veterans of America. You can find more ideas on where to donate books here, or you can even consider selling your used books. Once those are out of your house, then you can BUY MOAR BOOKS!

Sometimes, I look at all of these systems I’ve put into place and wonder if I’m being ridiculous. Usually, I conclude that…yes. Yes, I am. But do I care?

What are your systems for powering through your TBR?

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