Pretend Your House is a Library: A Strategy for Actually Reading the Books You Own

Here is a conversation I often imagine having in my head:

Me: I’m going to read more books I own this year!
My bookshelves (resigned): Uh-huh.
The library (rolls eyes): Keep telling yourself that.
Me: Oh. I guess I do have seven library books checked out right now and 13 on hold.
Library (fist pumps): That’s my girl!
Bookshelves (sighs): You’ve always taken us for granted.

It’s ironic, but if I buy a book I’m excited about, that book drops to the bottom of my TBR. This is why books like Sing, Unburied, Sing, Little Fires Everywhere and The Heart’s Invisible Furiesbooks everyone’s been raving about and I am super excited to read—are still sitting unread on my shelf.

I just love the library so much.

When a fellow Rioter recently wrote about this very problem, it got me thinking: what if I treated my own bookshelves more like the library? Could I trick myself into reading more of my own books? I decided to give it a go. The system I came up with is so simple and delightful I can’t understand why it took me so long to implement it.

I designated one bookshelf in my house as my TBR shelf. Think of it as my holds shelf. If I buy or receive a book I haven’t read, it automatically goes onto that shelf.

My holds shelf.

 

I still read library books, but when I’m reading books I own, I only allow myself to choose books from the holds shelf. When I finish a book, I put it back on a different shelf. Think of the rest of the shelves in my house as main circulation.

A tall bookcase full of books.

One of the shelves in main circulation.

But because (by design!) there’s no room in main circulation, I have to remove a book in order to make space for the one I just finished. So I move an unread book onto my holds shelf. It’s always a one-for-one swap: finish a book on the holds shelf, put a new one on it.

A closeup of some of the books currently on my holds shelf.

I purposely left some empty space on my holds shelf—there’s room for about 10 more books. As long as I keep reading a few books I own each month, I’ll still have space for new Book of the Month picks and the occasional new purchase.

This revolving door system has turned my bookshelves into my own mini library. Each time I finish a book I own, I return it to main circulation, and then I get to spend a few minutes browsing the stacks. I pick out a new book I’m excited about reading, and get the satisfaction of putting that book on hold (i.e. on my TBR shelf).

The best part: eventually all the unread books in my house will either get cycled onto the holds shelf, or I’ll realize there aren’t any unread books left in main circulation that I still want to read, in which case, I’ll donate them.

I have read 3 books off my holds shelf so far this year, two of which (Hunger by Roxane Gay and What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons) immediately went on my Best of 2018 list. I’ve also rediscovered some books on my shelves that I haven’t thought about in years, and that I’m really looking forward to reading.

It might not sound like a lot, but it feels like a huge victory. My bookshelves are cheering. Hopefully they no longer feel like I’m taking them for granted.

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