Why I Don’t Let My TBR Dictate What I Read

My To-Be-Read pile is largely hypothetical. Of course, there’s the actual, physical pile on the top shelf of my bookshelf.  There’s also the list of book recommendations that is in the notes section on my phone. For the most part, though, the titles of books I want to read are floating around in my head somewhere in a disorderly fashion.

I used to be more organized about the process. I had lists. When I went to the bookstore, I would come home with a large stack that I’d proudly put (and forget about) on that designated top shelf. But that was the crux of the problem: even with lists and lots of unread books at my fingertips, I’d forget about what I had already. Or I would look at what I had and realize that I was in the mood for a different sort of book entirely.

Do you know that feeling? When you’ve been on a kick for historical fiction, for instance—and so all the books in your TBR pile are historical fiction, and then all of a sudden you really want to read some serious, juicy fantasy? That happens to me all of the time. It feels like my cravings for different types of books changes with the phases of the moon or something.

Tackling the TBR Pile

Two summers ago, I tried to tackle the To-Be-Read pile that was accumulating on my top shelf. There were books there that I hadn’t thought about in years. Books I’d asked for as Christmas presents that I felt bad about donating or getting rid of because I hadn’t touched them yet. Some books I’d gotten because I was super into a certain topic (Vikings, for example, and retold fairy tales). Other books I’d won or were old ARCs I’d gotten as hand-me-downs.

At first, tackling the “Actual TBR Shelf” (as I called it on Goodreads) was kind of fun. It was neat to see how much I’d changed as a reader and a person since I’d first gotten those books. Plus, the first couple of books on there were like popcorn—I could read them each in a day.

And then I could feel my interests changing again. There were other books I could be reading. New releases, old books I dug up on the internet in the public domain. But I’d made this challenge, so I felt obligated to finish it.

I don’t discipline myself well, apparently, because that “Actual TBR Shelf” became a veritable chore. I slogged through books that I’d picked up on a whim at the bookstore ages ago. After all, I wanted to adhere to my list.

The Lesson (for me anyway)

But what that summer taught me was that I work way better when I don’t have a specific TBR list to follow. I prefer to go down rabbit holes and to allow my interests to branch into different things at different times.

So I have lists, but I don’t always stick to them. I don’t come home with stacks of books from the store because I don’t know where my interests will take me in the future. And that’s okay.

What kind of a TBR person are you?

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Katherine Marciniak: Katherine is an over-caffeinated avid reader, writer and college student. She was featured in the anthology Once Upon an Apocalypse, and loves to beta read and edit when she has the opportunity. She’ll do more impressive things after she’s finished her tea…and this next chapter.