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How Do You Define “TBR?”

Rachel Manwill

Staff Writer

Rachel Manwill is an editor, writer, and professional nomad. Twice a year, she runs the #24in48 readathon, during which she does almost no reading. She's always looking for an excuse to recommend a book, whether you ask her for one or not. When she's not ranting about comma usage for her day job as a corporate editor, she's usually got an audiobook in her ears and a puppy in her lap. Blog: A Home Between Pages Twitter: @rachelmanwill

Recently, we here at Book Riot asked you readers to tell us how many books are on your TBR list, and I ignited a bit of a storm in the comments when I wrote a separate post about the number of unread books I own. One glaring thing arose from both of these enterprises. Everyone is working from a different definition of “TBR.” For the record (since we’re talking about definitions), TBR stands for To Be Read. Generally it’s used when discussing a list or a shelf (or shelves) – either virtual or actual – containing books that one wants to read. But a TBR meaning can change depending on who’s talking about it.

A TBR meaning, for me

For me, when I talk about my TBR books, I’m specifically talking about those many hundreds of books that I own but haven’t read.

I keep a Goodreads inventory list because I’ve too often bought duplicates of these books, but the physical books (or digital books on my iPad) are my TBR. Also, I don’t plan out what I’m going to read next, aside from the books with pressing deadlines like library books or digital galleys that will expire.

I sort of keep a wish list in a couple of places – Audible for audio, B&N for digital, Goodreads for print – but titles don’t become part of my TBR until they’re either purchased or checked out from the library.

How Do You Define "TBR?" | TBR Meaning And Uses For Books |

More definitions of TBR

But I’ve come to realize that some people consider a TBR to be a very specific list or stack of books that they will read next, in a particular order or not, like the books you might keep on your bedside table because they are next in the queue.

There are also the people who consider their TBR to be any book that they ever want to read. This usually manifests itself as an Excel spreadsheet or a Goodreads shelf, but acquisition method has nothing to do with it – bought, borrowed, or traded for wine.

There are people who smoosh together a combination of all three of these things, or they do bits and pieces of each, or they consider their TBR to be something else entirely.

To be fair, there’s something to be said for each of us defining TBR in whatever way works best for us and in our lives. It’s a personal categorization, as are the books and the number of books on it. But perhaps by making transparent the ways in which we talk about the books we want to read, we’ll be less inclined to assume that we’re all talking about the same thing and less inclined to judge each other for it.

What about you?

So how about it, Rioters? What’s your definition of TBR? Is it formalized through Goodreads or Excel or LibraryThing or something similar?

The TBR meaning matters less than how you use it and if it works for you. For those of us who have too many books and not enough time, here’s some tips on getting through your TBR books and how to manage it when it gets to be too much.

Also, Book Riot has our very own book recommendation service, TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. If you don’t have quite as many books on your nightstand as you want, our professional book nerds will give you custom book recs! (Think StitchFix, but for books.)