Newsletter 1

Help! I’m Drowning In My TBR Pile

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Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail,, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

It’s a well-established fact that I am a serial book adopter. I hoard books like Smaug hoards gold. This is a habit I can neither deny nor excuse. I’ve always been one to hang on to things, but this is getting a little ridiculous.

If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say I have close to 60 books on my bookshelves at home that I need to read. These are books that, over the years, I’ve either bought myself, received as gifts, are still “on loan” from friends (not only am I a book hoarder, but a book kidnapper), or discovered on the stoops and sidewalks of Brooklyn (They sit there, as tantalizing and ripe as apples, begging to be plucked. I always pluck them).

On my Kindle, it’s a similar problem. I haven’t done the math yet (I’m too scared), but I’d say I probably have at least another 30 or so ebooks that I’ve mindlessly bought over the years on a $2 whim. When an interesting Kindle Daily Deal comes across my path, I rationalize the decision of buying it by asking myself, “If I had $2 in my pocket right now, would I buy this book I’ve always wanted to read but have never gotten around to?” The answer is always a resounding yes. I tell myself that I’ll get around to reading it…eventually.

Usually, I’d argue that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being surrounded by books. But I think there is a problem if I keep stacking up books I keep meaning to read but I’m not getting around to. Some of my TBR pile I’ve had for years. And that list is slowly but surely getting longer.

I’m also someone who constantly gets seduced in by whatever new or exciting book is recently coming out, usurping my current collection. Who wants to read The Brothers Karamazov when the new John Green is coming out?

This is me in a nutshell:

But of course, I can’t get rid of The Brothers Karamazov, because what if I’m finally in the mood to read it?

80 unread books, for me, equates to nearly two years of reading material at my relatively glacial place. (I was so proud to have read 45 books in 2017, a personal record, until I saw that my BookRiot colleagues on average read 95). And that would be if I only ever read exclusively books that I already owned. Making matters worse, some of those unread tomes are massive history books and biographies (looking at you, Autobiography of Mark Twain), which always take longer than your average novel.

I have never been, and have always wanted to be, the kind of person that can just casually finish a book and go to the library or bookstore for a new one. I’d love to be able to start a new book right away, guilt-free. That sound like a really great life. But in order to get there, I need to either read or release all the books I’m currently hoarding.

And I want to get there. So I made my wife a promise this year: no new books in the home for one year. I’ve unsubscribed from all Amazon, Goodreads, BookBub, and yes, even Book Riot newsletters. I can read nothing new suggested by friends. No best-ofs from this year. No trendsetters. No Fire and Fury. Whatever is this year’s “the next Harry Potter” or “the next Gone Girl” will have to wait.

The prospect of actually reading all the books I already own feels a little overwhelming, to be honest with you. I have toyed with the idea of getting rid of all my unread books and starting fresh. But what’s much more likely to happen is that I’ll release some, give others back, and read the rest. It will be hard, but ultimately worth it. I just need to commit to the books I already have.