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How to Have a Massive TBR Pile that Doesn’t Make You Panicky

Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

For years, I didn’t have a physical TBR list. I still can’t quite fathom how I survived nearly two decades as a reader without one. I wrote down book names everywhere: on random scraps of paper, in little notebooks, on the backs of receipts in my car, in my journal and my planner, in emails I sent to myself and, eventually, on a note on my smartphone.

Then, two years ago, I started a reading spreadsheet. This inspired me to reorganize and update my online book catalogue, and I added a to-read shelf to my Goodreads account. The weight of a million tiny scraps of paper fell from my shoulders. But it was soon replaced with the weight of hundreds of books clambering for a spot on my TBR. Thus began my journey to crafting the perfect, non-anxiety-producing TBR, or in my case, TBRs.

I started by limiting my to-read shelf on Goodreads to 100 books. The thought of having to see some overwhelming number–like 417 or 822–every time I look at it fills me with panic. This lovely little TBR is satisfying but inaccurate: my actual TBR is infinite. People keep writing new books! But I don’t want to look at a list that feels infinite. It’s panic-inducing.

Without meaning to, I stumbled upon a solution to the “Help! My TBR is too long for life! I can’t look at it!” dilemma: I broke up my massive TBR into manageable chunks. Actual lists are much nicer than little scraps of paper. But just like a book name scribbled on the back of a receipt, my lists aren’t overwhelming.

Here are the six TBRs I currently use in addition to my Goodreads shelf:

My Read Harder Spreadsheet 

I only discovered the Read Harder challenges last winter, and because they combine everything I love (books and checklists!) into one glorious whole, I decided to do all three challenges this year. So, naturally I made myself a spreadsheet. As I was searching for books to meet each challenge task, I found many, many books I wanted to read. I entered them all into the spreadsheet as options. As I complete tasks, I mark the book I read in bold, but I don’t delete the options: they remain in the spreadsheet, which has become its own TBR.

Library Holds

Sometimes I go a little overboard with them. Right now, between audiobooks, ebooks, and phIysical books, I’ve got eight library holds. There are times when this number jumps to ten or twelve or fiteen. Often these books aren’t on any other physical TBR list: I hear about a book, decide I must read it immediately, and put in a hold. Insta-TBR.

Hoopla & Comixology

Hoopla is one of the services I use to check out audiobooks from the library. Right now I’ve got 20 audiobooks in my hoopla favorites folder–essentially, an audiobooks-only TBR. I use the wish list feature on Comixology in a similar fashion: currently it includes 40 comics. Whether or not I read them through Comixology or get them from the library, it acts as my comics TBR.


Evernote is a nifty app I use to keep articles from the web organized and accessible. I’ve got a folder each for books, audiobooks, and comics. They’re all full of book lists, articles, and reviews, adding up to thousands of books I want to read.

My Actual Bookshelves

Lastly, of course, there are my physical bookshelves. I don’t own thousands of books, but I own quite a few, and there are plenty I haven’t read. I never put books I own on any of my TBR lists. Owning them automatically qualifies them.

The beauty of this system is that I know exactly which list to go to when I’m searching for a new book. If I want an audiobook, I browse through my hoopla folder. When a library hold comes in, I read that. When I’m craving a comic, I browse my Comixolgy wish list. My Read Harder spreadsheet has lots of books that fall outside my comfort zone, so when I want something challenging, I go there. When I’m craving a new book in a genre I love, I open my Evernote folder, which is filled with lists of YA, fantasy, science fiction, and queer romance. And when I’m trying to remember the name of that incredible novel my friend told me about two months ago, there’s a 98% chance it’s on my Goodreads to-read shelf.

Having a physical TBR has increased the diversity of books I read. It’s freed up the considerable chunk of my brain I once devoted to remembering what books I wanted to read. But because it’s broken up into seven parts, it’s not stressful, or overwhelming, or anxiety-producing. It’s just awesome.

What does your TBR look like?