Archive for October 15, 2019


Shrinking the TBR Pile

Earlier this year, there was a huge outcry from book people about a misquote/misinterpretation from organizing expert Marie Kondo. It seems like someone heard about something she said on her Netflix show, made a meme, and that got spread without questioning. They claimed she said people should only have about 30 books. I don’t know what she said on the show, but in her book she said that was the number she settled on for herself, but that number will vary for each person and will probably be a lot higher for writers. The key point for her is only keeping the things that spark joy. She’s not a big fan of the to-be-read pile because she figures that if you really were interested in that book, you’d have read it when you got it rather than letting it sit around.

To some extent, she has a point, but she may not realize that writers also get given free books. I don’t have many books I’ve bought in the to-be-read pile (unless I was buying books to support writer friends rather than buying things I really wanted to read right then). My pile was almost entirely books I was given at conferences.

I did a big bookcase purge starting last year, really trying to follow Marie Kondo’s principles and keeping only the books I love and know I’ll want to re-read someday. That cleared a lot of bookcase space, as I realized I was just keeping everything I’d read, even books I didn’t like.

Meanwhile, I tackled the to-be-read pile. I sorted out the books I’m pretty sure I’ll never read because they aren’t the kind of books I like. I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read, so why feel obligated to read something I’d never have chosen for myself? I got rid of a lot of the books I got at romance conferences. I’m not a big fan of historical romances, so unless there was some particular reason a book intrigued me, it went to the Friends of the Library for their book sale. Ditto with anything about vampires or werewolves.

The TBR bookcase, full of books I need to read.

The next thing I did was make it more likely that I’d actually read these books. I’d been stashing them on a bookcase in my office, where they were mostly out of sight, out of mind. Instead, I cleared out the small bookcase in my bedroom, where I usually am when I’m looking for something to read. That bookcase is actually an old stereo cabinet that had been left in the basement storeroom associated with one of the apartments we had in Germany, and I’ve had it ever since. It’s deeper than the usual bookcase, so the books are about two deep in there. I’ve filled it with as many of the TBR books as I could fit, so now when I need something to read, I grab something from this bookcase. If I can’t get into it or don’t really like it, I allow myself to put it in the donation bag. As I empty spots, I add more books from the boxes I have stashed upstairs. I’m down to three book-size boxes, plus the bookcase. That’s a lot, but it’s so much better than it was. I’ve read so many more books from my own collection this year than I have in decades. So far, I must confess that I haven’t moved anything from the TBR bookcase to the keeper bookcase. I haven’t necessarily disliked anything, but I haven’t loved it enough that I know I’ll want to re-read it.


The point of Marie Kondo’s method is that if you get rid of the stuff you don’t love, you have more room in your life for what you do love. I think purging the TBR stack made it possible for me to actually read from it instead of feeling overwhelmed by it. I’m not sure I’ll ever entirely finish this exercise because new books keep coming in, but if I decrease the backlog, I’ll be more likely to read them on a more timely basis. It’s a pity to read an advance copy of a book five or more years after it was published.