I’ve been trying to work my way through my to-be-read pile over the past few years. I did a big purge a few years ago, then reorganized the way I deal with unread books to make it more likely that I would read them. When I say “pile,” “mountain” is more accurate. I had a whole bookcase several rows deep full of unread books and also had unread books mixed in with the books on my regular bookcases. One of my friends referred to my to-be-read collection as “the strategic book reserve.”
I don’t have a bad book-buying habit, though. Most of these books were giveaways, so they’re not books I chose for myself, and that’s a large part of why they remained unread for so long. If I buy a book for myself, I usually read it right away. The exceptions are things like library book sales, where I just grab things that sound interesting. Even those tend to get read pretty quickly. But it’s the conference books that pile up. Publishers give books away at writing conferences, since writers talk about books a lot, and if you give a lot of writers a book, they can spread word of mouth about it well enough to make it a hit.
I used to be involved with the Romance Writers of America. When you checked in to the national conference, they’d give you a tote bag full of books, or else you’d get a ticket to a goodie room and get to go around picking books to put in your tote bag. Then the publishers would have booksignings during the conference where they just gave away the books. For books they really wanted to highlight, they’d put copies on each seat at luncheons. After a few years, I learned to be more selective and only pick up books I thought I might read instead of just going all grabby hands and “boooookkkss!” Still, after more than ten years of these conferences, that added up to a lot of books.
Then I started going to more science fiction events. There aren’t usually a lot of book giveaways at the more fan-oriented conventions, though sometimes there are books on the freebie tables. But you get the same kind of tote bag full of books at the Nebula Awards conference and at the World Fantasy Convention. I got a bunch of mysteries at a mystery convention I went to a couple of years ago.
There are also random things, like a bunch of gothics I got in a bag from my former boss’s wife when they were moving, books by people I know that I got when I went to their booksignings (I try to go to friends’ first booksignings, even if they aren’t something I normally read), books that were gifts, and those bargain books I bought on a whim.
The pile grew because I was afraid to get rid of anything, especially once when I’d attempted a purge but hadn’t gotten around to taking the ones selected for donation anywhere, then read something else by an author whose earlier book turned out to be in the donation bag. What if I gave away something I’d end up wanting?
But I was inspired by Marie Kondo to winnow down the collection to books I actually wanted. A lot of the romances got donated to the library book sale in the great purge when I admitted to myself that I don’t actually like most romances and was probably never going to read them. Getting rid of so many books made the stash less intimidating and made me more likely to read what I had left. I also took all the TBR books off that bookcase and put them in boxes so I could use that bookcase for books I want to keep. Then I filled the small bookcase in my bedroom from those boxes. Now those books are close to where I usually am when I need something to read, and that’s really helped me work through the stash. If I’m not enjoying a book, I let myself put it in the donation bag and move on to something else. When a slot is emptied after I read a book, I fill it with something from the boxes. I’ve emptied a whole box so far. This has allowed me to make more progress in reading through the stash than I’d made in the prior decades, but it does mean I’m getting around to reading a lot of those books that are first in a series that’s now hard to find, which is its own problem. I don’t know when I’ll manage to move out of this house, but I hope by then I’ll have considerably fewer books. A lot of these books aren’t something I’d want to pay to move.