To be read


On Booking Through Thursday this week, readers are encouraged to show off their to-be-read piles. I've had fun paging through all of the responses and checking out how different people store and display their books. But the level of stress and sheepishness about even having a to-be-read stack is a little dismaying to me. In the knitting world we have the same debate about "stashes" (yarn accumulations waiting to be worked up into garments): should a person feel guilty about the number of books (or skeins) waiting to be enjoyed? I feel strongly that we shouldn't, as long as we ourselves have a healthy and creativity-enhancing relationship with the pile or stash. The moment the number of books or skeins starts to seem overwhelming rather than stimulating, I'd say a purchasing moratorium is in order - I mean, who wants to be stressed out by their raw creative material? Nobody likes to feel out of control, like their source of pleasure is becoming a source of worry or strain. But until then, I see no reason for guilt about one's personal library or yarn collection. Personally, I keep a relatively small amount of yarn on hand (emphasis on relative), but I love to have a decent-sized pile of books waiting for me. In that spirit, here's my to-be-read shelf. Isn't it cute? It sits right below a window, and I spend time every day enjoying its pleasing contours and all the rewarding reads it holds in store for me. The actual piece of furniture belonged to my mother before me, which makes it that much more special. I believe my folks painted it white as part of my nursery, and it's been with me ever since.


My to-be-read collection usually vacillates between thirty and forty-five volumes; right now it's at thirty-eight. This piece of furniture provides a self-limiting feature: the perfect number of to-be-read books, for me, is however many fit on the top and bottom shelves. Right now there are a few tucked behind the books on the top shelf, which is fine. Sometimes I start tucking them behind the volumes on the bottom shelf as well, but if I need to start piling them on the middle shelf, or horizontally on top of the top-shelf books, I know it's time to curtail my book-buying for a while. Nothing goes onto my main shelves until it's read, which is very satisfying to me; it means my main wall of books are a collection of old friends, and my little to-be-read shelf is an alluring, undiscovered country. I try to read evenly from the top and bottom shelves, and to keep a fresh rotation through the shelves so that no particular volume stagnates for years and years. I love the ritual of choosing a new book: meandering over to this little shelf, pulling a volume out and perusing it, putting it back and choosing another one, and making my eventual selection. After I've chosen my next read, I fill its vacant spot on the shelf either with one of the books previously tucked behind the front row, or, if there aren't any, by moving a book from the bottom shelf to the top. It's immeasurably satisfying.


  • That's a cute shelf and a good idea. I wish I had more room to divide up my books like that. as I read more and more of these responses I'm starting to feel much less guilty about how many books I haven't read yet lol

  • Love the shelf!

  • We have the same habits. My unread books are in a separate, smaller shelf in the bedroom. All the books on my main shelves have been read.

    I loved browsing through the titles on your tbr. :D

  • My TBR list is mostly in my head - I only have a few books at home that are waiting to be read. For a long time I wouldn't even buy a book if I hadn't read it yet, but 50 cent per paperback booksales became too hard to resist. I LOVE your little shelf, and that you've had it with you so long. That is so fitting. :)

  • Emily, I suspect I would need about 5 of those pieces of furniture to properly showcase my TBR collection! On the other hand, I have no yarn at all. I do envy you people who have your to be read books stored in a separate place from the "old friends" titles: that seems eminently sensible to me. In theory, at least!

  • My unreads are all over the house. To put them in one spot would be an inadvisable movement toward full book acquisition disclosure to my husband who thinks I am a tree killer and that my habit will eventually help burn our house down. Love looking through your titles. We share only one - Middlesex. Are we the last two not to have read it?

  • Wow, thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Frances, I think we must be the last two! I'm almost embarrassed to review it after I eventually read it; everyone else will be like "oh yeah, you finally joined the party, huh?"

    Richard, more power to you. If my yarn area were made available for books, there would be at least four times as many. (Yarn is very space-intensive!)

    Sarah, I'm impressed. I occasionally think about restricting my book-buying to books I've already read and loved, but I could never actually do it; I'm too attached to underlining and note-taking in my books as I read. Your way makes for a much more portable lifestyle, though. I bet you get more volunteers to help you move house!

    Claire, why does it not surprise me that we have similar organization habits? :-)

    And thanks, Vicki and Mish! You SHOULD stop feeling guilty, Mish. At least I think so.

  • I like your system! I have something that could be similar -- four shelves full of TBR books, except that I've got two piles right next to them that would take up one or two shelves on their own, shelves I don't happen to have. Oh, well. I try not to feel anxiety about all those books. I'd love to get rid of the piles on the floor, but that right there would take quite a few months of steady reading.

  • Oh, oh, oh, I see Sister Carrie on the bottom shelf. It's a great read!! Had a hard time with Middlesex, though--so much so that I never finished it. I'm piqued with interest, though . . . might have to go out and buy "Of Human Bondage." For some reason I missed that one, but I know it's a keeper. I never feel anxiety, remorse, or guilt about my piles of "to reads" (my dresser is very large and one end holds my beloved books to be read. And I love every book in my library--always have, always will!

  • Dorothy, I understand what you're saying about the books on the floor. It's similar to how I feel when I have to start piling books on top of my shelves. Anxiety reduction is a good move, though.

    Mary, Sister Carrie is up next on my list, once I finish The Magic Mountain! I'm very much looking forward to it. And I love reading professions of book-love! It reassures me about the world in general. :-)

  • My yarn stash is larger than my book stash right now.Usually it's the opposite.

    I don't feel guilty about either. There are other things in life to worry about that are more important.

  • That is an adorable shelf.

    My TBR is mostly library books! I don't like to buy a book until I know I love it. But I do have probably 50 books I own that I haven't read yet or that I really really want to reread soon. It's hard to get to everything. About 30 of them are on the shelf under my bedside table...

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    link to Wolves 2011 reading list
    link to more disgust bibliography