Thoughtful Thursday: What’s your TBR list like?

We suspect that most of our readers keep a TBR (“To Be Read”) list and we’re interested in hearing about it, so we’ve got some questions. Feel free to answer as many as you’d like and to ask questions of other readers.

  1. Do you keep a TBR list? If not, why not?
  2. What format is it in (e.g., notebook, spreadsheet, online)?
  3. How many books are on your list?
  4. How do you organize it?
  5. How do you decide in which order to read your books?
  6. Are you good at sticking to the list?
  7. Where do you discover the books you put on your list?
  8. What are the first five books on your list?
  9. If you have one piece of advice for creating a TBR list, what is it?

As always, one random commenter will choose a book from our stacks.

Hamlet’s TBR Lament
by Bill Capossere

 

To add, or not to add, that is the question.

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The pangs and wounds of unpurchased books

Or to take arms against a sea of unread words

And by buying them, have at least a forlorn hope.

To add —

to shelve,

And by to shelve we mean to pile, to stack, to amass

To end the heart-ache of not owning these siren tomes.

To add,

perchance to shelve —

ay, there’s the rub

For in that time of shelving what form must it take—

Titles, publication dates, and author names (First or last)

Must give us pause — there’s the choice

That makes calamity of all our lists.

Oh, who would spreadsheets bear,

Or Wish Lists create,

In dread of something passed unread

The undiscovered prose that might thrill the will.


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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28 comments

  1. SandyG /

    I use my Amazon wishlist for books I want to read but can’t get from the library and don’t want to buy right away or books that aren’t out yet. Mostly I have so many books to read already between several piles of physical books and my kindle that I’m mostly just trying to get through some of those right now

  2. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I have an Excel workbook where I keep track of all the books in my library by chapter. One of the sheets is my future readings, which I copy from the other sheets in order. When I’ve read a chapter, I bold it. I read multiple books at at time, alternating chapters, so that I don’t feel stuck in one.

    • You are so organized! I am working on transferring mine from an unsorted Google Doc to a spreadsheet, but we’ll see how well that works.

  3. Oh, my Neverending TBR…
    Basically, I keep a Google Doc that I started several years ago. It’s now about 300 books long. (Help.) I do mark through the books that I finish as I read them, but since I’m a mood reader attracted to Many Shiny Things, I don’t just stick only to books that are on the list. There are just way too many good books in the world!! Some people’s TBR is only for the next few months or for a specific year, but as you can tell, mine is just “books to choose from when I pick the next read.” And I’m happy with this.
    My first five are:
    Rise of the Rocket Girls – Nathalia Holt
    Railsea – China Mieville
    Heroines of Mercy Street – Pamela Toler
    Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere
    Temeraire – Naomi Novik
    (Yup, they’ve been there a while!)
    (And I love the soliloquy!)

    • It occurred to me that “first” on the list probably meant “ones you will read soonest,” while I just put the books that are literally first on my huge list. Those books have been there for probably 3 years! My next books to read will be Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse, Exit Strategy by Martha Wells, Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, and Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty.

  4. Lady Morar /

    I don’t keep one, I just have a pile of books by my bedside and read them when I feel up to it, in no particular order. Some are partway through.

  5. First – Love the Hamlet TBR rendition. ❤️ I do have a TBR list that I keep on Goodreads. Currently, I have 189 books on it which sort of stresses me out. There is no organization to it, which also stresses me out 😂. I discover books from friends, Instagram and Goodreads. I haven’t been great and sticking with it because new books pop up and I start those.
    My first five are:
    1. The Pariah by Anthony Ryan
    2. One by One by Ruth Ware
    3. Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller
    4. Life’s to Short by Abby Jimenez
    5. Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

  6. My tbr is my home library of 4000+ books (yes, it’s true). I host, and participate in, various reading challenges which help me decide what to read from my shelves. I also run a book group on Goodreads where we read a different genre each month. All books we vote on to read are pulled from my home library (for the most part). I keep a written catalog in a Miquelrius Flexible Journal of all the books in my library. Otherwise, I keep buying what I already own. :) Fiction books are shelved alphabetically by author. Non-Fiction by subject. I also have a large collection of Christmas books which are shelved together, fiction and non-fiction. I sometimes do a random pull from my library catalog, just to change things up a bit. I also have a large jar containing slips of paper with titles from my various long-term reading challenges written on them. I sometimes draw from the jar for more randomness, or I might just walk up to a shelf, close my eyes, and point. Fun! Needless to say, I usually have 3-4 books going at one time each month.

  7. The Distinguished Professor /

    When I feel a book-shaped void in my life, I order a series or a group of series by the same author and then I devour them one by one. Usually I ask my son to help with the online ordering. Right now I’ve been decimating the works of Alexander McCall Smith, though I’m currently in “Six Days of the Condor” because the Epix series piqued my curiousity.

  8. LARRY L SCISSORS /

    Handwritten list on lined 8.5 x 11 plus whatever is downloaded to tablet. New items added to handwritten list at bottom, books are crossed off when added to tablet. Maybe 100-125 all total. Shiney est
    items are read first (usually). My main references are various book reviews. Don’t have a first five until I finish the book I’m reading.
    My best advice is to use a better plan than mine.

  9. I have 3 bookcases that are at least partially TBR books. However, I’m only reading ARCs (when I occasionally get them) in paper format now sooooo I may never get to them. I guess they’re more of a reminder to get an ebook version at some point. I also have over 100 samples on my kindle app although some of those were probably converted to the full books.

    I check through most of my books every year or so with–Do I plan to ever read this book? 0

    Bigger picture–I was a bit of an obsessive collector. For favorite authors I would buy the hc, pb, tpb, multiple editions, etc. I’ve finally decided to get rid of the duplicates, pb if there are hc, etc.

  10. Della /

    I use goodreads heavily. I put some things on the automatic to-read shelf. I made a couple of other exclusive shelves, including “recommendations” and “less personal recommendations” – the former being ones from people whose judgment I trust and who know my taste, and the latter being ones from lists, online posts, or other places that have steered me well in the past.

    The past few years, I’ve mainly stuck to authors I already know (either catching up on backlists like finishing the Vorkosigan saga or Raksura, or picking up their newly published stuff), EXCEPT that I’m also participating in the Reddit r/Fantasy annual bingo. It consists of 25 categories, and for bingo, you can’t re-read the same author on the same card. This has led me to actually pick up a lot of the recommendations I might have otherwise put off, and read things I wouldn’t normally have picked up (litRPG or vampires, for example). They usually have some categories based on the author (eg race, citizenship – once it was to find a local author) to help bring in some groups that might otherwise be overlooked. I therefore also make an annual goodreads shelf “TBR for 2021 bingo” and see what I can fit into each slot.

    I normally try to read a couple of bingo books, and if I love them, I’ll read sequels or other things by that author. If I don’t like them (but manage to finish because of bingo), I’ll grab some comfort reads – something I’ve been looking forward to – or maybe some middle grade books, as I’m always trying to find recs for my kids.

    Right now between books I own physically, ebooks (mostly gotten at a discount or pre-ordered), and bingo books I intend to get, there are about 300 on my list. I’ve been reading about 60-100 books per year but I’m adding too many new ones and the TBR grows.

    I don’t have an actual order, but for books that I’m most excited about, in no particular order:

    * Spectrum by Julie Czerneda
    * Empire of Gold by SA Chakraborty (somehow never got to this last year)
    * Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
    * The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
    * Dragonfired by J. Zachary Pike (probably won’t be out this year, sadly)

  11. I have three separate bookshelves of TBR, organized very roughly: books to review, science books, history books, fiction, creative non-fiction. What I haven’t bought yet, I throw into my Amazon wishlist (though I buy them from a variety of sources, it’s just a convenient single spot to store them–plus they update pricing which is good to know). And of course, there’s the non-physical TBR collection: the inevitably huge number of ebooks on my Kindle and iBooks accounts (and Netgalley), which are separated by genre.

    I’m impressed with the organizational capabilities of some of you!

  12. Oops, missed a few of the questions. I pre-order a lot of books. If I’m unsure, I try to wait until release and download a sample. I’ve started a pre-order document so I don’t have to scroll through my amazon orders. Here’s the current list:

    april 27, martha wells, fugitive telemetry
    april 27, annabeth albert, up in smoke
    april 27, melissa mcshane, liberating fight

    may 4, alison bechdel, the secret to superhuman strength
    may 6, jay hogan, unguarded (vino and veritas)
    May 10, alexis hall, the duke who loved me
    may 18, alexis hall, rosaline palmer takes the cake

    June, melissa scott, water horse
    june 1, casey mcquiston, one last stop
    june 8, laurie r. king, castle shade
    june 22, katherine addison, the witness for the dead

    july 13, becky chambers, a psalm for the wild-built

    august 5, stephanie burgis, the raven heir
    august 31, penny aimes, for the love of april french (skygiants rec)

    september 28, c.s. pacat, dark rise
    september 28, roan parrish, lights on knockbridge lane

    november 2, a marvellous light

    december 7, s.j. rozan, family business

    foz meadows, A Strange and Stubborn Endurance (tor)

    I get suggestions from books from bloggers (James Davis Nicoll, skygiants, and their reading lists on dreamwidth, Tor.com, here, Locus, some author groups on FB. I’m trying to be more advertent when others recommend–at least go check it out and maybe grab a sample.

  13. Paul Connelly /

    I probably have over a hundred fiction books TBR, including intended re-reads, and I keep adding more from the library. Mostly fantasy and SF, many older horror short story collections, some mysteries or espionage, and some mainstream literature. My interest in current F+SF has been going down the last few years. Not a lot sounds appealing. Maybe overexposure, finally?

    I look at reviews on blog sites (I check about 35 different ones weekly). Also forthcoming book lists from ISFDB, Locus and Kirkus.

    Currently reading Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming. Somehow I managed to get old without ever reading a James Bond novel before. The pile after that includes The Dark Archive (Genevieve Cogman), a re-read of The Last Hurrah (Edwin O’Connor), The Skystone (Jack Whyte), The Mask of Mirrors (M. A. Carrick), Blackthorn Winter (Liz Williams), After Dark (Haruki Murakami), Never Have I Ever (Isabel Yap), and Hooting Grange (Jeffrey Barlough).

  14. John Smith /

    My TBR lists consist of endless bookmarked links to a well-known online seller of various things, and piles of lists of needed/wanted things that I write out every month, and then I can never afford most of the things.

    There are thousands and thousands and thousands of things, mostly books, that I want. Graphic novels, fantasy novels, art books, on and on and on.

    I have just been looking at the site for a well-known online marketplace for collectibles, fantasizing about buying zillions of “funny animal” comic books from the 1940s and 1950s, etc., etc., etc.

    I saw a neat cover used for Avon Fantasy Reader No. 4, with some bizarre elephant / lizard / wicked-elf creature.

  15. Katharine Ott /

    I’ve used Goodreads for quite a few years and it works for me. My TBR shelf stands at 912 right now. Last year during the pandemic I went through and curated the list, hoping to pare it down. I did remove quite a few including more than one book by an author, and I also added each book to their appropriate shelves: mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, middle grade, et al. I’ll always choose a book from my TBR for the two book clubs I’m in when my choice comes around – the shelves come in handy then so I can choose something everyone will like. I also give myself a New Year’s challenge to read a set of books from my TBR – I can sort them by date added, so right now I’m working in Spring 2013. I get book ideas from blogs like this one and from bookish podcasts. By first five on the list I assume you mean the oldest, they are: “The Inquisitor’s Wife by Kalogridis, “The French Executioner” by Humphreys, “Nation” by Pratchett, “Elizabeth the First Wife” by Dolan, and “Against the Tide” by Camden.” Advice – go through your list now and then, it gives you a chance to remove or maybe even add books and introduces you to those that you have completely forgotten about. I like the TBR Lament – I’m very selective now when adding books!

  16. Jillian /

    I don’t keep a list, all my unread books are just on their own shelf to keep track, but there are over 100 and it is now actually two shelves. Oops. They’re organized by size and I do have a jar with the names of them to randomly pick one, but I usually abandon that and end up mood reading. I get all my books from thrift stores. Usually I pick whatever looks good or I’ve heard good things about. My top five are some Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett, and The Wheel of Time series. Clearly, I am not in a position to be giving advice haha.

  17. Michael Voss /

    My tbr list is close to 1000 books after winnowing out about half as many. They reside primarily in Goodreads lists, a general one and 4 or 5 prioritized for the next 5 years, one list each year. This is easy enough to keep up with a few minutes each week.

    Then I keep a spreadsheet with my planned reading for the year, which helps me keep focused on grabbing older books I purchased but haven’t got round to yet. Naturally, although I try to include upcoming releases on the spreadsheet, it’s not uncommon to pick up on new recs from FB forums or Twitter posts, either made by readers or even authors reminding us their books are out there. So the spreadsheet changes weekly, sometimes daily! Here’s 1-5 right now:

    1. Michael R Fletcher SHE DREAMS IN BLOOD
    2. Anna Smith Spark THE COURT OF BROKEN KNIVES (personally inscribed by the author!)
    3. Michael R Fletcher & Clayton W Snyder NORYLSKA GROANS
    4. Leigh Bardugo RULE OF WOLVES
    5. Ben Galley CHASING GRAVES

    As you can see, I’m concentrating on indie authors atm, rather purposefully. Some less indie stuff coming up after, like Steven Erikson’s MIDNIGHT TIDES and Helene Wecker’s upcoming THE HIDDEN PALACE (and currently on Mark Lawrence’s THE GIRL AND THE MOUNTAIN).

    Only advice on tbr’s is to have fun both planning and reading, it’s not a contest, lol!

  18. Frederick Rossero /

    My TBR is a combination of the stacks on my shelves and my ‘want to read’ on Goodreads. Neither is particularly organized and both are… extensive.

  19. I use my cart on Amazon to store books that I want to read. I don’t only buy from Amazon, though. I just go there to see what’s in the cart. Next, I hunt book stores to find the most cost effective. There’s also a Little Free Library near here and if there’s anything I like, I store it at home with the other books that are packed to read until after I move. I discover some of the books here at Fantasy Lit. I decide which to read depending on what I need to research at he time. The Ultimate Writers Workbook, Angel of Greenwood, Root Magic, Every Heart A Doorway, and Watch Your Dreams, are first on the list.

  20. Larry C. Scissors,if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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