Sunday, 4 January 2015

Year of the Unread – An Introduction

Anybody who really enjoys reading has a reading list and a to-be-read pile. It’s such a simple way to help you keep track of what you’d like to read next that there are dozens upon dozens of online articles written about to-be-read piles, not to mention forums where the topic is discussed. I’ve got a TBR pile of my own and I think it’s quite huge. It’s made up of books I own that I’ve never had the chance to read or took the time to read after I bought them. I’ve come to the realization that I buy books faster than I can read them. That’s always been the case but I’ve always been able to keep my TBR pile respectably small. That’s no longer the case.

I’ve been trying to figure out why my TBR pile has gone out of control and I think there are multiple factors at play. For starters I’ve always been a bit of a distracted reader. I’m always in the mood to read more than I’m physically capable of reading at a given time. When I was young I was able to read one series from start to finish but as the years went by and I’ve discovered more writers, genres, and series I started to read a bit more broadly. This resulted in my developing the habit of jumping around from series to series. My living situation has also had an impact on this. I grew up in the country and bookstores didn’t exist in my town. I could only find a Coles or Chapters if we went out of town and into the city. The one we visited from time to time was a good two hours away. When I would visit a bookstore I would buy trilogies or series and I would stick to authors and series I knew for fear of buying something I didn’t like.

A sample look at two shelves that are a mix of read and unread books.
It's about 75/25 read/unread. 

When I moved out of my parents’ house I lived in the city and not only were there bookstores but there were also comic book stores all around me. It allowed me to discover new series and new authors. I discovered them one book at a time instead of one series at a time. I’ve always liked variety and living in the city gave me the freedom to explore new reading options. Shortly after starting Shared Universe Reviews I started to shop at a used book store and while spending less money than I used to I was still buying just as many books as before. Writing for SUR means that I spend a lot of time writing which I used to spend on reading alone. All of these factors have undoubtedly contributed to the growth of my TBR pile and it’s time I do something about it.

A couple days ago I place my last book order for the foreseeable future as I’ve decided not to buy any more books until I’ve got my TBR pile under control.

According to forum discussions and articles I’ve read online, I’m not the only reader with a massive TBR pile as I’ve read a few articles and blog posts offering tips and tricks to help you with your reading pile. I have a lot of problems with these articles because they feel so domineering and cold. They treat their to-be-read piles as something that needs to be conquered. I love books. Sure, like many bibliophiles, I have books on my shelves that I keep in order to show off or convey a message (look at me, I’ve read <insert book title>) but at the end of the day, I only buy books I actually have an interest in reading. Out of the many tips that I’ve read about few of them seem to really tackle the TBR pile problem with the obviously solution: stop adding books to your pile and start reading the books already in your possession.

It’s a simple two-step solution but everybody is busy suggesting other things such as learning how to speed read, rebooting your TBR pile and starting over, and transferring your physical collection to an ebook collection.

For starters I completely object to the idea of learning to speed read in order to work my way through my TBR pile. I don’t want to read those books and toss them aside. I want to read those books with the hope of discovering a new favourite book or, at the very least, being entertained with a good story. I wouldn’t go so far as to preach the practice of slow reading (yes, it’s a thing) but having a big TBR pile is equals parts a blessing and a problem, in my opinion.

Some people suggest transferring your physical books to ebooks in order to clear some space in your home. That’s not a solution. You’re taking physical clutter and transferring it to electronic clutter. I also don’t like the idea of getting rid of my physical books only to turn around and spend a ton of cash on electronic versions of books I used to own. It sounds like a poor financial decision. I also think that this supposed solution is simply side-stepping the issue. I bought these books because I actually wanted to read them. The format, physical vs. ebook, isn’t the issue. My ignoring purchased books, is.

The same negative attitude that treats your TBR pile as something foul or shameful can be found in the suggestion that you should reboot you to-be-read pile. Here’s the deal with to-read books: some people have a list of books they do not own and would like to read. That’s the simple reason why my to-be-read pile exists and it makes sense to follow through with a simple solution. My TBR pile is quite literally a pile of books that I already own. Those books are just sitting there, staring me in the face. I purchased these books and I do not plan on throwing them away, selling them or donating them. I plan to read them first then decide what to do with them afterward. The suggestion that I should just hit the reset button is ludicrous unless you’re referring to a list of books that you don’t already own (which is what I call a wish list). In that case we might have an issue with terminology as I do not count books I don’t own in my TBR pile though I’ve notice that some people include them in their list and/or pile. In that case it’s an alright suggestion but it doesn’t address my particular situation.

I bought all of these books several months ago and i've only read three:
The Tombs of Atuan, The Dragon Reborn, and The Emperor's Soul. You
can find the reviews of all three on The Blog Fantastic page.

The frustrating thing about the articles I’ve read is that nobody suggested you stop buying books and focus on the ones you already own. That seems like a no brainer to me. Why hasn’t anybody suggested this as a good way to help you keep your TBR pile under control? I have a feeling it’s because a lot of people would have a very difficult time disconnecting from new releases long enough to read the new releases of previous years which now make up their TBR pile.

My goal for the next year (or longer) is to stop buying books and focus on reading the books I already own. One of my reasons for doing this is a financial reason. It doesn’t make sense to keep buying books when I already own enough at home to keep me busy for months. Another reason is that I originally bought those books with the intention of reading them so I’m just doing what I planned on doing months (in a few rare cases a year or two) ago. I’ve also starting to worry about what would happen if I didn’t stop and take on this Year of the Unread project. How large will my TBR pile become if I continue to buy books at this rate without changing my reading habits or my book buy habits? My reading habits will likely not change but, if they do, they’re more likely to slow down than to speed up. The same can’t be said for my book buying habit which remains very consistent. That’s the biggest change and it will give me immediate results because I won’t be adding to the pile. In order words, I won’t be working against myself. The first step, not buying books, is done quickly and it gives immediate results.

Part of the project is that I will write something about every single book I read but because the goal is to read a lot of books I will make sure to keep things brief when writing. At least brief in comparison to some of the larger book reviews and analyses I’ve made in the last two years. It’s also very likely that I will not be able to maintain the regular update schedule of two posts per week which I’ve been able to do for a good 18 months. I’m hoping to have a few guest contributors to fill in the blanks so to speak but I might also have to limit myself to one post per week as some of the books in my TBR pile are very long (which is why I haven’t read them yet). I’ll be numbering the posts as I go to help keep track of just how many books where in my TBR pile and I hope it will inspire you to tackle your to-be-read pile if you have one.

If you’d like to contribute a review to the Year of the Unread project, send me an e-mail at

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