#TBR20: dealing with the To Be Read backlog

In yesterday’s post on The Nun I mentioned bloggers who write and read with such amazing rapidity yet maintain high qualities of output. I’d like here to spend a bit more time on this.

Max first put me on to the Twitter and blogger phenomenon of #TBR20. Essentially it was a project whereby one undertook to choose 20 books (or some other total) from the to be read pile and work through them within a set time, while refraining from buying any new books (link to his piece below). I’ll start with the blogger who instigated this scheme, though:

Eva Stalker in a post from Nov. 2014: TBR20 project proposed HERE

Link HERE to her conclusions when finished (and plan for future similar ventures)

Among those whose blogs I follow (and who post with admirable frequency and read voraciously) and who took up the challenge:

JacquiWine’s Journal 15 May reflections on finishing:

I need to carry on with the spirit of #TBR20, of valuing the books I already own rather than allowing myself to be distracted by the next craving. I’m not sure if I can go another four months without buying ANY new books; it might be a little too soon after the first round.

Jacqui provides links to those who inspired or joined in the project subsequently, including

Emma (BooksAroundTheCorner): her views HERE

Max (mentioned above): link HERE with further links on that piece to related posts.

I’m reluctant to join in formally. I understand Max’s explanation that TBR20 can provide the impetus, focus and discipline to get stuck in to the backlog, and stop finding distractions or excuses – or other books that come to hand; but he does also point out that there’s no point going for it if it becomes itself a burden.

So I prefer to carry on picking out, from time to time, individual volumes that languish on my shelves (some have been there years, like The Nun), sitting patiently awaiting their moment in the sun. And I’ve just been sent another couple of novels for review, so need to prioritise reading them, and have John Harvey’s The Poetics of Sight looking at me reprovingly from my desk as I write this. I need to review it.

I recently had new bookshelves installed, which meant emptying many of the old ones and then putting all the books back once the new shelves were in place. This enabled me to introduce a little system in their placement (though much of it was determined by size of book and depth of shelf), and I’ve isolated many of the TBR books. I’ll keep you posted on the progress I make.

First I need to choose between books which were published some time ago, those that I bought fresh from publication (de la Pava, Newman, etc.) – but there’s another category: those I’d like to reread (the TBRR pile?).

One final reason for dodging the formal TBR20 challenge: I like to choose my next book, often, on the basis of a contrast with the one just finished (something old like Diderot followed by something recent, for example; something modernist and challenging followed by something more conventional; fiction/non-fiction, and so on).

So, in the spirit of self-discipline I’ll shut down my laptop now, ignore the siren call of social media, book bloggers and email – and the constant stream of bullfinches and chaffinches visiting the window-mounted bird feeder by my window as I type – and get down to some serious reading.


It’s been quite liberating, writing this piece, and not the usual book review. Must do it more often. No revising, redrafting or polishing: just the thing itself.



13 thoughts on “#TBR20: dealing with the To Be Read backlog

  1. Thank you for performing the public service of writing about the ever-present, ever-teetering “to be read” backlog. : ) I simply cannot resist the lure of paper books.

    [After six weeks, I completed my last move-in project Monday the 25th by moving my collection of 175 cookbooks into an amazing six-shelf larder closet in my kitchen where they no longer can reproach me from their cardboard boxes. I would need 100 lives to read, and 10,000 lives to cook each recipe from my collection but I rest easy knowing that I am ready to cook Bulgarian, Irish Country House, or in the style of Mrs. Nelly Standish of Nantucket as needed]

    Being the height of luxury, my larder even includes a repurposed “utility tray” for tiny cookbooks! Living large.

    My wonderful new kitchen library is the hi-lite of my new apartment, exceeding even the “heating lamps” just outside each shower AND the fact that for the first time in my life, I have my OWN bathroom.


  2. I like the sound of your approach to this (and thanks for the link back to my piece, very kind). The pick-as-you-go-along approach worked very well for me for similar reasons to those you’ve mentioned here, particularly the desire for a change in style or mood. For me, it was a case of mixing British or American classics with some translated fiction; modernist fiction followed by something more straightforward, etc. After checking with Eva, I also included a few rereads as I wanted to devote some time to revisiting a few old favourites.

    Looking forward to seeing what you choose next from your TBR shelves…hopefully it will be a little more rewarding than The Nun!

    • I’ve just downloaded ‘this is not a Story’ by Diderot on a recommendation, so already my point is endorsed: things come along & you want to drop everything to read it NOW! I do consciously look for variety & contrast in what to choose next – & that often means a recommendation rather than a trip to the bookshelves (not to mention the unruly pile by my bed)

  3. I have been eyeballing this challenge as a means of tempering my book-buying so maybe when I get down to it I will try for 20 out of 25 or something to leave wiggle room. I am an impulsive and idiosyncratic reader but the shelves are starting to sag! However there is a trip to South Africa (with a list of books I have not been able to obtain to date) and a quick stop over in London where I hope to catch up with the editor of a small publisher on the way… so when I get back dragging a bag full of books in early July I will see if I can make a commitment (he says noncommittally).

    • Good luck, Roughghosts, with this venture, & enjoy your trip (geographical & metaphorical!) Btw, a small publisher worth a look is Polar Books from Cheltenham, England. I revieweda title of theirs here: Michael Flay’s Persian Wedding’. A couple more titles in the pipeline.

  4. I like to pick books for contrast too, and structured my tbr20 hopefully to permit that. We’ll see if I succeeded. Part of it for me though was a reminder that every one of those books once excited me as much as the one I haven’t bought yet but just read about wherever.

    Anyway, good luck with your own tbr efforts, your approach sounds perfectly sensible to me particularly with the new bookshelf arrangements to help.

    I do suspect blogging drives us towards the new (to us, if not to the world) and away from the potential TBRR pile. Of course, if we add together the TBR pile and the TBRR pile, our only hope is major breakthroughs in medical science and human longevity…

  5. Thanks so much for the mention, Simon. So interesting to read your thoughts on the commitment of TBR20. I do like your approach of just quietly picking a few from the shelves every now and then, too.

  6. Hi, I’ve only noticed this post today. Thanks for the kind mention to my blog.

    I understand your need to alternate the style of books you read. I have the same need and like Max, I tried to pick the 20 books in different styles, genre, countries, to allow the changes.
    So far I’m holding on the not-buying part but I’ve read 3 books that were on the TBR but not on the list. It will only delay the moment I can buy books again! And the challenge has become a TBR23. 🙂

  7. Pingback: 'The poet of the prosaic': Stanley Middleton - Tredynas Days

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