So, things have been a little quiet lately. I don’t want to get into why, but I thought it worth talking about one of the things that I’ve come to realise lately: the massive TBR is both a blessing and a curse, and I needed to get it under control.
For those that don’t know, TBR is shorthand for “To Be Read [Pile]”, and can either be a real stack or virtual list – or, probably, both – of books waiting for you to read them. For myself and other readers whose intentions outpace their actual reading, these TBRs can stretch to hundreds of books, and usually grow over time as books are added at a faster rate than they are read (easily done, for most of us).
Social media certainly doesn’t help, with suggestions around every virtual corner, or announcements by authors you have read or keep meaning to read of their shiny new books, all of which sound so good. Then there’s Goodreads, which makes it so easy just to add books to an infinite “To Read” list with just one click. Compounding this is the ebook; with it’s one-click ordering and frequent 99p sales, the number of books you own can skyrocket, let alone all those you want to read but haven’t bought yet.
But, you say, how could this be a bad thing? Books are great! The more the merrier!
When you love books this much, it can be comforting to have a huge TBR pile. You are stockpiling books for a rainy day, each full of potential enjoyment and escape, or challenging ideas and mind-expanding information. I certainly know people who are jealous of my reading list, since they read so fast (and rather narrowly, to boot) that they regularly run out of books (the horror!).
But for me, reading books became an obsession in reducing the pile, and finishing books – instead of being a pleasure at both concluding one great story and getting to start another – meant confronting that massive TBR pile (real, electronic, virtual). It all turned into another source of stress and anxiety, not escape and enjoyment.
So, I was probably doing it wrong, and needed a change. But how did we get to here?
Several things contributed to my growing TBR, the first of which I’ve already mentioned: social media. Not only had I immersed myself in (fantasy) bookish Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Reddit (not Instagram, sorry), but it was as more than just a fan, as well. I started down the social media rabbit hole more as a prospective author, which led me into contact of hundreds of other authors (both published and aspiring). This means that quite apart from getting recommendations of great books, I was getting asked to read books for friends and contacts as favours, sometimes even generously given free copies. Knowing how important exposure, buzz, and reviews are to any author, I felt guilty when I simply couldn’t keep up.
The other side of trying to be a writer, was that I felt the need to read certain books out of more than pure enjoyment. I wanted to stretch myself, learn different styles of storytelling, experience different perspectives – none of which are bad reasons to read, but when you start to treat your leisure activity more like work, it inevitably becomes a chore rather than a joy (I’ve always been bad at assigned reading). That’s not to say I haven’t really enjoyed a lot of the books I “assigned myself”. I have some new favourite authors, in fact. But as the TBR grew ever higher, I started to resent this self-imposed “work”.
So, step one has obviously been to scale back a bit, reset, and try to rediscover my love of reading with the books I’ve been looking forward to the most. I’ve also had a small clear-out of the TBR, getting rid of a number of books I would only probably have read if I won the lottery and moved to a desert island. Parting with books is never easy, and I probably should have cleared twice as many (or more!), but it’s a start.
The second step has been to choose the books I really, really want to read most, just for pure enjoyment, and put those to the top of the list. Even if, in this case, it was two books I didn’t even own yet, and they would be leap-frogging hundreds of others waiting patiently for years, in some cases. Oh well, books keep!
I’m still not out of the woods, however, because I’ve found it’s not that easy to read for enjoyment anymore, even when I want to. When you spend years learning about the writing craft, analysing what you value most in stories, reading endless advice of what to do and what not to do, it’s hard to read a book and not notice a hundred little things here and there.
Of course, if the book is really good, it will be easier, but even in really good books, you can find flaws if you want to. And some part of my brain clearly wants to, a green-eyed little critic that says, “How come he gets away with this ridiculous error and still gets published?” or “How come nobody sees through how derivative this character or that plotline are?” But you realise that you’ve been in too deep, you know too much, that 99% of readers aren’t going to even notice, let alone care. You start to worry that you’ve ruined books for yourself forever, but of course, these things just take time – and a few good books!
Who knows, I may one day even be able to write again?