Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Oppression of the To Be Read Pile

Scott D. Parker

I know y'all've seen those Geico insurance ads where a person is doing one thing (like shooting baskets) and something flies in from off-screen (like another basketball). The person looks over and he sees a wad of cash with eye balls. The tag line is something like "This the money you could be saving with Geico." What's let unspoken is the cash wad's insistence that you drop whatever you may be doing and pay attention to it, even if you're happily doing something else.

I don't know about y'all but the To Be Read stack of books can be equally as oppressive. There's just so many good books being published that I want to read them all. There are also a ton of authors--both published and unpublished--that I want to support. And I buy books, less than I used to, but I still buy them. And they go on the To Be Read Shelf.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who has a To Be Read Shelf. I used to be quite obsessive in the way I arranged my bookshelves. For whatever reason, my desire to see my books in a particular order on the shelf thankfully passed away. Now, my books are haphazardly arranged on purpose. (No, I don't go out of my way to make them haphazard. I just put them wherever I want to at the time.) It gives me a bit of spontaneity when I examine my bookshelves and see something I haven't seen in awhile.

What has survived is the To Be Read Shelf. It's a single shelf where I stack all the books I want to read next. Right now, I've got at least half my Hard Case Crime books there (around twenty or so). My A. A. Fair books (half dozen) sit next to my comic trade paperbacks while some of my SF/F material look on. It's a full shelf and I'm not even listing everything (I'm at work and can't see the shelf).

Let's get one thing straight: I want to read every, single book on that shelf and all the other shelves in my writing room (let's not count my library for now). But every time I select a book to read, that TBR Shelf stares at me, tempting me to drop whatever book I'm reading and pick up something else. Then, there's the obvious psychological factor. I've already got so many books on that shelf that, theoretically, I should cease buying newer things until I have read all the existing books on the shelf. It can be daunting, depressing, and oppressive. And, as the stack grows larger and larger, the more oppressive the pile becomes. Eventually, reading starts to become less fun and more of a chore.

My wife, on the other hand, is wonderfully blissful when it comes to her reading. She has no TBR pile or shelf. Now, granted, she's not a writer and doesn't obsess over books like we do. Still, her reading habit goes something like this: she finds an author she likes (currently, Margaret Coel) and literally reads everything there is. She did this with Patricia Cornwell, too. She always has something to read but there's no TBR stack. She's free from constraints and oppression. Some days, I envy her freedom.

Thus, I've come to a personal conclusion. There's a way to shake up my reading process and make things fresh again: kill the TBR shelf. I'm going to rearrange my shelves and disperse all the books I want to read throughout all my shelves. That way, I'll have to hunt for the books I want and might stumble onto something I've forgotten for awhile. This is summer time. It's a season to read fun books and, by extension, to have fun reading again.

So, am I the only one whose TBR Shelf/Pile feels like an schoolmarm tapping her toe, making reading more of a chore than a fun activity?


SueH said...

aaaaagghhh! Do you live in my house?

I also have a TBR pile - mine is stacked vertically, and now resembles a mini-Matterhorn!

Actually, the pile is breeding - the 'matterhorn' is on the floor in the conservatory, but there are small 'foothills' developing in the bedroom and on the stairs, too.

Here's a plan, though - maybe if I give up my day-job (in a library)I'd be able to resist seeing/borrowing new books and also have the time to actually read the darn things!

Ron Earl Phillips said...

Scott I feel your sorrow.

I used to be a reader like your wife. I'd find and author and just read their entire list, at least what I could find. This made for some thick weeks of reading, but there were also wide open times of freedom.

Now that I've gotten back into writing, my reading (and my need to support) has increased because I'm meeting a new circle of "friends." Always running into a new author I'd like to read or try.

Then add Amazon to the equation. I easily find that book my "friend" just put out. But I'm generally $15 away from free shipping, being frugal I have to buy at least 2 more books to save money on shipping. A brilliant scheme by Amazon having the free shipping price so low and just out of reach with a single book purchase. So my support fingers over to more books.

In the last two weeks I bought 8 books, because author's I just discovered had a book that was only $5 or $6, so naturally I had t take advantage of that deal and try to get free shipping.

But getting 3 Gischlers, a Swierczyski, a Hurwitz, an A. N. Smith and one from an author I've never heard about before, Tom Epperson, seems like a bit of good reading to me.

Naomi Johnson said...

Stacks of TBR here. And it can be oppressive, when what I'm committed to read takes precedence over what I want to read. But what a great problem to have.

Mike Dennis said...

My TBR stack rests on my bedside table, and whenever I start reading a new book that isn't in that stack, let me tell you, the shit hits the fan. Those TBR books start screaming at me, "Read us first! Read us NOW!" And of course, this is followed by the requisite guilt.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Yeah! I'm not the only one. I have a TBR pile that is at last two dozen strong. When I'm not in the middle of a first draft, I tend to read about 3-4 books a week. However, I am in first draft mode, which means one book tops. I have a feeling the TBR pile is going to get a whole lot taller before it starts to shrink.

Erin said...

Your TBRs fit in one shelf?

I guess mine do to, in a way... My Kindle fits nicely on the shelf. And it can hold all 750 of my TBR books on it while sitting on that shelf (and not buckling the shelf!)...

Scott D. Parker said...

Sue H - I used to have multiple, smaller "foothills" around the house, too. I'd have the bedside foothill, the library foothill, and the TV room foothill. The end result was that the foothills grew larger (because I kept adding to them) and nothing would get read. I'd even sort the various piles in the different rooms based on genre or whatever. Weird. Finally, I consolidated all the books into the single shelf. Now, time to banish it, too.

Ron - I hear you re: Amazon's free shipping threshold. I'll almost always buy enough to get the free shipping. It's another stop-gap in my often irrational urge to buy books. In fact, since I used to be such a compulsive buyer that I moved to the Amazon Wish List system. If there's a non-library book I want, it goes on Amazon's wish list. There it sits for at least a week. If I still want to get it and the library doesn't have it, I'll buy it. Maybe. But with so many friends who are authors around the internet, chances are good I'll pick up the book. BTW, I picked up the new Swierczyski, too.

Naomi - Committed to read. Another amen from the congregation. I get books sent to me to review. That's a nice problem to have, too. Sometimes, I discover a book/author/character that I'd never have known. That happened last year with S. J. Rozan and her book The Shanghai Moon. Then there are the other times...(books I won't name but you can figure it out from my reviews).

Mike - Your predicament is the #1 reason I moved one of my foothill stacks out of the bedroom. Then, I stopped reading in bed. I prefer reading in a chair or on the floor to reading in bed. Dunno where that come from either.

Joelle - 3-4 books/week! Wow! I'd plow through my stacks if I could read that fast. Audiobooks helps me read two at a time (one paper, one audio). Now, with my iPod Touch, I can add a third (digital). Speaking of first drafts, I think I made a realization recently. When I wrote my first book, I stopped reading (still listened) to books. I found they got in the way of my drafting. Something I'm considering doing this summer.

Tuxgirl - Ah, digital books. When I was carrying around my old Palm Pilot (before I got my iPod touch a few weeks ago), I had my ereader full of books just waiting to be read. Like real books, with so many to choose from, I got hamstrung and ended up reading and finishing nothing. Thus, when I downloaded Stanza (awesome reading app; my personal favorite), the Kindle app, and the B&N app onto the iPod, I strictly limited the number of ebooks on the device. To date, I've only purchased one book for the B&N app and downloaded only a free book for the Kindle app. Even with my own drafts and notes on the iPod, I have less than twenty (might even be fifteen or a dozen; can't remember) books loaded. And, most importantly, when I finish an ebook, I delete it from the iPod. Thus, I can see my list dwindling. It's a powerful motivator.

Barbara Martin said...

I have 40 or so on my TBR pile, although the ARCs get read first. Once in awhile I sneak in a book that's not an ARC just to get a breather.