Without a TBR List

On Not Keeping (or Wanting) a TBR List

Without a TBR List

I have a bit of a confession to make: I’ve been hawking a lie for a while now. It’s a little, slightly white lie that is basically a technicality, but a lie nonetheless. Like many of us, I often mention my reading list or TBR (to be read in bookspeak) pile, but the truth is I don’t have one. And I don’t really want one either.

What Makes a TBR List?

In the strictest sense, I suppose the unread books on my shelves could be considered a TBR list, though I certainly don’t see them that way. They’re more like visitors that will eventually either move along or stay for the long haul. And while I do use Edelweiss to make lists of upcoming titles that pique my interest, I delete them once a book is published. Even the books I check out from the library and ARCs I receive are books I hope to read, not a stack of titles I require myself to work through in a specific order.

Getting Rid of the TBR List

I used to keep a TBR in the form of several hundred books that were carefully chosen and cataloged on Goodreads. I told myself that the list was a tool for book shopping, but you can imagine how much the organization and lightning speeds of the Goodreads app helped me find what I was looking for. Getting rid of the list wasn’t a conscious decision, really. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to eliminate my TBR ONCE AND FOR ALL!! I just gradually realized how truly useless it was. I started to delete books I knew I’d never read and, without new additions, it gradually whittled down.

Turning the TBR Into Library Holds

I know that many people use their TBRs to remember the interesting books they encounter and I totally understand the utility, but I’ve found that I either need to take action on those titles right away or just let them go. Instead of just throwing them on a list for someday, I try to take action on them. If a book grabs my attention, I add it to my library holds (or Edelweiss list if it’s not yet published). Do I read all of my library holds? Not at all. Sometimes this system means I just don’t have time to squeeze everything in, but it also helps me filter things out and the books I really care about end up coming back to me.

Do you keep a TBR list? Is it overwhelming or useful?


  • Eve’s Bookish Confections

    Interesting! I actually only use my Goodreads account to keep track of what I’ve read. I catalogue the books I own on LibraryThing. Technically all 3,000 plus books I own could be considered a huge TBR pile, including ARCs I receive, but I don’t pressure myself to read them. I’m a mood reader, so even book clubs stress me out. I like the freedom of picking up any chosen book at any given time. I’m always purging my library because my reading habits change every few years or so.

    I do have an ongoing Amazon Kindle wishlist, and when there’s a book that interests me I put it on the wishlist. I don’t even consider buying it until it’s marked down to at least $3.99. I’m always whittling away at this list too. It’s funny how we all have our little systems, huh?

    • Mood readers unite! I don’t read digitally very often, but if I did I think I’d probably follow the same route with the wishlist – it’s too hard to pass up a good deal!

  • Bex

    I don’t really have a TBR as such… A few hundred unread books in my house but like you I don’t see them as a list. If I’m really interested in something I generally go on the library website then and there and reserve it,or if they don’t have it I’ll add it to one of my wishlists ( I have one for the secret sister project and one for Ninja Book Swap) but really I gave up on enforced reading a couple of years ago. Reading is a fun thing and while I like making lists and TBR piles as much as the next person I’d rather do it on an event by event basis. That said, I do read at least one long or shortlisted book for several of the major literary awards, but that’s it for required reading for me!

    • Ah, good point about the award list books! I try to read a few of those, too (especially when it comes to the Tournament of Books).

  • Kay

    I say many times in comments on other blogs – ‘I’m putting this book on my list or it’s already on my list’. Well, like you, I don’t have an actual list. I’ve tried wishlists and even had a spreadsheet at one time. But….it felt like work. So now, I just say that, but don’t really have a list except maybe in my head for books that I’ve seen and want to try. I actually own many hundred of books, both paper copies and on my Kindle. Those are not a list to me though. They are just the books I own. I found with my first blog, long gone now, that I cannot read to a schedule. My moods are way too varied. I read what I want and when I want. I do belong to a couple of book groups and the reads for those are enough ‘scheduling’ for me. And even then, I don’t always get them done. LOL

    • This is me to a t! I think my one book club book each much is about all the scheduled reading I can handle ;)

  • I think it’s fascinating how many ways there are for people to keep track of what they want to/intend to read, whether it’s an app or a stack of library loot or just a little sticky note. I do keep a Goodreads TBR list, but have to go through and cull it periodically… if I can’t remember why I added a book to the list 6 months later, I’ll probably be better of forgetting about it completely. Right now I have WAY too many YA books on the list left over from a previous teen-related job, so I really need to clean that up quite a bit.

    • It can be so easy to let those lists get out of control without culling! I was shocked how many books I had on my Goodreads list that I didn’t even remember adding.

  • It’s taking everything I have not to throw out (donate, sell) my physical TBR and change the way I approach reading. Like, actually become a free range reader. As for a Goodreads TBR I see it as a tickler list of possibilities but I do find I use it less and less. Oh woa woa changessss.

    • Moving really pushed me to let go of a ton of books and it felt great. I still have more than the average person, I’m sure, but it’s really nice to look at the books you have and appreciate all of them…not feel guilty because they’re sitting on your shelves unread.

      • Yes indeed…and I’ve sworn I’ll never move again with the number of books I’ve had in the past. As you say, it’s much more satisfying to look at a collection of books that are keepers rather than taunting TBR books. No guilt! <–mantra

  • This is fascinating stuff. I might write a bit of a “response” or “spin-off” to this post if you don’t mind….? I’ve been thinking about my own TBR practices lately, and have considered making a few (necessary) changes.

  • I actually have THREE TBR lists on Goodreads! The first is the regular ‘To Read’ list created by Goodreads. The second is a TBR-Later List, and the third is my ‘high priority’ list. I started to explain how I use these, but I can tell it will be a lengthy post, so I think I will just blog about it instead!

  • Maria Giordano

    I definitely use the library wish list as my TBR list…no pressure to read..saves books you are interested in…no need to purchase books.

    • Yes, exactly! And it lets me be a bit more adventurous, too…no worries about not liking something that way.

      • Maria Giordano

        Yes …good point …you can try a book and return it if you don’t like it with no consequence.

  • I have two TBR lists on Goodreads: one is my wishlist, which is basically all the books I come across that I find interesting and that I would be interested in picking up at some point, and my to-read list, which is my list of books that I own or classics I have saved on my eReader that I haven’t read yet. But from there what I read it really just based on my mood, haha; I have fun putting together seasonal TBR lists whenever Top Ten Tuesdays feature it just to give a sense of ideally what I want to get around to reading but otherwise there’s no particular priority list going on (unless they’re ARCs, then I do keep a separate list just to keep in mind when those books archive!). It keeps me organised and keeping in mind what I do have unread onhand :)

    • I totally get the organization bit! I feel like I’m that way with everything in my life *except* for reading – not sure how that all works out :)

  • I see what you are saying but I totally have an actual TBR list, in several different places and I use them all for different things. The Goodreads version is probably the most useless and I really do need to go in there one of these days and cull the titles that I know I’m not ever going to read. But I like that there are some obscure books on there and I like seeing what other people want to read. The one that I use the most, the one that I will actually add to when I make comments about adding to my TBR, is a physical list I keep in my agenda. There is no greater joy for me than crossing a book off that list. I’m also constantly thumbing through it to remind myself of what books I keep meaning to read – especially when I’m in the library. I find that I’m less likely to put books on hold because I like wandering in the library, physically pulling books for myself.
    But I can definitely see how liberating it would be to stop with the TBR list. I don’t feel that much pressure to read everything on my list but I like seeing which books I’ve taken the time to add to it.

    • The way you feel about crossing a book off your agenda is exactly how I feel about crossing tasks off my planner, so I totally get where you’re coming from! My library system is pretty terrible for browsing (all the good books are spread out between several branches – my holds always come from several places), so I seem to miss out on scanning the shelves :(

  • This is such a great post. From the comments already, there is such a variety of ways people keep track (or not) of their reading.
    Whenever I see a book I would like to read, I add it to my Goodreads list, mostly so that I won’t forget about it. I hate the thought of forgetting about books that sound good to me (I have it in my head that someday I’ll be able to read them all, even though I know it’s not true. But, a girl can dream…). I tend to call this my to-read list.
    My actual tbr pile is a physical pile of books that I own, and hope to read soon-ish. But…I am such a mood reader and get so easily distracted by other books, that most of my reading actually happens through the library. As you know, this is something I’m working on, not because I want to punish myself or something, but only because I know I will love the books I own just as much as I love the ones from the library. I just have to find a better balance. But, no, my tbr pile is not something that I work through diligently – just books I really want to read soon, and I put them into a pile to help remind myself that they’re there. The things we do to put our minds at ease. :)

    • Just like you, I do have a pile of books I’m eyeing/have out from the library each week or so, but it’s a total crapshoot of actually getting to them or not ;) And yes! I try to keep it on the bench by the front door, walk by it every day…it doesn’t help.

  • Cry-laughing at your Goodreads app digs. I do find that keeping the GR list can help me sometimes when I’m lacking inspiration at the library (allllmost unheard of, but it happens!), but otherwise, I’m pretty much with you.

    • I’m sure at least some of it is shoddy bookstore service, but I swear that app crawls at a snails pace whenever I’m trying to find a book in a bookstore.

      • Yeppp. I need to set aside at least an extra 15-20 minutes if I’m going to get anything useful out of it when I’m out and about.

        I could gripe for a while about what I wish would change about the app that hasn’t in the years I’ve been using it, but maybe I could just go read a book (or three) instead ;)

  • I feel like getting rid of the TBR list is a hot topic lately! Allison at The Book Wheel deleted her entire GR “to read” shelf…which inspired me to delete a ton of stuff from my TBR spreadsheet (super old stuff, things I’m no longer interested in reading, and newer releases that I’ve heard kind of blah things about). I do usually know what I’m going to read next, but it’s more of a “this is what I will try or sample next” (and I’m quick to move on if it doesn’t work).
    I wish I could stop writing things down entirely, but my brain has so much little stuff floating around w/ trying to remember the kids stuff that book titles fly in one ear and out the other if I don’t keep some sort of record!
    Kudos to you for letting go!

    • I’m so with you on writing things down (it’s the only way I can function otherwise!) – the only answer I have for bucking scheduling my reading is that it gives me room to enjoy it rather than making it feel like a task I have to schedule.

    • I’m so glad you purged, too! I love seeing how many people are bucking the trend and getting rid of some of their TBR books.

  • I just removed over fifty from my GR list and more than twenty from my Amazon wish lists. I’ve begun to use my library more and add more to the library wish and holds lists than anywhere else, now for new releases and backlist books. Of course, I still use my Amazon list or GR if the library doesn’t have a future book listed.

    • The future books can get a little tricky, especially if they’re not listed anywhere – it comes down to memory (or finding a place to write things down!) :)

  • Amanda

    If I didn’t keep my goodreads list I’d have 10000 pieces of paper around with titles and my husband might leave me. Slight exaggeration maybe, but not much. I like having the random titles in one place so that when I need a library book I can take a glance. I should do another cull – but I always have hope I’ll have time for all the books I ever want to read. I do need to let go of some physical books I think that are “some day reads.” I need to remember the library isn’t’ going anywhere.

    • I do all my library holds from home since my library isn’t really great for browsing, otherwise I think I’d probably want to have a list with me!

  • Jennine G.

    I have two stress free lists. One is the physical books on my shelf and ereader. Since I’ve been trying to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks, my shelves serve as a list to choose from. But I don’t make myself read them in any order, just on a whim, so it’s enjoyable…I have quite a few to choose from.

    Second list I keep on my phone. It’s basically books I read in reviews or someone has suggested and I want to check into. But it’s very flexible and doesn’t hold a particular sway over what I read and when. I like it like this cause reading never feels like a chore.

    • I think your phone list is kind of like my library list :) I just grab things based on recommendations and read them or not depending on how I’m feeling.

  • You’re a brave soul. But I feel like I don’t quite TBR the way other people do either. It seems like it causes a lot of people stress. I don’t have like an order in which I think I need to read stuff. I just take “want to read” very literally on Goodreads. If it’s a book I want to read, whether I’ll get to it or not, it’s on the list. If I don’t think I want to read it anymore, off it goes.

    • No stress is good! That’s how mine was when I had it, but then I realized that it also wasn’t helpful, so it was kind of silly to maintain ;)

  • I have a TBR and it is both useful and overwhelming! First off, it is in a spreadsheet–that should tell you a bit about who I am! It only includes books that I actually own, either print or electronically. It is useful because it keeps me from buying books I already have and it helps me to plan out my reading. It is overwhelming because I am closing in on 600 items on the list. Sigh….

    • I *have* always wanted some kind of list of the books I own, just because I’ve nearly bought duplicates on more than one occasion ;)

  • Wow, I have a hard time imagining no TBR list at all!! I’ve been keeping a long GoodReads list for as long as I can remember. I don’t think of it in a “omg I have to read all of these book”, just as a way to keep track of all the many many many book recommendations I receive. It probably does need an honesty check at some point though, just to keep me in reality land…

    • I’m kind of of the mind that a book will come around to me again if I miss out on/forget it, but it is nice to have them all in one place :)

      • That’s true – the ones that make it to the top of the pile are always the ones that you hear about over and over again until you just can’t resist!

  • Julie @ Smiling Shelves

    I’m still rather attached to my Goodreads TBR list, but I love your idea of just making them library holds. I don’t know how plausible that would actually be for me, but it sounds like a great way to keep the TBR list under control!

    • I can’t believe how much it’s helped! It seems like there are so many books that I want to read and then that interest just fades over time….this way it seems like I catch the interest right away or pass on it.

  • Hahahahaha, Shannon, you should see how blankly I am staring at this post right now. If I lost my TBR list I would be bereft. But then, mine doesn’t become a burden to me, so. If a book stays on the spreadsheet for longer than a few years, I tend to assume I didn’t really want to read it that badly, and I give it a try on my next library run or delete it. I usually have fewer than 200 books on the list total, not counting my tabs that are like “romance authors to give a try to if you’re in the mood for that” and “academic nonfiction that will teach you about things you want to know about.”

  • Care

    Wow – I love goodreads and toss books at my tbr ALL THE TIME. It’s at count 1719 – I just looked. The key is that I don’t stress about it. I read what I want to when I want to so it isn’t the “mountain about to topple on me” risk. I do love that goodreads will tell me WHEN I tbr’d it (yep, tbr is a verb) and sometimes, I have recorded the review that inspired me to want to read it. But really, it’s a ‘whatever’ thing in my life and I’m all OK with it. :)

  • I always think of my TBR list as more of a…metaphorical entity. ;) I have my TBR list on Goodreads but it doesn’t feel like anything strict. I have a crappy memory so when I want to go to the library or buy some new books, I usually look it over and see what grabs me (again). It’s more like a TBC list, I guess! To be considered.

    • That was totally what mine was always intended to be and I’d probably still have it if the Goodreads app wasn’t so useless ;)

  • Your approach sounds wonderful and free-spirited. I have a gigantic word document. It doesn’t stress me out, but I think it does give me some sense of how I’m doing with reading new releases/backlist/classics etc.

    • That sounds similar to what I use for the books I’ve read – I record when books were published, where I got them from, etc :)

  • I don’t keep a TBR list exactly but I do have an entire bookshelf of books I haven’t yet read. I consider that my TBR “pile” and don’t keep a list of other stuff. I’ve been trying to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks this year so I’m hoping that if I get that bookshelf whittled down a bit I might start keeping a real list.

  • Meaghan Walsh Gerard

    I think I would categorize by TBR list as more of a “check in to that title later” list. Once it makes it to my house, it goes on the pile (or piles).

  • Deb

    My TBR list is more of a “books to remember” list than anything else. I don’t own them and I don’t get to most of them. I do use my library wishlist for that purpose, but the problem is only half the books I want to read are actually on library e-books. In recent years I used my TBR list to keep track of challenge books, to prod myself to read more challenging books, but this year I’m avoiding challenges for a while – no time to worry about what I should be reading.

  • I don’t have a TBR list or pile per se (other than review books that need to be read by a certain time), but I am an AR/OCD list-maker. Part of that is making lists is a calming thing for me, the other is that if I didn’t keep lists I would forget about books that I really would like to get to. I keep lists on Amazon. I have lists for what is available at each of my libraries (separate lists for tree and e/audio), review books, possible titles I’d like to consider, you get the picture. I MAKE LISTS. I cull them often, some things stay on there even though I know I will likely never get to them. But hell, my genetic history tells me I might have to live past 100, and who knows when I might run out?!

  • I do really like your idea of turning your TBR into library holds! I’ve noticed that I mostly don’t return to my goodreads to-read list when picking out new reads. I do think of my physical piles of books as my to-read list as well though and I’m trying to do better about actually going to that to-read list when deciding what to read next :)

  • I’m sure it feels great to get rid of lists/stuff you don’t use. I deleted a bunch off of mine on GR, especially the books I know I’ll remember. That’s my definition of my TBR list, “books I want to remember to possibly pick up at some point”. “TBR” is just an easier acronym and rolls off the tongue nicer. ;) I hear so many great recommendations, my brain can’t add one more mental list. I’m a list maker and I don’t stress out about having a TBR list but it really helps me make note of less popular books, debut authors or books coming out that I don’t want to forget about. Now I just have to find a place for all the bits of paper I have floating around with “mini-lists”.

  • This is an interesting discussion. I am in awe of your courage to delete your TBR list. :) My list is certainly overwhelming. On one hand, I am still baffled about how I will make my way through the sea of books I encounter everyday. Something that I can meet half-way should be discovered. ;)

  • I’ve been migrating to a similar library reserve list system as well. When something interests me, I put a hold on it at the library. Even things I spot at a bookstore and have already looked at and held. Letting the books into my house helps me filter out which ones I actually am interested in reading. I still keep various lists in certain places, but I don’t put much stock in them.

    Marie Kondo says a lot of things about books that I don’t agree with (like only owning 30, and keeping them in a shoe cupboard) but I do think she’s right about one thing: “The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it.” I’m currently participating in Andi’s RMODB challenge, and so I’m pulling things off my shelf and dusting them off. I am very glad I’m getting around to all these unread books, but selecting them now is missing a bit of the “just encountered” excitement and momentum.

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  • Elena

    I don’t have one either. I have a pile, and I pick what I feel like reading next, no pressure, no nothing. I have an English and American literature degree, which means that I had to plan my readings for 5 years, and I got tired of it. There is nothing like the freedom and happiness of asking yourself: ‘What should I read next?’

  • My problem is that I like lists. I do go through my library wish list and my GR TBR and clean out every couple months.

    Once I started to make of list of my lists before I realized that I was a crazy person.

  • I actually switched from the library hold list to a goodreads TBR because I’d often find books I wanted to read that the library didn’t have. It’s not really a list of books I HAVE to read so much as a way of keeping track of books that have piqued my interest. But I totally appreciate the pressure having a TBR can create!

  • I love your openness – I have begun to drift away from a TBR as well. After years of being told what to read and having a strict schedule for said reading, it’s nice to be able to pick up something when I’m interested and in the mood. I’m doing my best to be aware of what is available to me (unread on my shelf, library hold list, kindle) so that I know what my options are. Thanks for sharing!

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