Ditching the TBR List: How We Choose What We Read

Most people, outside of school or work, read what they want, when they want.  But book bloggers spend a lot of time thinking about what they’re going to read – at least I do. Given limited reading time, I read for entertainment and for relaxation. But I also read to think and to challenge myself.

This year, I’ve been thinking about how I choose what I read, and whether I’m planning too much.  

There are so many books I want to read, every reading choice feels like it has to be made thoughtfully.  This has only increased in the years I’ve spent blogging (though I was a book-tracker even as a child).  I spend a good amount of time making TBR lists, tracking my reading in Goodreads, reading reviews so I can choose the best books, and building (and constantly checking) my library wait lists.

In recent years, I’ve really pushed myself to read better – to read more diversely, to read different genres, and to read authors from different parts of the world.  I think reading thoughtfully is important.

But in January I suddenly wanted to step off that path.  I wanted to read without a roadmap.  My husband finds it mystifying that I “assign” myself so many books.  I have to finish books by a certain time and I pressure myself to read more — and in the process I lose some of the things I love most about reading.

It’s an incredibly stressful time right now, and reading “lighter” feels right for me.  I still want to read diverse, high-quality books.  I’m just giving myself permission to read more for fun – more fantasy, more romance, more of the series I’ve neglected.

Why not just read for fun all the time?  For me, the answer is this: the books that stay with me, that I recommend to others, that I learn from and apply to my life, are almost never the fun books. They are books like Chanel Miller’s memoir or Ann Patchett’s family dramas or Margaret Atwood’s dystopias.

It’s March, and reading “planlessly” proves to be more difficult than I thought.  I still have one book club book a month, and about one ARC per month.  I have books from the library but I’m getting better about returning them unread or using the “suspend your hold” tool.  I’m completing challenges, but not thinking about them too much.  I’m trying to read what I want, then if it fills a challenge, I add it to my list.

I’m not making a quarterly TBR list.  I’m not planning out what I’m going to read for challenges or joining new ones.  I’ll admit I’m tempted, though.

Readers, how do you choose what you read next if you don’t have a roadmap to follow?

At the moment I’m planning a few books ahead, which is better at least than planning months or even a year of reading in advance.  I know what I’ve got from the library or what’s sitting on my Kindle, but I also try to choose based on my mood at the time.  I’m trying to mix things up and also trying to read books I’ve had for a while.  I’m giving myself permission to read a bit lighter than I normally do, and if I’ve just read a book that’s really dense or dark, the next one will be something easier.

Although… right now I’m reading a book club book that has to be finished next week, and when that’s done I have two ARCs I need to read.  Sigh.  As always, I’m a work in progress.  



  3 comments for “Ditching the TBR List: How We Choose What We Read

  1. March 22, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    I get both sides of the argument—having a plan, which applied unneeded pressure, and being free form, which can feel aimless. I tend to read about a theme or place—a few years ago, I became fascinated by Louisa May Alcott, and read bios as well as her works as well as fictional accounts of her life or aspects of it. This year I’m reading about Maine. This establishes sort of a loose structure into which I fit my Goodreads bookclub selections, mysteries and non-fiction on the TBR, and anything that strikes my fancy. So it’s a best of both worlds approach.

  2. wp11484598
    November 13, 2020 at 5:28 am

    Hi!! I read your post just now but it really resonates with me. I realised that really I spend too much time planning what to read but when I don’t do it and I try to read for fun I end up reading books that don’t really satisfy me.

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