Sunday, December 19, 2010

In a TBR Pile All Books are Gray

I'm debating whether to have a New Year's resolution about doing something with my TBR pile.  On the one hand, it's unlikely to have a tremendous motivating power -- I can ignore New Year's resolutions like a trooper! -- but as there are piles of books on the floor of my office (thus preventing me from quilting, another New Year's resolution I fail to keep, year after year), something clearly should be done.

The real question is, what would I resolve?  Organize them?  Update the database?  (Yes, I have a database; I'm derelict but not immurred in the last century.)  Hide them?

Don't suggest I actually read them.  That's beyond the pale, even for a doomed-from-the-outset New Year's resolution.  I do read books from my TBR pile from time to time, but it's to be admitted, they aren't the gray books.

Let me explain.  My TBR pile falls into a few distinct categories.  There are the backlist books -- books by Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Dana Stabenow and Mercedes Lackey that I bought because I know I like the authors and will (eventually) want to read all their books.  There are books by people I know or have met at RWA conferences.  And then there are the gray books.

Most books turn gray pretty much as soon as I finish ordering them.  I had a perfectly good reason for ordering them -- usually someone's passionate extolling of that book's virtues in a tweet or blog post -- but the recommendation just fuels the acquisition of the book, not its consumption.  Frankly, by the time I get the book in the mail, I've forgotten who recommended it and why.

Here are some examples:  Love, Unexpectedly by Susan Fox.  Looks like a cute book, but I have no recollection of who loved it and why I got it.  The Rules of Gentility by Janet Mullaney, described on its back cover as a cross between Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones' Diary.  I actually don't remember this one arriving, let alone ordering it!  Night Into Day by Sandra Canfield.  The back cover on that one rings a bell, as the heroine has crippling arthritis.  I dimly remember the Twitter conversation that caused me to order it.

And those are just the books that arrived recently enough to still be kicking around upstairs.  Once they go downstairs to my office, they merge into the gray zone of anonymous books.

The trouble is that gray books simply stop appealing to me.  Maybe if I kept better records of why I ordered a book in the first place, I'd still see it as a unique work worthy of my attention.  But I think even the notes wouldn't help.  They'd all take the form "[insert name of worthy Internet friend] recommended this as a great read" and eventually even the recommendations would fade to gray.

One solution, of course, is to join the TBR Challenge, which for 2011 is being run by Wendy, the Super Librarian.  I haven't done this yet, and it makes sense -- every month there's a different genre or differentiation as to the sort of book you're to review.  Now, I don't review romances but I can comment on the experience of taking a book out of my TBR pile despite its grayness and reading it.

So that's going to be my New Year's resolution:  I will join the 2011 TBR Challenge and read 12 books from my gray TBR pile and thus remove them from the shadows.  As I add more than a dozen books to the TBR pile annually, this is perhaps not going to be a sufficient gesture, but hey -- New Year's resolutions are all about getting started.

And it will be a dozen more gray books than I read in 2010...


  1. Since you've got a Kindle now, why don't you

    (a) only buy books after you've read a long excerpt and feel you have to keep reading. That way if a book goes grey before you've had time to read the excerpt, you won't have wasted any money and

    (b) get rid of the grey books. After all, there are always new books coming along, so why waste time forcing yourself to read books you aren't interested in? I'm sure some charity/library would be delighted to have them and there are sure to be readers out there to whom they'll seem bright and shiny.

  2. Laura -- Not everything is available digitally; most (all?) of my TBR pile are older books, some OOP. Plus I get them used through PaperbackSwap, which here in the US allows me to recycle my books and get new-to-me books -- works out to about two bucks per book.

    But this is the thing about the gray books. I don't know that I'm not interested in them.
    The way I do things does increase the possibility that I'm not interested (I buy based on another person's passion, which may not turn out to be my own passion), but it's not a sure thing.

    I'm starting to think that I have to invest in a very large number of book marks (homemade, even) that I can fill in. Then, when book arrives, I read at least the first chapter -- that's your "free excerpt" -- and if I'm not inspired to keep reading but I don't know that I won't like the book later, I fill in the bookmark with relevant info, impressions, etc.

    That's a plan for a resolution I think I can both endorse and ignore!

  3. "But this is the thing about the gray books. I don't know that I'm not interested in them."

    Oh dear, that does sound complicated. It seems you're balancing a need for space against a disinclination to get rid of "known unknowns." Tricky. I hope the bookmarks idea works for you.

  4. Actually, my concern is that I'm treating books the way I've treated quilting fabric, yarn, and the tools and materials to countless other crafts & hobbies: something to be hoarded.

    I'm a reasonably tidy person, and I can (and *do*) throw things away, but this habit of accumulating books without reading them is starting to feel familiar. My cousin (a former cross stitch shop owner, which is to say a "pusher") taught me a useful acronym: SABLE, or Stash Accumulated Beyond Life Expectancy.

    I really don't need or want a TBR pile just so I can say I have SABLE in books, as well as quilting, cross stitch, knitting, needlepoint, embroidery, jewelry making, etc., etc. That's embarrassing.

    (I have offered to get Ross the bumper sticker that reads: When My Wife Dies, I'm Opening a Fabric Store.)

  5. Magdalen--
    Or maybe, the appropriate quote is "She Who Dies With the Most Fabric Wins". (You can change 'fabric' with embroidery silk, knitting wool, etc, etc.)
    My TBR pile is under 20 books--most of them library books. Nice thing about library books--you can flip through them and then, if they don't work--back to the library they go! And if you change your mind, you can borrow them again!
    I truly cannot abide stacks of things--makes me very antsy or claustrophobic or something.
    Plus, as a retiree and wife of a retiree, my book buying dollars are very limited--my autobuy list shrinks daily.
    FYI, the times I have bought/borrowed books because someone waxed enthusiastic about them, I have been disappointed. YMMV.
    Good luck with your 'gray books' and the TBR Challenge.

  6. I like your bookmark idea.

    My problem is that I'm a slow reader on top of my tendency to book horde. I keep very few books once I actually read them (only the "keepers" that I have a burning desire to reread some day) - the issue is piles of books sitting around yet to be read.


    I am getting better though. Once upon a time the thought of slapping a book with a DNF made my heart race. Now? No problem whatsoever. So many books, too little time, yada yada yada.

  7. God, haven´t you read Sandra Canfield book yet? It´s one of the most beautiful stories I´ve ever read. You should read it.


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