The dreaded To Be Read shelf

As any book lover will know, buying books is more than a pleasure, it’s an addiction. We go into a bookshop with the express intention of getting a present for someone and come out with a bag groaning with goodies. If anyone asks us what we want for Christmas or birthdays we always say “Get me a book”.

So it won’t come as much of a surprise that in every book lover’s home is a To Be Read shelf full of undiscovered gems.

It can be a source of joy, looking at all the wonderful journeys that the future has in store for us, but it can also be a source of guilt, all those titles crying out to be read, some being stuck there for many, many years.

I’m sat in the room with my To Read shelf right now and I can feel them all reaching out to me for a bit of attention.

As a child, reading wasn’t so strategic. You got a book, whether it was from the Puffin Book Club at school (anyone remember that?), the library or for being good at the hairdressers/dentist/doctors. You read it; you put it on the shelf and onto the next.

Now I try and operate a stock rotation system that would make a supermarket jealous but then the new books are so shiny that they often catch my eye and then I feel guilty as the book I’ve been meaning to read gets put back on the shelf. Also discovering a writer you’ve never read before can often lead to a much more specific addiction which has to be fed and to hell with the To Read Shelf. Their time will come.

Then as if by magic, the year draws to a close and Goodreads announces all the books you’ve read this year and you realise that instead of getting the To Read shelf down, you’ve actually added to its already groaning burden.

As a big procrastinator (yes I’ll post about that one day when I get round to it), I calculated the other that it will probably take me about two years to get through everything that is on there at the moment. Honestly, the chances of me not buying new books for two years is as remote as me climbing Everest whilst reading Ulysses (which is on the To Read shelf by the way), so I think we’re looking at a concerted four year effort to get this doomed collection down.

The only other option, and bear with me here because this isn’t going to be easy to read, is a cull. I can hear book lovers take a sharp intake of breath and I know where you are coming from but it might have to happen in order to give the rest of the herd the chance to be free and make it to the book nirvana that are the Read Bookcases in the spare room.

In here favourites rest easily, secure in the knowledge that they have been enjoyed, been recommended and may even be enjoyed again. They now contain my own memories of what I was doing when I read them. For book worms, our lives are mapped by the books we read. In bad times and good they have given us escape, solace, comfort and relaxation. I’d love to say I get them back into circulation for others to enjoy but I’m a book hoarder. Old man Parkslife will one day have a book lined study, of that I’m sure. When I moved into my house, the removal man, wheezing after the third massive box of books exclaimed “Hasn’t he heard of a Kindle?”.

I do have a Kindle and they are great at times but nothing beats curling up with a good book.

So take courage books on the To Read shelf, I am confident your moment will come.

Do you have a To Read shelf? How do you manage it or does it manage you? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. Thanks for sharing this and I completely relate! My to be read shelf is currently 101 books – maybe not quite two years reading but close. I have tried to make this shelf (actually shelves) smaller but I find I get a bit anxious if I don’t have lots of books there to choose from. While trying to live minimally these might be my guilty secret or security blanket. I try and have some sort of rotation system but there are things that have been there more than ten-years (I use Librarything to catalogue my books online so I know when I acquired a book). I WILL get round to them eventually and have occasionally culled those that I become certain I won’t read but I like to have the choice to go wherever I feel like.


  2. I do something similar! when I’m on the fence about a book I check it out at the library! On the shelf for a few days – but eventually goes away AND you feel more compelled to read it because of the limited time you have it for.


  3. I can totally relate to this. I love buying books, and I love reading them, but the latter doesn’t happen as quickly as the former. I actually did the challenge where you take all of your unread books and put them on the floor, and I was blown away by how many ended up there. I have drastically cut down on my book buying in the last year in an attempt to get through those neglected tomes on my shelf. It’s a slow process but one of these days I will read them all.


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