Spring Clean Your To-Read List

Photo by flickr user ana campos
Photo by flickr user ana campos

If your “want-to-read” list looks anything like mine, it’s hundreds of titles long, and growing by the dozens with every passing month. I can (usually) admit that my list is aspirational, rather than realistic, as there simply are not enough (free) hours to delve into every book that catches my fancy. But recently I’ve started thinking more deeply about how I’m prioritizing what to read next, and because librarians love organizing stuff, I’ve organized my To-Read list into the following categories:

Recommended to me by other readers – this is a new category for me, and it’s pretty much the reason I started rethinking my To-Read list. I spend a lot of professional time and energy making reading recommendations. I feel lucky to do so, take matching readers and materials seriously, and am deeply honored when a reader returns to tell me I hit one out of the park (baseball season = baseball metaphors!). But I was also starting to feel a bit uncomfortable with the number of times I had to tell a reader – someone who has trusted my judgement and listened to my assessment of many books – that I hadn’t read the book they were now recommending to me, and even more uncomfortable knowing that unless I drastically rearranged my reading list, the odds of me having read that book the next time I spoke with that reader were pretty slim. What are the readers who come to me to ask for a recommendation, if not fellow bookworms?! I felt like I needed to do a better job of honoring their trust in my recommendations by trusting – and prioritizing – theirs. This has already introduced me to serious reading treasure, and vastly deepened my understanding of some of my most avid readers and their tastes.

Book Club Picks – I organize a book club for patrons at my library, and I participate in three others. Two meet monthly, and the other two less frequently, so it’s roughly 35 books a year to keep up with! These are priority reads for the obvious reason that I can’t be a very good book club participant without having read the book, and also because these book clubs are important to me. Scheduling conflicts mean I miss some meetings every year, and sometimes I do attend without finishing the chosen book (with the full understanding that I will be hearing spoilers!), but I fiercely believe in reading as a social activity. Sure, the act of reading is often best enjoyed in solitude, but as soon as I’ve finished something I want to talk to someone about it! Plus, as someone now in her fourth city in ten years, my book clubs have been an important way to meet fellow bookworms.

Reading Challenges and Goals – Whether community challenges, like The Hub’s Reading Challenge, which I’m now participating in for the third year in a row (11 books to go!), or personal goals (like reading through all the Nebula Award winners to broaden my sci-fi exposure, and re-reading from my own high school and college required reading lists, which has continually yielded surprising results), reading challenges broaden the scope of my reading, keep me reading books published a long time ago that might otherwise stay at the bottom of the To-Read List, and activate the goal-oriented (slightly competitive) part of me, keeping me motivated through titles I may not have chosen otherwise.

Professional Reading – I can’t realistically read everything I purchase for my library, but I do make an effort to read a lot of it, so I can speak from personal experience when a reader asks me about something new on our shelves.

Personal Reading – They’re all my personal picks, really, since I choose to participate in all of the aforementioned categories, but these are the ones purely about my interests. If Ann Patchett publishes something new, I drop everything and schedule an afternoon to get lost in it. Ditto Maggie Stiefvater (come on, The Raven King!! September can’t get here fast enough). This is also the category where books I’ve purchased but not yet read go. They’re taunting me from my bookshelf; I must attend to them!

So these are the categories I settled on (for now; I’m excited to see what ideas come in in the comments!), and then I made 5 different lists (on different colored paper, because color-coding makes everything better, right?) and started dividing my to-read list into the appropriate categories. There are duplicates; some books show up in more than one category, which is something I used to keep track of in my head and now appreciate the visual cue that I should really get to that book sooner than later!

I still use Goodreads for a catch-all To-Read list (and I certainly don’t have everything from that gargantuan stockpile on my color-coded sheets!), but what I also have now is a very tactile, colorful, categorized set of lists. I added approximate dates to the recommendations from patrons, so I can see that when a dear colleague loaned me a copy of something she thought I’d love last year, it’s time to move her book to the front of the line. And I’m cycling through the 5 lists regularly, so I’m not getting burnt out on any one kind of reading, or neglecting any one category for too long, but if I’m really in the mood for a certain genre or format, I can always stay with one list for awhile.

So that’s been my Spring Cleaning reading project lately.

Do you have a special way to track how you’re deciding what to read next? A system for making the never-ending onslaught of new materials seem more manageable? I’d love to hear how you’re organizing your To-Read list in the comments!

-Carly Pansulla, currently reading Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

12 thoughts on “Spring Clean Your To-Read List”

  1. I regularly clean out my Goodreads “to read” list the same way I clean out my closets at home: if the item (or book, in this case) hasn’t seen the light of day in several months, it’s time to reconsider whether I need it. The nice thing about deleting books from my Goodreads shelf is that it doesn’t mean I’ll never, ever get to read that book, but rather that it isn’t a priority for me. I can always add it back later if it comes up again. This way I can keep my list reasonably short (except for things that haven’t been published yet – I probably need a separate shelf for those!) and it seems do-able to me.

    1. Jenni, it has actually never occurred to me to remove titles from my Goodreads to-read list; your comment kind of just blew my mind a little, but now that you’ve suggested it I can’t wait to go through and actually delete the titles that are just making me feel guilty for never getting to them!

  2. I need to do this! I love how you are rotating through your priority piles. I feel like I sometimes focus on one aspect of my “to read” pile that I get into a reading funk. I think rotating will help this. I also need to go through my Goodreads list and clean house as well. So much to read and so little time!

    1. Katie, that reading funk you describe was definitely a contributing factor in how I decided to break up my to-read books. I was having the exact same response, and then going to myself, wait, I love to read, what’s going on here?!

  3. I weed my Goodreads regularly and because there’s a constant stream of books coming in and out of my house, one way to balance it is that I request books in digital format for my eReader, especially if there are wait lists. Generally it’s appropriately timed when they’re available and it stacks my TBR nicely. Likewise for print books, I’ll do the same thing, doing ILL requests, knowing that they’ll trickle in because they’re checked out or being processed and knowing that I’m not going to read all anyway; I definitely do not continue reading a book I don’t like so I need a bunch of books on deck to swap out.

    I love the idea of organizing based on how the book title crossed my path (recommendation, book group, personal interest, buzzed book, etc.)

    1. Alicia, I love how you’ve got the timing of the acquisition of your reading materials working to help regulate your list without having to think about it too much! I am personally really bad at putting down something, even if I’m not enjoying it at all; thanks for inspiring me to be better about that, I’m betting it’ll make a big difference in my TBR pile!

  4. Ever since I was a child I’ve been resistant to read books suggested by other readers. You make a point though, I do owe it to some of my biggest bookworms, since I love when they follow my advice. I resolve to try the next title I’m suggested, especially from a teen.

    1. Debbie, so far even in the few instances where I really haven’t liked the book, it’s been so valuable to the reader’s advisory I’m able to do for that reader – and to the relationship I have with them- that it still felt like time well spent. Although I’ll be taking a cue from Alicia and giving myself permission not to finish sometimes, and I *have* been sort of strategic about the length of the recommended books I’ve taken on!

  5. Carly, This is terrific. I really miss you so need to come visit the new library, check it out and check out something!

    1. Lasley, I miss YOU! I hope you do come to visit the (spectacular!) new library soon, it would be so great to see you!

  6. Do you have a Twitter account or a blog where you talk about your book clubs? I am a Book Club adviser for teenage girls. I’m interested on how you do yours.
    Thank you in advance!

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