Just Like The Unread Books in Your Bookshelf, Here is a Blog Post You’ll Never Read

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Today’s the day.

Today’s the day you buy the gorgeous hardcover of the book you’ve been wanting to buy for an eon and a half.

There’s a 10 per cent off sale on Book Depository. Maybe you just want to head into your local bookstore and gaze off into the abyss that is the Vintage Classics. Perhaps you’re picking up a book (or four) from the library and you wander over to the discount rack. Forty cent books! you exclaim—internally, of course, since you are in a public library.

You’re on your Kindle, or Nook, or your Canadian knockoff Kinnook, and you see a couple more books that were on your TBR (the To-Be-Read list, for the unaware), and a couple that aren’t, but who can resist the allure of 99 cent cheesy romances or Gutenberg classics downloaded straight into the neverending book bag that is an eReader? Your mother comes over. She knows you love books, and she found a couple while she was decluttering the spare room after watching Tidying up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. You scoff. Chucking out books! you sneer derisively. Books are sacred. Books are good. All other forms of media are EVIL. What is this—a Ray Bradbury dystopia?

After your mother leaves, you make your way towards your bookshelves, and attempt to make room! make room! for your latest books on the overflowing shelves. You shove it in between the copy of Pride and Prejudice you bought at the turn of the century (twenty first? nineteenth? Who knows?) and the seventh copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four you found at an op-shop (You can never have too many copies!). Ugh… Just as you’ve almost fit it in, something occurs to you.

Holy shit. I haven’t read any of these books.

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You take a step back. You survey your books. Maybe you have one bookshelf that is on its last legs, maybe you have seventeen prettily decorated with Pop! Funkos and fairy lights. Whatever the case, you stare ahead. How long has that copy of Pride and Prejudice been gathering dust on the shelf? Your attempts to extract it out of the shelf are futile, but the smell and the obvious thin layer of dust residing on top of this Total Classic leave you almost gagging. After you return back to your shelves with a box of tissues, you take another look. This time, you can see more unread books. There.  There. They’re all staring at you, mocking you with their uncreased spines and non-dog-eared pages. You’re pretty sure you even see the Queen of Tidying’s book hidden in between Dickens and King, meekly watching you.

You reappear in front of your bookshelves with pen and paper in hand, or your laptop or smartphone if you want the process to be over with ASAP. You write/type all of your books into a neat document. You colour code it just to look pretty. You like the colour blue. It doesn’t look as scary and mocking as RED. You highlight all the books you’ve read. The number is frightening low.

And here we are at the crux of the problem.

The dreaded TBR. The To-Be-Read shelf.

For some, it may just be a shelf on Goodreads or a Word document outlining all the books they wish to read. For others, it may simply be a shelf or two in their bookshelf. For others, like BookTuber BooksandLala, you may dedicate a whole closet that requires shelving units, in order to store the books you wish to tackle…some day.

But are we really going to read them?

Just recently, I did the maths (and yes Americans, there is an “s” in “maths”) and approximately half the books in my bookshelf are unread. I thought I would be immune to this issue. I did the Konmari method with books a few years back,  before the Netflix show, and chucked out more than enough books that didn’t spark joy: the ridiculous Vampire Diaries books about talking trees and half-human half-wolf babies? Gone! Those ugly AF orange Penguin classics? Gone! The main problem? I forgot to check if I’d actually read the books. I figured that since my digital TBR was much longer (150 books and counting), then I could let this one slide. I kept buying new books, and…sorry, Marie.

You might be exactly like me. You might have tons and tons of books that you wish to read…one day. There I go again with that term. There are multiple reasons we keep unread books on our bookshelves:

Oh boy, here I go reading again…
  • The main one is because we want to read it one day. But that’s a lie. You won’t read it.
  • It’s on the bookshelf to make us look smart. We want to appear well-read. Owning lots of books makes you smaaaaaart. Remember: Books good. Technology bad. But that’s a silly lie we tell ourselves. It’s okay to give Moby Dick to charity. You know you’re not gonna read it. Keep the smut if you want. Who cares what everyone else thinks? It’s not their bookshelf.
  • They were cheap. Even though you’ve never heard of it or expressed any interest in the book, it looked vaguely interesting and you might read it one day. Ah, the lies we tell ourselves. Alternatively, you may not want to get rid of it because I paid a lot of money for it. This is the sunk cost fallacy in action. Just admit you made a mistake and move on.
  • We’ve set our expectations too high. You think you’ll be able to read two hundred books a year, easy. But turns out you’re only a ten-books-a-year kinda person, and that’s okay. Realise which ones don’t matter to you anymore.
  • That book is sentimental/autographed/pretty/insert-excuse-here. It’s okay to own books for these reasons. Konmari is useful here. Do they spark joy to own? Do they make you feel happy when you look at your bookshelf? Or do you look that these supposedly amazing books and only see negatives? Do you see the twenty bucks you spent on an impulse purchase ten years ago? Or do you see the book your Aunt Annie gave you when you were ten, with a beautiful heartfelt message on the first page?

We don’t have to go to extremes. I’m not expecting you to chuck out all your unread books and start afresh. Nor am I telling you to keep them until they wither away and rot from disuse. I’m proposing a solution. This is not an idea I came up with, and it definitely goes against Konmari, but if you believe you may still read the book, and it is not one of the books that is a definite for the Salvation Army, then this is the solution for you:

Read the first ten pages.

Pick up the first unread book on your shelf. See if it grips your attention. If it does, finish it. If it doesn’t, throw it in a charity bag. It may make you decide to chuck all your unread books in a charity bag and start over. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll feel good. If you like the book, you’ll be reading a good book. If you don’t, someone else will have the chance to find a new favourite. Win-win!

Let’s see how many books we can knock off by the end of the year!

Just give me a chance to finish all the library books I’ve got checked out. I promise I won’t have a look at the forty cent discount rack. Promise!

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