Sorting My “To Read” Stack


So, I’m organizing my life. Basically the system of keeping track of things all in my head no longer works now that I’m older and can’t remember things as well. I’m not sure if its because there’s just too many 80s song lyrics cluttering up the joint or if there’s some physiological reason. All I know is my memory is not what it used to be. Anyway, as part of my sorting all the crap I want to keep track of into an organized system, I wrote down all of the books on my “To Read” list both digital and physical into one place and sorted them into categories.

The first thing I realized is that not all of the books that I own and haven’t read are actually books I want to read. So I gave myself permission to sort out all of the books that are just “Own and Haven’t Read” from the ones I have personal or professional interest in reading. I then sorted the rest into these categories regardless of format.

Fiction Want To Read: 33

Non-Fiction Want to Read: 11

Anthologies: 19

Fiction Magazine Issues: 53

Books for Car Trips: 3

Books By People I Know: 15

Books on Writing: 7

Research (by project):

  • RC: 13
  • CW: 1
  • WoS : 4
  • H: 1

Books to Read Someday: 60

Books for General Inspiration: 34

TOTAL: 254

Wow. So… that gives me a lot of emotional responses. The first one is that is a lot more than I can reasonably read in a calendar year. I’d also guess that every reader I know over the age of 27 or so has a similar list of To Read. I’d imagine that most writers’ To Read Lists are worse than this (though I think a lot of us include the “Books I Own And Haven’t Read” in our lists either consciously or unconsciously). So, as a writer, when I send a novel into the world it is not just competing to be bought, but it is also fighting with a the To Read lists of everyone who purchases it.

And this is the point in this thought process where I stop to silently scream.

*a silent scream break is taken*

Ok. I am zen. *deep breath* So. Very. *grits teeth* Zen. Next on the list of mental hurdles to overcome are the 15 books by people I know. Like, the sort of people who would show up to my funeral not just retweet my death with a frowny face (though I appreciate all the frowny faces sent on behalf of my eventual demise). The most guilt inducing of all of these is a biography written by one of my very closest high school friends and I REALLY should have read it by now.

I also feel guilt over the unread fiction magazines and anthologies. I feel that I should be up to date, or at least close to it to really know what the short story market is about. I can’t possibly call myself well-read in genre if I have that much on my To Read. There are lots of really important stories I should know in there. This is professional guilt, social guilt (as there are lots of people I know relating to short stories too), and personal guilt because I WANT to be better read and up to date in short fiction.

Research is probably the only stuff I feel really in control of and know exactly what I need to read, how important it is, and have an actual plan to read a good portion of it.

I can probably safely not think about the books on the “To Read Someday” and “General Inspiration” at least for the moment. That leaves me 160 items on my active To Read list. I have no hope of the list remaining static (I subscribe to too many magazines for one). But for my own personal sanity I need to come up with a plan to do better.

So, I wrote myself the following “rules” to try to do better.

Rule 1: Don’t read books you decide you don’t actually want to read even if you’ve already started them. There’s no way you’ll actually get to the books you want to read if you force yourself through stuff you hate. It’s ok to not want to read stuff.

Rule 2: Cheat. It’d probably feel pretty good to knock out a few of these as soon as possible. Read a bunch of short ones first.

Rule 3: Time. Schedule more time in the week to work on reading short fiction. The one story a day thing is great, but it doesn’t keep stories from building up if you don’t knock out a good chunk every week on top of that.

Rule 4: Manage Guilt. Try to read the most guilt-inducing stuff first but be sure to reward yourself with stuff you want to read on a regular basis.

Rule 5: Death. Remember you’re never going to get to the end of this list. If you do, it’s only because you’re dead.