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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Handling TBR Anxiety

Today I am going to tackle a topic that probably causes library workers the most personal anxiety-- the "To Be Read" [TBR] list.

For some of you there is a TBR list in the hundreds [or even thousands] on Goodreads or in a spreadsheet. For others the virtual list is also accompanied by a teetering pile of precariously stacked physical books, a pile that can collapse at any moment, tall enough to possibly cause physical injury.

Library workers talk all the time about their anxiety over how many books are on their TBR or about how they keeping meaning to read a book but can’t get it it or something about never getting to all the books they want to read. It is a never ending cycle, but it’s also a job hazard. We know about all of the books that we would love personally; we know about all of the books we would want to read; and we know backlist gems are still great reads. While our patrons might forget about the newest, hottest, shiniest books after a few months, we never forget. We brood over it. We feel actual pain that the book will not be read by us.

I know this is not an exaggeration because I have been this person, I have felt these feelings. I have had an actual panic attack and anxiety dreams over the books I wanted to read but couldn’t get to.  This is not a joke. This time of year it is even worse. With all the best lists coming out, the number of books on your TBR will grow and grow. All those best books you never got to.

Well, I have a treatment for TBR anxiety that has worked for me and today I am going to share it with you. And while what follows may sound a bit snarky, I assure you I am totally serious. It’s funny, yes, but the humor is there to help conquer the true and real anxiety.

The first step begins with some tough love/an intervention by me. Brace yourself though, because it is harsh....

YOU WILL NEVER READ ALL OF THE BOOKS! Not all the ones on your TBR pile, not all the books you want to read, not all the books in the world. It is impossible; you cannot and will not do it.

Take some breaths and let that sink in. Seriously telling myself this- out loud- in ALL CAPS was my first step toward tackling my book problem.

Now this is the first step toward acceptance that the TBR itself, the list or pile or both, needs to be addressed.

Step two is to take your TBR and sort it into a few categories.

  • “Read About”-- Books you could take off the shelf and leaf through- read the summary, the first chapter or so to get a feel for how it is written. Also look those titles up on NoveList or Goodreads while you are physically holding them and read about them. Read reviews- both professional and reader reviews. On NoveList click around and look at the readalikes, other books with similar appeal, etc... Take your TBR and mark 4-5 books in this new “Read About” category. Now make an effort to do those 4-5 in a month. Set up a Goodreads shelf just for your “Read About” books so you can even take some notes on appeal and readalikes; if you take them directly from NoveList note that. Once you get through the 4-5 you designated and have now removed from the list, go back to your TBR and pick 4-5 more. You may not get to read these books cover to cover, but you will know a lot more about them.
  • “Suggestion to a Patron”-- These are books that you want to read but you can also think of a few patrons who might like them too. Mark these as “Suggest to Patrons” in your TBR list. Give them out to patrons and tell them that you don’t have time to read it, but you think they will like it. Encourage that patron to come back and tell you all about it. This is my favorite category because not only does it allow someone to have the joy of reading the book, but in also creates a situation where patrons are giving me feedback. And bonus-- I get to hear a patron book talk a book. Hearing someone else opinion is fun and a great training tool. You can now remove this book from your TBR because it has been read (just not by you). 
    • You can get a lot of books off of your TBR this way. This is my biggest TBR thinning trick. Handing them out to readers who could love these books is sometimes more enjoyable than reading them myself. Seriously. When someone comes back and tells me they loved a book I suggested but didn’t get to read myself, I feel like a proud momma. It is an all encompassing joy and pride that literally warms you from the inside. Again, I am not being snarky. I have truly felt this MANY times and it feels a whole lot better than the anxiety I get from staring at the book title on my TBR.
  • “Read over the Holidays”-- Every year for the last 3 years I have taken two of the “Best” books from that year, books I know I won’t get to but really want to read, and I read them over the holiday break. So last year, I read Underground Railroad and News of the World to start 2017. Both made many top lists by both critics and readers to end 2016. I gave myself the holiday present of reading them to start 2017. This year I have chosen The Leavers and Sing, Unburied, Sing. I have no anxiety as they keep being mentioned as among the year’s best because I know I will get to them, and I am looking forward to reading them when I have more time.

This is the plan that worked for me. Look, it doesn’t magically get better overnight, but I can say after three years of consciously doing this- I have eliminated my TBR anxiety without eliminating the list.  In fact, you can keep freely adding to the list because as I have found, not keeping the list is the biggest anxiety maker. And in the end, I have actually learned much more about the books I will never get to read cover to cover than I would have by just keeping them on the list and being anxious about it

I have gotten even better at my job as a result of tackling my anxiety-- and my TBR list is now too short. I need to keep adding titles to it for the “Suggestion” category. I now actively seek out titles to add to my TBR so I can spread the joy of reading them to others. What a turn around.

Now since this is partly a psychological issue, I know my advice won’t work for every person out there reading this. All of our brains handle anxiety differently; however, I have shared this with a few dozen people and many have said it has helped them feel better about their TBR so I feel like it is worth passing on in the hopes that it will help others.

Give it a try. You have nothing to lose except a whole lot of unnecessary anxiety. And if it works for you, let me know.

1 comment:

Chad said...

Just wrote about this topic recently.
Sub-dividing the TBR list is a great idea. And I too have come to peace with not reading all the books, even though that pisses me off. My strategy has just been to keep mine insanely small so that I'll actually refer back to it rather than let it build into an unwieldy monster.