Last year, I started to scrap my reading list.
Emma Woodhouse writes lengthy, well-meaning reading lists, and… doesn’t do much reading. Every time I added titles to my reading lists, I felt a little bit like Emma inside.
One day, I deleted the endless scrolls of titles I’d kept on Evernote. I deleted my Goodreads account.
Instead I wrote a list of 50 titles: what I wanted to read, in order. I let myself erase and rewrite, but capped it at 50.
This year, I scrapped my reading list for good.
My new limit for a list of books to read is… ZERO.
I still write down every title I read, and I aim to read a book each week.
Here’s the best part: Since I scrapped the reading list, I have been reading more than ever. I let go of all the guilt of all the billions of books I’ve yet to read, and am enjoying the pleasure of choosing what I am reading, now.
What My TBR pile is for
Then I have my TBR (To Be Read) pile, but I see this less as a thing to get through, and more of a personal library with no deadlines, a mini bookshop of choices I’ve pre-selected for my future enjoyment.
I remember reading an article in a magazine about someone who had filled their bookshelf with titles as a teen, from yard sales and charity shops (I can’t remember anything about the author of this piece, including whether they were British, American, or neither…). He didn’t read many of the books until he was an adult, and marvelled at the ability of his younger self to select such perfect titles for later in life.
The joy of bookshops
In the London Style Guide, someone said her favourite weekend tradition is browsing Daunt Books in Marleybone every Sunday to pick out what book to read that week.
This sounds blissful to me! Dream life!
But the truth is, I’m terrible at choosing what book I want to read next like this. I tend to read the first pages or chapters of a few different books in my stack before I find the right one for the right time.
I’ve been letting myself start books and put them down sooner. Trusting that now is not the time, but that a time will emerge. The perfect time.
So instead of putting pressure on myself to buy a new book each week, I buy books from bookshops when they attract me, and ‘shop’ from my TBR pile each week. Ramit Sethi has a Book-Buying Rule: “If you’re ’thinking about’ buying a book, just buy it.”
So when I spot a contender I decide then:
Do I buy this now? Or trust that I’ll find it again if I am meant to read it?
How I choose what to read next
I used to have rules with myself: alternate between fiction and non-fiction, popular fiction and literature, don’t reread two books in a row, mix in something new.
I’ve learned to let go of these rules that make reading for fun not so fun, and as a result, I read a lot more. I read more widely.
I choose in the present moment, not for later.
If I say “I’ll put it on the list,” I am lying to you. Sort of.
I still find myself saying “I’ll put it on the list” when people recommend books to me, but it’s kind of like that perfunctory “Yes I enjoyed the play” if someone asks me on my way out before I’ve processed things.
It’s politeness, not a promise. I’ve started to ask people what the best environment for reading a certain book is. I’m far more interested in this than a plot description – it’s practical information that can give me a sense of when I might be in a mood for a certain book.
Scrap the reading list.
If a growing list of books to read is stressing you out, reading for fun is not as fun as it could be.
Is your reading list secretly a to do list in disguise?
P.S. I’m still running the Happiness Book Club, which involves one title I selected at the beginning of the year each month (and you can join!)
P.P.S. I write (a little bit) about what I have been reading via a little book survey