Readerly Rambles: On Choosing Books

readerly rambles

There is no shame in have a bounty of books at one’s disposal. None.

I constantly hear other book bloggers (and I do this as well) bemoan looming book piles. We constantly tell ourselves to limit book buying or to not check out too many library books and I — for the most part — think this is unnecessary. Now if you have a fire hazard in your home from hoarding or you aren’t paying your bills because you’re buying books then yes, too many books is a huge problem. But on the whole, having a lot of books isn’t a problem and we don’t need to make it one. I know that my kids see that I value books and part of that is from the fact that books are everywhere in our home; in fact, they notice when we go somewhere and folks don’t have books on the shelves. I know that buying from indie bookshops is vital to keeping local bookstores in our communities so for goodness sake don’t limit those purchases. As a library employee I can tell you that circulation stats can make or break a library; staff size, funding for programs and materials, and other key decisions are determined based on checkout stacks. If you love libraries then GO CRAZY. I don’t care if you turn right around and drop it back in the book return, if you see a book that you think adds value to the world then for the love of cheeses check it out. Do. Not. Hold. Back.

The problem isn’t so much the spending or the checking out. The problem, my friends, is READER’S ANXIETY. That awful feeling of panic that arises when one wants to read everything, right now, and as a result nothing clicks. I’ve tried many times to curb my reader’s anxiety. What I found most helpful is to rename it “reader’s enthusiasm” and find a way to manage that works for me.

So, how do I choose what to read when my home is filled with books, I have bookish friends lending me enticing reads, I work in a library filled with books, AND I’m the ILL manager meaning that I can request books from LIBRARIES AROUND THE GLOBE? Add to that, the ease of finding and ordering books cheaply and I’m in a bookish frenzy. Well, friends, I have half of an answer.

Yes, you read that correctly. I will be treating you to half an answer (note that this is different from a half-assed answer).

First of all I will tell you what does not work for me that seems to work for everyone else: Reading Challenges. I do really well on challenges that have plenty of wiggle room (i.e. read 5 Victorian novels or 12 books from the library or 3 mysteries). I do not, however, have luck with challenges that require a set list or that are really specific (i.e. pick 12 specific books, read from this list, or pick this one author). It doesn’t work for me. The exception would be if it is something I really love like Charles Dickens or Anthony Trollope or Harry Potter. I try my best to stick to the list, but I end up chucking it out the window.

Readalongs and “themed” months are also usually a bust. The exception would be something that I already really want to read. I did well with The Little Stranger and The Historian readalong, but floundered (pun intended) on Moby-Dick. Then there is the problem I have with needing variety in my reading. For example, I thought of participating in Austen in August, but I’m reading a lot of Trollope and I think they would be too similar. I also contemplated reading East of Eden, but I’m reading so many thick books (between George R R Martin and the Victorians I don’t think I have it in me for another thick book). I have to have some variety.

Below you’ll see my current, not very scientific system that has been working okay for the most part:


This list changes often. About every month I reassess my plans and make adjustments. Case-in-point: I will finish every book I planned to finish in July with the exception of The Black Count. When I “reset” my list in August, I’ll start with The Black Count and work my way through to my series book for the month. This works out with the goal — not always met, mind you — of reading/listening to five books a month. One on my Kindle, one through ILL or from the library, one in a series (I have many series in my TBR), one from my stacks at home, and an audiobook. Thus far, things seem to be working. I don’t get overwhelmed and I can easily participate in themed months or the Classics Club spin by picking books from my stacks or library books.

HOWEVER, there is a tiny glitch. I am still really overwhelmed when I need to choose a book from my stacks. I’ve tried many ways to narrow down choices:

  • I tried pulling from 20 to 50 books for an “immediate” TBR pile. Inevitability I end up a few days later wanting something else.
  • I tried making reading from my stacks a “reading challenge,” which meant I wanted to read nothing on my shelves.
  • I tried to use a random number generator that ends up with me looking like a crazy person trying to count out to book 206 and then not liking the book and then either picking another number (defeats the purpose) or starting from the opposite end of my shelves.
  • I tried getting drawing little slips of paper from a jar.
  • I tried determining what I want to read. Do I feel Victorian-y, Virago-y, Modern-y, Speculative Fiction-y?


What do the rest of you bibliophiles do? I know I’m weird, but I have trouble picturing folks just randomly picking the *right* book off the shelf. Let me know if you have any weird  different systems I could try. I’m thinking that I should at least *try* to pluck three to five books off the shelf and reading the first three pages of each to see which one sticks.

Happy Reading (or happy obsessing over TBR piles)





  1. Well, I sadly have no suggestions for you, as I’ve yet to figure out any system whatsoever for myself. But I wanted to thank you for your perspective on checking books out from the library. I admit that I’ve always felt such guilt over checking out more books than I can get read. It never occurred to me that it was actually good for libraries. Hooray for less guilt!

    1. Checkout stats are a huge deal in libraries. They look at other things like database/website “visits”, reference questions #s, and door counts, but checkout stats are especially big when it comes time to weed. Books that aren’t checked out get weeded and impact future collection development purchases. Checkout all the books!

  2. I had major Reader Anxiety; a million books I wanted to read but I always had a hard time narrowing it down. Finding reading groups on Goodreads, really helped me focus. I usually have a couple of groups I read with and since the book is chosen for me, I don’t have the normal ADHD when choosing books.

    Read-alongs do work for me, but I know what you mean about challenges with lists. If the challenge is general enough, I do okay, but if I need to make a list ……. well, it’s usually failure!

    I have a problem with too many books on-the-go at one time. I don’t have difficulty with having the plots fresh in my mind, or mixing them up, it just that it seems like it takes forever to finish anything. Next month is clean-up time for me, and then I must try to do better in this area.

    Thanks so much for your post and for sharing your readerly struggles. It’s comforting for the rest of us to know that we’re not alone! 🙂

    1. I tried doing GoodReads book clubs in the past, but I had problems with trying to do too many and then getting far behind. You’ve given me an idea though, I might join several and look at their monthly reads. I can pull what I have from my shelf and then join in with whichever read tickles my fancy. And yes, book nerd solidarity!

  3. I follow a similar pattern to yours. I make a monthly “reading goal” list with more titles than I could possibly read in a month – so that I have variety. I adhere to my list some of the time, but I’m getting better about not treating the list like it is set in stone. We’re (impulsively) headed to the beach for a few days tomorrow and I’m having a brain freeze over what to take to read!

  4. I love everything about this post! I’ve been trying to be gentler with myself in this area – allowing myself to be spontaneous in what I read; allowing myself to make lists and piles anyway; stopping if I don’t like a book. My lists, by the way, look a lot like yours.
    I am also glad to hear it’s OK to check out piles and piles of books from the library!! I sometimes worry I am abusing my privilege or something like that. Especially when I max out my checkouts or check out a book more than once.

  5. “There is no shame in have a bounty of books at one’s disposal. None.”


    I buy books I want, and I buy books I think I might want one day. Not one book have I regretted buying!

    As for planning – I love big lists, and I love planning. I tend to stick to big lists, but I’ll say, for example, this month I’ll read x, y, and z, and I’ll end up reading a, b, c, and z. But so what! Enthusiasm is a good thing 🙂

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