TBR? More like WTF.

In my life as a member of the Bookstagram community the beginning of the month marks the moment where a large proportion of user share a shot of the books they intend to read in the coming 4 weeks. As someone who religiously follows a couple of photo challenges for my inspiration I am often expected to become involved in the TBR pile craze but every photo I’ve ever posted using that hashtag has proved to be a massive lie. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of the books that I’ve included in any of my TBR photos unless I’ve already been reading them at the start of the month. For me, one of the big problems with Bookstagram is the inevitable pressure that comes from comparing yourself to other people. Even though nobody is really competing with anyone but themselves it doesn’t necessarily feel like that. Over the years I’ve felt that my inability to follow a simple monthly TBR is a flaw and some kind of failure. Well, until I decided to just say “fuck it” and do what I like. After all, life’s too short to make and follow a TBR.

Next year I turn 30. I realise that this has nothing whatsoever to do with my TBR fails but it does mean that I’ve had a lot of time to come to terms with the kind of reader that I am. For the vast majority of my academic career I was expected to read the books that were set by other people. Obviously this is normal but it’s not necessarily the best way to get people reading. I much prefer to write essays about books that I’m not too fond of but it’s not always easy reading something that you’ve not chosen. I’ve had to read a lot of shit over the years but I’ve also discovered some of my favourite books. I’ve also not finished a lot of books that I should have read. Especially during my postgraduate studies when I was tasked with reading a bunch of novels of sensibility. I enjoyed the course but these books haven’t exactly aged well. There were a couple of longer novels towards the end of term that I never finished reading because I couldn’t get myself to do it. That’s the problem with not having power over your reading material.

So, when I finished university I decided I would indulge in only reading the books that I really wanted to. Unfortunately, because I’m too easily swayed by covers and hype, I tended to pick books that I really didn’t get on with. Back in those days I would never give up on a book until I finished it… or, as was more often the case, put it back on my shelf to never be touched again. I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I know there’s no point in trying to force myself to read books that I don’t want to read. There’s no sense in wasting what little time I have to indulge in reading on something that I’m not enjoying enough. So, in that case, why should I restrict myself every month to choosing between a handful of titles?

If you guys are anything like me you’ll have a few bookcases filled with books you bought on a whim and never read. I don’t know my exact unread book count because if I ever take the time to count it I know I’ll just start crying by how big it is. It’s such a huge amount that it can cause a lot of stress. I feel the pressure to decrease the number but, in turn, this pressure leads to the same reaction I gave my university reading list. When you have such a large range of books to pick from how can you possibly decide which is important enough to make the top of the list? Well, you can’t. It’s the same reason that I will, probably, never be able to state with any kind of certainty what my favourite book is. Different books work at different times. My tastes change based on so many ridiculous factors: mood; tiredness; hunger; season; time of day; time since last saw a dog; the list is pretty much endless. I can’t predict which books I’m going to be in the mood to read so how am I supposed to compile a TBR for each month?

I can’t say that not living my a TBR each month is making me any better at reading. After all, I’m still too exhausted from work to read and am, more often than not, distracted by something on Netflix. I know that I don’t read enough as I should but I really don’t see how a TBR could improve that. If anything it would make me less likely to read because I’d end up reading something I didn’t want to open. When it comes to books, I’m one of those people that has a super short attention span. By which I mean, whenever I buy a new book that becomes the only thing I think about. They would immediately go to the top of the list. Something that would be fine if I only bought books after I finished one. I don’t. I buy books far too often. By the time I finish my current read I’ll have probably bought or borrowed a couple of new books that will have replaced the previous acquisitions at the front of the queue. As I’ve been doing this for years, the books I bought unnecessarily years ago have got no chance of being read as I continue to spend.

Seen in these terms, having a definite list of unread books or books to read is actually a really scary idea. It suddenly becomes this towering monster that is threatening to engulf you the more you leave it. We’ve all seen how unstable book towers can be and I can’t believe that an imaginary one would be any sturdier. I’m nearly 30 years old, single, living with my parents, and in the same dead-end job I’ve had for years: I have enough to worry about without adding a never ending TBR pile to the list. So, despite my monthly posts that suggest otherwise, I do not nor will I ever have a TBR. I don’t have time for that shit.

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