Thoughtful Thursday: In Honor of To-Read Lists

I dedicate a lot of time to reading, and I have reading routines, but perhaps the most important of them is maintaining a to-read list.

My to-read list exists in two places: my phone and my laptop. If someone recommends a book to me in conversation, I immediately take out my phone to add another author/ title, e.g. “Wilson/ Comstock.” The to-read list on my phone is random, disordered, and disorganized, but every few weeks, I’ll open it and transfer its author/ titles to a master file on my computer. This master list is alphabetized by the author’s surname, and it sometimes contains a parenthetical explanation of why I want to read it, too. Though the list is long, I keep the entries concise.

It would be nice to liken my to-read list to a garden, except that mine never stops growing. I suppose I could check its growth if I only added titles based on recommendations from conversation or if I only added a title every time I finished a book (though I’d then have a list of books to add to the to-read list), but I unfortunately can’t seem to escape new titles that just need to go on the list. Sometimes while searching for one book at my library, I wind up with a half dozen new books on my list. More often than not, one book leads me to another, such as when The Years of Rice and Salt convinced me to just write “Kim Stanley Robinson/ Everything” on the list. The to-read list never gets shorter.

And that’s OK by me since a to-read list should not be confused with a to-do list — or at least not the to-do lists responsible and highly productive people maintain. I don’t know when I’ll read most of the books on my to-read list, but it’s not uncommon for me to take the long view, telling friends that I’ll get to a recommended book in a few years.

My to-read list might be, objectively speaking, a complete waste of time. Still, it’s nice to know that there’s a list — one that only gets longer — of things that will bring me fascination and joy.

So, dear readers, do you maintain a to-read list? Do you have any to-read list rules? And what book are you planning to cross off from your list next?

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RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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  1. Charlie Hanlon /

    On Goodreads, I maintain a “To-Read” shelf and a “Save for Later” shelf. This allows me to keep the TBR at 200 books or under, most of the time. The “Save for Later” shelf is like the kudzu phenomenon in the Southern U.S.

    No specific rules, but if it is a book by one of my inner-circle (ever expanding in dimension) authors, it has a better chance of landing on the TBR shelf rather than getting relegated to the “Save for Later” cemetery of books I would someday like to read.

    At the top of my TBR shelf sits Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon.

  2. I have three TBR lists:
    – speculative fiction
    – non-fiction
    – work-related (technical)

    I’m doing my best to read a book from each of these lists at any given time and I’ve been trying to schedule time for the technical and non-fiction reading during the day.

    To maintain the lists, so far, I’ve tried many methods and apps, and some kind of “to do” app has always been the best way to maintain these lists for me. Most of these apps have phone as well as PC/Mac clients, these days, so that one can do the grooming of the list on a bigger screen more easily.

  3. I have a “to-read wish list” of books I want and don’t have, along with a “to-read backlog” of ones I do own and haven’t read yet.

  4. m_robinson /

    This year I started using GoodReads for the books I want to read. I keep a hardcover list of public library books I’ve read and would like to own. I’m going to read Red Rising next (it’s in the mail), but I don’t think it will arrive by tomorrow for the weekend.

  5. My “to read” list is a sprawling and multi-branched thing, with offshoots in a number of places and directions. I have a few files on my iPad where I will quickly type in recommendations from people. I also carry at least one notebook on me that can be applied to a similar purpose, and I have some older lists sitting around on my Google Drive.

    Lately, I’ve tried to keep up a to-read-wishlist on my Goodreads account, and I think I’ve done a reasonably good job of it, all things considered. This is strictly for books I do not own that I want to read; if I own the book, it goes on the to-read list (or on my ‘unread’ list which holds the more long-term reading prospects, as it gets overwhelming to see the to-read list get longer and longer).

    I also have a “Future Reading” list associated with my card at my local library, and if I find something that sounds interesting in their catalogue, I’ll add it to that list, as well as my list(s) on Goodreads.

    Right now I’m reading Firefight by Brandon Sanderson, and I have a couple of book group titles I need to work on as well. Plus all the books I currently have out for the library. All the lists in the world seem unable to keep my from borrowing more than I can read in a reasonable length of time….

  6. Nick Talty /

    Hi Ryan,

    Like you I maintain a to-read list in two places. I first started one on Goodreads like many others and used their shelving system to methodically categorize books based on genre and prioritize them with shelves such as “buy-soon-genre” and “2016-reads/2017-reads” to keep track of books not yet published that I desperately need to read.

    Additionally I keep my own master list on my computer and in my google docs using Excel. I have it formatted so that in addition to to-reads, I also have all of the books I own, their printing, hc/sc, signed, etc. Excel is such a useful tool for me keeping track so that I can sort each column as needed using the conditional formatting, so it does not take me long to find exactly what I’m looking for.

    For books that are published, I’m finishing up Michael Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series, and anxious to read Jonathan Renshaw’s Dawn of Wonder next.

  7. Melanie Goldmund /

    I don’t really have a to-read list. If there’s a book I know I definitely want to buy, I put it on my amazon wish list, but if there’s a book I’m interested in, I usually just make a mental note or, if possible, keep it on the amazon page that shows me what I’ve been looking at recently. Eventually, I get more information that helps me decide to move it to the wish list, or erase it completely.

  8. Shadrach Anki, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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