How my TBR pile grows like Topsy

Growing like Topsy – a phrase that means relentless growth. Topsy is a character from Uncle Tom’s Cabin who grew in ignorance of her Maker. I think of Topsy now as I contemplate how I can never reduce my pile of books to be read (TBR or tbr for anyone new to blogging). It just grows, like Topsy.

How do books get added?

Let’s count the ways books get onto the pile. I found six sources. No wonder I make so little impact on it. Read one book from the tbr pile and another two will have been added while I was engrossed. Here they are:

Blog Series

233 Unnecess woman coverEvery two months I read for the next in the series on this blog looking at older women in fiction. I have planned my next read: Rabih Alameddie An Unnecessary Woman and have an idea about the selection for June. And this year I’m joining Heavenali in the #Woolfalong. This will mean reading something by Virginia Woolf every two months and joining on-line discussions. Thinking about a series gives some shape and continuity to my reading, which otherwise becomes merely episodic.


From friends, newspapers, literary journals and from blogs.

Prize Winners

I am a little suspicious of prize winners, having read a few that did not seem to be outstanding. But I usually read the annual Man Booker Prize winner. I am currently struggling through the cornucopia of voices and perpetual violence of A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. It is neither brief nor limited to seven killings. But very confident and polished.

And I usually read all the shortlist of the Bailey’s Women Prize for Fiction. We need prizes that promote women’s writing. How could you ignore How to be both by Ali Smith? And I take note of some of the others awards: Samuel Johnson, Fiction Uncovered and Folio Prize.

Books I am sent

The subscription to Peirene was a one of the best Christmas presents I ever gave myself. Three times a year a novella, in translation, appears in my letterbox. Some great reading comes to me this way. The books are beautifully designed and printed on good quality paper. The first was The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch – what a good choice for a book group, by the way. The subscription puts me in touch with more foreign fiction.

Occasionally I get offered books for review. Some I don’t accept as they do not appear to be the kind of book I like to read and review. But again, it stretches me at the same time as it disrupts my reading plans as the book often needs to go near the top of the tbr pile to coincide with the publication date.

233 Claxton cover

And friends and family give me books, although my daughter says it’s difficult as I am very picky or I’ve read it. She gave me Claxton by Mark Cocker for Christmas and I’m enjoying dipping into this minutely observed nature writing. It sits in my ‘being read’ pile beside my bed, under the Marlon James.

Reading Groups

Book group choices are another way in which I get required to read books I may not have chosen. Sometimes I read a book I would have been sorry to miss. Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement was one of these. I also read Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane, which might have languished near the bottom of the pile if the group had not decided to read it. Some duds here too, but that’s ok.

Occasional events

I add to the pile for specific events, usually ones that I am planning to discuss on the blog. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft is on my list because I have tickets to the Royal Ballet performance in May. I wanted to use Ali Smith’s Public Library collection to celebrate Library Day in February.

Where is this tbr pile?

I don’t possess a Kindle so I have a real pile of books. They are kept in a nook in my bedroom, beside the chimney in the 2 foot thick walls of my cottage. They just about fit. Actually The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is still taking up a great deal of the space, a book that I began, put down and haven’t yet picked up again.

233 TBR shelf

233 tbr fileI also have a large file of bits of paper recoring books of interest. The books get ordered from an on-line bookseller (usually Hive) or reserved at the library.

And I have only been referring to fiction. My non-fiction reading is another growing pile on the coffee table in my sitting room. Another story.

Reading Schedule

I need order in my reading life, and so for the last 18 months I have had a reading schedule. This ensures that books are read before any deadlines and that all books are fitted in sometime.


From Book Riot a post called Dealing with my TBR pile (by not dealing with it) by Yash Kesankurthy in November 2015. She was a little terrified of her tbr pile, but did something about it.

Or you could consider the meme TBR Book Tag. Here’s the contribution from The Writes of Women blog.

An early post from this blog: 5 ways other people decide my reading January 2013.

Who or what are literary prizes for? on Bookword December 2013.

Over to you

How do you manage your tbr pile and your reading schedule? How do you decide which books to add to the list, and then to read? Is it ever in danger of getting out of hand?

To receive emails about future posts, please subscribe by entering your email address in the box.


Filed under Books, Libraries, Older women in fiction, Reading, Reviews, Virginia Woolf

22 Responses to How my TBR pile grows like Topsy

  1. Ever in danger of being out of hand… oh yes! I’m busy sorting my TBR ‘shelves’ (yes that bad) to help focus my reading & get back to blogging next week… so so so many books BUT in my defence only 2 where I’ve found two copies & astonishingly not one I want to let go to another home without reading first.

    • Caroline

      Sometimes it’s good to have a clearout and to organise one’s reading. Quite often I just let my tbr grow. Sounds like you are getting organised: good luck to you!
      I too have been known to buy a second copy of a novel, even to begin reading it and think ‘this writer is a vit samey ….’ before realising what I have done.
      Hey ho. As we say, we’d rather have lots ot read than none.
      Thanks for the comment Poppy.

  2. I don’t manage the piles, frankly. They arrive from all over the place and they end up all over the place. One day I really must organise them properly (as I am trying to do so with my reading) as I forget what I have, and if I remember I can’t find it….

    • Caroline

      Today I am thinking like you – let them get out of hand, except I do have to read X before Y …
      I love chaotic books.

  3. I hadn’t thought of this before, but the TBR anxiety is very similar to the problem of the waiting list when I worked in mental health services. Every now and then, we had bright ideas about managing it better, and initiatives to reduce it, along with juggling pleas to accelerate a particular case, with all the ensuing guilt and consternation.
    Mine is also a shelf, and did get out of hand last year with some books waiting around nine months (another possibly meaningless analogy comes to mind here) to be read. It’s more manageable at the moment with twelve books waiting and a similar number waiting for their reviews to showcase on my blog. The one that suffers is usually one for my rating group – I don’t want to read it too far in advance in case I forget what I think for the discussion, but then end up trying to finish it a couple of hours before we meet!
    A perennial problem when you love books, I think. There are just so many good reads out there.

    • Caroline

      Thanks Anne for these thoughts. (I’m trying to resist saying pregnant thoughts and failing.)
      I agree, it is easy to transfer stress thoughts and approaches from one thing to another. When I was teaching there was always marking, or at the university, always drafts to read.
      Actually I dont feel that about my tbr, but I guess some people do.
      Today I am expecting delivery of three more books, and I may need to get down to reading them very quickly. Meanwhile the piles pile.

  4. Hi Caroline,

    I enjoyed this post. I need a long TBR list to keep my anxiety in check. I tend to worry about stupid things when I don’t have a book on my nightstand TBR. Thanks for sharing your reading origins. I’ll be researching them.


  5. Marion Reid

    My tbr list is vast and sometimes worries me (I’M getting on in years and resent it when I have to read an 832p Luminaries for book club when there are so many better books waiting for me). I flew 1,000 miles to visit my daughter and we have been to two book stores (4 new books). I should be ashamed to add to my tbr list, but actually, I am filled with joy. I bought England and other stories, by Graham Swift, Our Souls at Night (Bk 4), by Kent Haruf, and two others. Everyone should read Haruf’s Plainsong (Bk 1). Wonderful writer who died recently, sad to say. Off I go to curl up and read for an hour.

    • Caroline

      Hi Marion, you are a very committed reader. I agree with you: it doesnt matter how many books you have in your tbr pile, there are always good reasons to obtain more. Your recent acquisitions sound really good. I havent been acquainted with Kent Haruf, but a reommendation that starts ‘everyone whould read …’ is excuse enough.
      Thanks for these thoughts and books.

  6. Morag Goldfinch

    I agree with Marion’s recommendation of Kent Haruf. Just to show how other people influence your reading, I came across him in Anne Tyler’s list of her favourite authors ( in the Waitrose magazine, of all places). If he’s recommend by her …
    There’s a trilogy, set in the fictional small town of Holt , Colorado. It begins with Plainsong followed by Eventide and Benediction. It’s a must read. Can’t wait to read Our Souls at Night. Thank you, Marion, for adding this one to my ever growing tbr pile.

    • Caroline

      Hi Morag,
      well clearly I will have to add Kent Haruf to my tbr lists. I cant help feeling how ironic it is to write about how my tbr pile just grows and grows and readers add comments and BOOKs!!
      But as you say that Anne Tyler lists him, and that’s how we hear about books – from other readers and writers – well I have no choice.
      Thanks for this Morag.

  7. Thanks for the link, Caroline. I have a spreadsheet for forthcoming publications (I do accept/am sent unsolicited review copies) that I more or less stick to, although I don’t necessarily read them in the order they’re going to be published. The books I buy are more of an issue as it feels as though I never get time to read them. I’ve started to read them as ‘bedtime books’ recently. As I know I won’t be reviewing them, it doesn’t matter if I’m so tired I read the same page three times…!

    • Caroline

      Hi Naomi,
      sounds like you have a very busy reviewing schedule. I am pleased to have a little control over my pile, even if it sometimes feels just BIG.

  8. Eileen

    OMG – now more to add – Kent Haruf. I have some birthday book token money left so that will be that as I love Anne Tyler so much. I love the idea of Plainsong, Eventide and Benediction – my misspent youth!
    Now on my pile I have:
    A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
    Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin
    Fear of Dying by Erica Jong
    Property by Valerie Martin
    We are not ourselves by Matthew Thomas
    The Green Road by Anne Enright
    as well as the non-fiction
    The brain’s way of healing
    A Shakespearean Botanical
    The art of mindful baking
    Think like an artist.
    Roll on Easter – and stop recommending books you and all the other people who read your blog. I think I’ll retire now xx

    • Caroline

      Eileen, really! Now with your list we all have months of reading, months!
      You have mentioned the book token before, so I think it must have been a very generous gift.
      Thanks for your contribution.
      C xx

  9. Anne Hercock

    Thanks for all these recommendations, everyone! TBR grows ever longer and longer! I, too, am doing Woolfalong and have just finished Mrs Dalloway (good in some ways to have a short book after War and Peace!). Kent Haruf sounds interesting. I am dipping into J A Baker The Peregrine atm found through recommendation of Robert Macfarlane. Great diary of a year spent watching said bird.

    • Caroline

      Oh no! Stop already! I am a great admirer of Robert Macfarlane, so now I have to put The Peregrine on my list.
      Thank you so much Anne!
      But seriously thanks for the comment.

  10. Eileen

    I now have two of the Kent Haruf’s books: Plainsong and Benediction and Eventide is ordered. I love finding a new author and the anticipation of so many new titles.
    I have now cleared a book shelf in the hall for my TBR pile as it kept tumbling off my bedside table, especially when Smudge jumped on top. Love Eileen x

  11. Eileen

    I’m really hooked on Plainsong. I’ll have finished it by the time you visit so you can borrow it if you like, E x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *