I'll admit it right now, I'm bad at making decisions. I'm one of those people who will spend 3 hours trying to figure out what movie to watch on Netflix. Unsurprisingly, it is much the same with picking books to read. As a writer, I read both for pleasure and to study how other writers approach the craft. So, I am trying to take a more methodical approach to my TBR list.
I think all of us are familiar with a TBR (or To Be Read) list, but I have been trying to turn my informal list into something a bit more intentional. In order to do so, I need to track what I decide to read and how I decide to read it.
- Find Book Recommendations -
The first step, of course, of creating a TBR list is to find books that you have not read, but want to read. For me, there are a slew of classic novels I want to read. As an English major, I have a running list in my head of classic literature I feel I should have read by now, but there are also plenty of lists online of literary classics everyone should read. Beyond that, I find recommendations for contemporary novels and nonfiction through bookish Instagram accounts or through recommendations on podcasts like Book Riot's Get Booked podcast. You can also use Amazon to find books similar to ones you've already read and enjoyed. Just search the title of a book you've already read and check the "Customers who bought this item also bought..." section to find similar titles.
- Track Your TBR -
Once you have books to add to your TBR list, you need to track them somewhere so you don't forget any of the books you wanted to add to your TBR. For those who like to track books through their phones or computers, check out Goodreads or LibraryThing. Both will allow you to track your TBR list as well as what books you are currently reading and which you have already finished. Personally, I just keep track of mine in my bullet journal. Perhaps it is just the satisfaction of checking off a book from my list when I've finished reading it, but I really enjoy tracking my reading with a pen and paper.
- Establish Your Reading Habit -
Once you have books on your TBR list, you can pick what to read next and in what format. This will all depend on your own personal reading habits. For instance, I really enjoy listening to nonfiction works on audio, which also allows me to get my nonfiction reading in while I commute or do chores, so I can focus my dedicated reading time on fiction. So, look at your own reading preferences and habits and determine how many books you like to read at one time, what formats you like to read them in, whether you like to alternate fiction and nonfiction or alternate genres, etc. Knowing how you intend to read a book can help you when it comes time to pick something off of your TBR list.
The missing piece here is how you actually select a new book to read. Usually, I just add books to my TBR along with what format I expect to read the work in. Once I am ready to pick a new book, I usually skim back through my list and read whatever strikes my fancy. However, you can also use your TBR to help you plan out a specific reading goal. If you are trying to read more books by women or people of color, you can use the steps above to find titles to include on your TBR and then establish what order you want to read them in.
The obvious benefits of planning out your TBR and a solid reading goal, is that your reading will be more deliberate. If you are trying to read more diverse literature or to read more widely in a certain genre, you can use your TBR list to plan out what you will read and when. Personally, I am trying to split the difference between rigidly sticking to a reading plan and just reading whatever I want to pick up next. I don't like the idea of forcing myself to read something I don't want to read, but I also think that just picking whatever you feel like reading will allow you to stay inside your comfort zone. I want to push my reading boundaries, but still enjoy the process, so I am still collecting recommendations, tracking them in my bullet journal, and noting the genre, format I intend to read the book in, etc. so that I can make my choices more deliberately.
I don't think reading is a zero-sum game. I don't think that there is a right or wrong way to pick the book you read next. However, you can utilize your TBR list to better serve your own reading goals.