An experiment in reading the books I already own
In many ways, I’ve become more of a minimalist than I ever anticipated. For example, I’ve cut my large clothing collection down to half a clothes rack, half a dresser, an under-the-bed box for sweaters, and a relatively small range of coats for our varying seasons here in New England. When it comes to books, however, I fall closer to the maximalist end of the spectrum.
The reason for this accumulation is four-fold. First, I just love the experience of being in a home filled with books because they offer seemingly endless possibilities for reading at any given moment. Second, many of the books were passed to me by family and friends and I love the tangible reminder of that connection. Third, one of my great joys in life is pressing the right book into the right friend’s hands, lending it from my shelves, and then discussing it with them when they’re done. Finally, if I love an author’s work, I want to support them by buying their books and giving them a place of honor on my shelves.
While these are all great reasons to keep my shelf-loads of books (even after moving five times in the last six years and trimming judiciously, we have more than 600 books in our possession), the reality is that I have acquired books at a rate with which my reading cannot keep up. Add in my frequent library use for both physical books and audiobooks, and you have a recipe for a sizeable owned TBR.
In past years, I’ve set lofty goals of reading a specific number or percentage of my owned books, but I’ve often fallen short because I simply set the number too high or I bought additional books throughout the year, making the percentage mark an ever-moving target. As you may have read in my previous blog post, I am aiming to read more from my shelves this year, but I’ve set the goal mark lower: 12 books from my own shelves for 12 months of the year. Now, compared to the volume of books I own, that’s a relatively low number, but I wanted it to be as achievable as possible.
The experience of shopping my own shelves for my next read (instead of browsing my Goodreads “want to read” list and going to the library) has ignited my love of my own book collection. So far this year, I’ve finished four books off my shelves and am on my fifth. The numbers speak for themselves, but I think it’s fair to say that I will meet my “12 books for the year” goal with ease. Plus, three of the four complete books were five-star reads and one was a four-star read for me, so clearly past me knew what I’d like.
One of the other joys of reading from my shelves is that it’s ensuring I’m reading older books than I did for the majority of last year. When I’m constantly leveraging the library for my next read, I can be easily swayed by the new and shiny books, the ones Bookstagram is talking about by the authors I’m hearing interviewed on podcasts. When I limit my choices to just those books on my shelves, even with the number of choices I have available, the proportion of older books and the likelihood I’ll pick them up is much higher. It has been a refreshing joy to dig into more tried and true books this year.
Of course, the experience hasn’t been without its challenges. The world of new and shiny books is ever-calling. Its lure is perhaps even stronger because of the fact that I want to publish my own book and am hoping to begin the querying process this calendar year. Anyone who’s gone through that adventure themselves will tell you the importance of comp titles that are both in your genre and recently published (usually a max of three to five years old). By reading more from my shelves, I’m using up time I could be spending reading newer books in the genre I hope to one day publish in.
Overcoming this hurdle and sticking to my goal takes some focus. The main bargain I’ve struck with myself has been that I’ll do the most reading from my shelves during the colder months and read more new releases in the spring and summer. I know from past experience that summer tends to be a time when I read a lot of newer books anyway (thanks in no small part to Anne Bogel’s fantastic Summer Reading Guide), so I’m leaning into that. I’ll still try to read at least one book from my shelves during those months, but I’ll be more lenient and allow my goal to extend to books I buy new during the warmer months.
Though I’ve set similar goals for myself in the past without much success, this year’s goal seems to have hit upon something achievable and enjoyable. I’ll report back later in the year, but for now, I’d encourage you to try this yourself. Next time you finish a book, instead of reaching for Goodreads or heading to the store/library, take a few minutes to peruse your shelves. Pick what looks fun to you right then, not what you think you should read next, and see where it takes you.
Do you also have an extensive TBR of owned books? How do you balance reading books you purchased against the shiny new releases everyone’s talking about?