Hoarders: The TBR Episode?

lotsofbooks Hoard (to): (v) [hawrd, hohrd] to accumulate for preservation, future use, etc., in a hidden or carefully guarded place

I have, in my home, close to 600 books filling various shelves and in many stacks, all designated as To Be Read. Applying some very rough math – if each book averages 300 pages and I can read one page per minute, that’s about five hours of reading per book. Multiplied by my 600 books, I’m looking at 3,000 hours worth of reading material. If I were to read nonstop with only an 8 hour sleeping break, it would take me 187 days to get through my reading material. Over half a year doing nothing else but reading!

When does a hobby or passion become an addiction? When does collecting become hoarding? And how close to crossing the line am I? Have I already crossed it?

Some clues are disconcerting. I keep building more bookshelves and filling them to overflowing. I’m actually surprised my neat-nik husband tolerates my stacks and hasn’t questioned the situation, as if it hasn’t dawned on him yet that there seem to be way more books than any one person can read in a reasonable amount of time.

And I confess, I get a tiny rush whenever I acquire a new book. Part anticipation for the story within and part relief that I won’t miss out on a great read if the book should ever go out of publication, this shopping high must be a cousin – or at least a very distant relation – to what drives people to drink or do drugs or to jump out of airplanes with nothing but a square of thin nylon fabric attached to their backs.

My real concern spikes when I discovered that I’ve just purchased or Paperback Swapped a book I already own. I have a pretty nifty app on my phone – BooksApp 2 Pro – that allows me to carry a list of my book library everywhere I go, but I often forget to check it. I end up with two copies of the same book and feeling pretty stupid. This has to mean I’ve got a serious problem, right?

Intellectually, I know that acquiring more books when I already have more than plenty to keep me happily occupied well into my later years is, if not unhealthy, at least self-indulgent. Yet whenever I come across a glowing review of a title that looks to be something I’d enjoy, my intellect takes a vacation and I add it to the pile.

Receiving a Christmas gift Nook has exacerbated the situation because with e-books, I don’t have the physical evidence that I already too much to read. Too, buying books has become so easy as to be ridiculous. The advent of Amazon meant I didn’t have to leave my home to have the new books that intrigued me. Now I don’t even have to hunt down my laptop or wait 3 to 5 days for shipping. I read a glowing review on a website, click a link, click to download a sample, and click to purchase. Four clicks and my TBR count climbs another notch.

I do have to say that I get tremendous satisfaction when I read one of my TBRs and move it from my “TBR” shelf on Goodreads to “Read”. That small accomplishment has to worth something, right? Except, I then feel perfectly justified in replacing said book, and since for me buying books is a lot like eating potato chips – I can’t stop at just one – the TBR pile never gets smaller.

I’ve tried various methods to curtail my problem: Avoiding the book aisles at Walmart, Target, the grocery store, Toll Road rest stops. Vowing that I can’t buy a new book until I’ve read at least two of my current ones. Using a wish list to keep track of potential future purchases so that I don’t have to worry I’ll forget that this book or that looked especially interesting. None of this works. The only real solution would be to cancel our home internet service so that I become ignorant of all of the amazing books being released every week. That’s not likely to happen.

So, do I have to worry that one day my friends will tune in to the A&E show Hoarders to find me buried beneath collapsing towers of books, my family begging me to let them clean out my unsafe home while I cry about how I can’t possibly part with a single title? For sure I don’t have to be concerned about boredom if a zombie apocalypse forces me to remain inside for months upon end. I’ll run out of food and water and they’ll find my emaciated corpse sitting in my comfy chair with a book in my hands, reading glasses perched on the end of my nose.

How about you? Is your TBR pile reasonable or, like me, do you often think about seeking out a support group to help you curb your problem?

– Jenna Harper

40 thoughts on “Hoarders: The TBR Episode?

  1. I have between 400-500 book on my to-read list. I don’t own all of them, but I own a significant portion. Recently I went through my to-read list on goodreads and deleted about 20 books. If I had those books on my shelf, I put them in a bag to donate to Better World Books (after I let my book club friends look through them). If the books are on my kindle, I just ignore them.

    I only have about 100-150 paper books on hand that I haven’t read, the rest are either on my kindle, in the library or they haven’t been purchased yet. If I let too many books pile up that haven’t been read, I start to feel anxious about it. 150 is already too many!

    I’ve recently gotten more ruthless about my keeper shelves, too. Not only mine, but my collection of children’s books, JF, YA and non-fiction, along with my husband’s SF collection. We only have so much room, and if the book is available anywhere else (such as the library) we don’t keep a copy on hand anymore. True, I’ve had to re-buy a book or two that I miss, but that rarely happens and usually the overwhelming feeling when I clear shelves is one of relief. I love books and reading, but with a house full of children and pets, I have enough clutter to dust!

  2. HaveI am actually spending less with e. It’s the price that gets me compared to print. I finally got my pile down to reasonable and with that came the realization that half were dnf’s. With e library reading and a tablet that I can check my books, goodreads etc before buying and my phone, it’s getting better. The hardest is not buying hqn’s at the store. I have been very disappointed with them lately.

  3. In this extreme, I am definitely on the other end of it. No fiction books dot my shelves, only non-fiction and resource material. The majority (99.9%) of my fiction reading comes with much thanks from the library. First of all, my house is totally of average size (maybe even considered small by today’s standards). I really wouldn’t have room for a large accumulation of books, especially when they just sit there doing nothing. I find it works very well for me to get a book from the library, then return it, so that someone else can read it who doesn’t have the room nor inclination to store neither. I suspect that even if I did have more room, I wouldn’t do it, just because that’s the way I operate. I don’t really have any huge collections of anything. :)

    • I wish I were this disciplined! So many books I think I want to read either end up as DNFs or were just okay but not keepers, so borrowing a library copy is the smartest thing to do. But my problem is that when I check out books at the library, I’m never able to read them before they are due. It’s not that I don’t read fast, it’s just that I get distracted or caught up in another book(s) and don’t get around to reading it. I hate paying late fees, so I don’t use the library nearly as much as I should.

      • Library ebooks are great for this, since there aren’t any fines — the books just expire. That sometimes saves me when I’m on the fence, I’ll think “is it worth checking it out again to finish this?” and usually the answer is “nope.” Which is why I didn’t finish it before it expired in the first place!

        But thinking about what you said… if you don’t have time to finish library books, when are you going to find time to read the books you buy? Just something to think about…

  4. I have to laugh at this post. I’m busy putting up 6 “Billy” bookcases from Ikea to help store my stacks of books, which I anticipate I’ll have to double shelve to clear the books off the floor, out of boxes and out from under the bed. That’s in addition to multiple floor to ceiling bookcases in two other rooms. I can’t begin to count how many books I own but at least two bookcases (floor to ceiling, double shelved) are all TBR. I’ve been weeding out some books to trade in or donate to the library for booksales, but it has been slow going.

    I recently had a conversation with my co-workers about my ‘library’. They can’t understand why I have so many books and they certainly don’t understand why I keep ones I’ve already read. When I comment that I like to re-read my books, they just don’t understand the concept. Moreover, when I tell them I like to revisit certain scenes from the books, they think I’m crazy. Now I’m wondering if I am. Am I the only one who will re-read a section of a book because I liked that part, that sometimes I get a teaser in my head about a scene and then have to find the book to reread that part?

    Then when I revealed that I sometimes read the end of the book first, and occasionally have read a book backwards (and then read it forwards later) they thought I was kidding. I wasn’t. Somedays at work I feel like I’m from another planet because the thought of not keeping any books once I’ve read them is just weird!

    But I did get a kindle and have been using it. It has helped with the bookcase situation but I really got it so I can read while my cat uses me as a comfy sleeping spot and proceeds to sleep on one of my arms. It’s hard to turn pages with a print book one handed – much easier with a kindle!

    As for buying books that are already at home- guilty! But I’m getting better.

    • No not weird at all since I regularly read fav sections and ends of books first. But my keeper list has also been culled and it was harder than culling the tbr.

      • Your co-workers must not be readers. I wonder can someone be a reader and not love books?
        If you’re crazy I need to be commited. I have so many books and still buy copies of books I already own if I find them cheap somewhere. You never know I might need those extra copies for something!
        I also love to read passages from books I love and re-read beloved books all the time. My husband, who built me a beautiful reading room/library says it’s because I’m a romantic. When we travel it’s always hotel, food and then find the bookstore.

    • Andrea2: you are not crazy. I too like to revisit my favorite books, or even scenes from my favorite books. I’d say my collection of maybe 400 or 500 books is about 1/3 read, 2/3 TBR. My husband hates my “stash” but considering he has about 6 drawers of t-shirts, I’d say we’re even. As long as his drawers of t-shirts remain unwinnowed, I don’t feel I need to narrow down my books either.
      I work in a library, too, so you’d think I wouldn’t need to hold on to those books. But libraries don’t carry everything… and when I want to go back to a certain book, it’s comforting to know it’s right there when and where I want it.

  5. I feel like going electronic has improved my er, “issue”, tremendously. Picture your problem – then add the fact that the UPS man is at my house every day with books for AAR, many of which are duplicate copies (publishers often send an arc and a finished book). I used to snag anything I thought I might want to read later, thinking that it might go out of print and then where would I be?

    Well, now I feel like things are theoretically in print forever, and I don’t feel the need to own a physical copy of everything I might read someday. I still have a lot I need to get rid of, though.

  6. Oh, you’re just getting started. I have over 900 books on my bookshelves and in stacks. I’m now trying to get rid of these books by selling them and giving to the Salvation Army and library, but you’d never know I’ve sold over 100 books by looking at my bookshelves. You can barely see a dent in them. Thank goodness I’ve gone electronic also. Believe me, my husband just shakes his head every time I come downstairs with another pile of books to get rid of.

  7. This is the only place where I am normal :-) I own about 250 TBR books and probably double that in keepers. I don’t re-read as often now that I am a reviewer but I still like the thought that if I wanted to re-read a book, I could. Right now I am using the AAR reading challenge to help me work my way through my TBR piles. I’ve gone through about thirty books this year, which has barely left a dent. I have the same problem you do re getting rid of one and buying a bunch more. The math just doesn’t work in terms of my space. I am going to try to seriously deal with those problem soon. Really.

  8. I had to laugh because I just read this quote recently and thought of all of you. I’m saying this with no sarcasm, but only in fun. :)

    The trouble with, “A place for everything and everything in its place” is that there’s always more everything than places. ~Robert Brault

  9. When I first got my ereader, I downloaded every free book I ever thought I might want to read, especially all the classics. It was a pain to scroll though all those titles. Then I realized, they are free! Why am I storing them? I deleted them all, and will download one by one if I ever get around to reading any.

  10. I guess I am in the minority. When I was younger, I kept every single darn think I read until it was falling apart. Multiple moves and quite frankly being a librarian have convinced me of a dirty, little secret….most books, IMHO, just aren’t worth the space they take up and the dust that they cause. Once I am done reading something, out the door, or into the Interent ether it goes. Maybe someone someone else willl read them , if I leave them outside, or give them to the library. But I know I am just delaying the inevitable…most books, are destined at some point for the garbage. My own daughter has already probably discarded dozens of picture books as too babyish and some went right into the garbage, in no condition whatsover for another to child to peruse.

    As librarian I discarded thousands of paper books, part of the weeding process, to make room for newer books. In ten-twenty years, most of those new books will, end up in the dumpster too. I have two small book cases filled with books that were given to me by someone I love, some childhood favorites, or things I want to one day share with my own children. But if I think abut it too much, I’ll probably weed those cases too, if I need the space for a new espresso maker.

    Books are so easy to get, that to me, it just doesn’t make sense to clutter up my house with books I have already read and can’t remember squat about, or books I will never read which includes most of the classics, or anything literary or remotely depressing or most non-fiction.

    I do probably have a hundred book on my e-reader, I haven’t read….but once I have read them poof! Bye!

    • That was my experience working at a library too — it may seem ironic, but you quickly lose your respect for books! My mom can’t even stand to see books made into art, but the fact is, just being printed on paper doesn’t make something scared and books easily become trash.

      I really find being a book hoarder a genuine psychological burden and have been making strides to reduce what comes in and increase what goes out. At first I went crazy with ebooks, but I’ve come to realize that they require maintainance, even if they don’t take up space, so I’m trying to be more selective.

    • This makes me think – I have probably at least two shelves worth of “classics” that I read at some point and have no intention of re-reading ever again, yet I keep them because they make me feel smarter by having them! Maybe it’s having “Don Quixote” and “Anna Karenina” on a shelf beside “Sweet Savage Love” or “His Mistress’s Secret Love Child” that makes it seem like I’m well read. ;) But your post makes me think I can probably get rid of those classics without feeling too bad about it. They are easy to find at the library or even download free as public domain books. As if I’d ever get the urge to slog through some of them again.

  11. Andrea2, “Billy” bookshelves by Ikea have been a staple in my house for years. I’ve got 4 of them in the living room filled to the brim, and recently had the double closet in my bedroom converted to a library with 3 more. Ikea Rocks!

    I too, sometimes read the end of a book. If I am in an especially tense (for me) place in a book, and am anxious to see what happens to a particular character, I will go to the end, make sure everything is all right, and then proceed back to the place I was in the book. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I am not a person who has a large TBR pile ,I buy it, I pretty much read it. Even when I “discover” a new to me writer, I pretty much buy one book at a time, until I have glommed the back list. I have recently “discovered” Carla Kelly( I know, where have I been!?) ,Elizabeth George’s “Inspector Lynley Books” and Ashley Gardner’s “Captain Gabriel Lacey”. I buy them one at a time until I catch up (if it’s a series) this way I don’t read them out of order.

    As for re-reading….doesn’t everyone? I have some books I have re-read so often I know the dialogue, and STILL can’t wait to get to “that part”. You know, the part you just adore, the line(s) that you think are sheer perfection each and every time you read them.

    I own hundreds of books in paper and hardback and have hundreds more on my Kindle. Prescious bookshelf space is now reserved for my must have print authors, and everthing else goes on the Kindle. Amazon says it will hold 3000 books…I plan on holding them to that :-)

  12. PS… I think I am headed for an episode of My Strange Addiction rather than Hoarders. I am currently battling an eye infection. I treat with drops every 4 hours and warm compresses to the eye.
    Picture this: sitting on the living room couch, eye stinging from the drops, warm compress pressed to my right eye, with my right hand, trying to figure out how I am gonna right touch my Kindle so I can turn the page without letting go of the compress OR crossing my left arm in front of the page I am currently reading. Yep, My Strange Addiction for sure!

  13. Every time I want to buy a book, I’ve been adding it to a list entitled “Books I would have bought during Lent”. I am not even pretending that I’ve given up buying books for Lent, but the start of Lent and talk by others of giving things up was the trigger to do this. It will be interesting to see (a) how many books are on the list and (b) how many of them I eventually do buy.

    Part of the problem is that it is so easy to buy books now, especially ebooks. I read a good review and think: I’ll miss out on reading this excellent book unless I buy it!

    • What I do is when I see a book I think I might like, I head over to Amazon and look it up, then add it to my wish list. That way I have record of having liked it. Then, later, when I have to buy a book or am ready to buy a book, I go back to my wish list to see if there is anything there I just have to have. This initially started as my way to bring my total dollar amount high enough to qualify for free 2-day shipping – I would kick in one of my wish-list books to bump my total over the $25 line. Now I’m a Amazon Prime member and get free 2-day shipping all the time. But I can’t stand the thought of a UPS delivery of a single, tiny book (waste of energy, you know!) so I tend to add a second or third book to my order, chosen off my wish list.

      Or I use my wish list to keep track of books I want so that I can price shop which version is going to be cheapest – e-book, paperback via Amazon, Target, B&N with member discount, etc.

  14. I do have a huge TBR pile, in various locations. I have about 200 books on my Kindle; 380 on my Kobo Touch (that $4 Harlequin coupon last year nearly did me in), as well as 100s of paperbacks. I won’t buy an ebook if it’s more expensive, or priced the same as the paperback … I won’t on principle. And I will readily keep on acquiring. No guilt, no angst, I will read them all eventually.

    • That’s my problem – that word “eventually”! I have that same mentality. I have all of these books to read and I truly believe in my heart that I will read them all eventually. I have no idea when that magical time will arrive, and since I keep adding to the pile, that day keeps moving. I imagine myself as a very old woman reading like mad trying to catch up before my ultimately “eventually” arrives :0

  15. The good news about my TBR pile is that it’s not getting bigger at the rate it was a couple of years ago.

    The bad news is that the reason for that is that I have a NOOK, and I’ve got quite a few titles on it that have yet to be read!

    My problem (and I have a feeling that many AAR readers share this issue) is that (1) I read a review of a book on AAR that sounds right up my alley, so I buy it, (2) It usually turns out that the book is part of a series, most volumes of which I don’t have, so, (3) I buy the other volumes in the series!

    Since I have a NOOK, I’ve been buying more of my romance titles as ebooks, but I still have a LONG way to go towards winnowing down that TBR print pile!

  16. I think I have about 600 books in the house including keepers. There are books I can’t see parting with ever so I know at least 300 have permanent spots. I now buy e-books so I don’t see the physical impact on the house but I have an early version e-book that is slow and can take forever to get through the books stored on it.

    For the last 4 weeks I’ve been thinking I need to tackle the pile and pull out any books I figure I’ll never read. I have been avoiding it but space is at a premium in the house and the one closet shelf and the floor of my walk through closet need to be cleared.

    But like some of us, what if…

    CindyS

  17. I too am a book hoarder and I partly justify it because I teach literature courses and therefore have an excuse to own books. However, in an effort to curtail my spending and to create a more realistic appraisal of my ability to read all I own, I have over the years started keeping the “TBR” more limited to a database of titles that I constantly review now on Goodreads. Adding and deleting titles, shifting the titles around in order of their position on my TBR list allows me to do what “buying” promises. I can keep adding and adding but I only purchase a book when it is in the number one or two slot. That way I do actually read the books I most want to read.

  18. Oh, the IKEA bookcases! I was lucky enough to stop in on a day where they had the tall bookcases on for $20 – limit two per customer, though, so I only bought six since all I had with me were my daughter and my husband.

    I usually keep my TBR down to less than twenty, but there was a year or two when I had our daughter and her newborn living with us, and I got way behind. I had almost a hundred, but I didn’t stop buying because if I didn’t get them then I had to order them online anyway, and then got only half the discount. The only thing was, I probably wasted more money buying a series that I later didn’t keep, and I wished I had read the first one before buying any more.

    I like having a few TBR because then I can pick and choose if I want something lighthearted, or a mystery, or historical, etc.

  19. For me the largest barrier to hoarding TBRs is my terrible cheap streak. I just can’t bring myself to spend the money it would take to have hundreds of books in piles. I still get annoyed when I see books in the library and think “Darn, why did I pay for that? I could have read it for free!”

  20. I have several thousand books in my home, with a TBR pile of about 250, plus some 150 on my two kindles. I like to re-read, but recently I have come to realise that there will not be time in my life to re-read most of my books and keep trying out new authors at the same time. I have discovered that many of the books I bought in the 1980ies – often old even then – are now rare or first editions, and at least in theory quite valuable. In my spare time I put them up for sale at Amazon, not so much for the money as to find them a new home where they will also be appreciated.

  21. I cured myself of keeping piles of books several years ago by doing two things. First, a vow to build no more book shelves. Second, I started using Quicken to track my purchasing and saw how much I was spending on books. Now 90% of my reading material comes from the public library.

  22. I have a couple hundred paper books in my house I haven’t read yet, and probably about the same number of ebooks on my computer/flash drive. In addition to almost 2,000 books on my to-read list on Goodreads. I get overwhelmed just thinking about it….

  23. *stands up* Hi, my name is Bev and I am a book whore… er.. hoarder.

    The number of print books laying around and hidden away is well into the 4 digits. I’m talking about even the Dr. Seuss books from when I was a liitle kid, people! Fortunately, I was a frequent visitor to the public library when I was younger or else the books would number well into 5 digits by now.

    Here’s the thing though. I really do mean to weed out the books I’ve read (except the kids books because my kids read them and of course I will have to save them for future Grandkids someday, right? Even the ones about man someday landing on the moon, right?)

    But I also am cursed with a terrible memory. So when I start looking through the books I’ve read, I can’t remember readiing them and therefore don’t want to get rid of a book I haven’t read just because I mixed it into a books-read shelf by mistake.

    And besides, I STILL have to find a catalogueing program or app that I like so that I can keep track of all these books that I’ve read (and of course the ones I haven’t read) before I can get rid of them.

    That’s all perfectly practical and logical, right? Right?

  24. I love this post. Audiobooks have added to my dilemma because now I want to add favorites that I have read to my to-be-listened to stack! LOL

    • Renee: I love this post.Audiobooks have added to my dilemma because now I want to add favorites that I have read to my to-be-listened to stack!LOL

      Audiobooks have actually simplified my TBR a bit. Nearly all historicals are now audio-only for me because the accents add so much to the story. And I have a few audio-only UF and PNR series too where the narrator adds so much to the story that I can’t imagine ever reading the print versions. (Sookie Stackhouse, Queen Betsy, Rachel Morgan),

      The bonus here is that, since audiobooks are expensive, for most of them I have to wait my turn on my library system’s waiting list before I can download them. Therefore both my TBR and my TBL don’t increase as fast.

    • I am a recent convert to audio books, but I only borrow them from the public library. One reason is that unabridged books are very pricey! Another is that unlike with print or e-books, unless you write down the exact track where a favorite passage is located on an audio book, it’s rather hard to find it again. And if I’m keeping a book, I want to be able to find “those” passages without spending a lot of time trying to late them!

      Most of my “book listening” involves “cozy” mysteries such as “The Cat Who” series by Lilian Jackson Braun. George Guidall, who narrates all of the Braun books has the perfect voice, and is quite amusing when he’s doing the female voices!

  25. As addictions go, being addicted to books is probably better than most “recreational drugs” but I’ve had to work really hard to curb the tendency to buy. When I first got my Kindle I didn’t pay attention until the end of the year when I looked at how many hundreds of dollars I’d spent. The best thing to happen to me has been library e-books. I have less than 100 actual TBR books (either hard-copy or e-book on my Kindle) even though my read/owned list is many times larger. Most are books I picked up at used book sales. My “suggestions” list runs into the hundreds but they don’t take up any space. I make it a point to note on that list if the book is available at the library so I don’t buy it unless I can’t get it any other way and I don’t borrow it until I know I can read it within the 3 week borrow limit. Several years ago I set up an Access database to manage the book lists and have found that extremely useful. I’m able to export my read/owned list and my suggestions list to a format I can keep in my phone for when I go to used bookstores/sales. So if you are comfortable with Access or Excel or have a friend who can help you set up your custom database, that’s the way to go.
    My husband has hundreds of sci-fi books (he won’t read e-books) and I can’t compete with him for shelf space so I limit myself to one bookcase for hard-copy TBR and one for read keepers and try to gradually give away books I don’t desperately want to read again. I’d rather donate them to my local library’s used book sale and let someone else enjoy them.

  26. I could not afford to buy all of the books that I would want to own, although I have a room full of books and specially built bookshelves. I recently started to use the library to access books that have good reviews. I can’t get them all and some authors I still buy but it has definitely decreased the book clutter and my husband is not as irked with me. I find that, since I have a time limit on the book, I actually read it immediately when I have taken it from the library. It keeps me more disciplined, I read lots of new books and, if a find I particularly like a book, I can add new authors to those books I will buy because I expect them to be keepers. I have bought books that I have read from the library if I want them in my collection.

  27. Oh, this one struck way too close to home for me. This year I’ve pretty much vowed to read any book I’d buy in print from the library first…the Link+ inter-library system usually has even the new/obscure titles I want, though I have to time my reservations to coincide with errands an hour out of town. It’s mostly worked, though I haven’t completely adhered to the “one book in, one book out” idea this year (the used book stores around here seem pickier lately). My e-reader has about 700 books on it, though a lot of those are freebie shorts and archived library e-books. (As an m/m fanatic, it was a godsend to find the San Francisco library outpost of the Overdrive e-lending system–they have a ton of Dreamspinner and Riptide titles, many of which are fairly recent.) So, I’m trying, but my house still looks like a paper mill exploded and I still get twitchy if I don’t have several exciting books waiting in the wings…eesh.

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