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How the hell do I prioritise my ‘to be read’ (TBR) pile?

[Thanks to our fabulous writer friend Dr Beverley Jandziol for taking time from her weekend at the Festival of Writing to send us this guest post!]





I’ve always loved reading - from devouring Enid Blyton’s Castle of Adventure in one sitting, to being blown away by Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (who knew the mechanics of Architecture could be so riveting). As a child I loved trips to the library with my Mum and siblings, maxing out on my library card and struggling to contain my excitement to get home so I could start reading.

My love of books has not waned and if anything it has intensified in recent years. But I’m not just a collector. I don’t want to just own the books (that would be weird), I do actually really want to read them. Stories that make us laugh, cry, feel fear, sorrow, anger and every other emotion in-between.

Being stuck on the treadmill of life, often struggling to maintain some sort of work-life balance, I need to get lost in my imagination now more than ever.

I want to feel a wide range of emotions, imagine myself in others' shoes, and fall in love, even if it's with characters who aren’t real. I love that frenzied compulsion to read on and on until the book leaves me feeling like a jilted lover, unable to bear the fact it's ended, unable to stop thinking about the characters for days, imagining how I could carry on their story, make them live on in my mind.

I’m also a writer, so I need to read fiction as a necessity. Because, frankly, if you don’t read your writing will be crap. When I first started writing I stopped reading for a bit as I figured I didn’t have time to do both. This was a big mistake and luckily I came to my senses sooner rather than later. I still shudder thinking back to the first read through of my early chapters - it was just horrible. So I resumed reading, enrolled on some writing courses, and started connecting with other writers, and lo and behold my writing became a little less crap. 

So what’s the problem now?

Unfortunately my increasing desire and need to read has coincided with a period in my life where my free time has diminished to dangerous levels - resulting in a TBR pile that would be taller than me if I stacked them.

While I'm only 5 foot 2, that’s still quite a lot of pages to get through. Add to the fact I have books on pre-order, books on Kindle and a bunch of non-fiction titles and you can see the seriousness of my situation.

I’m tired of looking longingly at my TBR pile. And of the paralysis I feel whereby I can't choose, so I either don’t read anything or I re-read a book I love just to avoid making a decision.

Thankfully the OcTBR Challenge is exactly what I need to help me out of this funk. But here comes my second problem:

Which books do I choose to read over the month?

I have to be realistic, I think an absolute maximum for me (all things considered) is going to be one novel per week and that is going to be tough as it is. But how do I decide? Which four should I choose from this beautiful pile? I love a variety of genres, I have sequels in the pile I’m dying to read, stories written by go-to authors I love, titles I should prioritise as they will help me in my own writing, stories written by friends who I am immensely proud of and authors new to me I’m desperate to discover…this is not going to be an easy choice to make.

A lecturer at Uni once told me that he scored essays by throwing them down a flight of stairs and the ones that travelled the furthest got the highest marks (as clearly they contained more pages and the author of the work had therefore put in more effort). While I hope he was joking, I had considered using a similar methodology of ordering them by number of pages, lowest page count to highest (I certainly would not throw my precious books down the stairs). But I decided against this as it felt too arbitrary.

I thought about ordering them by genre, but, like how I sickened myself with reading about serial killers as a teenager, I feared that approach could make me fall out of love with a particular category. I also thought about getting my 4-year old to decide, but that felt about as useful as blindfolding myself and just choosing four books at random.

So after abandoning these options I took a varietal approach and following much deliberation I have finally settled on my four.

Am I happy with my choices?

Yes - but only because I have made a pledge to myself to give my entire TBR pile the attention it deserves over the next 12 months!

So that whatever additional books I buy and read (and there will be more), this current beautiful pile of books will have received the attention it deserves by OcTBR Challenge 2020 - when I will have a brand new pile to wade through. 

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