The Art and Science of the TBR Pile

Creating a Set of Rules for Your TBR Pile

I’m sure everyone has their reasons for reading. My personal motives (in no particular order) are: Pleasure, personal growth, and knowledge. After closing one book, every reader is tormented by the seemingly impossible dilemma: What should I read next? Most likely you have books on shelves, piled on your nightstand, hanging out under your bed, and waiting patiently on every window sill. Take a deep breath. Here’s the formula for how I approach my teetering To-Be-Read pile:

First off, it’s about balance. I just finished a true crime thriller. Next I’m going to read two short books–one about being a manager and one about meditation–before I jump into a huge tome of contemporary fiction. After that, I’ve got a novel by one of today’s premiere women writers in the pile, followed by a biography of a Tibetan Monk.

But that’s a lot of heavy reading in a row, so I might push the Tibetan Monk back and dive into a horror book my co-worker recommended just for fun. That is, unless I walk past a bookstore and can’t resist an impulse buy, or I read a review of a book I MUST READ NOW.

Balance means different things to different people. For me, the key is carefully selecting the perfect combination of literary masterpieces (both classic and contemporary) with more contemplative books about life, adding a splash of fun and easy reads in there for good measure. And I always leave room for spontaneity.

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Secondly, it’s important to consider pace. I like to layer novellas in with bigger books. That way I can enjoy the quick bang of a book that’s not asking for too much, and the satisfaction of a longer commitment.

Thirdly, I have one hard and fast rule that overrides everything: If I’m not enjoying it, I put it down. After all, reading is supposed to be my hobby. I already have a job where I have to do some stuff I wouldn’t necessarily choose to do on my own time, that’s why they pay me. Reading is what I do for fun. I should never be watching each page I turn, begging for it to be over, no matter how good I think it is for me.

pile of books


To sum it up, my rules for curating the perfect TBR pile:

  1. Mix in serious fiction with contemplative books about life and easy reads.
  2. Know thyself.
  3. Leave room for spontaneity.
  4. Put it down if I’m not enjoying it.
  5. Top it all off with an inexplicable desire to read as much as possible.


(Image Credit: Melnikovgiulio napolitano)


About Alexandra Gekas

ALEXANDRA GEKAS is a New York City-based editor, writer and book worm. In college, her dad told her to major in whatever she was passionate about, so she picked English literature, which led her to her career in journalism. So, really has the library to thank for it all.

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