Culling My Goodreads TBR

You could say my Goodreads to-read shelf has gotten out of hand. As of July 17th it was at 7190 titles. That includes pretty much every book I’ve ever heard about and thought “yeah, maybe I’ll read that someday.” Inspired by Eleanor’s “Down the TBR Hole” posts, I decided something needed to be done – but not just 5–10 titles at a time or I’d be at this forever. So in the last couple weeks I’ve looked through a few hundred or so entries on my TBR each day, starting with the ones that were added longest ago.

My culling strategies were as follows:



  • Any duplicates – it’s possible to add multiple editions of a book (especially print vs. Kindle) without realizing it.
  • Anything I don’t recognize in the slightest, even after a brief refresher on the blurb.
  • Anything that doesn’t look like something I would read; yes, I’m afraid this involves judging the book by its cover.
  • Anything labeled #1, or that I know is a sequel – I don’t generally read series.
  • Most of what came up in searches for “murder,” “kill,” “detect,” “body,” “blood” or “mystery” – just facing facts here: I don’t ever read crime fiction. If a murder is incidental to a plot, fine, but I don’t search out mysteries.
  • Any book I already own in print or e-format; the book itself serves as the reminder that I intend to read it. [Exception: I maintain “Kindle priority” and “priority advanced 2017 read” shelves.]

Get down to just one to-find-next title for each author. I already know I’ll read anything by Wendell Berry or Margaret Atwood, so I don’t need 10 titles on my TBR; I’ll keep the one I’m most keen on at the moment. Likewise, I discovered three titles each by Ivan Doig, Helen Garner and Tom Drury on the TBR but can’t remember how I even heard of these authors; I cut down to one title apiece. [Exceptions:

  • If an author has written in very different genres, I’ll retain two books to showcase the diversity, perhaps one fiction and one nonfiction.
  • If it’s an author I know I want to read everything by and there’s just a handful more books that I need to find to complete the set (e.g. Carol Shields and Marcus Borg), I’ll keep them all on the list so I know to look out for them.]

Transfer some reference-type books (e.g. philosophy/ethics books, essay collections, anthologies and cookbooks) to my “to skim only” shelf.

Say goodbye to an author who’s disappointed me in the past (Marina Endicott), who I’ve decided I might not be interested in after all (Russell Banks), or whom I’ve gone off (Howard Jacobson).

Scan through for notably low average ratings.

  • For any book where this is below, say, 3.4, I’ll look back at the blurb and scan through the reviews, especially those by friends, and decide on a case-by-case basis whether I want to keep it on the list.
  • Any book with a rating significantly below 3.0 gets deleted as a matter of course. There is the potential here for deleting some books that are polarizing and I might just love, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take; if I’m meant to read a book in my lifetime, it’ll happen somehow. [At one point, to hurry things along, I organized the to-read shelf by ascending average rating and (after getting past a bunch of 0.00 ratings for pre-release or unrated books) managed to cull a good number of books with a 2.-something average.]

This has turned out to be a much more laborious process than I’d hoped, mostly because you can only delete one title at a time and always have to click “OK” to verify. It would go so much faster if I could select 10 or 20 titles to delete at once. Yet it’s ended up being a rewarding undertaking because I’ve rediscovered many books I’d completely forgotten about. Along the way I’m adding loads to my thematic shelves and have updated my “priority to find” list. I’ve also created various new shelves like “parenting,” “dementia” and “Nancy Pearl recommendation”.

After working on this off and on for two weeks – keeping a Goodreads window open all day while doing other computer work – I managed to get the TBR down to 5498 titles. So I’ve cut the original list down by about 23.5%. However, I still have 91 pages of results to sift through. It’s a bit depressing that after all the effort I’ve put in I still have so much to do when I get back from America. At the same time, it’s quite the addictive little task. The idea is that ultimately the TBR will be significantly shorter and more targeted to my tastes.

I shall report back when I’m finally finished!

How do you keep your (virtual or physical) TBR shelf under control?

19 responses

  1. I’ve got nothing like that number on my TBR shelf. But your tale is a salutary one. I’m going to cull mine soon, while it’s still manageable. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Goodness, you are most definitely worse than me! I do have 1071 on my TBR list, because my policy so far has been pretty much the same as yours. But it just gives me a list to work on when I have birthdays or go to the library or a bookshop. I don’t really expect to read all of them…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being realistic, even if I stay at my current rate of 300 books a year, I couldn’t get through this TBR in 18 years! And of course every year hundreds more books that I’m interested in are published. But it’s a good problem to have, right? I’ll never run out of books!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bloody hell, what an undertaking. I salute you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s quite a fun time waster 🙂


  4. So which Helen Garner did you keep? 😉


    1. Lemme see…This House of Grief. Is there one you’d recommend instead?


  5. Love this post Rebecca!
    My TBR stands at 4751 which is utterly absurd and definitely needs a cull. Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Blimey, it sounds like a full-time job just keeping that lot under control. You’ve made me feel much better about my own wish list habits. Thank you, and good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I try to go through my Goodreads TBR (which is what I consider my TBR) and purge semi-regularly. After all, if I decide later that I really want to add something back in, I can! Right now I’m trying to keep the number at around 400. It’s tough, though, because as you say, all these attractive books keep coming out! 🙂 Good luck!


    1. 400 sounds unachievable right now! I don’t know what my final aim is. I’d have to do a second, more thorough round of culling by looking back at the description of each book. Maybe I could get down to 2000 or something.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I immediately check my TBR on Goodreads.. 400 tittles.. nothing insane so far but will need to do the cleansing as you recommended

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m at 2445. Probably the only thing I do the same is periodically search for duplicates and eliminate the low rating books (although I already own a bunch that would otherwise be cut). I will also look at the really highly rated books as well and chuck it if i see that no one else has read it after getting to 5 ratings 4 years ago. Presumably family of the author…Anyway, sometimes when I am too tired to focus on a book, I just play with my list. It’s almost just as good….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good idea to also check on the falsely high ratings!


  10. I have about 400, which I cut back from more than 500 by taking off the giveaway contests that I entered and didn’t win. I’ve only won two over several years.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mine’s at 1613 right now, which is completely ridiculous for me. I try to cut it down every once in a while, but get discouraged by the fact that you can only delete one at a time!


    1. Maybe I should try to contact Goodreads about it (plus those annoying “You finished reading such-and-such! What’s your next book?” e-mails).

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, I know: it’s ridiculous, right?! Our numbers are about the same all the way around and the math just doesn’t make sense! That’s part of the reason why I’ve been taking this year to read so much more backlisted stuff, to see if I am more/less content when not so focussed on the present year’s publications, given my apparent interest in thousands of much older books (which I was just never reading). Heheh Turns out there is an up-side to both styles of reading. Meantime, I’ve read more books off my list this year than I’ve added (so far, but autumn is brutal for TBRs!) so I’m content with that while I eye the GRs numbers out of the corner of my busily-reading eye. I’ll look forward to hearing how your experiment goes: maybe I’ll try something like it.


    1. I’d have to ban myself from NetGalley and Edelweiss if I really wanted to make a dent in my backlist reading. I guess the problem is I need to know what’s coming out so I can pitch reviews to various outlets. Still, I could probably strike a better balance, particularly between things I own and new stuff from the library or as e-ARCs.


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