Tricking Myself into Reading My Own Books

I suspect many of us have this bibliophile problem: we get tremendously excited about a particular book and just have to have it, whether as a proof from the publisher, pre-ordering it new, or (for an older book) snapping it up secondhand the minute we hear about it. Then months or even years pass and we realize that the novel or memoir we were once so desperate to read has simply joined the ranks of hundreds of other half-forgotten books we still plan to get to on that legendary ‘one day’ but always pass by in favour of newer acquisitions.

I’ve long strived to read more backlist books from my own collection, as well as to catch up on the dozens of books I’ve been foolish enough to pause partway through and group together on two “set-aside” shelves in the lounge. (Many of these I obtained as review copies from publishers, so I do feel a sense of obligation to write at least a mini review for each.) As Marcie (Buried in Print) noted in her recent reading goals post, vague intentions go by the wayside, so it’s time to get specific about how to incorporate these into my reading stacks.

  1. For my review backlog of 2022 releases, I get a second chance. I’ve noted the paperback release dates for around 20 books and will aim to have catch-up review posts (here or for Shiny New Books) ready for that date, or at least within that month. Having a deadline to work towards is essential for a last-minute worker like me.
  2. There are some authors I own 3 or more unread works by. Usually this means I enjoyed a book of theirs so much I went on a secondhand binge … then got distracted and didn’t explore their back catalogue as I meant to. Via Margaret, I just found out about What Cathy Read Next’s Backlist Burrow challenge, where she’s picked six authors who piqued her interest and two books by each to read this year. I’m unlikely to manage two each, but I fancy doing this adjacent/modified challenge: where I own 2 or more unread books by an author, I must read at least 1 this year. I have these authors to choose from, but also others in my sights, e.g. Sarah Hall, whose Haweswater I’ll take on holiday to the Lake District in July.
  3. Challenges like that one are the best way to get me rifling through my own shelves. I started a few low-key, long-term projects of my own back in 2020 (Journey through the Day and 4 in a Row) and am still ostensibly working on them, as well as on thematic pairs and trios (my Three on a Theme series) as they arise, along with regular tie-ins to seasons, holidays, etc. Hosted challenges are somehow better, though, perhaps due to the built-in companionship and accountability. Nordic FINDS this month, Reading Indies in February, Reading Ireland in March, the 1940 Club in April, and so on. Because they’re so useful for getting me reading from my shelves, I will participate in at least 1 reading challenge per month.
  4. How to tackle the dreaded set-aside shelves? One book at a time. So, in addition to the ones I’ll review to coincide with the paperback release, I’ll also reintroduce 1 set-aside book to my reading pile each week.
  5. How to ensure that book hauls from shopping excursions and gift-receiving occasions don’t get neglected? By undertaking regular “overhauls” such as this and this, and checking there are no more than 3 unread books remaining from any 1 haul. If there are, start reading the stragglers right away. This will be particularly important because it looks like this year I might complete the triple crown of UK book towns, with trips planned to Wigtown in June and the Sedbergh area in July/August and Hay-on-Wye a perpetual temptation.
  6. How to make time for all those lovely random books (such as this stack) that I keep meaning to read but somehow never do? I’m going to allow myself to start at least 1 “just because” book per fortnight.
  7. Connected to all of these will be requesting fewer 2023 review books from publishers. Almost all my recent requests have gone completely ignored, in fact, which is probably for the best. Unless I’m reviewing something for pay, I’ll just plan to read it from the library or, if I can’t find it that way, will add it to my wish list in advance of my birthday and Christmas.

How do you trick yourself into reading your own books?

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37 responses

  1. Oh I know that problem all too well! Mind you, it’s always a nice surprise to find those books on my shelves, but I keep wondering what seemed so desperately urgent about them three or more years ago!!! I am trying to do more of reading off the shelves this year, particularly since I am starting to feel the pressure of slimming my collection of books as I prepare for a move abroad and downsizing my house (in about 1-2 years)

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    1. Oh, that’ll be difficult for you after years of book collecting. I hope you can resell enough to recoup some moving costs. I’m lucky that all my recent moves have only been within Berkshire (though the sheer number of book boxes was alarming last time).

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      1. Resell? No one seems interested in my books – it costs more to post them than I would get in sales.

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      2. If we’re talking recent books, WeBuyBooks, Ziffit, Sellitback, Music Magpie, etc. (or Amazon if you can be bothered — I gave up because their fees are so high). For older stuff, I look for secondhand bookshops that buy books, e.g., on holiday the last two years I resold to Barter Books in Alnwick and Westwood Books in Sedbergh. I know you also tried selling privately to friends.

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  2. I honestly don’t know how you ever get back to books that you’ve ‘set aside’ – I don’t think I could be that disciplined.

    I use my reading challenges each year to tackle what I already own. It’s not a perfect system but at least I feel a little less guilty when I acquire more books!

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    1. It was a dangerous thing, starting that set-aside shelf. Basically they’re books I’m not ready to DNF but also not compelled to read at just that moment. I’d say about 80% of the ones I pick back up I finish and feel were worthwhile, with the rest disappointments or abandoned in the end.

      20 Books of Summer is particularly helpful for getting books off my shelves and into my reading stacks. I need to be stricter with myself about not including library books or review copies in that challenge.

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  3. I share the same issue! Good plans there, and I find if I can join in challenges that send me to Mount TBR that always helps!!

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    1. Indeed, the classics clubs you and Simon run are invaluable for that. Read Indies could also be a good spur for me next month.

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  4. That’s just it. I don’t trick myself into reading my own books. Those I get from the library, borrow from friends, need to read for Book group, or come Highly Recommended (I’m looking at you, Rebecca, as well as other book bloggers) fill every book-reading hour. What am I supposed to do? Tomorrow never comes. Thanks for the Honourable Mention too!

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    1. Have you accumulated many books since your return from France? I guess I assumed you were a minimalist, and got most of your reading material from the library.

      As a modest goal, you could aim to read one book you own per month, and take it from there?

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      1. Ha! You have no idea. We disposed of hundreds of books before we left France, and the same again on our return. Since when, the stock has been building up again, even though it was lack of space that caused the cull in the first place. I mainly try to buy non fiction, but favourite fiction finds a place too. The loss of so many books still hurts. I once went and bought back many of the books we’d sold to a second-hand bookshop. Minimalism is a term not remotely understood in this house. One a month? Good idea!

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      2. I had to shed many boxes of books when my parents divorced and moved out of their longtime home. I still regret a few individual books.

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  5. Several of your strategies, plus a few others work for me.
    1. Lining up possible titles for a meme or challenge (eg the current Nordic FINDS).
    2. Leaving barely started books on my bedside table to guilt-trip me into eventually picking the odd one up (hasn’t worked with Middlemarch and Gormenghast these last few months however).
    3. Rarely or never requesting review copies – I’m not one of those desperate for the latest book of the moment (though I’ve actually bought copies of Babel and The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley, and have even started the first, so who am I kidding?).
    4. Spotting significant anniversaries meant I could recently polish off books by Penelope Fitzgerald (the BBC) and Kurt Vonnegut (birth centenary).
    5. Reorganising bookshelves is a surefire way to turn up forgotten titles that suit the moment.

    But enough about me: good luck with your project – even if it’s a Sisyphean task you’ve set yourself!

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    1. Ah yes, anniversaries are good to look out for. I usually only realize about them when it’s too late to read something in time. And reorganizing the shelves is a great idea. I need to arrange that set-aside shelf into paperback release date order so I can see what’s coming up next.

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  6. Me too to all of that! For me, reading challenges is the best way to go, but playing with my books (my term for reorganising bookshelves) is also a good way to re-find forgotten gems. I’m not disciplined enough to specify books or authors to read – that way leads to reader’s block for me, so I’ll rediscover my TBR by whim or reading challenge by not preselecting in advance.

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    1. I remember seeing that one blogger once did over 50 reading challenges in a year! I think that would be very stressful, but I bet she got through a lot from her TBR.

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  7. That first paragraph describes so many of us so accurately. You have a well thought out overall strategy here. Hope it works well for you.

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    1. I see from your Reading Now/Reading Next panes that you usually have a few books on the go at a time, including a couple of slightly older ones, or nonfiction, that you don’t review (except for a Blast from the Past, perhaps). That must be how you keep your owned books from taking over.

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      1. It is! I’m pretty methodical at whittling away at the pile although it’s added to every month.

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  8. I looked at your yellow and white stack and saw The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – I LOVE that book! I would like to reread it, so if you want to do a buddy read of it later this year I’d be up for that. Your plans sound…well, sound! And I wish very good luck. I think by this time next year you will have made a dent in your bookshelves.

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    1. That would be great! I like buddy reads and challenges for the accountability factor, and at least in this case I know the book will be good 😉

      The problem is I keep acquiring new and secondhand books at more of a rate than I read them off my shelves…

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      1. A very common problem! 😀

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  9. 2023 will be a year of reading from the TBR for me too though I am not going to be nearly as disciplined as you. Cutting back on “new stock” is going to be important – so no more Net Galley requests for a while. I already have a backlog of them – I like your idea of checking the paperback release dates and timing my review accordingly. It will help me feel less guilty that I have yet to read the book I requested….

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    1. That’s a good point. Years ago I used to browse NetGalley’s new releases for fun, but now I only go on there if there’s a book I need to find for a paid review.

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  10. I think every reader out there empathises! I love all your ideas and I wish you luck. It’s one of the reasons I did Project 24 last year.

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  11. All too familiar, and several moves back and forth across the country that were accompanied by culls hasn’t cured me. I like the combination of realism and flexibility in your reading plans and hope it works well for you!

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  12. Sorting my books helps slightly. There are several BookCrossing challenges that help me physically sort my TBR books into categories each year (monthly themes, countries, ‘oldest’ books). I really enjoy moving my books around at the beginning of each month to fit challenges, both BC and blogging challenges. It’s definitely a temptation to borrow something extra to fit a blogging challenge, though; I need to keep an eye on that. And I keep falling into the trap of digital ARCs. Themed reading is definitely the best strategy.

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    1. I have lots of themed piles but never seem to actually read from them. I think I’ll requisition the hallway bookcase and start grouping reads for review and challenges by month.

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  13. I tend to try to read a new book followed by an old book etc. I find that if they’re on my shelves too long, I don’t want to read them. This way I usually read them within a few months.

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    1. My situation is a bit different because I read a lot of books at once (usually 20-30), but I could try to make sure that at least a few of those are backlist books from my shelves. Alas, with over 500 unread books in the house and new ones coming in all the time, I can’t keep on top of them like you do!

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  14. These sound like great plans! My main strategy is to stop myself buying too many books in the first place. I use my GR want to read list as a place to add all the books I am excited about without buying them. Having said that, I still over request on netgalley…

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    1. Alas, that horse has bolted — I probably own 500 or more unread books and keep acquiring more with every charity shop or secondhand bookshop trip. Life needs little pleasures! And groaning TBR shelves pose only the mildest of problems. Books are the best way to decorate a house and if there’s ever another lockdown situation I’ll have plenty to read.

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  15. I was thinking along the same lines, with the multiple books by the same author thing. I was feeling bad about not having read Lapvona… and then remembered I also haven’t read Death in Her Hands. Both bought as soon as they were released 🙄 thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. I’m going to make myself a list of the authors I own multiple books by. I won’t be prescriptive about which of their books I have to read, so I can still be driven by mood, but I’ll refer to that list when it’s time to choose a “just because” backlist book.

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  16. Good plans! I have my own target to get hardbacks I’ve bought (mostly at the new bookshop) read before the paperback comes out. Just about clinging on to that with the last one and upcoming one …). And I am doing all the reading challenges I can out of my TBR as usual (although I did put three books from 1940 on my special birthday wishlists for particular friends, what with 1940 Club coming up and me with nothing on my TBR …

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    1. The paperback release date does make for a good deadline! I think for all of these it’s hardbacks or proof copies I was sent by the publisher, so I feel that obligation to provide a review.

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      1. I’m good at doing reviews, thank goodness, however, I have many fewer then you, so it doesn’t much help: although I need to get a review done for Thursday for a book I accidentally read sooner than I was supposed to, then haven’t got round to finalising my review!!

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