How do you prioritise your reading list?

A while ago The Little Red Reviewer talked about how she prioritises her reading list. This might not sound like a huge deal, but if you have as many TBR (‘to be read’) categories as I do it quickly becomes a challenge.

I read books for several reasons: I want to; they’ve been sent to me for free in exchange for a review on the blog; a client is paying me to review them; I need to read them for an academic research project; I need to read them for some other reason; they’re in a foreign language and I’ve resolved to read more of those; I picked them up in a charity shop because they looked interesting; they represent gaps in my reading list… honestly I could probably go on. But you get the picture: there are lots of reasons why I read books, and therefore lots of TBR piles.

When faced with the question of prioritising them all, what do you do? Here’s how I structure my TBR piles.

– Books I’m being paid to read / review get sent to the top of the pile
– Books I’m not being paid for but which have been sent to me for review after I’ve requested them are next
– Then books I need to read for work
– …which are often replaced by books I actually want to read / crap I’ve picked up at the supermarket in a BOGOF because I need something brainless right now
– Books I don’t strictly need to read for work but which will be useful to one or more of my academic pursuits
– Books I’ve bought because I want to read them
– Books I’ve acquired somehow which are on my shelves and I feel bad for not having read them yet
– Embarrassing holes in my reading (Don Quixote, The Road, etc.)
– Books people send me for review when I haven’t asked for them
– Books people send me for review when I’ve specifically asked them not to.

As you might expect, the latter pile doesn’t get read. So don’t do that.

I also try to mix it up a bit. I know that if I’ve just read a bunch of academic papers or a really dense text, I’ll probably want to spend the next couple of days reading novels and not really thinking about anything. Likewise, if I read a book in a language I don’t speak very well – German and Italian books are currently on my TBR piles, for example – then once I’ve done that I’ll want something easy to read.

Here are my three current TBR piles.

This pile is on top of my oven. The papers are meant to be read on Saturdays, which are reserved for academic work, but I took this Saturday off so the pile is growing to precarious heights.

The next pile is slightly lower in priority than the papers I need to read for one of my jobs. Here we have a mixture of books which I’m reading for all different reasons, and like I mentioned above I’m trying to maintain a balance between reading books that make me think, and books that just let me chill out.

There’s no reason why a book can’t do both, by the way. It’s just that sometimes I want something a bit less thought-provoking and a bit more ‘let’s have a bath and switch my brain off’.

Let’s take a look at these books and why they’re on the pile.

The Man with the Compound Eyes and At the Existentialist CafĂ© are novels. These are my “I don’t want to think too hard” books.

Poesie and Numero Zero are on there to practise my Italian, because when I was in Italy a few weeks ago I realised how bad it was.

On Writing, Working Days and The Grapes of Wrath are all there to help with writing. I thought it’d be interesting to read Working Days, which is Steinbeck’s journal from when he was writing The Grapes of Wrath, alongside reading the novel.

Byways, Boots & Blisters is about walking. I’m eventually planning to walk around the coastline of the UK, so from time to time I pick up a book by a long-distance walker to see what I’m letting myself in for.

Book Of Longing is on there because Leonard Cohen.

The River of Consciousness; Love at Goon Park; Ecce Homo; Semitic Magic; and Hayward, Hume, Spencer are all on there because they’re relevant to my academic interests and they might end up being referenced in future papers. I’ve read Ecce Homo before, but I’m going back through my old philosophy books and re-reading some, because I haven’t read Nietzsche since I was eighteen and I imagine I’ll have a different relationship with his philosophy twelve years on.

Finally, Fundamentals of Analytical Chemistry and Medical Microbiology are on there because I picked them up for free ages ago, and I like to read science textbooks sometimes because it keeps the sciencey part of my brain alive.

The third and final TBR pile contains books that are lower priority than the ones listed above, although to be honest they’re probably equally important, it’s just that I have to prioritise somehow.

Tinkers, Along the Enchanted Way, Spirit House, Half of a Yellow Sun and Address Unknown are all novels.

The Rise and Fall of Alexandria sounded interesting, although I imagine it contains the story of the library, which will probably make me sad.

Pythagoras is on there because I’ve had a bit of an obsession with him ever since I was a philosophy undergrad, so when I find a book about him in a charity shop I always take it home.

The Gift sounded interesting when I picked it up, but I started reading it and then paused after one chapter, so I’m not sure if I’ll go back to it.

Cave in the Snow is about a hermit. I read a lot of books about solitude and hermit life.

Guida alle Streghe in Italia is a book about witches in Italy, written in Italian. This has the dual purpose of helping me practise my Italian, and being relevant to some of my current research.

Change the World 9 to 5 was given to me by a friend.

Hegel: A Very Short Introduction is on there purely because I can’t imagine how you can possibly write a very short introduction to Hegelian philosophy, so I had to buy it to find out.

Happy Like Murderers is a true crime book. I don’t read a lot of these, but this one sounded interesting so I brought it home.

The two Nietzsche books, like the ones in the other TBR pile, are because I’m revisiting his philosophy after a break of more than a decade.

The Book of Symbols is because I’ve always had Jungian sympathies, and symbolism fascinates me. Also I found it in Daunt Books, and there’s something about that shop which makes me spend way more money than I’d planned.

Those are my TBRs. Show me yours: how do you decide what to read next?


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