TBRs and Other Lists

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The other day, I found a random box of “childhood treasures” in a closet. The most interesting thing I found in it was a folder with a number of book-related items, some old, some recent.

I found lists. Some are photocopies from high school teachers of “books to read.” I’d crossed out the ones I’d already read and highlighted ones that I had already read. Some lists had stars by the books I wanted to read. (One list is “25 Must Reads”: by now I’ve read all but five, and that makes me happy.) I found “top ten” lists from the newspaper. I found book club lists from when I went with my mom to her book club meetings (at least four years ago). I found corners ripped from my high school appointment book with random book and movie titles scribbled on it –

The Picture of Dorian Gray! Casablanca. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Stowe.

I found notes. Most of them are notes from book reports my fellow students gave: Laura: Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut. Lawrence: The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien.

I found a notebook, and this to me is a most amazing find. At some point after all the notes scribbled in margins, I started listing all the books I want to read in a notebook. When I read the book, I highlighted it in the notebook. If I decided not to read it, I crossed it out and highlighted it. I recall imagining a notebook full of blue highlighted pages. Alas, there are fourteen pages of lists of books, both fiction and nonfiction and there is only a line or two of highlighting on each page. I look at it now and no, I still haven’t read most of the books. (But I don’t want to read most of them anymore; interesting how tastes change.)

I also found a list of “Books I Read” kept for a short time when I was 16 to 17. It is just one page, and it starts with an entry for May 1997 (Pride and Prejudice) and ends December 1998. I sure didn’t read very much in that period of time! There are a number of classics: some of them I don’t recall reading at all. Heart of Darkness in July 1998? Are you serious? I can’t recall a thing about it. There are also a few Mary Higgins Clark and John Grisham novels, and I don’t recall reading those either.

The favorite thing about this list is July 13-July 15. I read Beloved over those two days. I’m pretty sure that was my first read of it, and I do remember the impressions I had when I read that. I mentioned them when I talked about The Book That Changed My Life, although I misremembered and thought I was a bit younger when I read it the first time.

I’m reading Beloved again this week, and I love it still. I don’t want to rush through it this time, though. I want to slow down and reread passages again and again.

I really did enjoy the “blast from the past” as I looked at past reading habits. I look at my ways of keeping track now (all computerized) and I wonder if I haven’t lost some of the charm: no more notebook with lists of books, no more newspaper clippings, and no notes in an appointment book (I don’t even have an appointment book other than my phone’s calendar).

And then I see how easily it is to track and organize my TBR list. No, notebooks are not better. I definitely prefer the digital age.

How do you track your TBR? Are you a list writer? Do you keep track of the books you’ve read? Do you save “must read” lists you come across?

Reviewed on August 29, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Oh, how neat! I wish I’d started keeping reading lists sooner. I only started in 2002 or so. But it’s interesting to see how my reading habits and goals have changed (or stayed the same) for these past 7 years 🙂

    I also do everything digitally these days, and I have the same concerns as you. Also, even though I do keep backups, computer files always seem so much more fragile to me. I also worry about digital pictures…I know that objectively speaking they’re less fragile, as they don’t deteriorate or anything like that, but I don’t know, it just seems so easy to lose everything. I suppose this is me starting to age 😛

  • Sounds like so much fun! I love finding old lists and diaries and that sort of thing. Right now I have a notebook with TBR books, plus a couple of random lists tucked away (EW new classics is one). But I’ve been pretty lazy about keeping up on my lists lately — seeing how many books I want to read tends to frustrate me more than make me feel organized 🙂

  • I love finding old childhood stuff. I didn’t keep reading lists (because I didn’t read at the time), but I have other things that I’ve found that are just as precious to me.

    I wish I’d kept a list of everything I read in 2001, though. A classic per week, and I don’t remember them all, ugh!

  • I bet it was a lot of fun looking through all that. I didn’t keep a list of books I’ve read until I started my blog. In fact, I’ve bought books and discovered I’d already read them and had to go back to the store to exchange them before.

  • That must have been a fun “blast from the past”!

    I only started keeping a list of “must reads” a few years ago when it seemed like I just wasn’t able to keep up with what I wanted to read.

    At first it was in a notebook; now I have two lists: one on amazon.com (the shopping list) and one on my sidekick (cellphone with extra features) and I always whip the latter out whenever I’m at my favorite used bookstore. I don’t think the two lists overlap.

  • How fun! It must have been a blast to go through all that. I’ve kept a journal with the list of books I’ve read annually since 1993. There a times when I scan back over that list that I can remember exactly what was going on in my life just by looking at the book titles I was reading then. And, like you, every once in awhile I run across a title and think, “I read that? Really? I don’t have a single memory of it.”


  • I love finding things from a long time ago. I didn’t keep lists of what I was reading until about 2 years ago. I wish it is something I had always done.

    I track my TBR with an Amazon and a bookmooch wish list, along with the great piles of books I own but haven’t read.

  • Nymeth, it’s interesting because this list of stuff has been hidden for at least three years; stuck in my mother’s house until I had space for it. So I guess it was three years ago I made everything digital. I don’t think my hardcopy lists were very organized!

    I know, digital seems easy to lose, even if it’s not. I completely understand what you’re saying!

    Kim, I agree that seeing the lists is rather overwhelming! That notebook: oh my, if it had been filled, it’s just a way of saying “things I’ll never read but would love to!”

    Amanda, a classic a week?! Amazing. I too would love to know which ones you read.

    Kathy, oh that’s funny about the buying books you’ve already read thing!

    Valerie, Lists on technology are so much easier than lists in a notebook, huh!

    Lezlie, wow, that’s so awesome! It must be amazing to see what you read for all those years.

    Jackie, it would be nice to go back, like Lezlie said she can. Ah well: to the future.

  • As I recall, the whole reason I started my book blog was to keep track of what I read and what I thought of them. Before that, it was all notes in various notebooks that I would never find again, or else flipping back through my commonplace book to see when I had written quotes from different books down. Book blogs are wondrous!

  • That would be so much fun to find! I’ve been keeping a books read list since 1993. I’m slowly adding them to my sidebar.

    I prefer to keep lists on paper and have a journal in my purse that I use for it. I also have a similar list on my blog (also in the sidebar) so that I can remember why I wanted to read certain books. I have a note book with several “books to read in freshman lit” type lists but haven’t ever kept up with them. Might be fun to go back and look, but I suspect I’d be dismayed at how few I’ve read.

  • I would too! I mean, I remember some, but can’t remember most of them. Grr. I might try to make myself a list to see what I can remember…

  • Jenny, I think that is part of why I started my blog too! But I love the discussions as well, and notebooks don’t talk back to me, so that was part of it too.

    Lisa, that is so awesome to have kept a list for so long! I wish I had! I am not a paper person at all anymore. As for the lists, sometimes it is discouraging for how much I have not read, but I like to think I just have to keep reading 🙂

    Amanda, you are *almost* inspiring me to read a classic a week: but I know I couldn’t stop reading nonfiction and other stuff, so I don’t know how possible it would be…

  • What a great treasure to come across! I only started cataloging my books read a few years ago, so I won’t come across such a wonderful souvenir. I keep track of my books read in an Excel spreadsheet, but books I want to read get tracked on the GoodReads website (I like that it has a TBR bookshelf, and I use an additional tag to flag that I don’t actually have a copy!). I used to jot a few notes in my spreadsheet when I finished a book, but now I have my blog, which I love as it allows me to better flesh out my thoughts and feelings on a book!

  • Oh, a post after my own heart. Lists and childhood ephemera — it doesn’t get any better than that!

    In addition to the many TBR lists I blog about on Rose City Reader, I do keep a list of all the books I read. I’ve been keeping the list in a pretty blank book for about seven or eight years. Love it.

  • Oh no! I’m so glad I read this post (even though I’m commenting a little late). Almost threw out a year’s worth of reading notes today to make space for uni asignments. Better keep them safe just in case :]

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