Tackling Mt TBR (With Numbers And Stats)

This post has been in the making for a while. I’ve been struggling with the TBR seemingly forever, and every couple of months I come up with something new I sure hope will do the trick, except of course the only thing that will really work: not adding books. Point is, it is still growing, but I wanted to get a better view of its composition and I decided to throw another of my hobbies onto it, i.e. making lists and collecting stats, to get a better view of what exactly I still have on my shelves.


I hope not to bore you with these stats, but since I know that at least some of you enjoy these kind of stats yourselves, I wanted to share them with you. The first thing I did was by hand, collecting the books I had read starting from 2014 (when I really got going with the reviewing thing and started keeping good records of when I received and read book). For the unread books I took a GR library export which I fine tuned a bit (this was not really possible for the read books because there is a bug currently that dates are incorrectly processed when books are finished the same day as they were started). To this I added some additional information, for example the book format I have in my library, the language (EN/NL for me) and the gender of the author. This was by far the most work and after was finished, the real fun could start.


What follows is the accumulation of >1400 books I read between 1/1/2014 and 17/2/19 and >1700 books waiting on my TBR also accurate until 17/2/19.


I started with some random, useless, information like the day in the year I add the most books (July 19th) and the month where books added usually need to wait longest to be read (January; 391 days). After playing around for a bit I took a look at my TBR (I’m not afraid to call it a mountain, because that is what it has become). First I wanted to know the book format of my TBR, I was pretty sure it was mostly ebooks (they are so easy to add) and this proved right. By far the biggest fraction of my books is in English, which didn’t surprise me either, as I have the feeling I almost exclusively read English these days. What did surprise me a bit was that almost half of my current TBR was added in 2015 (~45%). This was the year I first got a KIndle (hello, free ebooks!) and I got a lot of ARCs. Please note that I joined GR in 2011 and all books that were in my possession prior to this day have been marked 2011 (because I didn’t keep records of buying books before that).

I then looked a bit deeper into what I added per year. I expected to find lots and lots of ebooks, especially in 2015, both in my total library and the TBR. Ebooks are indeed the most common books in my library, followed by books made from trees. Some audiobooks are also present, but this is mainly limited to the SYNC books and some freebies from audible. After the “child-in-candy-store” syndrome of 2015, my adding of books has somewhat normalized, but is still very high. Also, even though I’ve already read around 400 of the books I added in 2015, still around 800 remain. But it was nice to see I finished reading most of the books from 2011 to 2014 (with 2012 and 2013 cleared altogether).

The next figure started as another fun statistic, but it actually showed some really interesting things. The months I add the most books are typically months were I have more days off, like July (summer holidays), December (Christmas holidays) and May (Labour Day, Ascension Day, Pentacost; plus the winter season of books is announced in May). The ebooks (data not shown) show pretty much the same distribution, while the audiobooks (also not shown), follow the yearly SYNC months). The tree books however, follow a different pattern, which can nevertheless be easily explained. April is my birthday and as everyone knows what to get me, it is a huge supply of books for me. In June and August I have usually trips to London for the theater season, and I can never resist the chance of browsing real English book stores (which we lack where I live). December is holiday season.

Last year I started the ambitious project of clearing away the old book from my TBR. As is shown above, there is still some work. What I wanted to plot was the number of days a book would spend on the TBR, so the days between adding the book and finishing it. On the left it just shows these data for all the individual books, while in the middle I’ve calculated the median of days books spend on the TBR (which is 37). On the right you can see my effort to improve the reading of books that I’ve had for a while (from 22 in 2017 to 1068 in 2018). While it’s to early to say something about 2019 yet, the median currently is 1341.

Knowing that my approach seemed to work, at least as far as reading the older books was concerned, I wondered whether the TBR represented the overall composition of my library, or that I was skewed to leaving certain books on there. Looking at the books I read, it seems I have a slight tendency to read more ebooks, which was the feeling I had myself, because it is so easy to read on the eReader, especially when traveling or for example in bed, because the viewing angles are better compared to tree books.


I have also read mainly English books in the last five years (recently I even read a Flemish book in English translation!). It has come to the point were reading in Dutch often feels less comfortable to me, and a little bit strange. That’s how used I’ve become to reading in English. I find that it has really helped me to develop my English language skills, considering it was my worst subject in high school. The graph on the right shows what I alluded to earlier, namely that I’ve spend last year reading books that I more or less had forgotten about or at least they never got read until that time. The percentage of ROOT (read our own tomes, books that were in my possession before the start of the year) for me was 61%, far surpassing 2016 and 2017. For this year, I am once again aiming for 60% of books I owned before the start of 2019. Finally, I show the months in which I read the most, which mostly follows the months with days off (reading time!), as well as November, in which there are also some holidays, I tend to have a lot of vacation days left (which I try to spend a couple of) and I feel the end of the reading challenge nearing, so I have to get my act together ;).

I then wanted to figure out what this all means to my library. How do the read and unread books compare. As I already knew, I have slightly more (1400 vs 1700) unread than read books. When I looked at the pages (as provided by GR) it would seem I’ve only read about 1/3 of my entire library. So, I guess I better get back to reading. When looking per year, the one thing that stood out for me was the side effect of my above described ROOT project. My proportion of read book from 2018 has dropped. One other reason for this is the Penguin Modern Mints books that were published last year and that I bought completely, but since I still have to finish the Little Black Classics, I haven’t started to read them yet.

One thing I also wanted to look at was the gender distribution in my library. I always had the feeling this was rather balanced, and the data confirms this. There are some slight fluctuations between years (45% to 50% female authors), but on average 48% of my books is written by women. The distribution is exactly the same for my TBR, showing no preference.

Sure, this is all nice to know, but I was supposed to be tackling this Mt TBR. For the final time I looked at the data to see (and confront myself) with the biggest problem. An ever growing TBR of course has a clear cause: books that are added. This is why I plotted the number of books I’ve added and the number of books I’ve read per month. The dotted line represents the median of the combined years (40 added books and 21 read books each month). There is also some good news as the median of added books has dropped over the last couple of years and was only 22 for 2018.

How to go from here? It’s clear I should try to do something, but I know it doesn’t help to give myself a book buying ban, because as with very strict dieting, these things don’t work. However, even if I would assume I keep reading 20 books a month for the next years and add only 15, this would mean I would clean the TBR in about 30 years. Which doesn’t sound very appealing. However, a couple of remarks should be made. This TBR contains everything I own, including a lot of books (sometimes complete series) from people who wanted to get rid of them and donated them to me because ‘I like books’. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to reading them since for now I’m mainly focusing on the ARCs I still have and the tree books, since I don’t like standing in front of a book case were I have not read half of the books (at least if it is my own book case). On the other hand, the idea of not having some books available to read is even more terrifying. Maybe a hundred books or so? To have some choice…


Sorry about all the rambling. Now, about your TBR? Any tips or strategies you would like to share?

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