In praise of bookish deadlines and library due dates.

Last week I was walking into the library, carrying a gigantic stack of books to return, when I bumped into a friend carrying an equally giant stack she’d just checked out.

We laughed about our respective loads. My friend said, “In a perfect world, there would be no due dates.”

I agreed, and we went our respective ways.

But later, I got to thinking—and I realized I’m quite happy to live in a world with due dates. I don’t think I’d read nearly as much, or as carefully, without them.

My shelves are overflowing (literally, at the moment) with books I want to read. I have a whole library system at my disposal. My local bookstore can track down almost anything I want.

Deciding what to read is a problem. With so many books to read, how can I possibly decide what to read when? What to read next? 

I’m often guilty of telling myself I’ll get around to reading a certain book one day. A good deadline forces me to ask myself if I’m ready to read it right now. (If I’m not, does it even belong on my TBR list? Sometimes, but not always.)

Bookish deadlines can take many forms.

Sometimes it’s a library due date. That’s why I finally read Edenbrooke: I’d checked it out of the library several times before, and returned it every time unread. When another due date (with no renewals available!) rolled around last month, I couldn’t bear the thought of returning it unread, again.

Sometimes it’s an event: book club is obvious, but coffee with a friend is often enough. When I have a coffee date on my calendar, I want to show up having read the book she pushed into my hands last time we saw each other. That’s why I read Ready Player One.

Sometimes it’s a friend who’s itching to borrow a book. That’s why I’m plowing through The Art of Memoir right now as my top priority: my friend can’t wait to read it when I’m done.

Sometimes it’s a blog post: I bumped The Secret History to the top of my stack because I wanted to know if it was worth including in the campus novels post. I’ve been meaning to read it for years; the self-imposed deadline finally made me do it.

Sometimes it’s Quick Lit. Many of you have told me that the monthly link-up helps you plan your reading, and inspires you to make sure you’ve read a book or three or five before the 15th rolls around.

Don’t get me wrong: I still have my moments of raging against deadlines, and it’s always sad to return unread library books.

But do I think they’re overall a good thing for my reading? Absolutely.

How do you feel about due dates and deadlines? Tell me all about it in comments. 

In praise of library due dates and bookish deadlines.


Leave A Comment
  1. Ginger says:

    I agree with you! Many a beloved book has been read for some of those very same reasons and I have that moment of “what if I had kept procrastinating and never got around to it!?”

  2. Heather H says:

    I wholeheartedly agree!! My library holds section largely dictates my order of reading books I’ve requested 😉 PS – I just finished Edenbrooke on the weekend and LOVED it!!

  3. Ana says:

    It’s completely love/hate with me. I have 50 books checked out right now (the max, and ridiculous because there’s no way I can get through that many). I keep a tab on what’s due back next, and that’s at the top of the reading list. But then yesterday I got Mindy Kaling’s new one from the library, and the list went out the window. I stayed up late reading it, which I have three weeks to finish, vs a book that’s due in 5 days and I’m not even half way through. (It was so worth it though Kaling is hilarious!)

  4. Jamie says:

    I don’t mind deadlines, but I often wish they could be correlated to the material at hand. There’s a big difference in how long it takes to get through a “fluff” book and how long it takes to work through a deeper, more complex book you’re trying to actually learn something from. It would be awesome if the practical application/education type books could get longer due dates so I didn’t feel rushed trying to absorb the information when there are no renewals available! 🙂

  5. Hannah says:

    Agree, one hundred percent! In fact, I was baffled when the kids and I returned a giant stack of books to our local library and the guy at the front desk said, “Do you know that now we have automatic renewal? You can have your books renewed three times without having to come in. We do it automatically!”

    At first I was like, “Wow. How convenient.” Then I thought, “Then the original due date has absolutely no meaning…” The whole thing felt kind-of absurd.

    I guess I’m one who loves (needs?) due dates.

  6. I agree. Deadlines definitely make me read more. I tried to explain that to my mother this past weekend. I have two books to go from my September list, and I was anxious about finding time to read them. She couldn’t understand why I would put pressure on myself to finish them. I have a whole new stack of books coming in to the library for October, and I need content for my blog. Some self-imposed deadlines are very helpful, especially when they push you to do things you already want to do.

  7. Heidi says:

    When I was in college I worked at the local public library, which exempted me from due dates. That was almost twenty years ago, and I’m still adjusting to have to bring books back in time to avoid fines. I do think having a deadline helps me read something I maybe wouldn’t otherwise, but I really miss not having to worry about it.

  8. Allison says:

    I totally agree! I always have a huge stack from the library I’m working on. However… I’m incapable of returning a half-read book, that I’m enjoying, to the library. I finished Dead Wake (awesome!!!) last night, at 4 days overdue. I was so on edge those 4 days, imagining the library police were going to knock on my door any second to demand the book back! I closed the book, jumped in my car and turned it in. Huge relief!! #firstworldprobs

  9. For the past couple years, I’ve set a goal to read at least 52 books a year, which works out to an average of one book per week. Some books take longer, but some I breeze through in a day or two. Still, this helps keep me on pace and I love it!

    • Stephanie says:

      I was just thinking the same thing about Rubin’s Tendencies! I’m an Obliger too and find library due dates so helpful. For me, owning a book makes me much more likely to never pick it up (because it’s always going to be there), unless my bookgroup is discussing it or it’s an old favorite.

      • Kelly says:

        Stephanie, YES! I almost included in my comment that I have a hard time starting a book I own. In fact there are some books that I would love to own but I make myself wait for them to come through the library so I will actually read them.

  10. Janet says:

    I appreciate the library deadline, it makes me stop dithering and read the book. We have a very small library and I like to finish the books and return quickly so the next person can have it.

  11. Amy says:

    Due dates serve as goals, and goals are game-changers for me. Without them I experience zero productivity at times. I set a GoodReads goal this year for the first time, which I’ve already met and exceeded, and I have at least tripled the number of books I read last year. But the due dates faithfully keep me reading them faster.

    And from a librarian’s perspective, of course we know that if it weren’t for due dates, we may as well advertise as a bookstore selling free books.

  12. Love deadlines! I am one who needs them as well! It provides me a challenge and forces me to actually make time to read. Without them, each and every book would stay in my home because everything else would take priority. OH, there’s dishes to be done and many meals to be made, etc., etc.

  13. Sarah R says:

    I need due dates as well. I just took out a bunch and it really motivates me to read instead of watching TV or frittering time away. I also have a hard time quitting a book when it’s just not for me, and having other books on a due date helps me focus on reading what I like.

  14. Jamie Palmer says:

    I so agree with you! Not only about deadlines for me, but also my son. I like the freedom of checking out as much as I want, but I make sure to return it the first time if I honestly don’t think I will read it soon. BTW – Thanks for your great reviews. I have add many of the books you recommend to my reading list.

  15. liz n. says:

    Am I the lone voice in the wilderness who says, “Take your reading deadlines and chuck them over a cliff, I read on my own time?”

    Which is why–steady yourself, here–I don’t check out books from the library.

    Of course, reading something because it’s attached to some other kind of deadline (work, for example) yes, you have to meet the deadline. But reading for my own pleasure takes place within my own time frame.

    • Dawn says:

      I hear where you are coming from. I was a Lit major in college and after reading 200+ pages per night in my senior year, I was tired of reading. I vowed I would not read another book until I was darn good and ready. It took ten years to enjoy reading again.

  16. Michelle says:

    I adore due dates. I am currently days away from having a baby and trying to get through as many books in my tbr list as I can before my reading time becomes baby cuddling time!

  17. Jessie says:

    I would accomplish absolutely nothing without deadlines. It didn’t use to be that way but the older I get I have found this to be true. I also think social media and technology advances have played in roll in my new distracted nature.

  18. Alex says:

    My local library offers a “vacation rental” for books – you can check them out for 6 weeks vs. the usual 3. Two catches: there can’t be any/too many holds and you have to go up to the desk instead of using the automatic check out.

    you also have to remember it’s a feature, which is sometimes the biggest hurdle. But it is definitely useful for those longer tomes you need more time with.

  19. Laura says:

    I find due dates helpful for focusing in on a single book (my TBR list is long) but I love that we can renew up to 6 times if there are no holds. And especially that we have no fines (unless it’s really overdue). Still I feel an obligation to get the books returned ASAP so they are available for others.

    • Anne says:

      No fines?? Now THAT is bookworm heaven. 🙂 (Although I hear you on the readerly obligation. I feel similarly about books I request but then never read …)

  20. I love how you’ve managed to put a positive spin on something I normally dread. It got me thinking, library due dates also help me decide whether to continue reading a book or not. I have trouble not finishing books that I’ve started, but sometimes they just aren’t enjoyable or worthwhile to me. If I find I’ve renewed a book two or three times despite having plenty of time to read, it’s a good sign that I should let it go.

    • Anne says:

      “If I find I’ve renewed a book two or three times despite having plenty of time to read, it’s a good sign that I should let it go.”

      I’ve had the same experience. (Sometimes, I’m happy if I fight through and read it anyway. But sometimes I just need to let it go already!)

    • Anne says:

      I can renew online as long as no one else has requested the book. But I often wait until the “final” deadline to pick something up. (Not proud of it.)

  21. Mary Beth says:

    I agree Anne. I need due dates and I’ve just had a great idea! I’m going to put some due dates in my books that are stacked up for days because “I’m gonna read”em!”

  22. Chrissy says:

    I totally agree. Having a due date helps me to stay on track with reading a book, and without one I wouldn’t be as focused or determined to finish it.

    My weakness though is checking out more books than I can handle at the library. There are times when I come home with a huge armful of books, that at first seems shiny and amazing but when I get home, I know I can’t possibly finish that many books in two weeks. I’m trying to be better about that, but it’s hard to stop myself. =)

  23. I’m a J so I love deadlines 🙂

    Our library has free membership if you only take out 4 books, and an annual membership of R40 (divide by 13 for USD) for 6 books at a time (this differs by province – like your states). I LOVE having the 4-book membership because I’m forced to choose the 4 that truly “spark joy” and bonus, I actually finish them before the 3 weeks are up.

  24. Kelli Wick says:

    Such a tricky thing – yes, deadlines help push me to read something…but then there’s the whole “must hit me at just the right mood and time to get me to enjoy it!” 🙂 I like that it’s a mix of both for me & my reading habit.

  25. I’m very much the same when it comes to due dates – it is such a rush that I enjoy! Not that I consider myself a procrastinator, but it really makes me reflect on which ones come first! After undergrad and moving after grad school, I couldn’t wait to get my library card so I can give myself a whole library at my disposal but also being respectful of the 2-3 week due dates (although I admit, I do renew fairly often!)

  26. liz n. says:

    Bit of irony: I’m pondering whether or not to enter the Margaret Atwood writing contest, and the main thing that would keep me from doing so? Deadline. LOLOLOLOL

  27. Jane says:

    I used to be the worst at returning books on time – racking up large fines! (At my school, I racked up such large fines, and was too scared to tell my parents, however the fines get added onto the account your parents pay at the end of the year, so I just waited it out, and read books there, never borrowing them! Terrible, I know!)

    Now, my local library sends out emails letting you know when the books are due back, two days before they’re due! So handy! I can also renew online now, so I find I get the books back on time now or I renew them, thus avoiding fines!

    But generally, I read what I really want to read, and sometimes return those that don’t grab me or that I didn’t get around to reading. I try to enjoy what I read, rather than feeling obliged to read this book or that book because it has all these awards or whatever.

  28. Katherine Salinas says:

    Honestly Anne, your 2015 Reading Challenge has been one of the best things for me. I have read some books I would never have chosen had it not been for that. I combined that with the Goodreads challenge and have nearly hit my goal in October (which is good since I’m due with baby #3 in 3 weeks!!).
    I often want to read non-fiction but find myself choosing fiction first every time. The challenge also “forced” me to choose some other non-fiction that has been on my TBR list for a long time. Next year, I will just try to read alternating fiction and non-fiction since I seem to have saved all the non-fiction for the end of the year! 🙂
    Thanks, Anne, for always providing new great reading material (my TBR has exploded since I started following your blog!!) and challenging me to do what I LOVE to do! Like other people said, I keeps me from watching garbage on TV when I could be reading instead!

  29. Susan Shaw says:

    I was thrilled when our local library system began automatically renewing books this past spring. They just renew it (ten times or something crazy) unless it is requested by someone else. Very convenient, but not very good for the procrastinator in me. Why read it now when it isn’t due? It has made me realize that I sometimes like having a deadline because I am too good at putting things off.

  30. Anna says:

    Yes, deadlines help me to get motivated about getting things read. It can be things like library due dates, events, or “social” due dates. (wanting to talk about it with friends, etc.) So many books, so little time…

  31. Laurel says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with all of this. Once I finally get a copy of the book from the library, especially those ones that I wait FOREVER for, it immediately moves to the top of the pile and that lingering due date is my latest incentive for getting it read STAT. 🙂 Same with the opportunity to read with others. I love a good book discussion and I hate coming unprepared.

  32. Anne says:

    Oh yes! And the fines, too! The due dates on my library books have been driving which books I’ve been reading lately and encouraged me to plow through many of them. Interestingly, I got Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker on ILL and I couldn’t get into it at all; I think the $100 fine if I damaged the book (or more likely my 2.5 year old) was a huge deterrent. I won’t be using ILL at this library system again.

    Thanks for all your recommendations – I’ve started following your blog from Laura Vanderkam and Money Saving Mom. I think I’m a HSP, too, and I appreciate your fiction recommendations; I have no problem finding great non-fiction but I can’t always read the standard popular or best seller literary fiction if the content is too graphic or disturbing. I’ve plowed through The Boys in the Boat, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and the Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in the last month. As a former professional now SAHM, I realized I’m happier when I have a book in queue to read.

  33. I rage against due dates, but when it comes down to it, you’re right. Also, I just finished Edenbrooke at your suggestion and I’m SO glad I did. Possibly my favorite thing I’ve read all year. So relaxing.

    What is annoying though, is when you forgot to pay attention to the deadlines and you really do want to finish but you can’t because someone else has it on hold after you and you can’t renew. I FINALLY got Go Set a Watchman from the library, only to put it off because I “had” to read it (leftover from TKAM being required reading in school I think) and now don’t have time to finish. And of course there are a million people in line behind me!

  34. Lola says:

    Hi !
    I’m the one who said I wished you talked more about foreign books. A translated novel that was a worldwide bestseller, has amazing descriptions and is a short page turner is “the man who read love stories”. It starts with a dentist travelling along the amazon with a bag of dentures, and the rest is just as good 😀 Despite the name, it’s not really a love story.

    A recent French bestseller that’s also a cheesy love story is “If only it were true”, where a guy meet a female ghost and falls in love with her, but the real her is in a coma across town. It’s sweet, but it’s 100% love story.
    (I also found Modiano, the latest Nobel Prize winner to have easy reads, but it can get darker)

    I wish you a nice day 🙂

  35. I definitely need due dates – both with library books and the books I read to review for Shelf Awareness. Those dates help focus my reading, and then I can squeeze in other books – which are mostly pure pleasure – around them.

    • Anne says:

      “Those dates help focus my reading, and then I can squeeze in other books – which are mostly pure pleasure – around them.”

      That’s very similar to my own process.

  36. Terri Torrez says:

    I was just thinking about deadlines this week. I stopped listening to the Iron Druid Chronicles so I could finish We Were Liars before it’s due date. I’d rather be reading Iron Druid right now but I’d regret returning Liars unread. (And 60% in I’m sure I made the right choice.)

    I also think due dates help me to be more resolute about abandoning books. If I own it, I’m more likely to keep it on my “to finish” list indefinitely. If I return a book it’s easier to acknowledge I have no intention of checking it out again. I abandoned more books this year (since I started using the library again) than in the last decade, and I think that’s a good thing.

    • Terri Torrez says:

      Totally unrelated but I just had to share – we just moved and are now only three short blocks from the library, an even better library than our old town. 🙂

  37. Jamie says:

    Have to have deadlines; fight them like a little kid. My (expensive) weakness are library kid videos. A dollar a day PER video when overdue. That adds up when you have 7 checked out and go out of town for 5 days…

  38. Paula says:

    I also like library book due dates. It does help me keep up with my reading. Although I agree with another commenter that it would be nice if they correlated with the book. Most times, I can take out two or three books and have them back within the two or three week lending period. But right now I’m reading the last book in the Outlander series and it’s HUGE. I’ve read it every day since I took it out and still have several chapters left. It was due some time last week.

    BTW – I LOVED The Secret History, one of my favorite books ever.

  39. Ariel says:

    This is the first year I’m doing a reading challenge, which is basically a long-term deadline. I’m not really sure if I’m reading more (this is also the first year I’m making a point of putting every book I read on goodreads as I read it), but I feel like I am.

    Library due dates, on the other hand, can be more likely to make me NOT read something. My last library returns pile was only one out of three read–I wasn’t sure I would finish another one before I had to return them, particularly since it’s my home library system, not my school one. Of course, then I picked up the same book a few weeks later and read it in the first week. I guess deadlines can be a good thing, but they cut both ways; I may be less likely to start a book if I am not sure I can finish it by the deadline.

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