Revitalize your To Be Read list with this simple method

A couple of years ago, I brought back an old method for keeping track of the books I’d like to read one day. It proved to be a game-changer once again.

You won’t be surprised to hear my TBR (i.e., To Be Read) list is swimming with titles. I’m constantly adding to it, when I read book news, talk to readers about what they’ve enjoyed, or see interesting books while browsing at the bookstore.

I used to jot these titles down on post-it notes, or capture them in notes on my phone. If I was being thorough, I’d periodically transfer these titles to a running list I kept in my everyday bullet-ish journal.

It’s not a bad strategy: I captured the titles so I can remember them. I have a TBR ready and available.

But there’s a problem with this to-be-read tracking method, and that is one of meaning: so often I’d pull out my TBR and think, I’ve never heard of this title before. Or wonder, How did this book end up on my list?

When I first hear about a new book, and I’m excited to read it, I’m certain I’ll never forget who told me about it, or where I saw it, or WHY I wanted to add it to my TBR. But of course, that’s not often the case. It doesn’t take long for me to forget why I was once so excited about a book—I’ve even forgotten in the short period of time between when I make my library request and pick it up a few days later!

This bookworm problem (and others like it) was top of mind when it came to designing My Reading Life: A Book Journal. To cultivate a vibrant reading life, you need books on your horizon you’re excited to read. That’s why the journal includes space for your To Be Read list, in addition to book log pages, book lists, and more.

Importantly, you need to remember WHY you’re looking forward to read a book, or your initial excitement evaporates. That’s why, in addition to capturing the pertinent details—title, author, and date you added it—these pages prompt you to record why you’re adding it to your TBR.

What about a certain title appeals to you? For my own sake, I like to capture:

  1. Who recommended it?
  2. Why did I add it to my list?

These prompts help me recall that initial moment of bookish delight that made me think, This sounds like something I’d like to read. It will also help you know later whether it’s something you still want to read—or, at minimum, if you want to read it right now.

This method is easily adaptable to any reading log; that’s where it all started for me before I had the opportunity to design My Reading Life. (See the photo of my old school book journal above. Four years later, I’ve read three of those five books.) It also works for those who favor a TBR stack over a TBR list: jot this info on a sticky note and pop it on the book in question.

At this moment in your reading life, here on the cusp of a new year, I hope you have plenty of books you’re excited to read next, and I hope you’re able to implement a method that helps you remember why you’re excited to read them.

I’d love to hear what methods you use to keep track of your To Be Read titles; please tell us in comments!

Happy reading, friends!

P.S. Last year I blew your minds with my simple trick to avoid TBR overwhelm. And this little trick is perfect for when you’re stuck in a reading rut, or want to enjoy some variety in this season of your reading life.

Revitalize your To Be Read list with this simple method

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  1. Jamie says:

    I am a big fan of Good Reads. I have book titles on my phone when I’m at a book store or talking to a friend. There are times when I’ve forgotten why I added it, but oh well.

      • Barbara Jones says:

        There is (!) … look for a column called “notes” on your “My Books” lists. The default says none just click edit to add your note. This is where I keep abbreviated information on source of the recommendation.

      • Kirby Haslam says:

        You actually can. It’s not super convenient, but it’s helpful for me to remember what books I have on hold and what books I plan to buy and so on. You just go to the page for the book, click “Write a Review”, and then scroll down to “Private notes”. You type in your notes (only you can see them) and click “Post”.

        • Diane Armijo says:

          Thank you for this info about Goodreads! I had to go into settings on MyBooks layout to add ‘notes’ so they could be seen

  2. Annette Silveira says:

    I keep titles I’m curious about in Google Keep in my phone. I don’t usually mind not remembering why I thought a book would be a good fit. I like going in not knowing much about the story. If it turns out it’s not for me, I don’t have any problem quitting it.

  3. Janna says:

    I usually keep a list of “to be read” in my Amazon account and I so agree with you about needing to know WHY I want to read that book when I finally get around to it. Many of my books have the designation, “MMD.”

  4. Lexi says:

    I store my list on goodreads but you’re right, the problem is I can’t add a note reminding me where the recommendation came from. Have you thought about creating a book app like your journal? I love having my list on my phone so it’s with me when I’m out.

    • Maryann Horner says:

      Oh Lexi!!! That would be the best 🤓 what do you say Anne, I’m sure you’d have lots of takers for a MMD app. Woot woot!!

  5. Susan says:

    I use Notes in my phone for lists of titles by certain authors, particularly series that are best read in order. In the Reminders app I have three lists of TBR’s: those available at the library; those not available at the library (these I would look for if browsing bookstores); and mysteries (genre with the most TBR titles)

  6. Margaret D Ross says:

    As other readers have already noted, Goodreads is a useful tool for ‘want to read’. To help me remember how I learned about the book, I add it to a second shelf – “books recommended by Michelle”, Kathy loved, Ron Charles review, etc. By the way, I also use additional shelves to help me remember where the book is physically shelved in my home since I have books in almost every room.

  7. Michelle says:

    At this point in my life, I use the library exclusively for books (my preference) and e-books, unfortunately no purchases. If I come across a title that I would like to read, I look for it at the library and put it on the Wish List feature offered on my library account (it also records the date added). If it’s not available at the library, I have to let it go and accept that if I’m meant to read it, it’ll come back to me at a later date. My library TBR list is very long – lol – and like another person commented, I’m okay with not knowing why I added it.

    • Leslie Whitcomb says:

      I like this. I also use the availability of making lists on my library account. I have made several depending on the interest level of the book. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Terri says:

      I also do this. If it’s not at my library I search to see if I can get it from Interlibrary loan. I have also started requesting my library purchase books that they don’t have yet that I want to read. I’ve asked for them to purchase 8-10 and they’ve said yes every time!

    • Laura Leigh says:

      Yes to the library!!! I only purchase from used bookstores (rarely) or if I have a gift card. I am fortunate to live in a consign several branches and interlibrary loans. I can keep a list of what I want to read and the system automatically keeps up with what I check out. This year I am starting a physical reading notebook for the first time. Libraries rock 😊

    • Ann says:

      Yes to the public library! All my reading material is (almost) exclusively coming from the public library 2 blocks from my house! There are not enough words available in the English language to capture my gratitude for public libraries. I keep my TBR list on a list in my account. I reference it when I get my books with an online reserve rather than walking the stacks, or for listing different series I’m reading. Sometimes the “classics” are harder to get from our library than newer works, so I will hunt for those second hand.

    • Maryann Horner says:

      Love this system Michelle, my goal for 2022 is only to purchase my monthly BOTM book. Thanks for giving me more focus on how to use my local library too 🤓

  8. Mindy says:

    Please make an app like your journal! I would love to use your prompts in an app. It would be especially great if we could also see your book reviews and click a little “add to my TBR list” box.

  9. Jeanette says:

    I too use amazon lists to keep track of books that I want to read. There is a section there to add comments and I ususally add who recommended the book. However, now I have one more note to add, “why I want to read that book!”

  10. Ann says:

    Another vote for Goodreads.

    I need to go back and refresh my TBR, bc there are definitely some on there that as you’ve said, I’ve forgotten why they are on there.

    I recently went to pick up my library holds and there was a book I did not recognize. So much so, I thought they’d made a mistake and set aside someone else’s request in my pile. Turns out it was the December Netflix
    Book Club pick: Harlan Coven’s Stay Close. It turned out to be something I was not interested in in the least. But, hey, that happens sometimes!

    Especially as you get older. You read so much, you forget what you’ve already read sometimes.

    Yes, I definitely need to go back and remove some of my TBRs. I do not spend as much time in person, browsing the stacks as much as I would like , due to Covid, but I have been known to refer to my Goodreads list if I am at a loss.

    That seldom happens though!

  11. Jennifer Geisler says:

    When I want to add a book, I place it on 2 lists: Goodreads and my library’s hold list. When my library sends me a notification, I pick it up and read it! No fuss, no muss!

  12. Barb says:

    I have so many TBR lists! I have an Amazon book wishlist with notes on who recommended it, if it’s available on Libby or from the library, with a separate wish list for books available through Kindle Unlimited. I have a TBR list on my library’s website. I add a wishlist tag to books I want to read on the Libby app so when I have room on my “Hold” list, I can pick a new one based on the wait times and where it fits in with what I’m already waiting for. I also have a TBR list in my Bullet Journal with 3 columns for audiobooks, ebooks and real books. This list has been the most helpful. I check them off and highlight them once I read them or cross them off if I DNF or move it to a different column based on availability. I also add books to Goodreads and StoryGraph want to read lists, but this is not where I go to find my next book.

    • Barb says:

      I forgot to add that I bought your reading journal for myself (and my daughter and 2 friends!) so I can’t wait to start keeping notes on what I am reading in there!

  13. Megan says:

    Currently going through and deleting a bunch of titles from my Goodreads TBR because I had over 800. I found it defeated its purpose when the TBR list itself was too overwhelming to choose from. I think I’m going to try to restrict it to titles I’m really excited about, keep the number low (25 or less), and limit the list to books I can get from the library.

  14. Suzy says:

    I really need to write down WHY I put a book on my TBR! I look at it later and it means nothing to me and so I’m not excited about reading it. I do have a Goodreads TBR, but I never use it for that. I put books on the “Want To Read” shelf just so that Goodreads will advise if there is a Giveaway for that! And the rest of the titles on my TBR list are other giveaways I’ve entered. (Once you enter, it’s automatically put on your Want to Read Shelf.) I should go thru and delete a bunch that I did not win. Anyway, my TBR is written in my print book journal, feels much easier and more accessible, and I will start giving a short memo on why I was interested, starting this year!

  15. Christina Mayo says:

    I’m a prolific user of One Note both at work and at home for my personal items. For those of you that aren’t familiar, it is a Microsoft Office program which typically comes standard with the Office suite of products (Word, Excel, etc.) It’s essentially like a digital notebook like you used in school (remember the good old Trapper Keeper?) with tabs for each “subject” and “pages” underneath every subject. It’s super flexible for any sort of organization set-up that works for you, saves automatically, you can add links, pictures, graphs, you name it. AND… you can have it as an app on your phone so you can access it whenever and wherever you are (like the library or bookstore). I keep a “Books” Notebook with subjects like “MMD Reading This Week Recommendations” where I log each week’s recommendations by members that I find interesting. I put a checkbox next to it so I can check it off when I’ve read it and, for those books that I already own but haven’t read yet, I put a star by it. I could go on and on, waxing poetic about One Note. You can even share the notebook with others. I have a family cookbook that I share with my adult daughters so they have all my recipes. If anyone wants to know more feel free to ping me directly! I seriously geek out over this stuff…

  16. Heather K says:

    I use Pinterest for my TBR as well as my library’s built in list. However, neither of these solve the “Why did I want to read this?” problem.

  17. Jojo says:

    I just started the “My Reading Life” book journal today. This is my first time keeping a physical book journal. I kept a Reading Log spreadsheet this past year. I recently created a new shelf in goodreads labeled as, “TBR-Bookshelf” and this is where I listed all the books that are physically sitting on my bookshelves. I plan to make my bookshelves a priority this year. I haven’t made notes in the past about where a book recommendation came from, but I will start noting that info in my book journal this year.

  18. Emily says:

    I keep my TBR list on my Amazon wish list, even though I rarely buy books anymore. The list is always as close as my phone. I use it to put library books on hold or borrow through Libby. I kind of like not remembering why I put a book on my list. I borrow books blindly and usually read without even checking the synopsis. It’s a small way for a retired third grade teacher to live on the wild side. 😊

  19. Happy New Year! And happy reading! I am on my third book of the month already and am loving using your book, My Reading Life. I also love the book recommendations per season and genre. I’m adding books to my TBR list left and right. One thing I’m resolving to do more of in this new year is to read things that will add diversity to my reading life. I do also use Good Reads and I keep a running list on my phone. Thanks for the reading inspiration!

  20. Deirdre says:

    I have a very long goodreads TBR list. I don’t mind not knowing why I added things. What I love is adding something “new” and discovering I already added it. To me that’s a good sign that it needs to go on my priority list, which is much shorter. Basically, I keep a long list and a short list, sort of like awards do, and this works for me!

  21. Jo Ellen Hickey says:

    I bought my Mom a copy of My Reading Life. She used to never remember what the title of that wonderful book she just read and that she wanted me to read.
    My gift to her has become a gift to me. Now I get wonderful book recommendations from my mom!

  22. Aimee says:

    I have an app called Tap Forms, which is customizable to have all sorts of forms, but I’ve made one for TBR, including date added, author, how it was recommended, and other notes. It works well for me to have all the books in one place that’s accessible to me without internet. Now I just have to shorten it!

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