Friday, March 28, 2014

Reading Imbalance and My Struggles with My TBR

I’m finally going to vocalize some feelings about my TBR pile that I have been struggling with a long time now.  A post that DahliaAdler shared yesterday inspired me.  Before I go too far, major thanks to Estelle who helped me by providing constructive criticism as I wrote this. 

I’ve loved books for my entire life, and I’ve been a book blogger since 2010.  As you all know, I was able to start being a Youth Librarian full-time in 2013.  The fall of 2012 is also when I got my iPad, which I use as my e-reader.  I hadn’t used any kind of e-reader before, and only got a smart phone earlier that summer.  

You may remember I completed graduate school in August of 2012.  Because I was earning my MLIS with a focus of Children’s and Youth Services, I read a lot of children’s and young adult literature for assignments.  After graduating, it felt so nice to pick up whatever I wanted, even though I knew my Resources for YA class helped me fill in some major reading gaps.

We all know that when you finish a book you’re reading, deciding what to pick up next is one of the toughest choices to make.  These days it feels like I have three personas bickering over what I read: Blogger Liz, Librarian Liz, and Inner Liz.  Before I can debrief you on what each one of these Lizes has to say, let’s start off with my basic reading information.

Some statistics:
Every year since GoodReads invented the yearly reading challenges, I have set up a challenge each year on the site, and I keep track of how many books I read. I typically wind up reading about 100 books a year.  I don’t count picture books toward this goal, but because I order books for my library and do weekly storytimes with kids up to age twelve, I read a lot of picture books, as well as shorter juvenile non-fiction.  Items I count towards my reading goal include:
*Novels written for any audience
*Adult non-fiction
*Juvenile non-fiction longer than 32 pages
*Graphic novels of any length
*Illustrated books such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Why We Broke Up

I read primarily young adult novels.  In 2013, five of the 106 books I read were intended for adults, and they were all really different from one another.  I believe I read 38 books written for middle graders and younger. Here are some of the reading goals I’m trying to meet in 2014:
*Read at least one middle grade or early chapter book a month starting in 2014
*Read at least one adult non-fiction book each year
*Read a longer juvenile non-fiction.

Some of you are probably asking yourselves why I only read around 100 books a year.  A lot of bloggers and librarians are able to read much more than I am.  Truthfully, I don’t think it’s ever fair to compare the number of books that any two readers consume.

Because I already blogged and started working in a library, I decided I needed to have hobbies that don’t include books.  I really enjoy cooking and baking in my free time, not to mention generally consuming free food, and I do more of that now.  Vitamin D and being outside when it’s nice are also things I enjoy, so in 2013 I did something I’d been wanting to do for years and got a nice road bike which I like to take on 60-70 mile rides in the summer.  I ride in groups, so when you include time for lunch and socialization, this takes all day. Also when it’s humid and I’m riding a hilly route, it’s so exhausting.   Let’s say I spend five hours on a 70 mile day out between riding and stopping for food.  When I get home I feel like a sundried tomato.  I often have a little bit of a burn, feel worn out from being in the heat, and am guzzling water like crazy.  I may polish off the last few chapters of a book, but I’m more likely to fall asleep clutching one and crawling into bed at 9 p.m.


One really important detail about my reading is that I often read in the bathtub, and sometimes it’s the only chance I get to read all day. I’m pretty careful, and generally the books don’t get too wet. ARCs are a popular bathtub choice for me, because I don’t usually keep them unless they are signed.  I never bring my iPad into the tub because I love it far too much.

 A lot of people reading this may not hold this misconception, but aside from flipping through things at work and storytimes, I don’t get paid to sit around read as a librarian.  If I did, I would get yelled at for doing that instead of planning programs or weeding. I am, however, expected to keep up with literature in my field so I can perform well at work, which means doing it on my own time.  While my director and board members don’t outright say this to me, I know it’s true, and I know it’s what other youth librarians expect. And I’m not complaining! I love reading, and it’s the nature of the job, but it’s a point that needs to be made. (I wonder if certain positions at publishing companies find this to be true as well.)

And generally? I’m a slow reader. I try to take my time and really enjoy whatever it is I’m in the middle of. I often stop to reread sentences if I’m worried I didn’t take something in. I may also pause to flag a passage I loved or text a friend about a certain scene.


So now that you see how my reading time is broken up logistically, let’s talk about what happens when I actually go to pick up a book.  Our three Lizes will come back into play here.  Let’s start with Inner Liz.

Inner Liz:
Inner Liz is the Liz that wants to read a book even though it may not be something that I should be reading.  Earlier in March, inner I tackled Pointe by Brandy Colbert and The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.  I borrowed Pointe from a friend and I purchased The Sky Is Everywhere when it first came out.  I was initially drawn to these books not only because the storylines held some appeal for her, but because I had heard nothing but positive things about these titles.  They were both physical copies, and I was absolutely aching to read both of them.  I LOVED both of these books—they’ll probably be on my favorites list for the year.  Part of me almost feels guilty for reading something that wasn’t for review, but on the other hand, how can I feel bad about reading something I absolutely adored?  It’s the books that absolutely stand out and find themselves a permanent place in my heart that make me want to keep reading and discover more books that will be special to me.

Inner Liz is also the one that talked to Misty and got our #WednesdayYA book club going. While we don’t necessarily read books that we’ve gotten for review, I’ve found that gathering a group of readers online, reading a book together, and discussing it is incredibly fulfilling and happy-making.  It reminds me that blogging is so awesome because it allows us all to talk about our love of bookish things, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with books.

Blogger Liz:
Blogger Liz works with a few publishers who regularly send physical copies, such as Macmillan and Quirk Books, and for that I am grateful.  I’m also fortunate enough to receive books through NetGalley and Edelweiss, and am even whitelisted in a few cases. I often try to ensure that roughly one in every three books I read is a review book, if not more.  Because I read in the bathtub but don’t use my iPad there, this can mean that electronic galleys sometimes get read more slowly than physical books do.  I have an issue with not planning well enough and galleys expiring—I’ve gotten a little better, but there’s so much I want to read, and it’s hard to admit to yourself that you cannot read everything you want.  If I accept a book for review on NetGalley but don’t get to it, I will often try to track it down after its release by buying a physical copy or an ebook, or trying to get a copy from my library.  I absolutely love purchasing books, for myself, but I only have so much money to do so. I want to support the industry, but I also have other financial priorities, like car and loan payments. 

You know how I was talking about Inner Liz earlier? I am fortunate enough to receive many titles that I am just DYING to read for review, and that thrills me to death.    Sometimes I’ll really want to read something, though, and I don’t get it for review. And that’s not a complaint!  Publishers are like every other person and organization out there: their resources are limited, and that’s okay.

Also, keep in mind that I work in small town, rural Iowa.  We don’t have a big teen area, and we don’t have a van system for interlibrary loan the way that some libraries do.  This means two things: one is that I feel bad requesting items for our teen area, because I don’t want to step on the toes of the person who does our teen ordering.  The other is that we mail interlibrary loan books back and forth, and in order to cover postage, I have to pay $2 if I want something from another library.  A lot of libraries are also reluctant to loan out newer titles because they want to have them for their patrons, which is totally reasonable.

With all of this said, I do my very best to read all of the physical copies I receive, and almost prefer them because they don’t expire.  I know postage is expensive, though, as is the print costs of galleys.  I’m only trying to explain why it’s easier for me to read them given my habits.

Librarian Liz:
Librarian Liz works with all youth ages zero to eighteen at the library. I order all of our items for children ages zero through twelve, and currently create and lead all programming for them.  My director and I collaborate to provide programs for our teens, and they are loads of fun to work with. I never order for our teen collection—a staff member who does not help with programming does that.  I also spend a minimum of three hours every week staffing either our circulation or reference desks, which means that I help patrons of every age, including teens, with reference and readers’ advisory.

I know that I have a big responsibility to my young patrons.  I can be a vital tool in helping them to become lifelong lovers of reading and learning. It is vitally important that I read books that are intended for them so that I know what to suggest when a patron needs a recommendation. 

Of course, I have a long list of middle grades I want to read, but that list may not be the first thing I turn to when I want something to read.  Sometimes I will deliberately go for a book in a genre that I don’t read as much, like adventure.  That way when I have a kid in the library who wants an adventure story, I have an idea of what to suggest.  I also pick up things that I think will be a hit with my patrons—I know a lot of people who like animal stories, so I read The Pet War earlier this year to recommend to patrons who are looing for that kind of book. 

There are times when it feels like I pick books that I read for the children instead of me, and I definitely do this for teens sometimes as well.  Obviously I am not completely averse to reading these types of books—after all, I did select my own career, and there are a lot of children’s books that I love.  It’s really a matter of not being able to read more.  While I’m a little sad that books that Inner Liz may get put on the back burner, I also want to serve my patrons well. I want to have time for everything, but as you can see, it’s hard for that to be possible.  Instead, I think about the times where I’ve handed someone a book I thought they’d enjoy and they absolutely flipped out over it. It makes it all worthwhile.


So what does this all mean?  There are books that I feel like I have to read, and books I really want to read.  Books I should read are either for blogging or librarianship, and in the case of blogging, sometimes if I mess up it can be hard to get my hands on a copy of the book I should be reading.  In terms of librarianship, I definitely want to be well versed in what the kids are reading, and know the books I recommend to children. Sometimes it’s just hard to choose the middle grade I’m excited about because the kids love it over the YA book that I’m DYING to read.

I often wish that I had more reading time.  Maybe if I didn’t work out, maybe if I didn’t blog, maybe, maybe, maybe.  Maybe if I could figure out a way to get by without sleep.  Maybe if I was a faster reader—I do keep hoping this one will change. We’ll see.

I ultimately have a place in a couple of different communities, and I try to balance them all. It’s tough.  I worry that doing too much of one thing will leave me feeling insufficient in a particular area.

I don’t have one answer to this.  For now, I keep juggling books I read for blogging and librarian purposes.  And I can’t forget Inner Liz—I need mindblowing books that I read just because I want to read them in order to keep me happy. That, after all, is what sustains my love of reading and helps keep my momentum going.  If I every find a formula that makes me feel like I’m doing all of these things just right, you guys will be the first to know.


  1. It's so awesome to my post inspire such an awesome, thoughtful one I can definitely relate to! I feel this way allll the time, and it's so hard as a book lover when you just wanna read for love but now there always seem to be strings attached - is this a book I'm gonna wanna rec? To who? Is it good for a blog post? Which blog post? What books do I have to read to pair it with if I *want* to write a blog post about it? How do I pick what my next Friday Reads will be? Am I reading fast enough? Where else can I fit reading into my day so I can up how many books I'm reading? And on, and on, and on. It's exhausting. Reorganizing my TBR by blog post priority is exhausting too, and sometimes it makes me really sad.

    The worst is when I'm so, so excited for upcoming books, and I actually get the ARCs, and even though I'm dying for them, and the authors know I have the ARCs, I have to push them off, and I worry it seems that my expressed desire to read them seems...insincere, I guess? BUT IT ISN'T. Finally, the other week, I said the hell with it and read two ARCs I'd been dying for but had no immediate plans to blog about. They were both afreakingmazing. And yes, they may have set my blogging back a bit, but it was so totally worth it, for Inner Dahlia :) (POINTE by Brandy Colbert and LIFE BY COMMITTEE by Corey Ann Haydu, if anyone's wondering!)

    1. Thank you for writing your initial post! It was just the push I needed to finally write this post.

      I think in terms of blogging I worry most about getting reviews for review books getting done in a timely manner. If I bought the book myself I let myself be a little bit more flexible about when I share the review. It reminds me that this is something I do for fun, and that I feel like doing something else for one night, that's okay.

      I'm so happy you're spreading the POINTE love! It's a fantastic book and I can't wait

  2. Oh, I feel your pain! I have the same inner vs blogger struggle - the inner usually comes in with older books that are so much harder to fit into the review schedule amongst the new releases. I rack up whole collections of series that sit in the TBR for ages and ages. It's awful. Any time I get a vacation or a holiday at work I immediately start setting aside an impossibly large pile to tackle and inevitably get almost none done because the third part to my struggle is regular old time with the husband!

    E arcs expire in bunches and then the purchased physical copies sit in the TBR waiting patiently for their turn. It's a really bad cycle (I'm definitely in the habit of accepting way more for review than I can handle).

    But I do love reading and I do love blogging - now if only I could find a way to not have to work so I can fully devote myself to being a book junkie all of the time.

    1. I agree, it does seem to be those backlist titles that get pushed to the side. I like to keep a balance, though. I always have a lot of books on my Kindle App and in physical copies, and though it can be stressful, it's at least nice knowing I will never be out of things to read.

  3. I really liked how thoughtful this was. It's interesting how you wear different hats as a person and as a reader. I guess it does make sense that you try to work in hobbies aside from reading for work-life balance. :-)

    Also, that's so cool about your long distance biking.

    Also, I totally do the same thing with my inner-self and reading desires and my blogging self that feels guilt over the TBR pile. My impulse control isn't as good though, so usually I end up reading whatever my inner self wants.

    1. Yeah, I think I don't have to worry too much about my work-life balance falling too out of sync because like I said, it's not like I have time to really read at work!

      I think feeding your inner-self is what makes it more worthwhile. I do love it when a review book turns out to be exactly what my inner-self needs!

  4. I really enjoyed your post, Liz! Personally, I'm the girl who always has a book on hand for a few minutes I can spare here or there while commuting or walking or during a lull in the day. But, I totally agree with you - it's sometimes an amazing thing to embrace other hobbies and passions apart from reading. Honestly, having a good balance between life and work and fun is always a good thing -- and it seems like you've definitely got that!

    I love that you were able to outline the three different "Liz" personas. It's interesting to see how they all play a part in what you read and when. I'm generally a go with the flow girl, picking up whatever I feel like reading in any given moment. But I do try to be a bit better about reading review books now!

    1. I don't get the benefit of reading during a commute! I drive to work and it takes 5 minutes. On longer car trips, which I do fairly often, I do get a chance to brush up on my audiobooks. And yes, other hobbies keep me sane! I go a little stir crazy without exercise and outdoors times.

      I like that you go with the flow! I always wonder if that's easier for faster readers because you naturally get through a bit more and maybe stay more on top of review piles. Correct me if I'm wrong. Glad you enjoyed reading the post!

  5. I don't know if I have anything useful to add, but I really enjoyed reading this post. I think you know I worked for a book publisher for a while and while it's obviously not exactly the same, in some ways I think it spoiled reading for me and made me not want to read when I got home. Sometimes it's hard to take your professional hat off and just look at reading as something to do for fun. And I can relate about having to read for work and not being able to read at work, that's another thing that can kind of spoil reading.

    I also always like reading about librarians' experiences since my parents were/are (my dad's retired) librarians and I definitely have bratty, childish ideas about what they did/do all day, haha.

  6. Just picked up the Temple Wars book! Book 1 is fascinating and had me engaged from page one! You guys should check it out! Temple Wars

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