Getting Your Reading List Under Control (or, Culling the Cullens)

 Microsoft Clip Art

Your nightstand is overflowing, your Reader’s Journal is full, your library books are overdue, and you have scribblings of book recommendations everywhere you look.

It’s a reading list explosion.

Even worse, the list of books you want to read keeps growing and growing at the same rate that your reading time is shrinking and shrinking.  You have so much wishful reading to do, you don’t know where to begin. 

Well, it’s time to take charge, and get your reading list under control.  A few tips to help get things in check:

1) Cull (some of) the Classics: Contrary to popular belief, you won’t be unfulfilled as a human being if you don’t read, say, The Heart of Midlothian.  In fact, reading that book actually shaved five years off of my life.  There are many classics worth reading, but if a book doesn’t interest you, cross it off your list.  You’ll feel liberated — trust me.  And, if you can’t bring yourself to cull the classics, at least, cull the CullensPlease?

2) Obey the Five Year Rule: This is like the clothes-in-your-closet rule, only a little more forgiving.  If a book’s been on your list since the wild days of suspenders and tight-rolling your jeans, get rid of it.  If it’s a book you’ve started and stopped, and started and stopped again, I have something to tell you — you’re probably not going to like it.  If you’re meant to read it, it will come back to haunt you until you finally do.  In the meantime, your list looks a lot prettier this way.

3) Give it a chance.  But, not too long: I give myself seventy-five pages to get comfortable with a book.  If I can still hear my family speaking around me while I’m reading (and care that they haven’t eaten in twelve hours), it’s not worth my time.  I know a lot of people who give far less wiggle room — fifty pages, twenty-five pages…, two.  It’s up to you to figure out your threshold for painful story-telling, and then stick to it.

4) Read what you like: This may seem like an excerpt from The Idiot’s Guide to Reading, but here’s the thing…we’re often influenced by what others are reading.  The self-help saviors.  The best-selling novels.  The books our well-read friend deems as “transcending the organic essence of the page.”  Here’s what I say — First, your friend may have a drinking problem, and second, if you’re a grown adult who likes to read picture books about the creation of bloomers, then, by golly, read them!  You shouldn’t have to choke down the latest by Mitch Albom just because everyone in your women’s club has read it.  Don’t apologize for what excites you as a reader.

Okay, now that you’ve whittled down your list a bit, I have some good news for you; You’ll still never get through it. 

Why is this good?  Because, it means that there will never be a shortage of brilliant writers creating entertaining, interesting and challenging material for you to read. 

No matter what medium the future brings — ebooks, or an outlet that plugs directly into your brain (a la The Matrix) — there will always be too much great stuff. 

And, that’s a good thing. 

The next book on my list is Honolulu by Alan Brennert.  How about yours?

Happy reading!

*Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

39 thoughts on “Getting Your Reading List Under Control (or, Culling the Cullens)”

  1. Hi, Amanda.
    Great post! When I used to teach, my students used to think I’d read every book under the sun just because I was an English teacher. I told them, guys, if I read a book a day for the rest of my life, I still wouldn’t get through every book I’d like to read. I remember feeling sad and liberated when I realized this (btw, I’m no math whiz and so haven’t actually calculated the number of books with average human life span, but I’m guessing). Anyway, I’m twenty pages into a book I’m not really liking, but have heard a lot about. I keep thinking…why am I not enjoying this? Should I stop? I think I’ll give it another twenty pages or so and see…and then move on. And like you said, I’m just glad there’s always great stuff out there to move on to!


    1. Thanks, Jenny. Yes, some people seem disappointed in me when I haven’t read certain books, either, since I’m so pro-reading. But, there’s just so much out there — I want to be floored by what I read. Not bored.


  2. I used to have a rule about finishing every book I started. No more. Life is way too short. If I see that I’m not looking forward to picking the book up, I either can it or just skim through a few parts, then can it. I’ve even stopped reading a book with just a few pages to go. There are just too many amazing books out there. On the other hand, if it’s a book many people have loved, and I can’t get into it, I’ll put it aside for weeks or months or years, then try again. Sometimes, that totally works, because maybe when I started it the first time, I was distracted by whatever else was going on in my life.


    1. Hi Renee — Yes, I’ve come back to certain books, too. But, not repeatedly. More than once, and I know it’s not for me. You’re right — life’s too short.

      Thanks for commenting!


  3. I love you for this post.

    I have a subscription to Bookmarks magazine, and while I love it, it does nothing for shortening my reading wishlist!

    I am currently reading The Book Thief and am loving it.


    1. Thanks, Peeved!

      I also loved The Book Thief — that’s one I would even read again.

      My list had moved from a single subject notebook to a 5 subject notebook before I got serious about getting things in order. Just not enough time…


  4. Hi Amanda:

    Is it weird that I don’t have a “reading list”? I do have piles of books in several areas of my house, which I will get to…when I feel like it! Uh-oh…there’s that procrastination again…



    1. Well, I think your piles of books equate to a list of sorts, Wendy. And, you’re also surrounded at your store, right?

      Opportunities to procrastinate are around every corner…


  5. Perfect. Thank you so much for this, because I now have permission to cross Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure off my list.

    There. I feel better already.


    1. I finished. 🙂 I was thinking that people are sick of hearing about NaNoWriMo, but maybe I’ll do a short wrap-up. I’m letting it “rest” for a while before I go back with an editing eye.


  6. I hate giving up on a book, but I have realised, like Renee says, that life is too short to waste on a book that doesn’t do it for me. I am always over-ambitious with the number of books I tackle at once, but manage to get through them eventually. Thanks for this lovely post!


  7. Good post, Amanda. As a fantasy author, I always feel a twinge of guilt when someone says “have you read XX?” and it’s a well-known author or series and I have to confess that no, I haven’t. But, I have read ABOUT that series, perhaps, and can speak somewhat intelligently about the genre.

    My big confession? I haven’t finished the Wheel of Time series. Nor do I intend to. I just don’t have time to wade through Rand al’Thor’s angst again. 🙂



  8. The next book on my list is Eat Pray Love. At the moment, though, I’m reading a really good book that I’d been avoiding for some unknown reason. I bought it from a library sale last year. It’s called The Opposite of Love, by Judy Buxbaum (sp? I think…the book is at home face down where it fell last night :D). After struggling through nearly a hundred pages before A Secret History picked up, I am glad I read it, but I’ll never break my rule again.

    These are some really good tips. I really liked this post, and got some useful info. What’s Honolulu about? Wait, don’t answer that…I almost did it again! 😀


    1. Thank you, 2blu. Honolulu was recommended to me by a friend in my book club. You can click on the link in the post for more info.

      I remember really liking two of the sections of Eat, Pray, Love — you’ll have to report back on your thoughts.

      Thanks for reading~


  9. Oh how I suffer from having too much to read at one time.
    Sometimes I stare at my pile of purchases and think to myself:
    “Aaaahhhh where to begin, where to begin?!?!?!”

    Good idea crossing off the classics. I get suckered into that section everytime I go into a bookstore and buy books I think I should read not because they sound interesting, but because someone told me to.
    Not great for the nightstand.
    Cool tips.


    1. Thanks wandering — I also get suckered into the classics, because they’re always releasing them with these really pretty hard covers on the “Bargain Books” table…


  10. I keep a reading list in Evernote for my son and I. Its handy because its always with me. I love your suggestions because you are right there is always so much good stuff to read.


  11. Thank you, Amanda. Very wise advice (I say, casting my eyes around at all my stacks of unread books).

    I often feel I have to choose between writing and reading. Guess which wins.

    But I have happy news for everyone. If you buy some books of poetry, they won’t make you feel guilty. You can pick one up, flip open to a single page, and inhale a poem that will feed you for a whole week. Then put the book down. 5 minutes of your time and no guilt.

    or for something completely different:

    This is why I love poetry.


    1. Great idea, Gillian! I have several poetry books here that I’m ashamed to admit I’ve barely given a second glance. I’ll have to try that out. I also like to read short stories if I don’t havetime for an entire book.

      Thanks for commenting~


  12. Amanda, I struggle with the question of how long to give a book–mostly because I would hope a reader would grant me the same patience, BUT that said, I am a person with a terribly short attention span…some books simply do take a while to build their story and plot and characters and that can be a gloriously rewarding experience. But I know we are all so busy and have so many books we want to read–it seems inevitable that something’s got to give.


    1. Hi Erika — I think my 75 pages is a pretty good span. However, if a book is just plain disastrous, it will get less, and if someone has assured me that “it gets really good after page 100” I will trudge onward. I really do WANT slow books with promise to grab me at some point…I’m just not willing give them 500 pages of my time anymore.

      I think about the submission process on this point — since most agents/publishers only want to see the first few chapters before deciding if they want a full manuscript, why shouldn’t we (as readers) expect to be hooked just as quickly?


  13. Super post, Amanda. And I can’t tell you how it came to me right when I needed it. My present shelf is (over) sprawling and I have so much left to read. Ugh. I’ve been renewing my loans just so I can finish this or that one.

    Haha and I’ve already culled the Cullens. I read half of the first book and left it at it. I do have the whole collection (it was gifted to me) but it’s just lying there. Maybe I will read them in future sometime.

    As far as classics are concerned, I am not much of a fiction reader. Most of the books lying in front of me are non-fiction. So it’s pretty much solved 😉

    Thanks for the share.



    1. Thanks, Brown Eyed, and good luck with your stack of books 😉 I’m mostly a fiction girl myself, but when I get overwhelmed by choices, it’s easier for me to just pick a nonfiction book, and move on from there.

      Take care~


  14. Great post, Amanda, and some great suggestions. I do have a hard time skipping over some of the classics, or bestsellers, even though I know I’ll never finish them. Oh, the guilt! But, I love your idea that those “must read” book pushers just might have a drinking problem. Too funny.


  15. Loved this post, Amanda. Nothing is more frustrating than forcing myself to finish a book because it has to get better…and it never does. I actually get mad (although I’ve never taken my anger out on an author 🙂 )

    Next time, I’ll take your advice and pack it in. I like the number “50”, so fifty pages will be my cut off. I don’t have a list, but I’ve got a stack of 12 books I bought discounted over the summer…I will get there…eventually!


  16. Great list, Amanda. I always give myself the first 50 pages and if I’m not caught up in the story, I put it down. I have a friend who says there are just too many good books out there to spend time on ones that don’t interest me. 😉


  17. Doh.

    Sometimes I amaze myself…even myself…by not thinking of the obvious.

    Once again..Doh.

    Why didn’t I ever get a reader’s journal? Instead of all these itty bitty scraps of paper floating all over the inside of my purse of which book to read next.


    How did I ever survive into adulthood.


  18. Thanks for this post! I always struggle with having too many books I would love to read…and, I think, too many of them “for my own good” “because everyone else liked them.” Thanks for the permission to cross those off my list 🙂


  19. I love this post! I just finished “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kinsolver and can honestly say, that book makes my top 10 list…

    I picked up a non-fic called “Infidel”…but don’t know if it will “stick”.


  20. I just finally read Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and loved it! Great antidote to too many classics. (It’s Homer’s Odysssey from Penelope’s point of view.)


  21. Oh, the list! Is out of control! And you know all about how blogging steals every second of precious time. But this post is SUCH a good reminder to get to it, eliminate, refresh, and re-organize. Yes – the threshhold for painful storytelling. Too funny, and yet, sometimes once you push through the pain it can be worth it. Next up for me, The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. Just finished one of the Erast Fandorin mysteries from Boris Akunin. Intelligent, humorous and amazing plot.


  22. Great post! I’ve been reading Great Expectations. I enjoy it, but I think its a bit overrated. It’s not really a love story, either. I thought it was. Yeah, I got rid of a lot of books in my kindle that I was going to read because they were free and they were classics, but I know I will never read them. Which makes me think I should just delete them.

    Next up: Ana Karenina. I’ll give it a page limit as you say. But I am actually interested in seeing what all the fuss is about.


  23. I love these rules! Especially the one that gives permission to eliminate some of the classics. I have a friend who spent over a year trying to finish “The Magic Mountain,” though she enjoyed not a single sentence! At long last, I’m ready to admit that the world will not stop turning if I never make it through “Ulysses.”


  24. Jannatwrites, I’ve done the same thing; force myself to finish a book, hoping for an improvement all the while, and end up angry about wasting the time. I can’t quite break the habit, but have become a master-skimmer, which helps. Amanda, my book list used to be just bad, but now is out-of-control horrible since I have that nook, and have gotten very carried away with “wish-listing” books for it (not to mention actually purchasing and downloading books). Right now I’m reading “The Wave” by Susan Casey…very interesting look at a sport that I’m not at all familiar with, with a dash of science thrown in, which I love. On the short-list, perhaps next up, is “At Home” by Bill Bryson.



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