Yesterday, I did something that felt crazy: I went onto Goodreads and I deleted every.single.book from my To-Read shelf. It went from To Read (1655) to To Read (0). It took nearly an hour and the first few times I hit delete a huge part of me was screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!” As the number whittled down, though, it became easier and easier to breathe.
No regrets. It has been a long time since my reading life has felt this free.
A few months ago, we were at our friend Thomas’s house and I was perusing his shelf of books. I found several that I wanted to read and took them home with me that night. I added them to my pile of books to be read; that I’ve borrowed, that I own, and that I’ve taken out of the library. I immediately felt a pang of anxiety: there were just so many of them. It seemed like an impossibility that I would ever get through all of them.
Let me say that again: I felt anxiety while looking at a pile of books to read, when reading is my favorite way to spend my time.
Clearly, I was doing something wrong.
I can’t remember the last time I went to the library and spent any time actually browsing. Picking up books that caught my eye because of their title or their cover or the book jacket description. For months, I’ve pushed through the crowd of smokers outside the front door, bee-lined straight for the holds shelf, picked up the 3-10 holds waiting for me, slid them through the self check-out and power-walked right back out of there.
Well. Those are joyful trips. I never even wanted to look at the shelves because I could see that huge number, 1655, flashing behind my eyes every time I did. I didn’t want to add more books to it! It was already too huge for me to tackle over the next ten years, let alone if I kept adding to it! I walked around with book blinders and hoped I never saw a book that I wanted to read.
The other day, I’d had enough. I’d had enough of sucking the joy out of something that I love. I had read a post about culling down a to-be-read list and I spent a couple of hours going through my shelf, reading descriptions, checking out exerpts, deciding which books would stay and which would go. After almost three hours, I’d looked at nearly 800 books and gotten down from 1655 to 1542. That was a lot of progress, but there was still so far to go.
And then a crazy idea struck.
What if I just…deleted them all?
Immediately, the idea wrapped itself around my brain and would not let go. I had to do it. I was hypnotized by the image of a completely empty shelf that would never fill up again. Of being able to wander aimlessly through the library and pick out a new book to read that I’d never heard of before and not experience a single pang of anxiety when I decided to take it home. Of once again stumbling upon things instead of planning out every second of my reading life.
Sure, I will miss out on a lot of those books that were on my to-read shelf. There’s no way that I could remember even a fraction of them. I am sure that a lot of them are really great books. Some of them are probably even exceptional. But will I miss them?
I can’t say that I will never add another book to my to-read shelf again. But going forward I will definitely be far more selective about what makes the cut. And if I have to? I’ll delete them all again.