Things I learned from doing the Unread Shelf Project

If you follow me in Instagram, you probably know that for the last two or so years, I have been participating in something called The Unread Shelf Project. It's basically an accountability challenge which asks book lovers (and book hoarders) to be aware of how many books they are acquiring each month versus how many of those they actually read. 

Now, here's the thing. I have come to terms with the fact that I have way more books in my apartment than I will ever be able to read. There is new exciting stuff coming out all of the time and it's very easy to get distracted from that great new historical fiction epic you bought. I've actually made my peace with my book buying and I'm not ashamed of how many unread books I own, because yes, it's a lot, but I'm also a writer, and a former bookseller, and I like being a part of these worlds. I like effectively owning my own library. But there are also moments when I can't fit all of my books nicely on my shelf, or I can't find something, or my apartment just feels really messy and my books become a source of stress for me, rather than one of joy. Hence, why I participate in this monthly challenge, which is run by Whitney, a reader who lives in Kansas City. You can read about the challenge here (which has evolved from being a social media hashtag to actually having courses and website and everything, though I don't quite go that far in my participation.) The first thing that you have to do when you participate is add up all of your unread books to get your starting number. 

I won't say what my starting number was, because a) I don't exactly remember it, and b) I've since found books that I forgot to include so it wouldn't have been accurate anyway. I use an app called Book Buddy + to keep track of it all now. I will say that one of my goals for 2021 is to get my unread shelf number below 300, and that I am on track. 

There are a few things I've learned from doing this activity, and I thought I would share some of those with you today:

1) I've learned what genres I like... and what I don't

I used to pick up everything and anything, but as I've gotten older, I think I've started to refine what kinds of books I am into. I love historical romance, but crime novels don't usually interest me. I don't tend to like non fiction (unless it's an audiobook). I read YA, but mostly only because they are quick to read and I enjoy the feeling of finishing a book. Part of getting my unread shelf number down is un-hauling books, as awful as that may sound, and being able to recognise that a particular book might have appealed to me when I bought it, but isn't my kind of thing now, is a blessing, because it takes the pressure off and allows me to really savour the books I read. It also means I don't pick up books I'm not all that interested in when I go book shopping anymore, even if they have great covers or if the whole world is talking about them.

2) Audiobooks are awesome

I may have talked about this before, but I really got into audiobooks during 2020, and if the statistics from my library are anything to go by, so did a bunch of other people. Housework, exercise, and travelling all become a lot more entertaining when you can take your book with you, and last year I started using Borrowbox (a library app) to double up on how many books I was getting through. I would listen to books while I was jogging (I was also doing Couch to 5K) and doing housework, and also just sometimes when my eyes were really tired. It was a great way to get through dense classics as well!

3) The first chapter really matters

This point occurred to me this morning as I tried reading the first chapter of all of the library books I had brought home with me recently. I decided to do something I'd seen people do on YouTube, and read the beginning of each book to see if I actually wanted to read them at all. There have been a few occasions when I have held onto a library book as long as I could, only to finally crack it open and discover that I don't like the style or it's not what I thought it was. I realised, as I did this exercise, that what I was doing there was a little bit like what it must be like for publishers reading books sent in on submission. If I have 300 books to get through, surely they must have more. 

4) Always be reading 

To put it a different way, you can't read a lot of books if you don't read a lot of the time. If you don't make time to read, it's something that is very easy to avoid. I spend a lot of time on social media on my phone, so when I have deadlines (such as needing to submit a book review), it can be necessary to put my phone in another room. Carrying your book with you when you go out, in case you get ten minutes while you're waiting for a bus, can also be helpful, as can challenging your friends to a read-a-thon (as I did here in early February when we got locked down for another week) or inviting a friend over for a Silent Reading party. 

5) It's Okay to DNF

No one is going to tell you off if you don't finish something. I used to think that I had to finish every book I started, probably for the same reason I felt I had to keep every book I bought. But here's the thing-- life is too short for bad books. Or not even bad books! Just ones that don't grab you. Personally, I don't make a habit of telling people which ones I DNF, because I know a lot of authors and the publishing world is a small English village sometimes but I have started giving myself permission to not finish things. Luckily, I haven't had to invoke the DNF rule (which stands for Did Not Finish, if you aren't sure) much lately but I do know there are reviewers and bloggers out there who DNF things all the time. Perhaps that's why they're able to publish so many reviews?

What about you? If you've participated in the Unread Shelf Project, what have you learned about yourself as a reader? And if you haven't participated in it, what do you think is something you do that helps you keep your TBR (to be read) pile manageable?