To cut or not to cut

I like using Goodreads to record what I’ve read. I enjoy setting the reading challenges, watching the list grow, and comparing the different books I’ve read in terms of genre, author, length and star rating. It also helps me decide what to read next, and not get stuck in a reading rut, or an endless loop of what in essence is the same book over and over. But my big problem with Goodreads at the minute is the To Read shelf.

Goodreads is great for getting recommendations, as are the plethora of blogs and reading forums and Facebook pages I follow. When I see a title that I think I’ll like, I’ll immediately go to Goodreads and look it up. Often, if I’m in a rush, I’ll immediately click “Want to Read” so I know all the details are safely saved on the virtual shelf. If I’ve got a bit more time, I’ll read the reviews and check whether any of my friends have rated it, before deciding whether to mark it as To Read.

The result of this is the realisation that the To Read shelf had 147 titles on it, half of which I couldn’t remember adding, nor had any recollection of what they might be about. I feel like before the digital age, before the constant sharing of information, this wouldn’t have happened. I feel like I can’t remember how I got book recommendations before all of the afore mentioned avenues online. Word of mouth I suppose. I got a verbal recommendation from someone the other day and it almost felt alien. I guess that’s how I used to end up getting stuck in those reading phases – I’d find an author I liked and devour all of their work until there was either nothing left or I just got completely sick of them, or until someone told me about a great book they thought I should try.

It was immediately clear that I would never read all 147 of these saved books. Some of them had been on the list for three years. Plus I regularly read books that have never been on the list in the first place. You may be wondering, who cares if this list is long and contains books you might never read? Well, I find there’s a sense of non-achievement in listing books for years, and in not seeing the list ever getting any shorter. There’s also something a little sad about it, like certain titles aren’t good enough to be read because something better always comes along. Not better necessarily, but just more me.

So a spring clean was in order. But how to do it? Clearly I‘d added all of these books because at some point I had thought “I’ll enjoy reading that.” So how could I change my mind about some and not others? I started by reading through each listing for the standalone novels, then for those that were the first in a series, reading the blurbs and checking out the reviews. I used this list of criteria to help me decide whether to cut or not to cut:

  • Too long.
  • To technical – to the detriment of plot/characterisation.
  • Too similar to other things I’ve read.
  • Bad reviews. This might seem obvious, but there is more to reviews than just looking at the average. Also, I don’t consider 3 stars to be as bad as some people think. And I try and look at the range of ratings. If it’s a solid 3 it’s probably pretty good. If there’s a mix of 5’s and 1’s/2’s, it just means that book is clearly not for everyone, but if you’re one of the ones who likes it, you’ll really like it. Those titles need careful consideration.
  • I just know I won’t read it. Sometimes, you just know.
  • It involves a dog dying.
  • Any hint of a comparison with Twilight.

I was ruthless, yes, but perhaps not as much as I should have been. But after shaving off 53 titles, the total now stands at 94. Not bad, I suppose, though it’s still unlikely I’ll read them all. Perhaps I’ll make the spring clean a regular thing. Or give books on the To Read shelf a shelf life of their own, and delete them after a certain amount of time. Or perhaps I should make more of an effort to research the titles before adding them to the list in the first place.

And what about the ones that didn’t make the cut? I did feel a mild sense of panic as I was asked if I was sure I wanted to remove this book from my shelves… (apart from the ones that mentioned Twilight in the reviews). What if I was unknowingly deleting my future favourite book? I tried to console myself with this thought – if a book is really that good, it will find its way back to the list somehow.


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