How to Organize Your TBR List: 7 of the Best Strategies


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Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more creative work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, under the gum tree, Poets & Writers, and other publications, and she is the Essays Editor for Hippocampus Magazine. Her essay, “The Fear That Lives Next to My Heart,” published in Southwest Review, was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2021. She also writes bookish stuff here and at the Feminist Book Club, is the author of A Dirty Word, and is the founder of Guerrilla Sex Ed. When not working, she enjoys yoga, embroidery, singing, cat snuggling, and staring at the birds in her backyard feeder. You can learn more at stephauteri.com and follow her on Insta/Threads at @stephauteri.

A TBR list can be an unwieldy thing. This is especially true when you’re the type to constantly acquire new books rather than reading the ones you already have. (Who, me?) I mean, how do you make sure you don’t miss any of the new titles that have been on your radar for the past year or so? Where do you even track that? And how do you avoid neglecting the books that are already in your TBR pile in favor of the next shiny new thing? How do you know which book(s) to read next when they all look so damn compelling? How to organize your TBR list in a way that prevents TBR overwhelm??

Never fear! Your annoyingly organized friend is here! As someone who runs her life with the help of several spreadsheets, and whose eye starts twitching when things begin to look cluttered, I know a thing or two about organizing all the things. And I also understand that what works for one person won’t work for everyone.

In the list below, I share a number of different methods for organizing your TBR, some of them digital, some of them physical, some of them downright whimsical, and all of them effective. Not only will they help you keep your TBR in good order, but they’ll also make choosing your next read that much simpler. I myself use a combination of these methods and, in pulling this list together, now feel tempted to try even more of them, just for funsies. Someone needs to stop me.

Ready to learn how to organize your TBR list? I hope one or more of the ideas below click for you.

1. There’s An App for That

As someone who runs her day-to-day with a combination of spreadsheets, virtual to-do lists, and Google Calendar alerts, I see the appeal in keeping things digital. If digital tools are your jam, too, you’re in luck. There are a ton to choose from.

There are the big ones, of course, like Goodreads, where you can maintain an actual TBR list. You can also track your TBR by creating wish lists on Amazon or Bookshop. You can maintain wish lists on library apps like Libby or Hoopla. And there are smaller apps, too, including StoryGraph, Bookly, and Litsy. (If you’d like to dig deeper into apps, fellow Book Rioter Clare did a whole post on book recommendation apps, many of which can double as TBR organizers.)

You can also make a bookish mood board of sorts on a more visual site like Pinterest.

And if, like me, you feel there’s nothing more thrilling than a spreadsheet, may I remind you of Tirzah Price’s yearly Reading Log?

2. Pre-Screen Your TBR

To ensure your TBR piles don’t get so tall and precarious that they teeter, fall, and bury you in an avalanche of literary goodness, consider pre-screening your books before buying or borrowing them.

Aside from the books I know I’ll read no matter what — those instant buys from folks like T. Kingfisher and Victor LaValle — I like to download the free samples onto my Kindle before making that final leap. Then I read them in the order in which I downloaded them.

my Kindle library, which contains a number of free samples downloaded from Amazon
photo taken by Steph Auteri

3. Embrace Your Most Chaotic Urges

If you’re using a spreadsheet to keep track of your TBR, great! All of your books are automatically associated with an accompanying number. To choose which book you read next, use a site like random.org to randomize your selection, or use a set of dice to roll for your next read.

Because I like to be extra, I went looking for a set of bookish dice you can keep on hand for TBR-specific purposes, and I found this great set on Etsy. These Book Wyrm Polyhedral Dice ($5-$65, depending upon which set you get) have actual book page pieces embedded in the resin. The numbers are gold and shimmery, and I always appreciate an extra bit of shimmer in my belongings.

a set of clear dice, including a D20, with scraps of papers inside and gold numbers, in front of a box with the text Book Wyrm Dicea set of clear dice, including a D20, with scraps of papers inside and gold numbers, in front of a box with the text Book Wyrm Dice

4. The TBR Annex

What if you’re trying to organize a physical TBR? How do you keep those unread books separate from your more permanent collection?

I have a china cabinet in my home office that contains the already-read books I plan to keep for the rest of eternity. Meanwhile, I’ve always kept my TBR separate in a tiny, built-in bookshelf in my bedroom.

Recently, we had our bedroom renovated, and I got the book nook of my dreams:

a set of bookshelves behind a cushioned bencha set of bookshelves behind a cushioned bench
photo via Steph Auteri

You can’t see the full gloriousness of it in this photo (that cushion at the bottom sits atop a storage bench, plus there’s recessed lighting that, when turned on, gives the accent wall an ombre effect), but it’s the new home for my TBR pile. I organize it alphabetically by each author’s last name.

When I went looking for other examples of physical TBR collections, particularly for those operating within a smaller space, I found myself loving the large variety of TBR carts people had, often also covered in bookish stickers.

Like this cute cart from @novels.and.nailfies:

This rainbow of books from @PageTurnersAndPlants:

And I looove the “to be read” sticker that @xenatine has on her cart:

As far as filing systems go, if you’re not into alphabetization, you can always arrange your books by color, genre, mood, date acquired…the sky’s the limit!

5. Write It Down

So you’re all about the analog. I get it. I love gazing upon other people’s bullet journals, reading logs, and day planners. If I could make anything look that pretty, I’d probably go that route, too. Unfortunately, my strengths lie elsewhere, but if you have neat handwriting and a flair for the artistic, you might be inspired by the examples below.

I thought this series tracker by Pinterest user @jpsoccer_ was rather clever. They’ve written out each book in each series on their TBR (my god, they really love series), and then they just color in the checkbox when a book is done:

6. The TBR Jar

Some folks have so much trouble deciding which book to read next, they let fate decide. Number randomizers and bookish dice are just two examples of this…but then there are TBR Jars, which are A Whole Other Thing.

Some folks write down their TBR titles on tiny slips of paper, throw them into a jar, and call it a day, picking one out when they’re ready for their next read. Others get fancy and write their titles on tiny pieces of paper that they then fold into adorable origami hearts (you do you, boo). I was particularly amused by this TBR Jar I saw on Etsy ($16), which has a label that reads “books are medicine,” and which is filled with medicine capsules into which you can insert your book title papers.

books are medicine TBR Jar filled with large pill capsulesbooks are medicine TBR Jar filled with large pill capsules

But I think my very favorite of all the TBR Jars I’ve seen is this TBR Cookie Jar from BookTuber Nori’s Doing Something. Adorable.

7. Go Where Your Mood Takes You

Finally, this last tip is based upon my belief that the most important factor when considering your next read is your mood. That’s why at any given time, I’m usually reading 3-4 books at once, each one wildly different from the others, so I have something to suit any mood.

I feel like the “blind date with a book” concept works really well with this idea. In the Insta post embedded below, user @AConjuringOfMagic has used descriptors like “fiery” to describe their wrapped-up books, alongside info like genre and predominant tropes.

But I could also see myself using descriptors like “fired up and ready to take on the world,” or “my brain is melting; I can’t even,” or “in the mood for a cathartic read that will make me ugly cry.” You know?

Whichever method(s) you choose for organizing your TBR list, have fun with it and leave room for flexibility. Reading isn’t supposed to be a chore.

To read more on this topic, check out this older post I wrote on The 7 Convoluted Rules I Put in Place to Prevent TBR Overwhelm. Or careen your way through Cassie’s post on How to Choose Your Next Read—in the Most Chaotic Way Possible. Or soak up some wisdom from Kelly in her post on 8 Clever Ways to Tackle Your TBR.





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