In which I have a (not so) serious problem

I have a serious problem.

Unread books.

I have a huge stack of unread books in my house. It’s a combination of my perpetual weakness of the will at thrift stores and book review promises and free-two-day-shipping with Amazon Prime. All of these forces have combined to an enormous stack of unread books that physically pains me to behold. I long to read them. I love these books. I have been waiting to get into them. And yet….there they are.

I used to feel sad at bookshops: how will I ever be able to read all of the amazing books? I will die first! I will die and I won’t get to read half the books a person should read to be a real person! I had a frequent existential crisis of my own mortality, thanks to the bookshops. Now I feel that way in my own home.

Yesterday, I went on a hunt to find all of the unread books in my house and I piled them up. I took this picture and then I promptly found another three stashed in my desk. And then two more in a downstairs bookcase. And then four more in the other bookcase. This is epidemic.

I am making a new rule: No more new books until I’ve read all of these.

Not one. Not a single

Not a library book. Not a free book. Not a thrift store book.

I am going to read every single one of these wonderful books and then – THEN! – I will allow myself to read something new.

I’m committed to finishing all of this stack before I can bring another new book into this house.

……I’m doomed for failure, aren’t I?





  • Kim

    Sarah, I regret to say, you are an amateur. My stacks(s) of unread books will take on yours, any day. And, I don’t even feel guilty about it. But I would say that trips to the library REDUCE the number of books I buy, and are, therefore, a good thing.

    • Sarah Bessey

      I took all of the library books back. They don’t even get shelf space until I’m done.

      • Kim

        Also, let me know what you think of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.

  • Sarah McCarten

    I’ve got the same problem, do you think it’s contagious? It’s not that I don’t want to read them, it’s just that I have less time than I do desire to read. I’m contemplating whether to join you in this challenge; I’ll let you know should I succeed.

  • Emily Maynard

    I should take a photo of all of the books by my bed that I’m “currently reading.” It’s basically just a nine book stack of guilt.

    • Sarah Bessey


  • Micah J. Murray

    Hmpf books.

    • Sarah Bessey


  • Aaron Smith (CulturalSavage)

    I just collect books. I don’t actually read them any more.

    Now, if someone sends you a book, it doesn’t count as you buying a new book, right?!?

    • Sarah Bessey

      That’s what I tell my husband but he doesn’t believe me…

  • Grace

    I love N.T. Wright! This might not help your problem, but have you read his book ‘Surprised by Hope’? If not, you should. SO EXCELLENT.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes! I love love LOVE that book.

  • Lindsay Phelps

    This perfectly describes how I feel every single day. I also have a very bad habit of buying a book, getting halfway through it, then finding a new book that I HAVETOREADRIGHTNOWOMG and so on, until I have a dozen half-read books lying around my house.
    Life is tough for bookworms.

  • Matt Appling

    Are you starting at the top? 😉

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    Oh, I understand this. (Love that GIF.)

  • Gwyn

    You just need good rules for what doesn’t count not to fail. Like it doesn’t count if the book is a gift, or if one of your blogging friends gets a book deal, or if it’s an ebook, or… so on.

  • Sam

    I made the same resolution 6 months ago. I’m buckling under the pressure…

  • kim

    I used to be like you but now (15 years on) I have reader’s block. Every novel reads as if I’ve read it before, every spiritual memoir, reads like the one before, everything is borrowed, pastiche and tired.
    It must be my age.
    Reading crime fiction hoping that the tedium of the genre will re-enliven my sensitivities.
    Incidentally, still have a huge to-read pile

  • Nurse Bee

    I would say library books don’t count……. :)

  • Dana

    I am laughing so hard right now because I had a similar books-not-read freak out over the weekend. They are taking over. It’s truly ridiculous. I have contemplated taking vacation days just to read the books. I ended up eating chocolate, planning a week of dinner menus and reading very little. There’s little hope for me. . .grin!

  • Felicity White

    Don’t do it. I heard someone say recently that life is too short to read a book you don’t love. I’ve sort of adopted that myself. If I get a few chapters in and still don’t toss it in my purse on the way out the door, then I know I’m not loving it enough. I still have a huge pile, but I don’t feel so overwhelmed by it because I know I don’t have to finish them all if I don’t want to. So they remain fantastic possibilities instead of potential nooses. : )

    • pindy4176

      Amen, Felicity! I am more and more consistently applying this rule to what I read, what I watch, and (gasp) even what yarns I knit with!

      I sometimes feel a little sad — like a little grieving — but I remind myself that it doesn’t devalue the artisan’s work; it just wasn’t for me. If it’s mine to give away, I do, knowing that “sending it out into the universe with love” will help it find its proper home.

  • Miz Melly

    And once again, I am your soul sister. I feel like taking a photo of my pile and sending it to you. And I just binged while up north so I’m going home with another wee stash. IS there a support group for people like us???

    • Kentagern

      We maybe ought to start one. Though I somehow suspect it will just reinforce the habit.

      “Here, this is my Pile Of Shame. I determine from this day forth to read at least one of before acquiring another. The Pile Shall Not Grow.”
      “Oooooh, I see we share the same taste… oh and I’ve not read that one! Oh wow, I need to get it!”
      “I’ve had a look and yes, yes we have the same taste! There’s like 20 books in your pile I’ve not heard of! I’m ORDERING THEM RIGHT NOW!”

      • mizmelly

        Maybe we should just start a LIBRARY!!!!

  • Shelly Miller

    I just bought another book this week, because the cover was as pretty as the content sounded on the back. I don’t even want to think about stacking the unread books in my house. Oh my. It’s all the promise and hope inside those pages that make us love them so much.

  • Kirsty

    I have SO many unread books! I keep hitting the guilt and swearing I’ll read these before buying more, but without success (not helped this year by some of my favourite authors publishing new books).

    I also used to have existential crises about all the books I want to read and only having one lifetime. However, more recently I’ve started hoping heaven is going to feature a library (how awesome would that be?) and that therefore I’ll have more than one lifetime!

  • Brooke

    I’ve got the same problem!!! Also, I see Prodigal God in there. I just finished that one. That one is a quick, life changing read.

  • Susan Dominikovich

    This made me laugh so much…I have an unread stack of library books on my desk…I’ve renewed them once and will again, still determined to read them. They’re from your Top Picks! I decided we were kindred when I saw your preference for Persuasion (the best of the Austens!) and went out and found several of your other best reads. Alas! Time (not the books) is my enemy. And blogging. I am a blogging fiend at the moment. Must find balance.

  • mariewhitehead

    I am sure thousands of us have this problem. I made a vow to not buy a paper version of another book ever. I have an ereader and use it often. But some oldie but goody books aren’t in ereader format so I have broken the vow a couple of times…

  • Brenda W.

    This is a huge problem for me too. I also panic sometimes knowing that I won’t live long enough to finish All The Books. Hopefully there will be libraries in heaven!!

  • Christina

    You inspired me to count the number of books in my library I haven’t read. Final tally: 143 (and that doesn’t count any of my husband’s books which I have no interest in reading.) I blame the Christian bookstore with the huge clearance section that I worked at for 4 years. I justify it because I won’t always have the disposable income I have now…

  • Sambook

    I have often thought of doing the same thing! I am making a real effort to make headway through my unread books. You can do it! And how do I know that same feeling – “I will never be able to read all the books!” Well, all the books I want to read.

  • Guest

    To help with future growth, I recommend the policy of no new books until you get rid of an existing book. I sometimes

  • Mar

    I have the EXACT situation — but I realize that I not only love to read, but I love books being around me. I took books to bed rather than stuffed animals, or dolls, etc as a child, and so a stack beside my bed is actually a soother for me.

    And … No kidding … I prefer my books stacked, just as you have them, rather than shelved, which is more suitable in polite society.

    Until, last week, when I saw in a hospital gift shop the most wonderful thing ever for my particular craving/addiction. I found this to be the perfect solution, no kidding, to have my unread books and enjoy them aesthetically at the same time. (I get no $$$ for this information.). I did it, it works, and I see them every day now with in guilt. As they change, my decor will take on different shakes and colors.

    So here you go … I have an even smaller size, and it is wonderful. You’re welcome, stacking bibliophiles :)–Large/dp/B000RGF1CY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370384647&sr=8-1&keywords=invisible+bookshelf+stack

    • Mar

      * no guilt * shapes and colors :)

    • Mar

      It’s just me, but I refuse to have rules like “I must finish this before having a new train of thought …” That moves books into a legalism zone, one fraught with obligation and duty. No book deserves that treatment. (Apply this thought to any other Books freely ….)

    • ChristieEsau

      Those shelves are AWESOME. Such an excellent solution when you run out of places to put books!

  • Alyssa Bacon-Liu

    Wow! Good luck!

    ps – that Little Mermaid GIF is everything.

  • fearnobanjos

    It looks like you’re not alone, eh? :-) I have at least 40 books unread. At one point they were ALL stacked on my tiny bedside table until I realised that either they or the lamp would have to go. And really, what’s the point of bedside books without a lamp?! So about 6 months ago, I promised myself that I would not even LOOK at the Book Depository (my Amazonian temptation), nor borrow any new from friends and resist visiting the library until a good proportion had been read. I managed…until about a week ago. Now I’m gleefully awaiting Depository packages… 😀 …But it was Rilke, OK??? How could I not?

  • Nan

    I have so very very very many unread books! But I’ve got a few years head start on you. he he he

  • Erin

    My high school English teacher kept a running list of books she wanted to read before she died. When I graduated 7 years ago, it was well over 100 books and still growing. She acknowledged that she would probably never actually complete the list, even after retiring, but she enjoyed working on it anyway!

  • Valerie

    I am among those with this problem. (Is it really a problem?) I have many shelves of unread books in my home. I purged books 3 or 4 times in the past couple of years, realizing I’m running out of time (age 55) and/or my taste has changed from when I picked up those used books. The library is another source ( with less guilt) – but hey – I do my part to help keep their circulation numbers up. :-)

  • Debi Luna Marshall

    I’m right there with you. Have about 150 unread books. Barnes & Noble to me is like a bar to an alcoholic (although I usually price check while at the store and then just wind up getting it on Amazon for 30% less). I’ve made many attempts at moratoriums on buying new books. Usually lasts a few months until my favorite authors or bloggers put out a new one. I wish you the best of luck at finishing your stack. Let me know what tools you used to keep from buying more. I could use any help I can get!

  • Sara Nicole Rendall

    I have a stack at least that big plus a list a mile long on my e-reader! Every time I read a review that sounds good, or see a recommendation on Facebook, it goes onto my Amazon wish list and every time I need ONE MORE THING to get free shipping, another book gets dropped in my cart…my favorite verse in the Bible is John 21:25 because it makes me imagine the biggest library I have ever seen full of books detailing all Jesus’ adventures waiting for me in heaven. Of all the addictions a person could have, I’m glad I got this one. :)

  • Lyli Dunbar

    My stack is about 100 books tall…. Other women buy shoes… I buy books….

  • KateColvin

    So, I am pretty sure I have more unread books at home than you. I solve the sad at bookstores feeling by buying “just one” (or not just one). Then life gets busy. I started just shelving them all with the read books (because, see, I know which ones I haven’t gotten to). I could fill at least two large bookshelves with the hoard I have! I have tried to regulate and say no more until I read these, but those darn authors just keep publishing! Good luck, regardless.

  • ChristieEsau

    I went to the library to pick up some books. Librarian looked up at me quizzically and said “You sure have a LOT of books on hold.” To which I replied: “I LIKE TO BE PREPARED!”

    In short, I support your problem. Should their be any sort of apocalypse, you will have much goodness with which to occupy yourself. :)

  • Melody Reid

    OMG me too!!!!

  • Laura Lynn Brown

    Based on experience, yes, I’d say you’re doomed. But as others have noted, that’s really not a very big unread stack. I have an unread bookcase’s worth. The reason why there are no Bookaholics Anonymous chapters is that no one has ever successfully kicked that addiction.

  • ChrisOakes

    I’m a fellow addict. And a couple of years back I started trying e-books, thinking that would help with my problem – only to realize now I am afraid of my Kindle because there are so many unread books on it (and it doesn’t help that they’re usually cheaper). We’re all doomed!

  • Elle Michele

    I have the same issue!

  • Sandy Jones Fox

    So I looked at your picture of your books to see if there was anything I wanted to read…..
    We got back from three years in China about a year ago and spent our first three weeks in the US going to used book stores stocking up on books. I’ve read through many of them but there are still piles. After three years of limited access to books, it’s just a thirst I can’t quench. The piles make me happy!

  • Kentagern

    Ah, I am so relieved it’s not just me. I was looking at the distressing stack of books yesterday and the overwhelming desire to Read All The Things took over for a second… now I have yet another book on the go. Reducing the “to be read” pile by putting them in the “currently reading” pile is never the way forward.
    I’ve just realised I am online reading blogs. This is not the solution to the book pile problem!

    Does anyone know of any careers which involve solely just reading books?

  • Lisa Bartelt

    This is my problem, too. I have made peace that I will die with unread books in my house and in the world, but it’s still hard to resist. I’ve been known to come home from the library with a book when I have 3 on my desk in need of review because I can’t stand to leave the library empty-handed. It could be a worse problem, right?

  • Susan

    Yes, I think you are doomed for failure. I’m drawn to books like a bee to nectar. It’s an illness, not doubt.

  • Esther Aspling

    Good luck! There is no way I could do that! I have near 1,000 on my beautiful shelves (we homeschool, I’m not really a hoarder), and I can’t imagine the thought of trying to get through them all! lol

  • Jacquelin Rostad

    Good luck. I have made and broken the “no new books until I finish these” rule so many times that I’ve finally stopped making it. I won’t get to the bottom of the pile. Some of the books I once longed to have as close friends will remain acquaintances, waiting patiently on the shelf. But that’s okay. I’d rather have them close to me in a loving home just in case we have time to connect someday than sitting in the store where God-only-knows-who could take them home. Hee. 😉

  • Addie Zierman

    I have made this commitment a hundred times, and broken it every single one…but I wish you all the luck in the world. (Why is it so much more satisfying to have the actual book in a leaning tower on your nightstand then to just have its name on a list? They’re just so pretty.)

  • WordLily

    I have an entire book case (7 feet tall, and not skinny) full of unread books (to-be read, or TBR for the in-the-know). It’s a bit stressful at times, admittedly, but I say you shouldn’t be ashamed (or stressed) by that very small TBR of yours.

  • Erika Stephens

    I have the same problem. Stacks and stacks of books. I just bought a new one yesterday. At least we buy them with the best of intentions to actually read them. it’s just a time problem! And I remember nearly crying in bookstores and libraries as a child when I realized I would never get to read ALL OF THE BOOKS. What a crisis!

  • Jessica

    I will be the negative Nell and say yes, you will most likely fail, especially if you are like me and conveniently “forget” all the unread books you have, or rationalize with “I’ll start with this one first.” It can be vicious, although I will say when I have been extremely broke it was nice to have a selection of books to read.

  • Sarah Barci

    I have the exact same problem…over the years I’ve whittled my unread pile down from 4 book shelves to just 2, mostly by just giving them away sadly. But I have read quite a few too. I just get sidetracked by other books. Good luck :)

  • James Prescott

    You are definitely not alone. Almost losing count of the books on my kindle and on my shelf I want to read and haven’t yet read. My big problem is the discipline of regular book reading – I’ve never really ‘loved’ reading, but I do enjoy it once I can get myself to do it. Good luck reading those books.

  • Anne Bogel

    Not one? Not even one?? Are you sure this problem is “not so” serious? 😉

  • pastordt

    Oh sweetie, I see your stack and double it. Triple it. It’s a disease – I swear it is. And yes, you are doomed to failure. So sorry about that.

  • Amy Thedinga

    Sarah, this love of books is exactly why you are such a brilliant author. And I so identify with your angst. I often feel paralyzed by my inability to consume all of the words I hunger for. It’s in those times that I try and remember what an incredible gift it is to be living in these times and in this place with such free access to each others’ thoughts. Concentrate on the blessing of the abundance and not the frustration of trying to drink from a firehose. And if you figure out how to do that, please let me know.

  • Sarah Silvester

    Yes, you are doomed to failure. I blogged at the beginning of the year about my unread books and resolved to not buy or read any others until I’d for through The Pile. Well, I have been reading, but only 2 from The Pile (or maybe 1? – Loving your kids on purpose), and then I got given The Happiness Projecf for my birthday, I read that, and then had to buy Bread and Wine, then got Is it just Me? by Miranda hart (call the midwife! And her own show, have you watched it?) and she’s now my hero. I got Dancing with my Father from Sally Clarkson for my birthday too, and started that, and then a friend leant me Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman….
    Good luck. 😉

  • TracyRae

    Once, I went about 6 months without buying any books, but the number of books read took a sharp turn down also.
    I have close to 50 (probably a low estimate) unread books throughout my apartment, going back to school has forced me to replace reading time with homework time (but somehow I didn’t stop buying books…) But with my three week break, I have grand plans to hopefully read quite a few of them.

  • Brent Stromme

    Just blogged yesterday about how I need to unsubscribe from a bunch of magazines I never read, but which happily swarm my counter tops and desks…heinous. I’ll start with magazines then move onto books. Baby steps, Bob. :-) Love your writing and perspective, Sarah, thanks for keeping it real.

  • DrGailBones

    I have a tactical question. Will you allow yourself to abandon a book? And if you do, will you wonder if maybe you just aren’t feeling it today, but think it deserves a second chance in the future? Will you feel the need to put it back on the shelf in case some day you will actually be more inclined to tackle Moby Dick or Nicholas Nickleby? I mean, what if they do a Masterpiece Theater Series and this becomes the next big thing and then suddenly you get over your hurdle of disinterest .

  • janetb1

    I so have the same problem. I have probably like 15 stacks. I have said the same thing time and time again, no more books. I am going to a christian store today with books, keep me strong Lord. I also work in a library and see a lot of great books pass my desk, oh my flesh is so weak!!!!


    Ugh. I have the same problem. I counted 43 unread books the other day – and that doesn’t even count cookbooks, which have quickly become my new nighttime love. Good luck! 😉

  • Camille

    Ditto. And your stacks are meager compared to the piles I have shoved under beds, in closets, and in random corners! You know the doomsday preppers that stockpile resources in case of a disaster or such? I’m like that, but with books instead of canned goods and water. Priorities, ya know?

  • amyepatton72

    I feel your pain. There just aren’t enough hours in a life. Sometimes I think there should be a temporary moratorium on new books being published just to give me time to catch up, but then I would be sad that I couldn’t hold that new book which holds so much hope and potential in my hands! Here’s to reading. Amy

  • Timber

    I WISH my stack was only this big. You would check me into a rehab of sorts if you saw mine. And I’m not even being sarcastic. Its insane!

  • Sarah

    I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work for me. My list just grows and grows, physical list. And then I walk past the library. And it grows some more. I gave myself a goal to read 7 books on my unread bookshelf this year. I’ve made it through 4.

  • HopefulLeigh

    I stacked all mine up a month or two ago and found well over 50. I swore I wouldn’t buy any more until I’d read them all but…

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