In December 2014, I finished reading 16 books (over 14 months) that had been sitting on my home bookshelves unread – for months or years. I knew it would happen again. I’d continue to accumulate books and not have time to read them all. What is life but an exercise in setting reading priorities?

Fast forward almost 4 years and I have THIRTY unread books at home. I would have started with 35, but I read another 5 books from my home shelves in 2018.

Between 2015 and now, I bought 25 books – this despite having top-rate library access! Happily, I read 20 of them so only 5 are on the new Reading Down the House list. Maybe I am getting better at choosing books that compel me to read them quickly! Better yet, I only kept 10 of the 20 and passed the rest along.

So where did my 30 unread books come from?

  • 5 purchased – 3 new and 1 used from UK book shops, and 1 from Amazon
  • 3 left over from last Reading Down the House project – I didn’t feel up to reading them at the time, but I do now
  • 4 given to me
  • 18 library discards

As a librarian, I have continuous access to books the library has discarded. These are titles that have declined in popularity and must go to make room for the new. Every library book does most of its circulation in its first year when it’s still in the media and trending. For every book that isn’t a bestseller (à la James Patterson or Debbie Macomber), its use rapidly declines in year 2. The library system might buy 40 copies of a bestseller to meet demand in year one, and only keep 10 of them by the time the author comes out with their next book. Libraries take chances on well-reviewed and local first novels, some of which just don’t take off. We don’t have space to keep the complete works of each author at every library branch – we keep them somewhere in the library system, so they’re available through holds/reserves. And – 20% of our check-outs are e-books, so the demand for print copies has lessened.

All this to explain why I brought home 18 discards that are well worth reading. Since last February, I’ve been working in a library office job rather than in public services, so my supply has dried up, and it’s a perfect time to read what I have!

About the 30 books:

  • Coincidentally, 15 are by female authors and 15 by male authors (none are by non-binary people – that’s because when I find those books, I read them immediately)
  • 19 are fiction and 11 are nonfiction, including 5 memoirs
  • The shortest is 113 pages (Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish) and the longest is 679 pages (Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls Trilogy, which, obviously, is 3 novels in one)
  • Two books will require some pre-reading: I have  read The Country Girls (volume 1) and will reread it before the other two; and I will reread Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries before its sequel, Forced Entries

Here is the list in title order:

Did you notice 31 Songs is alphabetized as if it were Thirty-One Songs? That is my old-school library filing rules talking! And one would never file a title under the articles A, An or The.

If you have read any of these, please let me know what you thought of them!

How many unread books do you own?


  1. I have not read 31 Songs, but I would like to read High Fidelity, which seems related(?), as I really enjoyed Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down. Perhaps next time I’m at the bookstore…

    • Nick Hornby is my favourite author along with Douglas Coupland. I have read all his novels, several of his anthologies of book review columns, and even his football memoir. As a music snob, I adore High Fidelity! And I can’t wait to see his “Juliet Naked” movie which is brand new.

  2. I have read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, and Buddha In the Attic. It’s been a while for both, but I remember especially enjoying Buddha In the Attic, about Japanese picture brides adjusting to life and expectations in the United States.

    I’ve read The Tale of Genji twice (required reading for college courses) – and it was exhausting both times. But, it’s the first novel ever written and worthwhile in that respect. Both times when I read I tried to pick out an aspect of life in Heian Japan that I could follow throughout the book to help keep me focused. One time I paid attention to clues about how women’s beauty was judged (especially since they blackened their teeth and did weird things with their eyebrows then). Another time I paid attention to descriptions of the clothing and what that said about the characters’ lives. A good companion book to read at the same time as it can be read in small chunks is The Pillow Book by Sei Shounagon. Her diary gives interesting and amusing insights into life for the nobility in Heian Japan, and contains short essays, lists ( like “Infuriating Things,” “Things That Make Your Heart Beat Faster,” and so forth), etc. Also, she was a contemporary of, but not particularly fond of Murasaki Shikibu!

    • The abridged version of The Tale of Genji by Seidensticker seems to be well-regarded and is only 360 pages so I hope I get on with it! I loved reading your “take” on it, and The Pillow Book sounds wonderful.

  3. Johnny Marr, eh? Are you a fellow Smiths fan?

    I’d guess we have 20 or 30 unread books (unread by me, anyway).I haven’t read anything on your list. I should get off the internet and open a book now…

  4. What a variety of books! I finally realized I had too many in the to be read line up and cancelled a few of my library requests in hopes of catching up.

  5. Margie in Toronto

    The only one that I’ve read is “The Tale of Genji” – it was quite a while ago but I did enjoy it. Isn’t it technically the first novel?
    I am sitting looking at a cabinet full of books that I haven’t read as yet – I’m guessing close to 100 at the moment – and that is with cutting back on purchasing books and making really good use of the library these past 6 months! I’m learning to simply “bookmark” books on the library website instead of putting holds on everything! At the moment there are 5 books from the library sitting on my coffee table – they will be read this week. I’m then intending to start making a dent in the “TO BE READ” pile! I’ll try to keep track over the next few months and see how I do.

    • I have heard that The Tale of Genji was the first novel! I am impressed that you have 100 unread books on hand. I always set a higher priority on library books that I placed on hold, then other library books, then my own. I have also started using the library’s “for later” lists instead of putting everything on hold.

  6. Agh I’ve had such trouble commenting due to passwords. LIke the post where you read the book I suggested!!

    I’ve not read any of your titles. I still find it puzzling to have unread titles. Though I am surrounded (in my parents home) with books I’ve not read, all of my ownership are read – only get to a pile of 2-4, which I currently have: Aryn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a holocaust survival story from my visit to the Danish Jewish Museum, two library books (one self help, the other is Wild, by podcaster Cheryl Strayed – OK she’s more than that, but it’s how I know her). I conquered Lady Chatterley’s Lover – took me a while, but glad I read a classic which caused so much drama!

    • Sarah, do you have to be “approved” every time you try to comment on my blog? Or enter your username or any captchas? I thought I had it set up so only first-time users needed comment approval.

      If I didn’t work in a library, maybe I’d be like a normal person and not accumulate unread books! I walk by tantalizing books every day and I’m constantly bombarded with book reviews and promotions. If I didn’t work here, I would be able to choose not to go to the library or the bookstore when I had enough books. Theoretically 🙂

  7. I was only thinking the other day that it might time for me to do a Reading Down the House challenge. I have books I have been buying, except as I keep borrowing, my bought ones languish.

    Too many books. Not enough time.

  8. Pingback: January Sum-Up | An Exacting Life

  9. I have A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius on my shelf unread as well. Along with about 30+ others. Mostly serious books that I want to read but not yet. I should pick a few this year to read and get them off my shelf.

  10. Pingback: The House Has Been Read! | An Exacting Life

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