The Reading Queue Revisited

June 27, 2005 | 8 2 min read

I created my reading queue about a year and half ago because I decided I needed a system to help me work through my big to be read pile. The main problem, as I wrote at the time, was that there were a number of books in my TBR pile that I was interested in reading but never seemed to get around to. A newer, more exciting book would come along and it would vault to the top of the pile and other books would languish, unread.

Part of the problem is how I read. I read fairly quickly, but I don’t spend a lot of my day reading books. I spend a lot of time on this here computer, for one thing. Plus, every day I read the newspaper and every week I read the New Yorker from cover to cover. I’ll probably read about 30 books this year, not a lot when you consider my TBR pile is more than 40 books tall. Though I’d love to be able to read two or three books a week, I don’t really mind my slower pace. Still, I didn’t like the idea of books staring at me year after year unread, so I created the reading queue.

As you can see if you check out the queue near the bottom of the right hand column, I alphabetize my TBR pile by author and then assign each book a number. When the time comes to pick my next book to read, I use a random number generator to decide for me. I know, it’s impossibly nerdy, but I’ve decided I like handling my reading decisions this way.

For one thing, it is in keeping with certain compulsive tendencies I have about organizing things (although, sadly, those tendencies don’t cause me to clean off my desk with any regularity, for example), and each new book I pick to read is a little surprise rather than an agonizing decision (well, maybe it’s not that bad). The only time I read a book out of order is if a publisher or author has sent me an advance copy and I want to make sure I read and review it when it comes out. Those I bump right to the top of the list. But if I go buy a book or get one as a gift, it goes into the queue. Maybe I’ll read it next week, maybe I’ll read it in five years; the reading queue will decide.

I’m probably the only odd bird out there who feels a need to organize their reading this way, but if anyone else has a reading queue of their own, I’d love to hear about it.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. I enjoy your web site and wanted to drop you a line to thank you for sharing the writing queue with your visitors.

    I recently started my own writing blog hoping that it will inspire me to begin taking my writing more seriously.

    Keep up the great work. We enjoy it immensely!

  2. Hey, whaddayaknow – someone else uses random numbers to manage large to-be-read piles of books. I started about a year ago to randomly choose my next book. I love the not knowing aspect in that even though I bought the book, it seems like surprise or treat. Which is very nice compared to looking at a full bookshelf and despairing (not unlike Ozymandias…)

  3. Randomness is so much fun. I use it to decide what I will play on the piano, what I will wear, and like you, what books to read. I have about 400 books in my house that I want to read or reread sometime. I look them all over once in a while, just so I won't forget what they are. The top shelf of one bookcase is for current and next-in-line reading–six books each. If any book has a commentary, like the one I'm using for Ulysses, it can be beside it. I read my six current books in turn, a chapter or ten pages at a time, and alternating commentaries with the books they explain. When I finish a book, the first of the next-in-line books moves over, and I pick a new next-in-line book based on whatever book, author or subject I have recently read about in a journal. There are only two rules: each new book has to be as different as possible from the previous one(The Interpretation of Dreams follows Moby Dick) and there is always, these days, a Shakespeare play among the current reading. I pick those according to their order in Hazlitt's commentary. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone.

  4. Terrific blog,

    Regarding your to be read stack, have you thought of asking your readers to give a vote to a book they'd like to see further up your pile. Nothing like a little reader involvement. I may try this out myself.

  5. My strategy for what's on my to-be-read shelf is that I read the last book on each shelf going down the right side, then the first book on each shelf going up the left side. It manages to keep things mixed up reasonably well. At the moment, everything is shelved by color, but every few years, I rearrange by some odd criteria (height, author, title, order of purchase as best as I can remember, etc.). I've been toying with setting up a web page where people can vote on what I should read next, although that's some point in the future.

  6. For four years I read using a regime I created to deal with the enormous number of number of books I had. I decided to choose a number of random themes and read everything I had that could fit that theme, which meant I would read the poetry and criticism and heavy non-fiction I had instead of reading novels all the time. I started with the Romantic era, leading me to read Byron's Don Juan, Blake's Jerusalem, Shelly's Prometheus Unbound, as well as De Quincey, Hazlitt, Lamb and Howard Bloom and Frank Kermode's books on the Romantics. I went through Crime fiction, Central Europe, the Renaissance, London and History, and I was in the process of reading the Greeks and the Romans when David Foster Wallace died and I thought I really wanted to read the copy of Infinite Jest I had had sitting on my shelf for years. Then I abandoned my thematic reading and went back to reading randomly, which I have mixed fealings about. I just finished The Savage Detectives and when I googled Roberto Bolano your review came near the top, which is what led me here. Looks like a cool site.

  7. my reading queue sometimes reaches above 15 books, which pile up by the bedside. Then in a mad fit of tidiness I reduce it to three or four that I have read in the last week or so, the rest ' falling off the edge of the desk' so to speak. But then I run a second hand bookshop, so I'm in no real danger of not having something to read.

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