RUNNING OUT OF TIME: Reflections on an Out-of-Control TBR Pile

L’Shana Tovah, everybody! It’s the Jewish New Year, which means that I am not at school teaching the little monsters geniuses and am instead at home, ironically finding time to learn things for myself. Of course, this being a day of reflection, I find that I am learning about myself. And I’m a little nervous about what I see.

Sunday will be the second anniversary of my becoming a blogger. No congratulations here, please! (And no threats – pleeeeaaaaase!) I’m planning a post for that special day. Those of you who have hung around with me even a little bit know that I love to read. I especially love to read mysteries. And since I’ve begun this whole ego trip that is the blogosphere, I have followed other mystery lovers (my favorite part of the whole shebang) and learned much about classic fiction. And I’ve bought things. And I’ve read them. And I’ve bought some more – and I meant to read them. And I’ve bought some more . . . . . . . . . and I’ll get to them real soon. And then . . . I bought some more . . .


All of us who blog about books talk about the dreaded/beloved “TBR pile.” I have to tell you that when I moved from the city almost fourteen years ago in order to buy a condo, I had to downsize. With great difficulty, I gave away so many books, a lot of them classic mysteries. Many of them were plastered with a little sticker of ownership on the inside cover that my parents had given me when I was a kid. It contained a lovely quote by Emily Dickinson:


I hated to part with these books, but I needed the space. And now, look at what two years have wrought:  today I find myself ordering new bookshelves so that I can stock up on old titles – some of them titles I gave away before! It’s as if suddenly these books that I have enjoyed all my life have taken on a deeper significance. I suppose that when we get older, we start to relish the things we have developed a great passion (and some little knowledge) about. And that’s what I’m doing here. But is it getting out of control? Is this to be my new book sticker:


When I stumbled upon the GAD group on Facebook several years ago, I came out of the (literary genre) closet and embraced a small, stylish community of my own kind. In my dreams, I had an image of a roomful of Talmudic scholars, arguing fiercely over text. Only our texts took place in Much Deeping and involved little old lady detectives and slaughtered squires holed up in the fireplace. This image has come to life for me, albeit in a virtual setting. (So far! I can’t wait till the day I can travel to Bouchercons and British Library events and meet these people for real.) And since knowledge begats a thirst for more knowledge, the stacks of books have begun to grow again.

This morning, as I am wont to do, I checked out the latest posts by JJ and Kate. At Cross Examining Crime, Kate has been averaging a post a day, both on authors well known to me (Christie, Stout, Marsh, Hilda Lawrence) and others I’ve never heard of (Joanna Cannon, Francis Duncan). I don’t know how she keeps up the pace. Today at The Invisible Event, JJ discovered an author he couldn’t stand, and I felt such relief. Cross one “new” old mystery off the list. But – oh no! – in the comments section, John and JJ talked about the imminent publication from Locked Room International of a mystery from China (Death in the House of Rain) that sounds terrific!!!

I know it’s a sickness, but I immediately went to the LRI website to suss out more info. I liked what I saw. But before I clicked the order button, I started to think about my own dreaded/beloved TBR pile. What exactly is the damage I have wrought over the past two years? And so, my friends, as Ko-Ko famously sang: I’ve got a little list . . .

(Interesting sidebar: I am no fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, but I have of course heard of The Mikado. I was speaking with a friend of mine over the weekend who is now the artistic director of a local renowned G&S company. Evidently, nobody sets The Mikado in Japan anymore. The show has been rewritten to take place in Italy to eliminate the racial stereotyping of the original. This is something we talk about all the time when discussing classic mysteries. The other thing I didn’t know is that Ko-Ko is the Lord High Executioner, and the lyrics of his song would fit beautifully in a classic inverted mystery.



As someday it may happen that a victim must be found

I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list

Of society offenders who might well be underground

And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the best (updated) rendition of the song by Seth McFarland:

So, with much fanfare, here’s the list I made of the books sitting on my shelf (or programmed into my Kindle) waiting to be read:


  1. Anthony Abbott, About the Murder of a Startled Lady
  2. Anthony Abbott, About the Murder of a Circus Queen
  3. Anthony Abbott, The Creeps
  4. Catherine Aird, Henrietta Who?
  5. Catherine Aird, Parting Breath
  6. Mark Aldridge, Agatha Christie on Screen
  7. Delano Ames, She Shall Have Murder
  8. Margaret Armstrong, The Man With No Face
  9. Margaret Armstrong, The Blue Santo Murder Mystery
  10. Margaret Armstrong, Murder in Stained Glass
  11. George Bellairs, Death of a Busybody
  12. Phyllis Bentley, Chain of Witnesses: The Cases of Miss Phipps
  13. Anthony Berkeley, The Poisoned Chocolates Case (I’ve read this one twice, but I bought the new BL edition with two extra endings, so . . . )
  14. Norman Berrow, The Footprints of Satan
  15. Norman Berrow, Words Have Wings
  16. Anita Blackmon, The Is No Return
  17. John Dickson Carr, Death Turns the Tables
  18. John Dickson Carr, The Dead Man’s Knock
  19. Carter Dickson, The White Priory Murders
  20. Carter Dickson, Nine, and Death Makes Ten
  21. Carter Dickson, He Wouldn’t Kill Patience
  22. Carter Dickson, Seeing Is Believing
  23. Carter Dickson, Death and the Gilded Man
  24. Carter Dickson, The Curse of the Bronze Lamp
  25. Carter Dickson, The Skeleton in the Clock
  26. Carter Dickson, A Graveyard to Let
  27. Carter Dickson, Night at the Mocking Widow
  28. Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding
  29. Elizabeth Daly, Arrow Pointing Nowhere
  30. Elizabeth Daly, Murders in Volume 2
  31. Elizabeth Daly, Nothing Can Rescue Me
  32. Eilis Dillon, Death in the Quadrangle
  33. Todd Downing, Vultures in the Sky
  34. Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr, The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes
  35. Martin Edwards, The Dungeon House
  36. Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books
  37. Curtis Evans, Clues and Corpses: The Detective Fiction and Mystery Criticism of Todd Downing
  38. Curtis Evans, Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene
  39. Robin Forsythe, The Polo Ground Mystery
  40. Christopher Fowler, Full Dark House
  41. Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Buried Clock
  42. Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe
  43. Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Stuttering Bishop
  44. Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Demure Defendant
  45. Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece
  46. Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Lucky Loser
  47. Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Cautious Coquette
  48. Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Haunted Husband (I got all these Perry Mason titles for $2.00 at a local library sale!)
  49. Julius Green, Curtain Up: Agatha Christie, A Life in the Theatre
  50. Paul Halter, The Lord of Misrule
  51. Paul Halter, The Seven Wonders of Crime
  52. Mavis Doriel Hay, The Santa Klaus Murder
  53. Mavis Doriel Hay, Death on the Cherwell
  54. Mo Hayder, Poppet
  55. Annie Haynes, The Crime at Tattenham Corner
  56. Anthony Horowitz, The Word Is Murder
  57. Michael Innes, What Happened at Hazelwood
  58. Sebastien Japrisot, The Sleeping Car Murders
  59. Harry Kemelman, The Nine Mile Walk
  60. Rufus King, Murder on the Yacht
  61. Ronald Knox, The Three Taps
  62. Hans Olav Lahlum, The Human Flies
  63. Donna Leon, A Question of Belief
  64. Frances and Richard Lockridge, Death on the Aisle
  65. Peter Lovesey, Stagestruck
  66. Ngaio Marsh, Spinsters in Jeopardy (Yecch!)
  67. Helen McCloy, Cue for Murder
  68. Helen McCloy, Two-Thirds of a Ghost
  69. Helen McCloy, A Change of Heart
  70. Jill McGown, Murder Movie
  71. Francis M. Nevins, Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection
  72. Rupert Penny, Policeman’s Evidence
  73. Tyline Perry, The Owner Lies Dead
  74. John Pugmire and Brian Skupin, The Realm of the Impossible
  75. E.R. Punshon, The Conqueror Inn
  76. E.R. Punshon, There’s a Reason for Everything
  77. E.R. Punshon, Night’s Cloak
  78. E.R. Punshon, Diabolic Candelabra
  79. E.R. Punshon, Suspects Nine
  80. E.R. Punshon, Four Strange Women
  81. Patrick Quentin, A Puzzle for Fools
  82. Patrick Quentin, A Puzzle for Puppets
  83. Patrick Quentin, A Puzzle for Wantons
  84. Patrick Quentin, A Puzzle for Fiends
  85. Patrick Quentin, Run to Death
  86. Patrick Quentin, The Puzzles of Peter Duluth
  87. John Rhode, Dead of the Night
  88. Kelley Roos, The Frightened Stiff
  89. Theodore Roscoe, Murder on the Way
  90. Harriet Rutland, Bleeding Hooks
  91. Harriet Rutland, Blue Murder
  92. John Sladek, Black Aura
  93. St. John Sprigg, Death of an Airman
  94. Jonathan Stagge, The Stars Spell Death
  95. Rex Stout, And Be a Villain
  96. Rex Stout, The Second Confession
  97. Rex Stout, Even In the Best Families
  98. Rex Stout, Too Many Clients
  99. Rex Stout, The Silent Speaker
  100. Rex Stout, Might As Well Be Dead
  101. Rex Stout, If Death Ever Slept
  102. Rex Stout, Please Pass the Guilt
  103. Rex Stout, 3 at Wolfe’s Door
  104. Rex Stout, Gambit
  105. Rex Stout, A Family Affair (Someone at school left a collection of six of these lying in the faculty lunchroom. Fellow mystery lover, won’t you find me please???)
  106. Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Octagon House
  107. Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Punch With Care
  108. Jean-Paul Torok, The Riddle of Monte Verita
  109. Arthur Upfield, Wings Above the Diamantina
  110. Noel Vindry, The Howling Beast
  111. Henry Wade, New Graves at Great Norne
  112. Henry Wade, The Hanging Captain
  113. Ayelet Waldman, Murder Plays House
  114. Katherine Woodfine, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow


I can only imagine how much larger the TBR piles are of my friends who have been doing this so much longer. I remember looking for a Secret Santa gift for my blog buddy Bev Hankins. I went onto her website and found the books she was looking to read. They numbered in the hundreds of hundreds. Noah Stewart is/was a bookseller. Margot Kinberg must own a second home stockpiled with books.

A sickness, I tell you! I know it is a sickness! But it is one I am prepared to grapple with! And I will win! From this moment on, I will not buy another book until I have ploughed through my current TBR pile.

Just as soon as I’ve finished ordering Death in the House of Rain. Oh, and Helen McCloy’s Dance of Death. And I need Patrick Quentin’s A Puzzle for Pilgrims and A Puzzle for Players to complete my Peter and Iris Duluth collection. Then I’ll stop. Honestly. I’ll stop.


Help me . . . please . . .


(P.S. I’ll be back on Sunday with a review . . . of a book I checked out of the library!)





28 thoughts on “RUNNING OUT OF TIME: Reflections on an Out-of-Control TBR Pile

  1. 114 is not all that bad. Always remember there are others who have many many more books in their TBR pile than you. Unfortunately I am not one of them. I only have 23 mystery novels in my TBR pile. (Rare moment where I get to feel smug and then a moment later feel bad about feeling smug – it’s complicated!)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. L’Shanah Tovah, Brad, and may it be a good year for you. I know exactly what you mean about the impact of the blogosphere on the TBR. It’s astounding, isn’t it? It’s gotten to the point, for me, where I know I will never read everything on my list, or everything I want to read. That’s not possible in a human lifespan. I will read what I can and enjoy that. And I will just conveniently look away from the TBR list… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • And we will go on buying as we please, Margot! And I will donate all my books to a suitable lending library with the understanding that the classic mysteries must NEVER go out of circulation! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. No one is going to believe this, but I don’t actually have a TBR pile. I have a couple of books on my bedside table that I read before bed, but most of the time they’re not mysteries (collections of bridge problems, mostly). If I buy it to read, it gets read pretty much the same day; otherwise it just goes into a box and every once in a while five or six boxes go into storage. I have the advantage of being a very, very fast reader, so unread books don’t usually last a day in my house.
    I still have a few dozen Gladys Mitchell novels to go through, but I’m realizing that I don’t think I’ll ever be sufficiently motivated to read them; they’re just going into storage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The truth is that many of the titles on my list are books I tried to start – or bought due to a huge bargain sale – and then discovered they may go unread. My first Punshon was not a big success, but they keep having 99 cent Kindle sales. I hear the second Anita Blackmun is better – and hopefully less racist – than the first. And so it goes . . .


  4. 114? Pshaw! I thought you might be in trouble for a moment there, but that’s barely Walking Around money…

    Part of me likes having a lot of books to choose from — a few years ago I got my TBR down to something like 6 books and it felt weird being so restrained in choice — because I’m never entirely sure what I’m going to want to read next, so I need a range of GAD, SF, YA, SPQR, and WTF to pick from. I try to genre-hop as much as possible to stop stuff getting old, but this leads to the problem of precisely when it becomes unacceptable to buy any more until I’ve read some. The easiest way around this, I’ve found, is to arbitrarily apply a moratorium at unexpected times and for unusual durations — three months! seventy-six minutes! a week! — though caveats always slip through.

    I’ll count up my TBR one day and let you know how perilous it is. You, sir, have nothing to worry about…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t include the non-GAD stuff: the books on theatre, the YA, and that Kate Atkinson book that I loaded onto my Kindle three years ago. Oh, and I’ll have Book Six in the GOT series in 30 to 40 years, when George R.R. Martin’s done . . .


  5. Brad–Thanks for the mention. I think. No, wait….are you saying I have a book-addiction problem? I mean…I only have 1,376 unread mysteries hanging around the house here somewhere. [She says from deep within the teetering stacks.] That’s the bulk of my owned TBR pile (there are random SF, fiction, and non-fiction books needing read as well, but I didn’t include them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reading is not an addiction, it’s a necessity. And the fact of so many people, with so many books stretched out temptingly before them, will inevitably lead to a breakthrough in the field of time-travel and/or immortality through sheer desperation.
    Thus, a sufficiently teetering TBR pile may someday be a boon for humanity. You’re doing great work.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I have a feeling you are going to dislike the Mo Hayder novel even though I’m only familiar with the movie adaptation of her novel “The Treatment”, but it’s a deeply unpleasant work full of child-abuse and torture.


  8. I feel privileged that I made it into your blog post! 😀 Sorry for directing attention to yet another book to purchase. 🙂 I’m pretty excited by the prospect of a Taiwanese-Honkaku novel, and the dilemma for me pertains to whether or not I should read the novel in its original Mandarin language (my second language), or in LRI’s English translation (my first language). When I discovered that novel through JJ’s re-tweeting of John Pugmire’s tweet, I spent more than an hour searching the author’s other novels, and exploring the wonders of the Taiwanese fair-play mystery genre. 😀

    PS I feel fearful that Paul Halter is due for more criticism, given that his titles in your TBR are his weaker ones. 😦 Then again, I thought I’ve read your review of ‘Seven Wonders’ in the past? Why is that still on the TBR pile?


  9. I don’t think there is a single book blog I visit regularly that hasn’t written a version of this post at some time or another – so if it is a sickness it is a common one which may you give some “I am not alone” comfort.

    As others have said 114 is not really that big a problem relative to some I have read about. The last time i discussed my own TBR on my blog someone commented they have 3000+ unread books and I got the impression that person is even older than I am. This might give you some “I’m sick but not that sick comfort”.

    Or you might just choose to stop considering your TBR as a problem that needs to be solved. I do some coaching for personal budgeting and one of the things I have learned in my years of doing this is just about everyone has something they will always spend money on and I am generally much more successful getting them to accept this rather than to try to get them to stop spending on that “thing” all together. Because they generally can’t and pretending they can or will is dangerous. If they pretend they won’t plan for that spending in their budgets, if they stop pretending they allow for the expense (to a limited degree usually) and still have enough left over for bills and mortgage and whatever else they need. I’ve kind of decided that my TBR – which seems to hover around 130 no matter what I do – is an equivalent kind of issue. It’s not so big that people have to start calling the authorities for fear I might bury myself under a pile of unread books and it’s not costing me more than I can afford either. So while it may not be ideal it is, on the scale of Bernadette’s issues that need to be resolved, not a big problem

    And you never know…if the zombie apocalypse comes you might just be very grateful to have a good pile of reading on hand 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Oh, dear! The last time I checked, my tongue was still firmly in my cheek, Bernadette! I actually live a pretty simple life, without a lot of extravagance. I pay my mortgage and my bills on time, and I use my money on the following: good food, good seats in the theatre, the occasional trip to New York City to see said theatre . . . and books. As you point out, like so many book lovers, my purchases outrace my ability to read (I’m a pretty slow reader), so if I’m walking down a street and spot a bookstore (especially a used bookstore) and go in there and find some titles by authors I love – or I get into a fun conversation with the store clerk and get some good recommendations – well, then, my stack is going to grow. All guilt-free, I assure you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love the theatre and would like to frequent it more often but my state isn’t a metropolis for plays like NYC. I wouldn’t mind taking a trip or two to go see one but I don’t have the luxury, unfortunately 😣


  10. Hm, did I see Malice in that pile? 😛

    My TBR is slightly easier to manage. I really only count books I have in it, (otherwise it would shoot up into the high hundreds). Of course, since I’m a fast reader who takes forever to start, it’s still like seven or eight books at a time. I’d post the full list but I don’t want to clog the comments. 😛


  11. Pingback: POINT ME IN THE RIGHT MISDIRECTION (Part One: The Knave of Clubs and the Queen of Hearts) | ahsweetmysteryblog

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