Are You Stock-Piling Books You Never Read?

The Unread Books Of Shame

See the haphazard piling. See their shameful unread-ness. I hang my head.

My Shelf of Shame

We’ve all heard of Shelfies at this point. A better sort of Instagram pic for book lovers. But I have a distasteful Shelfie to share. It’s my Shelf of Shame.

It’s because of the stack of books on this shelf in my hallway which I liked enough to buy, but not enough to start reading. How did I come to this?

They look as good as they did on the day I bought them. But something happens to them after a relatively short amount of time. They become boring. They look at me accusingly from the shelf, their smoothly rigid spines indignant in their crispness. 

Our relationship – me and the books – starts to fracture. I have to be honest about it. I fall out of love. I go off them. It’s fickle. But what can I do?

A Literary Harem of Ill-Used Concuspines

They call to me.

Bookshop ShelvesPitiful Unread Book:Psst. Tara. C’mere. Over here. Just a second.”

Me: “Er, yes. Hi.”

Pitiful Unread Book: “C’mon, pet. You wanted me once. You bought me. I’m lonely. Why won’t you read me?”

Me: “I will! I will. It’s just that – well, I don’t quite feel the same, I’m afraid.”

Pitiful Unread Book: “Excuse me?”

Me: “Well, when I bought you, you were all shiny and new, and promised a great deal. Escapism, a good way to spend a rainy bus journey, etcetera. But now, you’re kind of sloppy seconds.”

Pitiful Unread Book: “I beg your pardon?”

Me: “You see, you’re kind of tainted, now. I obviously liked other things a lot more than you, because I read them before you. And you just sat there, becoming a bit rubbish, if you must know. Now, you’ve turned into something I should read, rather than something I want to read.”

Pitiful Unread Book: “But that’s not my fault! I haven’t changed!”

Me: “Well, maybe I have. I’m afraid it’s just not working for me any more. I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. But you’re going to have to stay on my Shelf of Shame.”

Books I actually read

A better sort of Shelfie. Orderly. Digested. Satiated.

Books Are For Reading, Not Just For Furniture

I am a fickle reader. When I’m in the mood, I might buy any book which takes my fancy. But then other things get in the way – like finishing another book first; writing myself, meaning I don’t have the time or don’t want to be distracted; or simply, shinier, funnier stuff which somehow makes the other new books on the shelf seem tedious or chore-like in comparison. And I just don’t fancy them any more.

The moral of the story is that I should just never bulk-buy. And yet I continue to do so.

Most pertinently – and this is the game-changer – I’m not even talking here about e-Readers. How many thousands of books are stacked on Kindles today, never ever to see the light of day?

Do you have a Shelf of Shame? What, for you, is the difference between a book you should read, and a book you can’t wait to read?

  16 comments for “Are You Stock-Piling Books You Never Read?

  1. January 14, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Must admit to having many more than just one small pile. Some books are my husband’s and of no interest to me; some are art books whose photographs I dip into for inspiration; others are reference books; a few are books written by acquaintances and I felt obliged to buy them; some are books given to me by someone who thought I’d enjoy them; a number I inherited; and others I bought myself, hooked by their blurb, or cover, or a few glances at pages, but when with further investigation failed to live up to expectations and were discarded, though rarely disposed of — just in case I might return to them.

    A book I should read is one I might buy (perhaps as an ebook) to read when options are few. A book I can’t wait to read is a book, sometimes by a known author but not always, which from the first words on the first page grabs my interest and has me reading it at breakneck speed so I can immerse myself in the writing.


    • January 14, 2014 at 9:04 pm

      Actually the half-read books on my shelf are the Great Unmentionables. I can’t even look at them. They’re too busy with the self-loathing to talk back to me anyway!


  2. January 14, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    My unread pile is a) huge and b) eclectic. Most of them are books that I bought because I thought they seemed intellectual, but then by the time I’m at home I just want to relax and couldn’t be bothered improving myself. But I also have the opposite end of the pile, thrillers and potboilers that I bought in a hurry because I wanted something light to snack on, but just don’t grab me. And then everything in between, although I often get around to reading some of them. Just not as quickly as new ones come in.

    By the way, _Moranthology_ is a fun and easy read, you can dip in and out of it. Just saying.


    • January 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      I don’t know what happened with Moranthology… I started, but wasn’t in the mood. Also, it could be because that one landed in my grubby little paw following the most horrific book signing I have ever had the misfortune to endure, although that wasn’t Caitlin’s fault either, it was the horrible manager of the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I have been unable to walk past the NCH since without tsking firmly.


  3. January 14, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Yep, I too have a shelves of shame – reference books I’ve only read bits of, worthy literary fiction someone’s given me or that I’ve bought myself because I thought I should read and never quite got round to it, genre fiction I thought sounded interesting at the time, but now appears completely off-putting. Some I didn’t start because back in the day I thought I had to finish everything I started and some I’ve started and discarded because now my reading time is too precious to waste it on books I’m not enjoying. I do regularly try to purge the Shames, but replacements always seep back from dark places (usually other people’s shelves of shame purges and bookshop promotions – I seldom resist a good 2 for 3 offer if it’s waved in front of me).

    As for the ‘must reads’, I’m with jingandthings on that one – they’re the ones that grab me, pull me into their world, only to chuck me out unceremoniously far too soon and feeling bereft. If Hilary Mantel is reading this, hurry up with Wolf Hall book three, please.


    • January 14, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Gosh yes, the 3 for 2 offers are what hammer me! I’m all right until I’m walking away with the 3 I’ve found and I spot book no. 4… and then we start all over again. And the shame continues!

      Hilary Mantel excepted of course. But they never put her in the 3 for 2s, the stingy misers.


  4. carolannwrites
    January 14, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    I find it’s better to scatter these books among lots of shelves so they don’t all gang up on you together! 🙂


    • January 14, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      Why didn’t I think of that?! It’s too late now, probably. I think they’ve formed a union.


  5. January 14, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    I have so many unread books. I cannot say no to a book. If someone offers books they are getting rid of,I have to take them. If someone is reading a book I like the look of,I have to have it. Because I am so selfish, many of these poor books remain shelfless. I’m afraid there is no cure for this. When I enter a bookshop or pass someone elses bookshelf,there is a smell want from me that wont wash away.. Hey,Tara I like the look of the book on top of your pile…i’ll take it if you’re getting rid!! 🙂


    • January 14, 2014 at 9:12 pm

      I could never bring myself to sign the adoption papers! It would be too much like admitting failure!


  6. Diana Feltner
    January 15, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Guilty! I used to tell my late husband I was stocking up for retirement. I still tell my self that…self isn’t buying it. Oh well, maybe I’ll get to them all…someday.


    • January 15, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      There’s nothing wrong with stocking up for retirement. I think I started about a month after I started working!


  7. johanna buchanan
    January 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    We have to talk about Kevin. I Have to Read We have to talk about Kevin since someone told me they loved it years ago but it’s still on my shelf of shame (lots more of them on the Oxfam shelves) because actually, I don’t often feel like reading about grim things I get enough of on the news.
    The book I look forward to reading is the one which will take me out of my life for a while and transport me to somewhere else – an interesting setting, compelling people with problems I don’t have to fix, solve or even offer an opinion on and an ending where I can close the book and say “yep I enjoyed that – I wonder what else they’ve written?”


    • January 15, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      I really did enjoy Kevin I have to say – I was glued to it, so it did transport me somewhere else – although I wouldn’t recommend it for any woman who was thinking of getting pregnant any time soon. I found it fascinating, but it did prey on fears buried by many. As far as grim novels go, there is a certain catharsis in coming out the other side which can actually do wonders for well-being – remember it’s only fiction!


  8. johanna buchanan
    January 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    And another thing. I don’t know what a Shelfie is. Is it a real thing? Where can I get one?


    • January 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      You can’t get one, but you can take one… It’s a play on “Selfie”, with more brains and less narcissism!


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