The Trouble with TBRs & Finding Balance: A Small Discussion + November’s Planned Reads

One of the bookish goals that I have for 2021 is to create miniature monthly To-Be-Read (TBR) lists in order to give myself some discipline with reading books that I have owned for an extended period of time.  Like many fellow bibliophiles, I have a strong tendency to purchase stacks of books when I am feeling extremely stressed out or when I desperately need to indulge in a bit of self-care, usually when nothing else has worked. While it is a fantastic way to build up a gargantuan library, it can leave a person feeling wholeheartedly guilty when they go unread, catching layers upon layers of dust on those blood-red bookshelves.

In the past, I have tried to create TBRs, to no avail. I am someone who reads based on my mood in that moment. My cravings for thrillers and fantasy and literary works, to name a few, can shift from day-to-day, or even from hour-to-hour if my ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is restless. The last time that I attempted sticking to a full-sized TBR (approximately six to seven books) was at the beginning of 2020. In the end, I became intimidated by own list and abandoned the stack entirely.

As someone who lives with at-times severe OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), not being able to stick to a list such as this made very little sense to me and worked to further exasperate my frustrations. Especially with having ADHD, creating and abiding by lists for daily activities and work tasks helps my brain to feel less untidy and prone to anxiety. When I mentioned this to my therapist, they suggested that maybe my lists are too ambitious. Their suggestion was trying to find a balance that could accommodate my impulsive reading moods while also providing me with a small semblance of the discipline that I craved.

Honestly speaking, I felt a bit sceptical about the idea. Maybe that is due to my poor experiences with TBRs in general, or it can be chocked up to the somewhat apathetic pessimist that resides deep within my heart. Either way, after giving it much more thought, I realised by trying out their suggestion, I was not really losing anything. There would be no damage, at least not more than the normal feelings of disappointment that comes with not finishing a task. If it did work out, then not only would I be pleasantly surprised, but I would have found a solution to a very large bookish annoyance.

So, for November, I have crafted a miniature TBR pile to experiment with my therapist’s suggestion and see how it fares. There are only three titles in this stack since the end-of-year holidays tend to be the months where my reading moods are the most fidgety. If this ends up turning into a success, I can experiment with increasing the number of books slowly in future months.

I stuck to one overarching genre—fantasy—in order to keep things simple. The only real variety are the reading levels (middle-grade and adult) and the cultural backgrounds with which these tales were crafted. Check out the list below. Clicking their titles shall transport you to their respective GoodReads pages.

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta: An own-voices Indian middle-grade fantasy novel that revolves around a young girl named Kiranmala. On the morning of her twelfth birthday, her parents mysteriously vanish and a rakkhosh demon slams into her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. She realises that her parents may have been telling the truth when they told her she was an Indian princess from a different dimension. When two princes arrive to rescue her, Kiran finds herself swept into a magical interdimensional adventure, where she must solve riddles and battle demons in order to rescue her parents and save the world. This is the first book in a series called Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond.

This book has been on my overall TBR for a long time and after reading through The Daevabad Trilogy, I am craving more fantasy that is near-and-dear to my cultural roots, no matter what audiences they are for. The Serpent’s Secret seemed like a fabulous place to begin!

The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao: An own-voices Chinese middle-grade fantasy adventure about twelve-year-old Faryn Liu, who is the member of the Jade Society. Faryn dreams of honouring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior, but the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex, forcing them to train in secret. One day while running an errand, Faryn tumbles into a battle with a demon—and defeats it. If she can prove her worth and find an island with immortals before the Lunar New Year, Faryn may have a chance at becoming the powerful warrior she’s always dreamt of being. This is the first book in a series called The Dragon Warrior.

I really like stories about people who are shunned or exiled and must find a way back to whatever community(ies) that exiled them, only to discover how fantastic they are without the blessing of said community(ies). That is one of the biggest appeals about The Dragon Warrior for me. Plus, I think it’s awesome that the story takes place in San Francisco, which is fairly close to where I live! Lastly, the author is such a cool human and I really want to support her work.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: An own-voices Chinese adult epic historical fantasy title that everyone on every social media platform that I engage with cannot seem to stop loving. The hype surrounding this is one of the main reasons that I have hesitated in picking it up. However, given how much I have been craving incredible fantasy narratives as of late, I decided to add it to my November stack. I know the third instalment in the series is releasing either later this month or in December, so if I end up loving it, I shan’t have to wait long to wrap it up (I also own the second novel, The Dragon Republic).

I did not include a synopsis here as I prefer to go into this book with as little information as possible. But if you would like to check it out, please click its title to visit the GoodReads page.

I shall keep my fingers crossed that this works out well! How about you? Do you find sticking to planned reading lists to be challenging? Do you have any tricks or tips that help you stay dedicated?

Until next time, happy reading.