Episode 11: You’re Gonna Die with a TBR List! (And How to Accept That) and Writer/Disability Activist Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Episode 11

17th August 2017

This week, Brea and Mallory help you manage your TBR pile, interview author and disability advocate Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and absolve you of your book guilt. Participate in online discussion by using the hashtag #ConquerTBR on Instagram and Twitter! Link below if you want to support the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! kickstarter.

Episode notes

Links –

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction!

Bookshelf – American Federation for the Blind

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

About Elsa


Books Mentioned –

The Regional Office Is Under Attack! By Manuel Gonzales

The Witches by Stacey Schiff

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Updraft by Fran Wilde

Borderline by Mishell Baker

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Episode Fan Outline

What are you reading?

Brea is reading The Regional Office Is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales and Mallory is listening to The Witches by Stacey Schiff on audiobook.

Listener Feedback

Melissa related to Traveling Readers

When she’s traveling nearby or for a short time, she brings physical books from the library, but for long trips, she brings ebooks, so she doesn’t lose the books or get them wet. Good tip, take care of your library books, library books might not be the best books to bring on a trip!

Amanda related to Beach Reads

My family went on a beach vacation a few years ago, so naturally I brought a few books along. I’d read most of my first book (The Ocean at the End of the Lane) on the plane, so on our first day at the beach I brought a second book (and the book I was most excited to read) with me. My mom had forgotten her book that day, so she borrowed my “extra book,” Ready Player One.

My mom typically doesn’t read sci-fi, so I thought she’d start it, get bored, and bring her own book the next day. Much to my surprise she fell in love with it, and much to my chagrin she kept it for the rest of our vacation. She was so excited to talk about it that I had to ask her to stop telling me spoilers. Now Ready Player One is something we can bond over (especially once I got to read it myself) and I’m already planning to see the movie with her when it comes out.

Ryan – related to ep 9

My wife and I have been in a book club for 5 years now (called “koob” because we are hilarious and oh-so-clever) and we’re the only couple in the group. So we often have to share books. So sometimes we will read out loud to each other. It isn’t ideal, but especially when we’re on a car ride, we can function as each other’s audiobook. It also lets us back up and repeat something we didn’t quite get the first time which is tricky with a normal audiobook. We try funny accents for some characters (sometimes). It let our daughter see us actively reading with something that doesn’t have a screen, if she’s awake when we’re doing this. However, she’s a serious book critic and if she’s not a fan of what we’re reading, she’ll shove a board book at us to get us to read something else. (She has OPINIONS.) Plus, Ryan sent some great ideas for future episodes – send your ideas to readingglassespodcast at gmail dot com!

As always, we want to thank Danielle who runs our Facebook group and Chrissy and Rachel who moderate our Goodreads page!

Main Topic

This week, Mallory and Brea are talking about to be read lists, the dreaded TBR mountain. How do you manage it? How do you keep it from becoming 15 miles high? Should you have one at all?

A TBR (To-Be-Read) list is a stack of titles of books that you want to read. Some people keep a list on their phone, a pile by their bed, a group of ebooks on their ereaders. But sometimes, it can get overwhelming. You keep seeing books you want to read and adding to the list and soon, you realize that you’ve got to quit your job if you want to get all this reading done. And what if you pick up a book and want to read it immediately, cutting ahead of all the other books in line? This can lead to guilt, despair, frustration. This is bad news bears.

Quick bit about lists because that’s what a TBR is — it’s your list of books to be read. Philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco said that lists are a way for us to make sense of the world around us. We use lists to express things we can’t do otherwise. Basically it helps us to organize our brains so your TBR list (even if it’s very very long) is a good thing!

Brea is a heavy library user and e-reader. She didn’t even use this phrase TBR before meeting Mallory. She just keeps a running list on her Notes on my phone at all times so when she hears about a book on a podcast or from a human who isn’t on a podcast, she throw thems on there.
Lately, she’s also been using the “Wish List” section of Overdrive through the library. If there’s a book she wants to read but it’s on a wait and she already has my wait list full, I use that section.

Here’s what happens to her week to week — Brea sees what books are about to expire from the library and then gets sad thinking about how she won’t read them and decides whether or not she has to put them back on her TBR list. If she has checked them out more than once and not read them, she really thinks about if she’s actually going to read them. Her motto for this is — life’s too short for books she only kind of wants to read. So cut them out!

One thing that affects her a lot when she decides to read a book is — how long has she been waiting for it from the library? If she had to wait six weeks to get it, she goes ahead and gives it priority because who knows when she’ll have it again? It’s a race against all the other readers!
She also does read physical books sometimes. She waits to read those for when her boyfriend is out of town so she can turn on the light in the middle of the night if she needs to read them.
She never thinks “I just read a this book so I should read another kind of book next.” She just go with whatever seems to be calling he at that moment.

As a physical book collector, Mallory has accepted that she will die with a TBR list. Even as much as she reads, 100-200 books a year, there’s no possible way for her to get through every book she wants to read before death. She suggests everyone do the same. Life’s too short. Only read what you really want to read because why waste precious life? She doesn’t keep an actual TBR list. She doesn’t like feeling scheduled. Instead, she sort of lives in her TBR list. She has a lot of books in her apartment, and about 40% she has not read yet. She treats it like a full fridge. This is why she gets books all the time. She keeps a list of books she wants to buy and throw in the mix at some point. When she get books, she shelves them in with all the books she has read, so she’s always stocked with stuff to read. When she finishes a book, she looks at her bookwall and decides what she wants to read in that moment. She never knows what she’ll be in the mood for. Instead of having a stack of things she wants to read, or a list, she keeps a general goal every month of reading a bunch of different genres, like, “Oh, I just finished a horror book, now I’ll pick up a nonfiction book, then I’ll read a literary fiction book, etc.” making sure she’s reading diversely. So she slowly chips away at the TBR list that way, based off what she feels like reading, instead of vice versa. That way she doesn’t feel overwhelmed or behind.

Don’t let your TBR overtake your life! If the stack of books by your bed feels like it’s giving you the stink eye – reshelve all of them! Pick stuff off of it based off what you feel like reading, not what you feel obligated to read. And what you feel like reading changes all of the time! You shouldn’t feel guilty having a giant TBR list. It should be something to look forward to, not a schedule with restrictions and time limits.


Elsa Sjunneson-Henry is an author, editor and disability advocate. She is the non-fiction editor for the upcoming special issue of Uncanny Magazine – Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. She recommends her own work and authors Fran Wilde and Mishell Baker for stories that have great disabled representation in their work. As a writer, she’s trying to create representation and remind readers that blindness is a spectrum. As an editor, she looks for work that includes a variety of disabled experiences and as a reader, she craves more and more of them. Elsa recommends the program Bookshelf through the American Federation for the Blind to help visually impaired readers access books. She also recommends looking into getting a Kindle, an e-reader that has radially helped her reading. She wishes that there was a problem through the Kindle that let her friends borrow her books. Ableism in the publishing industry needs to be dismantled. Disabled characters need to stop being the butts of jokes. Elsa wants to see more inclusion and less people using blind as an insult. She recommends her current read, Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.

Reader Problem

I often times feel pressured to read a certain amount of books per year to be considered a legitimate “reader.” I used to feel like I read quite a bit, usually totaling around 30 books a year. Maybe it’s because of the rise of “bookstagram” and the Goodreads annual reading goal, but I see so many people who are able to read 50+ books a year with no problems! It blows my mind. When I think back to reading as a kid, I never thought about how many books I was reading! I just read as much as I could and enjoyed every minute of it (and, honestly, I was probably reading a lot more than I do now). I want to match up to all these other speedy readers out there, but my lofty reading goal can turn one of my favorite pastimes into more of a chore. How do you get over the need to fill an arbitrary reading quota and get back to enjoying the adventure of reading a good book? Best, Sarah.

Brea – I read recently that it takes 10 seconds of being in Instagram for a teenage girl’s self-esteem to lower. I don’t know where I read it, but I believe it! And this is your teenage girl self-esteem! Don’t compare. Reading is for yourself. I say if you want to be in on the conversation, go ahead and read the book everyone is talking about on bookstagram or goodreads. That way you can take part but don’t have to compare yourself to the number of books someone else read. Social media doesn’t show you that maybe those people are unemployed (ahem, me) or an insomniac (ahem, Mallory) or reading because that’s their job or maybe are putting books up there they read a long time ago. It’s not a race.

Also, you could set a different goal for yourself. Maybe you want to read all the books nominated for a Hugo this year. Or maybe you want to read all the books that were turned into movies this year. It’s a lower goal but you’ll still feel like you have a goal to reach.

Mallory – I second this advice! Set a lower/different reading goal for yourself, like one book a month, that way you’ll easily surpass it and feel like you’ve accomplished something and all the rest of the reading you do that month will feel like a breeze, instead of an obligation. If all the bookstagram posts are making you feel overwhelmed because you can’t catch up, post some pictures of the page you’re on, or you in the act of reading! The goal is to read, not to get reading done.

If you want us to solve your reader problem, send it to reading glasses podcast at gmail dot com!

This episode’s Book Connection, a way to connect with other readers online, is #ConquerTBR. If you’ve got a TBR stack or method, show us! Tweet it at us or post it on Instagram and tag us!

If you liked the show, please rate and review us on iTunes! It’s really great for us and helps us reach more readers! You can email us at readingglassespodcast at gmail dot com, find us on Twitter at readingGpodcast, on Instagram at readingglassespodcast, and you can always follow along on our bookish adventures using the general hashtag #readingglasses. Thanks for reading!

In this episode...


  • Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

About the show

Do you love books? Want to learn how to make the most of your reading life? Join hosts Brea Grant and Mallory O’Meara every week as they discuss tips and tricks for reading better on Reading Glasses, a podcast designed to help you get more out of your literary experiences.

As professional creatives and mega-readers, Mallory and Brea are experts on integrating a love of reading into a busy lifestyle. Listeners will get help for bookish problems, like how to vanquish that To-Be-Read pile and organize those bookshelves. Brea and Mallory also offer advice on reader dilemmas. How do you climb out of a reading slump? How do you support authors while still getting books on the cheap? Where do you hide the bodies of the people who won’t stop talking while you’re trying to read? No matter what you read or how you read it, Reading Glasses will help you do it better.

Follow @ReadingGPodcast on Twitter and @readingglassespodcast on Instagram. Email Brea and Mallory at readingglassespodcast@gmail.com.

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