Jan Stafford Kellis

Book Shuffling

Behold the To-Be-Read Stack: an obelisk of books awaiting my perusal. It’s constructed of pride (whose stack is bigger?) and potential, held together by the promise of a page-turning frenzy. The TBR Stack begs notice.

The TBR Stack is a side effect of my reading addiction, and the only way to manage it is by engaging in the compulsive ritual known as Book Shuffling. The Book Shuffling Ritual is performed immediately upon completion of a book, when it’s unclear which book should be read next. There are rules, a protocol that must be followed, a (somewhat) scientific method for choosing the next book to read. Book Shuffling, when properly handled, ensures a more enjoyable reading experience and drastically impacts the perceived quality of each book.


The basic method of Book Shuffling is performed by rejecting books in the TBR Stack until one is left that, by default, meets the criteria. Sometimes the Book-Shuffling winner doesn’t peak your interest, and sometimes more than one book will survive the list of rejection reasons. I’ll address these issues after explaining the rules.

Book Shuffling Rules:

1. Two non-fiction books shall not be read in a row.

2. Two long (more than 400 pages) works of fiction shall not be read back-to-back.

3. A historical novel shall not be followed by yet another historical novel, although two contemporary pieces can follow each other quite nicely. Unless they’re both set in Europe.

4. Two books by the same author shall not be read in a row (unless they’re part of a series).

5. Two sandwich books (short, fluffy, easily-forgotten tales) shall not be read contiguously. This would be like eating too many appetizers or snacks—you’ll feel ill and won’t enjoy your next meal.

After comparing the book you’ve just finished to each book in the TBR Stack, consider the Mitigating Circumstances:

1. Sickness: if you feel a bout of influenza approaching, a heavy hardback lends comfort and offers healing properties.

2. Weather: consider the forecast—will you be on the beach? Sitting outside on a windy day? Dodging rain showers or marching through a blizzard? Books of a certain weight or with cellophane book covers might be appropriate. Book umbrellas, parasols or large plastic zipper bags might be required.

3. Travel: depending on the type of travel (plane, train or automobile), the size and number of books you’re able to carry should be considered. Also, the destination can play a role here—is there an independent bookstore on your itinerary? You could stock up mid-trip, and bring home an auxiliary TBR Stack (pack a book bag). Watch the weather forecast for your travel destination before committing suitcase space.

4. Scheduled activities for the next couple of days: will you be dining by yourself, either at home or in a restaurant? You might want a book you can easily hold in one hand. Will you be attending a sporting event?  You might want a book that will lay open easily, so you can clap at the appropriate times without losing your place. If you’ll be biking, walking, driving or running, an audio book is the only way to go.

5. Recommendations from friends (or strangers you encountered in the bookstore): do you have a book in the TBR Stack that you were told to “read right away”? Well, stop shuffling and start reading! That was easy.

If you’ve applied the above rules and still have more than one book in the pile, the last resort is to flip a coin or use some other random method of choice.

Behold the TBR Stack: a propitious pile of potential, or a sorry side effect of an out of control reading habit? No matter the name, the ritual is the same. Contemplate, cull, consider, commit.

Don’t just sit there, read!