Skip to content
Answering Your Questions About Reactor: Right here.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter. Everything in one handy email.

To All the Books I’m Not Reading… Yet


To All the Books I’m Not Reading… Yet

Home / To All the Books I’m Not Reading… Yet
Column Mark as Read

To All the Books I’m Not Reading… Yet


Published on November 2, 2023


I just keep buying books.

I don’t need them. I suspect I don’t need to tell most of you how thoroughly I don’t need them; I think it’s a safe guess that many of the readers of have solid TBRs, well-used library cards, and plenty of reading material. “Need” feels like a fraught word, lately, too: I don’t need a book the way people need to be able to sleep safely in their beds.

But I buy them anyway.

I nab them from eBay (a long-sought, extremely out of print copy of Quest for the Golden Hare); pre-order them from my local bookstore (Nina MacLaughlin’s Winter Solstice: An Essay); pick them up at Powell’s because I can’t resist a steal (a British edition of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando); stop and look in local little free libraries even though I should be putting books in to these little boxes, not taking them out.

And then I don’t read them. I put them in nice piles on the to-be-read shelf and think that perhaps I need to spend a weekend cleaning that shelf off, and soon.

What I am doing is thinking about them. Appreciating them, you might say. Thinking about why I was so excited about Naomi Klein’s Doppelganger and yet it’s still in the middle of the dining table because I don’t want to shelve it but I don’t want to start it either. Thinking about Saint Death’s Daughter and how it’s such a pretty brick of a book and I can’t wait to get lost in it. Just, you know… later.

Is it meaningful, though, to just appreciate a book when you could be reading it?

Sometimes, the not-reading is just a matter of needing a little push. Of needing someone—a friend, a trusted reader, an admired author, a book group—to mention a book in passing, to yell online about how much it thrilled them or shook up their ideas about what SFF could be and do. Sometimes you just need a sequel to come out so you know you can get the full satisfaction of a series all at once. All these books look so good; how am I supposed to prioritize? Can’t someone just tell me which one I’m going to love best?

(Except that all too often, if someone does tell me what to read next, I ignore them. Some of us are contrary like that.)

What I do instead of reading is ridiculous: Put Riverdale on in the background, and open a jigsaw puzzle app on my phone. Thirtysomething actors playing teenagers deliver unconvincing comic-book slang while I push around little chopped-up images of doughnuts. It is not an enlightening process. I don’t get anything out of it, except that it tires out the little squirrel in my brain that wants to organize things. (Remember the X-Files vampire thwarted by sunflower seeds? That’s my brain, except with piles of stuff that need to be organized.)

Are you not reading fantasies? Not reading mysteries? Are you, like me, not reading the new Elizabeth Hand novel because you obviously have to read The Haunting of Hill House first? (You can tell me I don’t have to, but I do.) Who else is not yet reading Nettle and Bone despite really, really looking forward to it? Are you looking longingly toward the books you got from a favorite store, a book subscription, an impulse purchase, and yet still not picking them up? I’m right there with you.

Part of why this is on my mind is that, as frequently happens, I heard a few friends and online acquaintances online bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t “keep up.” They were behind. They needed to designate a special time—a month, a week, an era—to reading older books, books that didn’t just come out and have that sheen of attention-grabbing newness to them.

I understand this. I do. I have new books to read, upcoming books I want to read, old books to read, and only one lifetime. But I wish we didn’t feel like we have to “keep up.” No one can read every book that comes out, or even every book that comes out in a single genre. (Unless you really want to split genre hairs, in which case good luck and godspeed.)

Buy the Book

Bookshops and Bonedust
Bookshops and Bonedust

Bookshops and Bonedust

Can there be comfort in the things you’re not reading? Can they be books that are just waiting for you to find their moment? Stories you need, just not yet, like snacks you put in your pocket for later, stored up for when you really, really need them? I’m pretty convinced this is the case. Haven’t you ever picked up a book months, years, decades after it came out and found it was exactly what you needed to read just then? Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox was this for me, some years after it came out. I feel like I never shut up about Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, but that’s because it knocked me sideways when I read it in the late 2000s. Sometimes I purposefully save books until the spotlight has moved on. The experience can feel a little more private, a little more personal, that way. Sometimes.

And what’s more, I think there’s an often-ignored value in the act of appreciating even the things we’re not reading. What else is a most-anticipated list but a list of books a writer or a publication appreciates, wants to read but—in most cases—hasn’t yet read, or maybe even hasn’t seen in the flesh (in the page?) just yet? Wanting has power. Enthusiasm, curiosity, anticipation, desire—those things matter, too. You can talk about books without reading them. You can care about books without reading them. You can support your beloved authors, if that is a thing you worry about doing, without yet having read all their books. All that looking-foward and wanting? Listen: It counts for something. You’re still thinking about those books. I think about what I’m going to write next all the time, and it makes the writing come more easily. If we’re thinking about what we want to read next, it probably also makes neat little pathways in our brains that affect the experience of reading. Like clearing out all the cobwebs before walking a new path through the woods.

I’m not reading so many things right now: Legends & Lattes, Big Fiction, He Who Drowned the World, Meet Me in the Bathroom, Foundryside, The Winged Histories. But if I reframe it just a little bit, then I’m not reading these books yet. I’m thinking about them. I’m clearing space in my little squirrel brain for them to settle in when the time comes. The books are just waiting for me to pick a moment. To let it get quiet inside my head, for the squirrel to get sleepy, and for my reading brain to wake back up.

What is it that’s calling to you, but you’re just not in a place to answer? What are you not reading yet? And what are you anticipating about it?

Molly Templeton lives and writes in Oregon, and spends as much time as possible in the woods. Sometimes she talks about books on Twitter.

About the Author

Molly Templeton


Molly Templeton has been a bookseller, an alt-weekly editor, and assistant managing editor of, among other things. She now lives and writes in Oregon, and spends as much time as possible in the woods.
Learn More About Molly
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments