Up Your Reading Game With The Unread Shelf Project

Whether you’re a total bookworm or just like to read on occasion, chances are you have a few unread books sitting on your shelf (or floor, or desk—wherever, I’m not judging). If you’re anything like me, you probably have more than a few. I didn’t really think I had a problem until I looked at my shelf and actually counted. I then discovered I have 45 unread books—and that’s not counting a dozen or so poetry anthologies, even. So when I stumbled upon a reading challenge called The Unread Shelf Project while browsing Instagram the other day, it felt a little bit like fate.

The Unread Shelf Project is pretty simple; anyone can participate by sharing photos and using #theunreadshelfproject2018, and the main goal  is for readers to have fewer unread books on their shelves at the end of the year than they currently have. If you’re participating, you can set as lofty or as simple of a goal as you want.

Who’s excited for 2018?! 🙌🏽💃🏽🎉. . . I’m joining up with @katereadsbooks_ and @calsreads to host The Unread Shelf Project 2018 – to encourage and challenge you to read the unread books you already own. Check out my story for a video about it and keep reading! . . It is sooo easy on social media to get caught up in book FOMO and frantically buy more books than we can possibly tackle quickly. I currently own 161 unread books…🤦🏽‍♀️ Which is about half the books we have in our 900 square foot house, which is kinda amazing we have room for all those. 😂. . . Anyway! In 2018, I am committed to reading my unread shelf and not buying or borrowing books until I meet my goals. It’s an exercise in contentment, self-discipline, and enjoying what I have instead of accumulating more. . . Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing our personal goals for #theunreadshelfproject2018 and week- or month-long challenges to help us get there. . . This is not an exercise motivated by shame or guilt. It’s a recognition that many of us have more books than we need, and it’s time to slow down and READ. . . I hope you will join us, whether you have 10 or 100 unread books! The first challenge for you over the holiday weekend is COUNT YOUR UNREAD BOOKS. To set a realistic goal, you have to know where you’re starting from! . . Feel free to share your total in a story or post, and tag me and #theunreadshelfproject2018 so others can follow! You can also repost this graphic to show you are participating! . . I can’t wait to see what you all come up with. Happy reading! (And counting! 😉) . . #theunreadshelfproject #kcbookstagram #bookstagram #unreadbooks #readingchallenge2018 #readyourowndamnbooks #books #readingchallenge #contentmentchallenge

A post shared by Whitney – The Unread Shelf (@theunreadshelf) on

Since I’ve declared 2018 a year of tidying up, I immediately determined that this challenge was perfect for me.  My reading goal for the year is to read 36 books, and I want at least six of them to be books currently on my shelf. I’m hoping to read more than that, but I also have a goal of reading more books by diverse authors, and I’ll need to buy a few to make that happen. So, I’m setting what I feel is a realistic goal for me. I’m just sticking to books on my physical shelf, but you could count unread Kindle books, too.

I’d encourage you to start by going through your shelf and pulling any books you aren’t interested in and know you won’t ever read. Sell them back to a used bookstore or donate them to your local library or a charity in need. Then, do your challenge count. This might help things feel a little less daunting for those of you with a bigger unread pile than me. If the idea of doing the project for a whole year sounds impossible to you, you could also give it a try for a month or two, and see if you’re inspired to continue. It’s really up to you, and that’s part of the beauty of it!

There are plenty more tips for The Unread Shelf Project if you search for #theunreadshelfproject2018 on Instagram, but I reached out to Whitney (@theunreadshelf) with some Q&A to hear her inspiration behind the project and the tips she has for success.

Tell me (and our readers) a little about yourself and your favorite books.

I’m Whitney from the Kansas City area, lifelong reader with a special passion for British mysteries, travel and foodie memoirs, and heartbreaking literary fiction. Some of my most loved books are Station Eleven, The Language of Flowers, and anything by Tana French or C.S. Lewis.

What inspired you to start the Unread Shelf Project?

About a year ago, I separated out all my unread books into one bookcase and realized I had a LOT. I wanted to focus on reading what I owned, but didn’t really do that well in 2017. Towards the end of the year, I posted a few times about wanting to start an Unread Shelf Project in 2018 to focus on reading my own books.

Two other Bookstagrammers, Cristina (@calsreads) and Kate (@katereadsbooks_) messaged me separately wanting to help me promote the idea in 2018. I was thrilled to have other readers joining me, but I had no idea how many people the project would resonate with until we launched. Having hundreds of other readers counting and reading their own books has been incredibly motivating for me to do the same thing!

What do you think will be most difficult about the challenge as the year goes on?

With any challenge, there’s a lot of excitement at the beginning. People tend to be very idealistic about what they can achieve long term. But we hit reading slumps, or we see all the new releases everyone else is buying, and we just want to throw in the towel and go back to old habits of accumulating without enjoying. But I hope that having a community of other readers will help us stay committed over the course of the year.

Any tips for readers who want to join the fun, but aren’t sure where to start?

I have several stories highlighted in my Instagram profile that talk about the project challenges. But first, you need to count your unread books. Most people are shocked at how many they own. The highest number I’ve seen in the project is around 700 unread books – for one person! You can write down titles, make a Goodreads shelf, or use an app. I use Book Buddy, and you can just scan in the books and categorize them.

As you’re doing that, weed out books you’re no longer excited about reading – no guilt about getting rid of them! Be ruthless! And then decide how you want to participate. Whether it’s a complete buying ban for all of 2018, or reading three books from your unread shelf before buying a new one, there’s no one way to do this! The goal is to read what brings you joy and to have fewer unread books on your shelf on December 31 than you do right now.

What books are you most looking forward to reading off your shelf?

There are so many books I know I’ll regret not having read earlier! When Breath Becomes Air is high on my list. I’m also excited to read through the rest of Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid & James mystery series, and Little Women is the one classic I would love to tackle in the next few months.

It looks like you keep a pretty awesome reading journal, based on your Instagram photos. Can you share some tips for folks who want to take their reading logs up a notch?

Just like the project, a reading journal can be whatever you want it to be! Last year was the first time I’d kept one, inspired by Anne Bogel from Modern Mrs. Darcy. She has a terrific reading journal class you can check out on her blog. I love to write down personal impressions and reactions to books, deeper than I may share online. I also track different genres, formats (e-books, audiobooks, etc.), and books authored by persons of color. I’m working to create a graph comparing the number of books and genres I’ve read over the past 5 years (funny tidbit: I read WAY more nonfiction before I had kids). I also keep lists of bookstores to visit, award winners to check out, books I didn’t finish (and why), and yearly book goals.

The biggest advice I have is don’t be afraid to change it up as you go. I changed my journal a LOT in the first year, trying to find a method that works for me. And don’t be afraid to make a mess! It doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be useful and enjoyable.

Anything else you’d like to add?

There is no shame in having a ton of unread books on your shelf! I don’t want to guilt-trip people into participating. Believe it or not, I still plan on buying books this year. BUT if you want some motivation and encouragement to be more thoughtful in your book purchases and to tackle unread books you already own, we’d love to have you join us!

Header photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Allie Mikenna

Fashion Writer at Literally, Darling
Allie graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in English and Communication Studies. She loves the Midwest despite the freezing winters. She spends a lot of her free time wishfully online shopping and dreaming of a day when she has the budget to afford all the items she places in her virtual carts. She is always in search of a good deal and is a self-proclaimed sale-shopping expert. She loves binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, staying up late immersed in a good book, and eating (especially dessert food).
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