This Reading Challenge Is The Push You Need To Tackle That Stack Of Books On Your Nightstand

by Kerri Jarema

If you watch BookTube at all (the subset of YouTube that is all books, all the time) you have probably seen a few "5 Star TBR" predictions videos going around lately. This popular new challenge, started by one of my personal favorite UK-based BookTubers, Mercedes Mills at MercysBookishMusings, asks you to take a look at the books you have on your physical TBR (the books you already own but have not yet read) and choose five of the ones you think you are most likely to give a 5-star rating. The reasons for this can be many and varied; perhaps the blurb is particularly appealing to you, or it comes highly recommended from some of your trusted bookish friends.

Whatever made you think, "I'm really going to love this book," the challenge is to actually pluck these books from your TBR stack, give them a read, and then see if your rating prediction was correct. Mills was inspired to take on the challenge in the hopes of busting through some of the books on her huge TBR (and haven't we all been there?) but found that the journey of reading her picks ended up more enlightening than perhaps first expected.

Because, of course, we hope to love all of the books we read; that's why we pick them up in the first place. But is knowing our tastes actually far more complicated than we think? There is something really interesting to me about the idea of just going with a gut feeling on a book, hoping that you won't only enjoy it, but that it will become one of your favorite books of the year, or one of the best books you've ever read. But I can definitely attest to the fact that not every single book I pick up has been a favorite; or even one I've ended up liking very much. I'm sure every reader has been there. And if books can surprise us in a good way, surely they can surprise us in a bad way, too?

Interestingly, Mills found that the latter was true for her, as her first round of predictions didn't quite pan out. Out of the original five books she chose, she only counted one as a new favorite. And, in fact, she did not like the other four at all, even choosing to DNF (did not finish) one halfway through. And so, she went back to the drawing board.

For the second go-round of picks, Mills decided to do a lot more than just go on her gut feeling. She read the blurbs and a few pages of each book; sought out the opinions of friends and reviewers she trusted; and finally, looked up both positive and negative reviews of the books on Goodreads, to see if they meshed with her likes and dislikes on plot and characters. And though she has not yet followed up on her Round 2 predictions, I have a good feeling that it's going to be a lot more successful.

So, what does this mean? Are the days of randomly browsing through the stacks at the bookstore and library obsolete; at least, that is, if you want most of your books to be 5 star reads? Is it the more researched the better when it comes to really knowing ourselves and our tastes? Ever since Mills posted her first round video, I have been endlessly intrigued by the idea; and I've decided it's time to take on the challenge myself.

For the curious, these are the books that I have chosen for my own 5 Star TBR:

So, what's behind my choices? I'm taking the path of Mills's first round predictions here; going with my gut and on recommendations from other or positive things I have heard from around the internet.

The UK-published The Tidal Zone and The Museum of You have both been praised at length by some of my favorite UK-based BookTubers (including Mills) and made it into many 2016 Year's Best lists; Benjamin Alire Saenz's Aristole and Dante is one of my favorite books of all time and so I am anticipating loving his latest; Americanah is one of the most celebrated books of recent years and I already know that I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's voice and perspective; and I'll Give You the Sun is one of the recommendations I most often receive from my own IRL bookish friends.

But do I know my reading tastes as well as I think I do? Would more well-researched picks have yielded greater results? I guess I'll just have to read and see.