To Be Read (a short story)

This story was inspired by a writing challenge hosted by D. Wallace Peach, who blogs at Myths of the Mirror. Her challenge: write a poem or story about a TBR (To Be Read) pile – those books many of us have accumulated but haven’t read yet.

I am also submitting my story to the What’s on Your Bookshelf? blog link-up hosted by Donna, Deb, Jo, and Sue. Hopefully fictional book collections qualify 😊.


To Be Read

It had taken nearly eight months, but Jane finally made it through the TBR pile that had been stacked by her bedside. As she picked up the remaining book from the floor, she could see the ring of dust her pile had created on the carpet like the chalk body outline in a crime novel. Her daughter would be pleased that she could finally vacuum the floor properly, but Jane couldn’t help feeling the loss of her friends.

She opened her book and started to read.


At first, when Anne invited her mother to come live with her, she had resisted. Jane valued her independence and knew that their individual daily habits could cause friction. But when Jane’s health deteriorated to a point that even she realized that she could no longer live alone, she consented. Within a few weeks, Jane’s home had been emptied and put on the market. Anne told her mother she could keep anything she wanted, but Jane knew her daughter’s house was small, and space was already at a premium. A few items of clothing, her favorite teacup, and her pile of books was all she brought with her.

A few weeks after Jane moved in, Anne realized the large stack of books by the side of her mother’s bed would be a permanent fixture. Clean, orderly spaces calmed Anne and gave her a sense of control. Books should be on shelves and floors kept clear of clutter. Knowing that her mother would bristle at her beloved books being referred to as clutter, Anne tried to appeal to her practical side.

“Would you like me to find space on my bookshelves for all of your books? That way, you can see each one easier.”

“No, thank you, dear. I love to see all my books out in the open, patiently waiting their turn. They give me something to look forward to.”

“But, what about your safety? Books on the floor could be a hazard. You could trip on the pile and break your neck.”

“What a novel way to die,” Jane replied.

“Very funny Mom, but I do worry about you.”

After several similar conversations, Jane finally agreed to read her way through the stack of books and not add any more. Anne assured her, after the pile was gone, she could check out all the books she wanted from the library or download them to her Kindle. Knowing that this was probably the best compromise she could hope for, Anne willed herself to stay silent despite her continued dismay at the pile. She vacuumed around it as well as she could and – when her mother wasn’t looking – she tried to neaten the stacks.  

Over the next several months, Anne was happy to see that her mother was keeping her word. Slowly the TBR pile shrank in size and the floor around her bed started to clear. Anne was confident that, once the pile was gone, her mother would see the wisdom of keeping the area clear.   


Before going to bed, Anne opened her mother’s bedroom door to say goodnight. She wasn’t surprised to see that Jane had fallen to sleep reading. She was still wearing her glasses and the bedside lamp was on, casting a ring of light around her. The book she was reading had tumbled out of her grasp onto the comforter. She looked so peaceful. Anne marveled at her mother’s joy of reading and was happy that, despite her poor health, she was still able to do what she loved.

As Anne crossed the room to her mother’s bed, she smiled when she noticed that there were no more books on the TBR pile. She made a quick mental note to make a trip to the library as promised. Anne reached for her mother’s glasses and was startled when her hands brushed Jane’s cold face. She quickly tried to find her pulse but felt none. Her mother was dead.

Anticipating this time would eventually come, Anne knew what she had to do. Holding firmly against her grief, she picked up her phone to call 911.

Anne sat down on her mother’s bed to wait for the paramedics and allowed herself to feel the full weight of her loss. Through her tears, she looked around the room and hoped that her mother had been happy living with her. Curious to see what her mother had been reading, she picked up the book from the bed.

She was surprised to see that it was the book by Mitch Albom she had given her mother when her dad died. Anne had hoped the messages found in The Five People You Meet in Heaven would provide her mother some peace after losing her husband.     

“Oh Mom, you knew, didn’t you?” Anne cried. “You knew it was at the bottom of your stack, and you saved it for last.”

Anne saw a pink post-it note peeking out of the book and opened it to the marked page. A paragraph had been highlighted and her mother had drawn little hearts and stars around it.

“Lost love is still love, Eddie. It just takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t hold their hand… You can’t tousle their hair… But when those senses weaken another one comes to life… Memory… Memory becomes your partner. You hold it… you dance with it… Life has to end, Eddie… Love doesn’t.”

When Anne heard the knock on the door, she closed the book, kissed her mother’s forehead, and tousled her hair one last time. Before going to the front door, she walked into her bedroom and placed the book on the floor by her bed, to be read later.

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

162 thoughts on “To Be Read (a short story)”

  1. What a wonderful story, Janis! I’m glad Diana featured this or I might have missed it! A twisty tale but beautiful in its outcome–I had a tear in my eye, too. You really should write more of these, you are quite talented! Lovely!

  2. I didn’t expect to be crying this early in the morning, Janis! Seriously, though, what a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. Janis, like your other readers, I have tears in my eye and some in my heart, too. You told that story so well. I loved the little bit of exasperation the daughter felt about her mom’s books and how she tried to change her habits. Surprisingly her mother made some changes. I love the way she went – quietly, peacefully doing what she loved, thinking about those she loved. It’s a very moving story. Thanks for sharing it. You should do more of this.

    1. Thank you, Marsha. I’m so happy that you enjoyed my story! My mother always had a stack of books to be read (as do I) so I thought a lot about her as I wrote this. I think many of us would love to pass away (years and years from now 🙂 ) peacefully, doing what we love.

  4. What a wonderful story! I’m not one to cry, but I almost did when I read the last few words of this story, keep on writing!

  5. Hi Janis, I did get caught up reading many of the witty TBR posts linked to Diana’s post. I especially love your sentence “I love to see all my books out in the open, patiently waiting their turn.” Of course, tears streaming…you did it to me, again, Janis…

    Oh, my gosh…now I have difficulty reading through blurry eyes…yet, poignant and exceptionally beautiful.

    You have a gift with words, Janis. ❤️

  6. Janis, add me to the list of people who cried at your lovely story. My TBR stacks are in multiple places in my home. I’d be grateful for getting through them all before leaving this realm.

  7. Hi Janis,

    Okay – I’ll be that one reader who didn’t cry at reading and loving this story. Likely a victim of my gender, a guy shouldn’t be crying over a piece of fiction but, yours was so very well done, an exception would be considered. — just this once . . . .

    Not long after starting it, I thought I knew where you were going so settled back to enjoy how smoothly you built the scene. You got to mom’s death faster than I expected which could only mean – yes – there is more to this story – and you delivered. Perhaps your story had a special grab on me as I watched both my parents die (too slowly – with too much pain – much more than either of them deserved, but as their children we managed as soft of a landing for them as anyone thought possible – giving them as much grace in their passing as we could.

    Your story had the feel, not of fiction but of experience. My bet is that the color of the quilts might have been different between your fiction and history, but you experienced something similar. So, if I’m correct, I feel safe in saying you can add this story to the honor you paid to one of your parents as they passed.

    Bravo Janis. Bravo! I’m so pleased to have found this story.

    Okay, you gave me a great start to my day. Can I offer to do the same for you? Many years ago now, I managed a team of techies in Colorado Springs. One of our member hit a crisis and I’ve tried to memorize her story. You might cry a tad but you won’t regret spending 5 minutes reading, “Jacquie’s Story.”

    Jacquie’s Story

    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful and kind comment! Although the story doesn’t exactly mirror my experience with my parents’ passings, they did install a great love of reading and writing in me. My mother was a writer and an editor (oh, how I’d love to have her skill with the red pencil) and always had a TBR pile next to her bed. I’m off to check out your story!

      1. Thanks Janis, It is a great story especially since you honored the mom and I loved how you put life in that TBR pile that we all have and cherish.
        I hope you love Jacquie’s Story.
        It was amazing to watch unfold.

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