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. A beautiful story, Janis. What a way to go, peacefully in your bed as you finish the last book in your TBR pile! One can only hope…

    Deb

  2. I’m not at all happy with you Janis. I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my flight home and have tears on my cheeks! A little warning would have been nice. Seriously though, loved loved loved this – and perfect for WOYB. x

  3. Beautiful and timely as we are losing people faster due to age and viruses. Hit home for me as we lost my father in 2018 but not before he had his favorite dessert- chocolate ice cream—one last time with a smile on his face. He went asleep that night and never woke up…

  4. Thank you Janis for sharing your beautiful story with us at What’s On Your Bookshelf? this month. I love that you have chosen to share a story you’ve written rather than thoughts on books you’ve recently read. You’ve covered some issues we all face – losing a partner, losing our ability to live an independent life and having to make compromises if we need to move from our home to live with family, or into care. Thank you again, and I hope you will also join us for the 2022 WOTY Link Party to share your goals and intentions. Enjoy your weekend and see you next month. x

  5. That is such a touching, heart wrenching (in the best way) story! It brings to mind Leo Christopher’s “There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.” And I’m glad I spent the time with your story!

  6. What a fabulous addition to our challenge Janis! I always enjoy your story telling and this was no exception. Thanks for adding a new dimension to our #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge with such a sweet story.

  7. Beautiful story that certainly touched this retiree. I have a stack of about eight library books right now, but they are on the dresser. 🙂 Once we reach an age where death is in the forecast, we all spend some time thinking about it and hoping it doesn’t involve something medical with a long name. To fall asleep reading would be a true gift. In my case I’d also be A-okay with keeling over in the garden or at my sewing machine. Great writing, and thank you for sharing.

  8. Oh my. Oh my my my. I’m crying. Your story is so loving and strong and true. Halfway through I guessed that Jane would pass once she read her last book on the pile. I didn’t guess which book it would be. What a beautiful gift she left for her daughter. Gorgeous answer to Diana’s challenge. THANK you for sharing this heartfelt and beautiful story with us.

  9. This is so very well written. The story illustrates love on so many different levels, the love for books, the love of a mother and the love of a child. Most of us have written a humorous post but your post hit the ball out of the park.

  10. I have tbr piles all over the place – except by the bed – and also on my Kindle. I doubt I’ll ever get to the end! As for your story, it would be touching and beautiful any time, but in my current circumstances, I’m howling. I’ve done that last little tousle all too recently.

  11. Wow, Janis. What a beautiful story and a tear-jerker! I’m delighted that you took up the challenge and can’t wait to share this. It’s just lovely. Now. off to get a tissue. ❤

  12. I was all ready to duke it out with the daughter – I mean, she could just ignore her mom’s room like her mom no doubt did with her’s when she was a teen…
    Anyway, then I wondered if that last book in the pile would become symbolic and indeed it did.
    Good one, Janis!

  13. Janis, this is just a beautiful, moving story! For those of us with those TBR piles by our beds, we relate, and do know that sometimes our loved ones really don’t understand. The love in this story comes through. Love of reading, and love between mother and daughter. Bravo!

  14. “What a novel way to die,” cracked me up!! Your story also touched me deeply. My mother loved to read, and she passed her love of reading on to me. We traded books back and forth and had similar tastes in reading (novels!). It’s been just a year since she passed away. Thank you for this lovely story, Janis. You really do have a gift for storytelling.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment! My mother also loved to read and passed that passion onto me, although she preferred who-done-its and I prefer historical fiction. I’ll never forget a little quirk my mother had… she’d often read the last few pages first. She said that, by doing this, she could then follow the various steps the characters made to solve the crime.

      1. LOL!!! Love your mother’s approach! By the way, I also enjoy historical fiction. Do you have favorite authors? I’ve read just about everything by Marie Benedict and really like her.

  15. This is the most touching short story. Such a simple concept but with such a message. It brought tears to my eyes. I particularly related to Anne’s need for neat and tidy and how the challenge of cohabitation can push our boundaries. Living that right now and try to remember to see it from both sides.

  16. I can barely type the lump in my throat and tears in my eyes are in the way…oh, Janis this story is so moving and beautiful!
    You write very well!! My mom always has a stack of books by her bed so this really touched me.

  17. Great story, Janis. My mother was a avid reader but was losing her eyesight toward the end of life. That was a “great sorrow” she said. She died while listening to an audio book by a favorite author. My sisters and I took some comfort in that. This story reminded me of that and, yes, a few tears.

  18. Love, love, this short story – beautifully written and very touching. I confess to a pile of books like that on my bed stand. I don’t hope for the same ending as Jane, but to get through the books this winter and to dust around the books if I must. I also love Mitch’s book – one of my favorites. Great job, Janis!

      1. You’re welcome. I think I’ll be safe as long as the pile doesn’t fall over on me while I’m sleeping. I’ve been adding to the pile faster than I’ve been reading them. Each package that comes in the mail, Mr. say “Probably some book again!”

  19. I always like your short stories Janis and this one in particular. I’ve never read any of Mitch Albom’s books, but I listen to his radio show every weekday afternoon. He has a new book, just released before Christmas. I am guilty of a large TBR pile … recent TBR books purchased and several Rubbermaid tubs of books purchased by my late mom and me, that she read, but I have not as yet read. TBRWR is my name for those tubs of books (to be read when retired).

      1. Yes, they Mitch Albom and Ken Brown, his sidekick, have been on the air since 1996. They have more people on their show now, including a former DJ who does impersonations. You can live stream if you want. The show airs from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (our time) Monday through Friday. They don’t have podcasts except for the occasional special guest, but not an entire show. I will put the link separately in case it goes to your SPAM filter. If they have a Michigan State University basketball game, the pre-game show will pre-empt the program after 6:00 p.m.

  20. Simply lovely. Your creativity and ability to connect with our hearts is amazing. So many of us have a never ending TBR pile…now I wonder if I shouldn’t focus on reducing mine!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: