Down the TBR Hole, #2

This is a meme started by Lia, and it goes as follows: set your to-read list on Goodreads to “date added” in ascending order, then go through five to ten books in chronological order to decide which ones are keepers and which ones you’re really, for whatever reason, never going to read. (My TBR, by the way, only represents books I’d like to read—they’re not necessarily books I already have.)

unapologeticBook #11: Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford

Why is it on my TBR? Look at that subtitle, and consider that I was raised in the Episcopal Church by a Christian mother and an atheist father, that music kept me in churches and chapels for most of my early adulthood, and that my crisis of faith started when I was eight and continues unabated to the present day, such that I now find it impossible to talk about religious belief with anyone at all, so complex and snarled is my relationship to it.

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict? Keep. I go through phases of reading around this topic – liberal theologians trying to sort their own heads out – and I’ll get to Spufford.

Book #12: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallacedavid-foster-wallace-infinite-jest

Why is it on my TBR? I’m both pretentious and ambitious.

Do I already own it? No.

Verdict? Oh, keep, I think. I really do want to read it.

4110716_458745Book #13: The Flavour Thesaurus, by Nikki Segnit

Why is it on my TBR? Because the concept is fantastic: a compendium of how flavours relate to one another, the idea being that if you understand flavour relationships, your own cooking can be both more inventive and better quality.

Do I already own it? Nope – I’ve come close a few times though.

Verdict: Surprisingly, discard. It is still a brilliant idea and a gorgeously produced book (and the Chaos knows the author and her husband, which makes me feel guilty) – but my cooking at the moment isn’t at the experimental level that would make this book indispensable. If I ever start working from home again (aka writing half the day and pissing about in the kitchen the other half), maybe.

Book #14: Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon9781101594643_p0_v2_s260x420

Why is it on my TBR? Haven’t any idea.

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict: Discard – if I can’t remember why I wanted to read it… It looks interesting enough, but life is short.

gravitys-rainbowBook #15: Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

Why is it on my TBR? Hmm. There must have been some kind of Pynchon-fever going on at some point, given this and the above.

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict: Keep. A classic of post-war literature, something I should have under my belt.

Book #16: Independent People, by Halldor Laxness41x7fyx4QtL

Why is it on my TBR? I read about it in Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel and thought it looked fantastic. Also, taciturn Icelandic farmers are auto-approved.

Do I already own it? Yes, there’s a copy in my room at my parents’ house.

Verdict: This is a hard one. I’ve tried to read it three times and failed every time. I know Victoria loved it, though. I want to try again.

Book #17: Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey oscarandlucinda_cover

Why is it on my TBR? I think I read the blurb and thought it sounded magical – card tricks and floating glass palaces in Victorian Australia! – and perhaps a bit like Possession.

Do I already own it? My parents have a copy with the (unforgivably ugly) Faber cover pictured. 

Verdict: Yeah, keep.

Book #18: The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James264

Why is it on my TBR? Acquired a copy for a quid at an Oxfam during university, put it on Goodreads in a vague attempt to keep myself accountable

Do I already own it? Not anymore.

Verdict: Discard, in this particular sense. I’d still like to read it, but I’m not going to try very hard.

21071Book #19: Landscape and Memory, by Simon Schama

Why is it on my TBR? See previous TBR Hole post for an explanation of my former obsession with Simon Schama, but I got this one in particular because of an interest in the connection between landscape and cultural history.

Do I already own it? Yes, hurrah.

Verdict: Keep, although it’s difficult to imagine when I’ll have the time to read it—it’s very long and the physical book is huge, as well, so it’s hard to carry.

Book #20: Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their breach-of-trustCountry, by Andrew J. Bacevich

Why is it on my TBR? Not at all sure. I must have read a review.

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict: Discard, unless it turns out to be the most important book ever written on the subject. There are a couple of similar titles further down the list, anyway.


Conclusions: A little more success in discarding this time, mostly because I’m either no longer interested in a book’s subject or because it no longer has the relevance to the way I’m living that it used to. This project is helpful, too, in allowing me to realise that being open to reading something without actually making a plan to do so is legitimate.

What do you think—is Henry James indispensable? Should I give up on Halldor Laxness? (I doubt it, but you never know.) How much of Pynchon is worthwhile? Comments much encouraged, as always.

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24 thoughts on “Down the TBR Hole, #2

  1. Okay, I don’t want to mess up your system, as the point is to discount but *quietly whispers* THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY IS SO GOOD. {I forgot to whisper.}

  2. This is such a good idea! I’ve read two Henry James novels and I can definitely do without. I found Portrait of a Lady long and dreary. I much preferred House of Mirth by Wharton, if you haven’t read it already. I can’t comment on the other books.

      • I can easily imagine my 13-year-old self missing that entirely. (I mean, obviously that’s what happened!) Thanks for the tip!

  3. I’ve read Independent People, and while I hesitate to say you *shouldn’t* read it, it didn’t make a huge impression on me. But then – despite loving the sagas – I’ve struggled with much of the Icelandic fiction I’ve read

    • It’d be my first Icelandic novel (I think), and the country itself is incredibly appealing to me. I think I may try to read it when I see my parents this summer, and not be horribly disappointed if it differs from what I expect.

  4. I have to admit that none of the books above tempt me (Infinite Jest can only be taken in small quantities, otherwise it gets too pretentious and repetitive), except for ‘Portrait of a Lady’. I did go through a Henry James love period though, and that is one of his better novels. But if you are not a Henry James fan, then probably Daisy Miller will do just as well, and is much shorter.

    • I think I must have read Daisy Miller at some point in the past, possibly along with Washington Square as part of a US literature course in high school. The Portrait of a Lady would be my first full-length James, and I think I would need to read with a lot of concentration (so, maybe an airplane book?) Must confess that what you say about Infinite Jest makes sense, but that means I have no clue how to tackle it – reading in small quantities isn’t usually my style!

  5. ian darling says:

    “being open to reading something without making a plan to do so” is not only legitimate but rather sums up the whole idea of reading for pleasure! Independent People is good but a little too long.

    • Hah, I do spend a lot of time trying to strategise my reading – I think a little bit of relaxing off the reins would be a good thing!

  6. I think you’ll really enjoy Unapologetic when you get around to it. It’s not groundbreaking theologically, but his approach is refreshing, like talking about “the human propensity to fuck things up” rather than sin.

    Have you read any David Foster Wallace? I loved his brief commencement address This Is Water and his essay collection Consider the Lobster, but I’m daunted by his fiction.

    Oddly enough, Mason & Dixon is the only Pynchon that appeals to me.

    I was surprised to rather strongly dislike Oscar and Lucinda, one that should have been right up my alley. But there is another Carey novel I do love: Parrot & Olivier in America.

    • That’s exactly the kind of straight talk I appreciate 🙂

      I’ve read The Broom of the System, which I liked very much right up until the ending, which was frustratingly coy in a way that wasn’t quite as clever as 22-year-old DFW obviously believed. It’s a good place to start, though, because although it’s surreal and goofy, it’s got some larger-than-life characters and plot points that you can hang a narrative on.

      What didn’t you like about Oscar and Lucinda? I haven’t heard much about it from other people.

      • It’s been about 8-9 years since I read it so I probably couldn’t tell you specifically, but I remember not being at all charmed by the characters or plot, even though Oscar’s early life was suggested by Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son and it was just the sort of Victorian pastiche I wanted and expected to like.

      • That’s interesting, because I confess I’ve already started it once and ended up putting it down. That was a few years ago and I think my capacity to bull past the first twenty pages has increased, but I wonder if it bodes ill.

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