Down the TBR Hole, #3

Time for another round! 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 Goodreads TBR, by the way, isn’t like a real-world TBR. It only represents books I’d like to read—they’re not necessarily books I already have. It does, however, often guide my purchasing decisions.)

4193ii6whql-_sx327_bo1204203200_Book #21: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter

Why is it on my TBR? It looked like cool, reasonably accessible writing about maths and music and pattern. Sold.

Do I already own it? No, although I have Hofstadter’s (massive) book on translation, Le ton beau de Marot.

Verdict? Keep, or at least keep to try. Ton beau is written—at least to begin with—in a half-rhyming, almost spoken-word style; if GEB is the same I may have a hard time with it, since I need maths writing to be a bit more straightforward.

Book #22: English Food, by Jane Grigson41fmma0p1nl-_sx320_bo1204203200_

Why is it on my TBR? Quite superficially, because I liked the look of it in a shop.

Do I already own it? I did. I’ve already gotten rid of it, because…

Verdict? …if I’m ever going to have the time, energy and technique to prepare dishes like devilled hare’s kidney in marmalade (only a little bit exaggerating), it will be very far into the future.

23999630Book #23: A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Why is it on my TBR? Read a good review of it while trawling through the archives of a books blog I’d just discovered and really adored, I think. Can’t recall which one—perhaps Eve’s Alexandria.

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict: Keep. It’s a classic of speculative fiction and I’m fascinated by the idea of monks preserving civilisation post-apocalypse, like late antiquity all over again. (Plus, the title is terrific for charades.)

Book #24: Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon71gmzprxvgl

Why is it on my TBR? Americana. Nostalgia. Travels on the forgotten byways of the continent. (A weakness for road-trippery.)

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict: I have heard not-so-good things about this one, in the interim. I might not bother.

386187Book #25: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt

Why is it on my TBR? Southern Gothic nonfiction. Eccentricity and Spanish moss and heat. Duh. Also, my cousin bought it for me for about $4 at a secondhand bookshop when I was seventeen; you remember things like that.

Do I already own it? Yes!

Verdict: Keep. So obviously.

Book #26: Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon81cbrobjzrl

Why is it on my TBR? I was bought it by a dear friend who thought I should read it.

Do I already own it? Yes. But I lent it to another dear friend who seemed in need of it, and then she moved a long way away, and long story short, I think she might still have it but I don’t know where.

Verdict: Keep, if I can ever find the damn thing again.

9780060885618_custom-1f0040cfdade67159cc9ebfe336dcbabaf73206c-s6-c30Book #27: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain

Why is it on my TBR? Not sure. After I added it, though, it was made into a film, which is apparently amazing and surreal, and I would really like to read the book first.

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict: Keep, I think.

Book #28: The Common Stream: Two Thousand Years of the FrontCoverMockTemplateEnglish Village, by Rowland Parker

Why is it on my TBR? Piqued an interest in English social history, especially over centuries. I might have just finished Ulverton by Adam Thorpe when I added it.

Do I already own it? Nope, but there’s a very attractive Eland edition in the bookshop.

Verdict: Keep. I’ve just read a Thomas Hardy and remembered why I like rusticity.

bio_2000_sp_unabridged_journals_web Book #29: The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Why is it on my TBR? Read Plath’s Collected Poems, thought they were amazing, had a shufti at some of her journaling and found it as compelling and personal as Woolf’s.

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict: Keep.

Book #30: All Change, by Elizabeth Jane Howardpage-51-all

Why is it on my TBR? I read the first four Cazalet Chronicles books and really, really loved them. All Change is set ten(?) years after the last one.

Do I already own it? Nope.

Verdict: Actually, discard. I loved the Cazalets so much because of the way that the children interacted with one another, and with the adults; now that the children are young adults in their own right, I don’t feel quite as compelled by it.


Conclusions: Three books out of ten discarded, each for a good reason, I think. Going through these books is, if nothing else, reminding me of how much I’ve been “wanting to get to” for a long time, and how silly it is to put off reading interesting things you’ve been aware of for a while in favour of titles that you’ve seen more recently.

What do you think—is William Least Heat-Moon actually a genius whom I should read immediately? Is Sylvia Plath not worth it? How difficult is Douglas Hofstadter’s mathematical writing?! Comments much encouraged, as always.

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15 thoughts on “Down the TBR Hole, #3

  1. I found Far from the Tree a fascinating read – if you can get hold of it again, it’s certainly a keeper. And I do enjoy Sylvia Plath’s journals, although I have them in the abridged edition (mainly when she was being vicious about someone still alive at the time when they were first published).

  2. I find these posts so interesting – although they have the unfortunate side effect of adding to my TBR pile (A Canticle for Leibowitz sounds great!) The only one of these I’ve read is Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk, and while I thought it was good, it’s not a book I’d press upon somebody when there’s so much else to read in the world, if that makes sense – I’m surprised that the film is surreal, as the book, as far as I remember, is not.

    • I read an article about the film, which apparently is very different in tone and style to the book. Ben Fountain consulted on the film and was apparently A-OK with all of it; he said it seemed to work better, in the visual medium, if they amped up the sheer inherent *weirdness* of Billy’s homecoming, which is a cool point.

  3. These are fun posts. I really should do one at some point — though with 7100+ books on my Goodreads TBR, a number that grows daily, I’d want to get through a massive tranche at once!

    Billy Lynn’s was one of those earlyish Iraq/Afghanistan response novels, along with The Yellow Birds, and unfortunately neither has really stuck with me. I think of it nowadays mostly through the Bookshop Band song “Fodder for the Showtime”. I’d be willing to give the film a watch, though.

    Oddly enough, we own a copy of The Common Stream; even stranger, I’m pretty sure I got it from a library book sale in America.

    Far from the Tree I gave the barest skim some years ago, but I think it will be worth my reading carefully in the future.

    • I’m getting similar advice on Billy Lynn – good, fine, but not essential – so perhaps I can strike it off. I loved Redeployment by Phil Klay; all other Iraq/Afghan War books tend to pale in comparison.

      HA, you’d have to do 100 books at a go if you did posts like this! (Or make it a lifelong project…)

  4. P.S. We’ve made all of one recipe from Jane Grigson’s English Food: parsnip cake (basically like a carrot cake). It’s a good one, but yes, the book as a whole is inessential. I started a Goodreads shelf called “to skim only” for things like cookbooks that I know I won’t read in their entirety but want to have a look at sometime.

    • Ah yes, cookbooks! I get Massive Cookbook Lust Eyes (TM) whenever I see a shiny new one, but I don’t own very many for precisely this reason.

  5. buriedinprint says:

    I’m with Rebecca on both the appeal and the futility of this exercise, but I enjoy watching you move through the process. I am much choosier about what I add to my GR TBR now, but when one says that after a few thousand are already on the list, the question of scale comes into play, doesn’t it. In theory, however, I’d like to do this, but I’m working on the lists I’ve “saved” at the library for now, which will probably take me the rest of this year and next (and I’ve been working on them for more than a year already).

    Although I haven’t read Elizabeth Jane Howard yet myself (she’s on the GR list in a big way, several volumes), I can relate to the idea of finding only certain characters appealing when they are young. That was true for me with many series, especially growing up!

    • Yeah, I don’t think I would bother doing this if my TBR was 1000+, but right now it’s around 700 so it still feels like a worthwhile exercise…even if only psychologically.

      • buriedinprint says:

        That’s a fantastic time to start it! Because then it won’t (or, probably won’t) end up to BE that long. At least not impossibly long. Maybe, generously long? But not give-up-take-up-birding-instead long? (But then we’d probably be the kind of birder who makes lists anyway.)

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