absolutely ridiculous: a proof/library TBR


On the left: the next six proofs for me to read, all of which (I try to read proofs in order of release date and in the month before they’re published) are out on the 6th of February. On the right: my stack of library borrows, all of which are due back on 26th January. The top three are part of my children’s literature project; the next two are a combination of my Guardian Top 1000 novels project and a half-conceived notion to borrow all the Penguin or Vintage classics off the shelf in order; Celestial Bodies just sort of… fell into my hand, and the final two are Guardian Top 1000 choices from the list’s crime segment, which is statistically the one in which I’m least well read.


The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I actually finished this between the time I took the photo and the time I started writing this post. It’s very reminiscent of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, but uses its sfnal/magical realist conceit in a different, more concentrated manner. I think it will be extremely successful, although I’m still constantly unsure of how I feel about using non-realist conceits in novels that purport to show the pains of slavery. And then I feel unsure of whether I have a right to feel unsure, since Coates has done the thinking and possesses the heritage that gives him the right to tell the story however he likes.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia, by Sophy Roberts: One of my relatively rare non-fiction choices. From the press release: “Siberia’s story is traditionally one of exiles, penal colonies and unmarked graves. Yet there is another tale to tell. Dotted throughout this remote land are pianos – grand instruments created during the boom years of the nineteenth century, and humble, Soviet-made uprights that found their way into equally modest homes[…] That stately instruments might still exist in such a hostile landscape is remarkable. That they are still capable of making music in far-flung villages is nothing less than a miracle.”

The Good Hawk, by Joseph Elliott: A YA adventure set in an alt-ancient Britain where one of the children tasked with guarding a sea wall has Down’s syndrome. She teams up with an un-self-confident boy to journey into a mysterious country of magic and secrets. This sounds amazing, has had terrific reviews, and the last YA title I read published by Walker Books knocked it out of the park (Rules For Vanishing; review here).

Swimmers in the Dark, by Tomasz Jedrowski: This is giving off serious Aciman/Greenwell vibes. Two boys meet in Poland and, over the course of the summer, swim in some beautiful lakes and fall in love. Aahhh. Yes.

A Small Revolution in Germany, by Philip Hensher: I’m still not quite sure what this is about, but I think it is about a group of friends who, radical in their youth, make compromises with the boring adult world as they age, except for one of them—Spike—who does not, and the effect his refusal to compromise has on his life. I have never actually read a Hensher novel, but a new one seems like the place to start.

And, from the library:

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman: I’ve never read Gaiman’s writing for children, though I liked American Gods a lot (and Neverwhere slightly less), so this will be a new experience. The story of a small boy called Bod who is raised by the spectral inhabitants of a graveyard when his entire family is murdered, I’ve heard rumours that it’s somewhat uneven, and am keen to find out for myself. [C21 children’s lit challenge]

The Skylarks’ War, by Hilary McKay: As a child I tended to gravitate towards fantasy, but warm/familial fiction set a little in the past (a la The Railway Children) was another great love. This seems like that sort of thing, only written by a contemporary author, and was the Costa Children’s Book Award winner in 2018; other than that I don’t know a lot about it but am optimistic. [C21 children’s lit challenge]

The Girl of Ink and Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: Another children’s fantasy, but this time taking in the art and science of cartography, as Isabella has to leave her island to save her friend. Millwood Hargrave was only twenty-six when this was published and it’s already become a modern children’s classic. [C21 children’s lit challenge]

A Man of the People, by Chinua Achebe: A short sharp shock of a novel about an unnamed African country’s Minister for Culture, his corrupt and opportunistic ways, and the initially idealistic young student who first challenges, then succumbs to (I think), that life. Of Achebe’s work, I’ve only ever read Things Fall Apart and found it a bit too schematic to genuinely enjoy, but then it’s a general rule that an author’s worst book is the one taught to high schoolers, so maybe this’ll be better. [Penguin Modern Classic]

Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin: I fell in love with Baldwin’s writing through reading Giovanni’s Room last year. Go Tell It…is the semi-autobiographical story of a young man’s disillusionment with the church in which he’s raised, and I can’t wait. [Guardian Top 1000 + Penguin Modern Classic]

Celestial Bodies, by Jokha Alharthi: Winner of the Man Booker International Prize, and the first such to be a translation from Arabic. I finished it this morning; it tells the stories of three Omani sisters – Mayya, Asma, and Khawla – their marriages, and their parents’ marriages; the collision of old and new in a country where slavery was only outlawed in the early 1960s (and persisted in essence for years after it was officially illegal); the collisions of love, honour, poetry and money that make up any good family saga. A worthy winner, I think, and most surprising in its somewhat experimental form, particularly the half-dreaming narration of every other chapter, told by Mayya’s husband Abdallah. Heartily recommended.

Live Flesh, by Ruth Rendell: A man commits a crime, goes to prison, gets out, and recommences the obsession that led him to commit the crime, all over again. A common enough story, but my last Rendell (technically a Barbara Vine) was incredible because of the way the story was told, so I’m hopeful this one will be too. [Guardian Top 1000]

Sidetracked, by Henning Mankell: The only Mankell on the Guardian list and I plucked it off the shelf because, well, he’s solid, right? I’ve been under the impression I’ve read at least one Mankell novel for some time, but I think I’ve just watched enough of the Wallander series (both English and Swedish) to have given me the gist. Anyway, I imagine it’ll be good competent distraction. [Guardian Top 1000]

How should I prioritize these?! I almost certainly won’t get through all the library books before they’re due back, which is fine, and I like being able to do full, in-depth reviews of each book I finish for the children’s lit challenge before moving on to the next one, which tends to slow me down. But I also want to keep a steady pace with the proofs, unless a title is dull or frustrating enough to DNF. Thoughts?

22 thoughts on “absolutely ridiculous: a proof/library TBR

  1. What’s your library’s policy on renewals? Provided a book isn’t requested by someone else, I can renew books 4 x 3 weeks for a total of 15 weeks. (And if I still haven’t finished something by then, I just take it back to the self-service machine, return it and reborrow it.) So library books, unless requested or time-sensitive (e.g. on a prize list) are never priorities for me in comparison to proof copies. Knowing the rate at which you read, though, I have no doubt you can get through that proof pile plus half or more of the library books this month.

    I wasn’t keen on The Underground Railroad, so I’ll give the Coates a miss. The Graveyard Book was a great read. I did it for R.I.P. a couple of years ago. I haven’t actually read any of Gaiman’s work for adults, just this and one other YA, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

    1. I think I can renew a fair bit, which definitely makes me less likely to prioritize library loans. And even if I can’t, as you say, I can just return them and check them out again, most cunningly!

      The Coates is interesting because the book is completely and utterly realist until it comes to the protagonist’s development of a supernatural power, which is presented as an ability to harness deep or traumatic memories. I think it works quite differently to Whitehead’s book, which seemed to be trying to do something else anyway (more of an overview of black oppression in America, where Coates’s is quite specific to Virginia during slavery). But there are enough similarities that this one might be best avoided for you anyway!

  2. I feel your pain… I so often haul home books from the library that just go back unread because I end up figuring the books I own have more priority and the ones borrowed aren’t going anywhere. Really, the ones I own aren’t going anywhere, are they???

    Maybe go for:

    a. the ones you think you’ll read quickest


    b. the ones you want to read most!

    Sorry not to be more helpful…

    1. That’s pretty much what I’m thinking at the moment – what’ll I get through quickly and with alacrity? Definitely the Baldwin, for one…

  3. Wow! I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Girl of Ink and Stars because it’s been so universally beloved but I didn’t like it at all – it felt rushed and confusing, and I couldn’t connect with the narrator. Philip Hensher is quite hit and miss for me. Some of his books have been great (The Emperor Waltz) others are more of a slig (The Northern Clemency). His latest sounds like it will fall more into the slog category, but I’ve not actually read it.

    1. Have to confess I did try The Northern Clemency, for no readily apparent reason, at about thirteen, which may have been a mistake… I’ll be interested to see how I feel about The Girl of Ink and Stars. Millwood Hargrave’s new adult novel, The Mercies, was solidly successful for me—not, like, mind-blowing, but I really enjoyed reading it and it felt very atmospheric.

      1. Interesting. I wondered if the problems I had with Girl of Ink and Stars were specific to it being a children’s book (not because I don’t like children’s books, but because the rushed pacing felt very much like it was catering to children’s supposedly short attention spans) so maybe I should try The Mercies.

      2. I think the pacing in The Mercies is definitely fine – it’s set over about three years and there’s an adequate sense of time passing. There is something occasionally a little underdone about the plotting in children’s books; sometimes that shortness it’s really impressive (I find Tamora Pierce’s ability to compress time into two paragraphs remarkable) and sometimes it doesn’t work quite as well.

      3. Yes, I think many children’s books do this v successfully (Pierce is a great example!) but for me, The Girl of Ink and Stars didn’t quite pull this off.

  4. Try Hensher’s The Mulberry Empire. Set in Afghanistan, it’s probably not as relevant now as it was when it came out, but it’s a fascinating exploration of the different ways in which societies understand the world around them, emphasised by the different ways in which they tell story.

  5. I like Mankell a lot – his thrillers have a real political undertone which make them very timely and a lot more interesting than other crime novels. Sidetracked is great, but One Step Behind is my favourite!

  6. Well, you’ve made me feel slightly better about the number of ARCs I need to read before their pub dates and the fact that I just got another e-mail from the library saying I have holds waiting for me! These all look so good! How can you choose?

    1. Yeah, definitely don’t feel bad—I’ve got another eight February proofs that aren’t pictured! (But they’re out later in the month, from the 13th-26th.)

      1. My current problem is that I recently got a bunch of spring ARCs and they’re so exciting that I keep reading them instead of the ones with January/February pub dates.

      2. Nnggg I know this pain. I try to be strict with myself, but March is going to be an amazing month for new releases…

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