A Homage to the TBR

Someone else’s reading journal.

I keep a book journal, but do not have a TBR.  I buy books, I put them on shelves, I take them off shelves, I find I am not in the mood, I put them back for a year or ten years, I take them off the shelves again, and eventually I read them. Are people with TBRs more organized?  When I do plan, the dates are flexible.  Last spring I meant to reread Daniel Deronda, but didn’t get around to it till  fall.  Did it matter?  Not at all.  And did I hurry through 800 pages?  I did not.  George Eliot’s prose is buoyant and rich in texture, lush and leisurely.  Festina lente (“Hurry slowly”),as the Roman proverb says.

Not everyone shares my serendipitous style of selection, though. We don’t all have to be the same:  I very much like other people’s TBRs!  And so this post is a homage to pictures of  bloggers’ TBRs, which I always love, and to the “vloggers” at Booktube who show books to the camera and say they plan to read them. (Now that is a bit weird!)  The photo above is of what passes for my TBR (though I am committed to reading other books currently, so this TBR is in flux).  I have started some of these, so I can decide which to finish, and which to reject.

1.  Gail Honeymoon’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.  Everybody has read this except me, yes?  I have read 50 pages, and it is well-written.  Initially I thought it might be like Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn, only Eleanor Oliphant is a 30ish eccentric heroine with a dead-end job in an office, not an elderly woman about to retire. But Honeymoon’s novel is both lighter and more issue-oriented:   The victim of some kind of abuse, Eleanor has scars all over her face but says she “is completely fine” without having any friends. And then, at  a concert, she is smitten by a musician, and buys a computer to stalk him online.  She plans to meet and seduce him and even gets a bikini wax.  But her most likely friend?  The nice, dull guy from the IT department.

I’m of two minds about this:   I do feel I read a very similar American novel in 2015 or 2016.  I actually blogged about it, but don’t remember the title.  It wasn’t very good:   the story of a obese woman who is completely alone until a kind woman befriends her–and naturally she blooms.  Gail Honeymoon’s novel is much more sophisticated.  I am not very intrigued by the story, though.

2.  Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun.  This is a Christmas present from a friend with very good taste.   And I loved Stewart’s nonfiction book about earthworms, The Earth Moved.  This mystery, set in 1914,  is based on the real-life Kopp sisters: Constance Kopp became of the nation’s first female sheriffs, after the sisters survived a shoot-out at their farm.  This is another of those books everyone loves, and  the opening pages are addictive.  AND SO IT WILL BE READ.

3.  Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. I read an article in The Guardian about publishers’ favorite books of the year:  Alexandra Pringle at Bloomsbury recommended Conversations with Friends.  I’ve read 62 pages of this beautifully-written little book, and it slightly reminds me of Barbara Trapido’s comic novels, only it’s aimed at Millennials and written by a Millennial.  The narrator, Frances, a poet who performs poetry at bars with her best friend Bobbi, develops a tangled relationship with a married actor, the husband of a woman who is writing a profile about Frances and Bobbi.   I’m of two minds about this:  I’m not its target audience, and I do not relate to the characters.  But  I will PROBABLY finish it because it’s blessedly short.

4.  Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke It’s a Golden Age Detective Story, and I love Allingham.  It is not her best but very exciting!  I’m a fan of her hero Albert Campion, so I’ll finish it.

5.  Browsings, by Michael Dirda, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for The Washington Post, is a collection of essays which he wrote originally for the homepage at The American Scholar. He is obsessed with collecting books, carries a notebook on walks, and tells us which notebooks he prefers (not Moleskines), lists titles of books about books, and guides browsers at a famous book sale at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart to learn which books are collectible and valuable.   Yes, I will finish this book, and it would make a great Christmas gift.

6.  Susan Richards Shreve’s Queen of Hearts.  I absolutely loved this well-written novel when I read it in the ’80s, and am loving it again.  It’s a moving tale with a hint of magic realism, set in a small town in Massachusetts.  The heroine is beautiful, kind, and has second sight, but on the eve of her wedding, an unforeseen incident occurs: she finds her fiance with another woman, and she kills him. What will she do with this secret?   The very talented Susan Richard Shreves is one of my favorite novelists. She bridges the gap between literary and popular fiction, and this is thoroughly enjoyable.

So, do you have a TBR?  Do you plan your readign?  Or do you read as you go? What’s on your TBR?   Let me know!

22 thoughts on “A Homage to the TBR

  1. I’m checking back in to let you know I found the title of the “Eleanor- Oliphant-like” novel: “Invisible Ellen” by Shari Shattuck, & I wrote about it here: https://mirabiledictu.org/2014/06/09/summer-light-reading/
    Here are a couple of paragraphs from the post, so you will see a slight resemblance:

    Terrified of social contacts because of her past in foster care, she stays in her apartment, binge-eating all day, when she isn’t spying on her “pets,” neighbors who live across the way, a drug dealer and a single pregnant woman.  In the manner of Harriet the Spy, Ellen writes down her observations in her notebook.  And at night she works as a janitor at Costco, where she observes the sleazy boss sexually harassing a Russian immigrant.

    But suddenly Ellen gets involved.  On the bus, a blind woman named Temerity sits beside her, and talks to her as though Ellen is not a freak.  Intrigued, Ellen gets off the bus and follows her.  And when two men attack Temerity and take her purse, Ellen trips up one of the thieves, pounds him, and gets the purse back.


    • Oh, and it is I, Kat, again. If you saw an earlier version of this post, I translated Festina lente correctly but attributed it to a poet. After dinner I had brain food and remembered it’s just a proverb.


  2. I’ve finally acknowledged that planning my reading is a waste of time. I read whatever strikes my fancy. That said, I was recently given The Essex Serpent as a gift so I do feel some pressure to read it in the near future. Just now I’m reading Consolation by Michael Redhill. The only book I’ve read on your list is The Tiger in the Smoke, which I enjoyed.


    • Yes, I don’t feel the need to plan my reading, either. Let us be Zen; let our reading be an act of meditation and happiness! In a way all the plannings seem an internet thing: Goodreads goals, TBRs, readalongs, the whole thing. People are actually anxious about their Goodreads goals. I am very glad I didn’t grow up on the internet.


  3. I don’t maintain a tbr list either but in my head I know that there are certain authors who have books due in the new year which I will read as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. Those, and my book group lists are enough to be going on with. Having said that, I am trying to persuade one of those groups to choose the Sally Rooney because I really want to read that. And can I second the recommendation of Browsings which is one of my favourite Dirda books, although they are all wonderful.


    • I like your system: knowing what you want to read, with some scheduling! I do love the Dirda. The minute I put it down on the coffee table my husband picks it up. And that’s a sign that it’s a really good book!


  4. I’m weird. I realise this. I shelve my TBR in order of acquisition, with the most recent books back right and the oldest on the left or front left if (WHEN) it’s two rows deep (this means I have to shuffle everything along every time I acquire new books). Books are taken from the left / front left to read. If I acquired a lot of books on one day, I can pick from those, rather than taking the strict “first” one, although I usually order them nicely so there is a variety. I also usually have a big hardback on the go at home / at the table and a paperback for travelling around. People say this is organised and controlled but to me it’s lazy as I don’t have to choose!

    Of course there are exceptions. Books for review are in a separate pile and are prioritised. I also have a pile of books in series where I haven’t read the books before the one I have in the pile so need to wait to read those. Although at present there’s a three-book series on there. I also have my Kindle, so that has NetGalley books and is often read in the gym or on journeys. Oh, and I have my Iris Murdoch re-reading project now, so a little side pile for those. PHEW.

    Images of my TBR through the year are on my blog at the moment. You can see how books move left along the front then disappear … https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/a-year-in-first-lines-2/


    • Oh, I love your system, even though I wouldn’t last a day on it! I do multiple reads too and have a book on the go. We do have so many choices, between our books and our e-books. Oh, I do want to read some Iris Murdoch, and either you have told me about your project or someone else has. I’d better put Murdoch on the stack.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My TBR is any book or stack of books in my house or on my ‘I Think I Want to Read the Book’ list. I have no plans. I read strictly according to interest and mood. I’m always reading a mystery and something on my Kindle and an actual paper book at the same time.


  6. I have many TBRs; I use writing projects to guide my reading — I just can’t read serendipitiously except all the reading I do in periodicals, magazines, which is to say all the time I suppose. I write out routines to help myself. I also include in TBR piles books I have read — so I won’t forget that they connect to those I’m reading.

    Against TBRs: putting them in piles when you’ve got such a large library in the house and so many piles means you misplace some — and I have re-bought only to find the first copy of the book shortly after. Thus my belief in a book poltergeist in my house.

    The listservs I join in with (two) help me along; the teaching (oddly since I choose the books) feel like that they get in the way. Of what? don’t ask.

    I crave order to build a pretense of sanity and meaning.

    Of those you cite I’d love that Dirda.


    • I know about disappearing books. I have a poltergeist, too.
      Well, you’re very organized, and do read for your projects , papers, classes, and the groups you lead. I have some projects, but they’re much looser, in that I don’t go in to teach a class, etc.
      Oh, you’d love the Dirda! He is always excellent.


  7. My TBR is frankly all over the place…. I used to shove everything on shelves as it arrived and read or unread, everything was mixed together. But there are so many books that I frankly can’t always find them, can’t remember what I’ve actually read and often forget what I have. So I’ve begun to keep new arrivals separately. Which doesn’t mean I’m actually reading them, so who knows in the end what will work best? Basically, I’m drowning in books….

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like my approach. It is difficult to find books when you have so many, and I need a new house to accommodate them. Unfortunately that is not going to happen.

      On Mon, Dec 18, 2017 at 10:02 AM, mirabile dictu wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  8. I want that journal and the handwriting that goes with it in the first photo. The words you wrote here could be mine, I agree so completely. I buy, I shelf, my mood changes. Made me laugh. My TBR is extensive. If I look at, say, 5 TBRs in a list or a box, I will then go off them. I need to pick off my shelves blind. I know, makes no sense. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.


    • I do love that book journal picture too. It’s good that not all of us have a TBR. Everybody has a different reading “plan.”

      On Mon, Dec 18, 2017 at 2:18 PM, mirabile dictu wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  9. I am convinced now that i need the Dirda, i have some of his other books and have really enjoyed them, its time to buy something for me!


  10. That would never be my book journal: the “section” for books to read appears to be just two pages whereas I know I have added far more titles to my TBR list than two pages worth over the past year. I always have some kind of reading project underway and I do make (and mostly follow) plans to keep things moving along but it doesn’t worry me to step away from them for a spell or for another temporary diversion when I become freshly interested in something else. This autumn, for instance, I paused all my other reading projects to indulge in the Canadian longlisted literary prize nominees and happily shifted focus to that but, then, when there were only three left felt like switching back to the other projects (eventually I’ll get to those other three – they’re good ones, I was kind of “saving” them). So I have a TBR but it’s long and diverse so I can easily side-step to enjoy another part of it whenever that suits my reading mood.


    • I like the idea of that organized notebook, but I have the blog and do much of the “book-keeping(!)” here. I decided on the basis of Bellevue Square that the Giller list is much more worth reading than the other award lists, and my husband is reading it right now. I can’t believe I picked the winner to read! The libraries here are limited, but Toronto’s must be terrific. If an LFL ever competed with a library, it would be time for the libraries to give it up.

      On Fri, Dec 22, 2017 at 1:41 PM, mirabile dictu wrote:



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