I completed TBR20, my project to read twenty books I own before buying more, in March of this year. This is the third and final update about how my reading has been affected by the project since then. I chose to read almost exclusively short stories for my project, so in the first two months afterwards I read several novels. I also bought a few more books than I’d planned to in the first month, but things had settled back down by month two. I’m a week away from the third month post-TBR20 now and my book buying has, I think, now stabilised to a new, less excessive level.
This month I bought two books (pictured above): the Collected Stories of John Cheever, one of my favourite short story writers, and Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors, which I picked up after admiring her stories in the New Yorker. She’s appearing at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, so I’m hoping to get tickets to see her there! The collection is excellent. I’ve still to read the novella packaged together with the collection (Minna Needs Rehearsal Space), so I’ll make sure to pick that up before the festival in August.
As I had planned the last time I posted, I’ve spent almost all of this month reading short stories. I’ve read selections from collected volumes on my shelves (including the Cheever I’ve just bought); the weekly New Yorker selections, and a story or two from several author collections I own. I also reread Kevin Barry’s Dark Lies The Island, particularly to revisit two favourites of mine – the superb Fjord of Killary and the Sunday Times prize-winning Beer Trip to Llandudno.
When I wasn’t reading short stories, I was making my way through Larry McMurtry’s epic 1985 Western novel Lonesome Dove. I bought it five years ago when a colleague recommended it, but I hadn’t picked it up. My boyfriend’s a massive Western fan and mentioned recently he’d like to check it out, at which point I remembered I had a copy in the house. We’re both reading it, using the same copy in between the rest of our reading, so it’ll take a couple of months (my edition is 945 pages long). I’m a third of the way through at the moment and it is completely remarkable. It’s immersive, wise, funny, warm and impressively wide in scope. From a writer’s point of view, it’s also a masterclass in third person omniscient. Recommended.
TBR20: The Verdict
I began my project to tackle the anxiety I was feeling about buying far more books than I could comfortably read. I wrote a post about why I had created the TBR20 idea and was pleasantly surprised to find it struck a chord with other readers too. I successfully completed my 20 (plus a few others too) at the end of March 2015, taking almost five months altogether. It worked well. Picking the books ahead of time was a useful focus for me, although I know other readers have found this a difficult way of doing it. I think the next time I try it, I’ll probably pick as I go to see if I prefer it.
The first month after completing the project, I did buy more than I would have liked, but that settled right back down in the second month. And in the past month (the third month) I’ve found myself steadier and happier as a book buyer. The old tendencies to impulsively buy and stockpile are still there, but what I find works is:
- Remembering that the anxiety I feel when I over-buy books gnaws away at the pleasure of reading them. The idea of having too many books is usually something to joke about – never too many! – but when it started to feel oppressive, like something that was getting in the way of the joy of it all for me, things had to change.
- Remembering that spending too much time and energy on browsing and acquiring books eats into the time and energy I have to read them.
- Remembering that books will (usually) not disappear if I don’t buy them immediately.
- Remembering I can only read one or two at a time. As I wrote in a previous post, keeping things at a human pace (rather than an acquisitive, hollow, buying-led pace) feels better, ultimately.
- Turning back to my own bookshelves, as I did for TBR20, and taking the time to value what I already have there. The things that were shiny and exciting back when I bought them are still worth a look. Lonesome Dove, for example, which I’ve owned for five years and which I’ve just picked up and fallen in love with.
Applying the insights I had during TBR20 is what’s keeping me happier with my book buying three months later. I suspect I’ll do at least a TBR10 on a yearly basis, to keep things going and avoid any creeping towards over-buying again.
My reading appetite has turned towards the thriller in the past few days. I’ve rarely mentioned my thriller and suspense reading on this blog, but writers in this genre are among my all-time favourites. To name a few: Dennis Lehane, Gillian Flynn, Lauren Beukes, Lee Child, Patricia Highsmith. I’ll be picking up thrillers for the next couple of weeks at least (mostly from my shelves, plus I think I’ll buy a couple).
This is my last planned TBR20 update. Thanks to everyone for taking part or following my thoughts on it all! If you think the idea would work for you too, go for it. Check out the project’s page on my blog for more information and a link to a gallery of pics from other readers who took part.