My #TBR20

Scroll down if you just want to skip straight to the pictures of books…

TBR20 is an idea of Eva Stalker’s, with the aim being to focus on reading more and on buying less.

The concept is very simple, and since I’m very late to it already familiar to a lot of people. Basically, you read 20 books you already own before buying any more.

Most people who’ve taken it up have interpreted that as pick 20 books you already own and read those before buying any more, but strictly speaking that wasn’t the original concept. Originally it was just read any 20, deciding which out of the ones you own as you go along.

I rather like the idea. I’ve posted before about my own concerns with buying replacing enjoying here and by way of follow-up here. I also link in that first post to an article by an old friend of mine about why people buy things they don’t then use, that’s here to save digging around and it’s very much worth reading.

The interesting thing about following the pick 20 approach is it forces you to think about your reading. 20 books is probably two to three months reading, quite possibly more if I get very busy at work. That’s a hell of a commitment.

What do I actually want to read? How much literary fiction? What if I feel like some SF? What about books to unwind to when I’m under pressure elsewhere in life? All Modernism and no crime sounds indigestible.

On the other hand, making lists is sort of fun if you’re the sort of pedantic individual I am, and there are quite a few books I’ve been wanting to read for a while but which keep getting put off for no particularly good reason. A little discipline pushing me to read them would be no bad thing.

So, after much amendment, consideration, reconsideration, re-reconsideration and so on, here’s my #TBR20:





The Grimwood is an SF/crime title, because potentially three months without any SF seems excessive. The Killer inside Me is just long overdue, and fills the hard-bitten noir gap. The rest are a mix of books I’ve wanted to read for a long time chosen in part though to give me a little variety.

Diving Belles and Jesus’ Son are both short story collections, but both are better read as single works in one go rather than interspersing them between other reads. As such I’ve effectively treated them as novels. Otherwise, I’ve not included any short stories or poetry and I plan to let myself read as much of those as I want along the way (provided I already own them of course).

I do plan to break the rules in one way, because there’s a good chance this project will overlap with my Summer holiday in the US, and I don’t own some of the books I’d planned to read on that trip. I may therefore allow myself to buy Hari Kunzru’s Gods without Men specifically to read while out there, if I haven’t finished the #TBR20 by then (which I probably won’t have). I considered having an exception for Seth’s Golden Gate on the same basis, but practically I doubt I’ll take a hardcopy book with me on holiday when I have a kindle so unless I’m sure I can read it immediately before I go that would just be a fudge.

Eva’s original post, for the curious, is here and her #tbr20 posts generally can be found here. Her original post in particular really is very good, and very well written, so if you haven’t already I do encourage you to read it.



Filed under Personal posts

35 responses to “My #TBR20

  1. A great idea, and some fantastic books in there. I may have a go, it should save me some money at the very least…

    I am eager to find out what you make of Eimear McBride and Renata Adler in particular: I’ll be shocked if you don’t like either!

  2. Alastair Savage

    Doesn’t Goodbye to Berlin count as a collection of short stories? It’s very episodic and for me, the standout book of the TBR20 that you’ve put together.
    I bought Dune to last me on a long flight, thinking that at 900 pages it should last the distance, but I loved it so much that I had read it – and the first sequel – weeks before I was due to leave.

  3. Hmm, well,, I’ve read it all, but no, this idea doesn’t appeal to me at all. First of all, I became an avid book buyer at the time that the talk about eBooks was forecasting that I might not be able to access real books in the future. I could not abide having nothing to read but what’s available on a Kindle. And I also learned the hard way that (at least, here in Australia) that unless the author is well known, if you don’t buy a book when it’s released, it’s no longer on the bookstore shelves after 3-6 months.
    I have about 600 books on my TBR and I have a library in my house to keep them in. They’re not in my house to impress anyone, I’m an introvert and the sort of people who might perhaps be impressed aren’t invited to visit anyway. I skitter between what’s new, what’s from the municipal library and what’s on my TBR according to my preferences at the time. I like having lots and lots of books to choose from; it’s one of the pleasures of my life to browse my shelves when I finish a book and get to choose something new.
    Oh, and BTW I didn’t have a deprived childhood. My parents always gave me books for Christmas and birthdays, and my father took me to the library every week so that I was never short of lovely books to read.

  4. This is such a good idea! I’ve been on a bit of a buying bender recently and this sounds like a good way to rein it in and get back to the reading. I think you might have inspired me to make my own list.

  5. tsundoku – I do it all the time. I’m trying very hard to read from the TBR but the charity shop finds are the main issue – if I don’t snap them up they’ll disappear. But I have managed to donate four large boxes of books this week…

  6. chowmeyow

    I love this idea, and may decide to do it myself soon. I was also pondering a challenge where for a few months (haven’t really decided on a time period yet) I would read 1 for 1, meaning, for every 1 newly discovered book that I read (could be: just purchased, checked out from the library, or given a galley of to review) I have to read 1 book that has been in my personal collection of books and unread for over 1 years. That approach would be more sustainable long term, but I like the more intense challenge of reading 20 all in a row.

    Good luck – looking forward to hearing the results!

  7. Glad to hear you are joining #TBR20, Max, and I really hope it works for you! As you probably know, I finished my first round of twenty earlier this month, and I’ve just started another tranche in an effort to make inroads into the pile. I wimped out of choosing a fixed set of books though, opting instead for the pick-as-you-go-along route, so I commend you for picking and posting your twenty here. Some great choices, btw (funnily enough, I included After Leaving Mr Mackenzie in my #TBR20 and it’ll probably be my next review).

    Delighted to see Adler’s Speedboat in your selection too – I hope you enjoy it (you’ll like the way she writes, I think). It reminded me a little of Teju Cole’s Open City (and Valeria Luiselli’s Sidewalks), so it’s interesting to see the Adler and Cole sitting side by side in your photo! I have a volume of Isherwood’s Berlin novels on my shelves so perhaps I should include Mr Norris Changes Trains in my twenty?

  8. Lee, I think (obviously I guess) that it is worth trying. Anything that focuses you tends to have some value. I do expect both those to be great.

    Alastair, if it does it’ll get swapped out, I hadn’t realised that. I read Mr Norris Changes Trains (which Jacqui should consider for her twenty, there’s a review here if you’ve not seen it) and that’s of course a novel. I thought this was fairly tightly connected, if that’s wrong I will need to reconsider it. Thoughts welcome on that point.

    Dune and Dune Messiah apparently were originally to be one book, but were split as the publisher considered them too long together. I think that taken as a whole they’re incredible, though I don’t recall rating the sequels nearly as much (they weren’t bad, just unnecessary).

    Lisa, I think if it doesn’t tempt you absolutely shouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that you were skipping the #tbr20 through some childhood trauma or whatever. It’s like anything, if it strikes you as fun or useful then by all means, but if not it would be pointless. I suspect also that if I had the same issue about books disappearing I might not take this approach.

    Your library sounds lovely. Anyone who keeps books to impress strangers is kidding themselves I think, and probably not much of a reader. The trips with your father sound nice too, my grandparents on each side did something similar with me.

    Audrey, good luck if you do. Let us know what you pick!

    Kaggsy, cold turkey on the charity shops? Four books out isn’t bad though. To be honest as I was saying to Lisa though, this is only worth doing if you think you’d find it rewarding through the decision to focus or whatever. I don’t think there’s any need to do it if one enjoys browsing or whatever.

    chowmeyow, I’ve tried 1 for 1. It’s a good technique, but the only issue with it is you are just treading water, you’re not really cutting down the TBR. 2 for 1 or whatever is probably a better ratio therefore if you want to eat into some of your existing stock.

    The thing is, every book on the shelf that’s unread is a book you wanted to read, or you wouldn’t have bought it. It’s easy to get seduced by the shiny new thing, but if you didn’t read the last shiny new thing after you bought it will you read this one? Or will it too just join the pile and then get pushed down the queue by the next one?

    Jacqui, thanks. I’m looking forward to your Rhys review. Mr Norris is I think very good, so possibly worth including depending on what else you’re looking at (though if you’re not picking the particular 20 upfront that’s not a decision you have to make is it?)

  9. There are a lot of great books in the list there. Pym is a great favourite of mine–she never wrote a bad novel.
    Bainbridge’s An Awfully Big Adventure is fantastic and there’s a wonderful film version of it too.

    BTW Have you seen the new Mildred Pierce?

  10. This is a fantastic idea! I’m all for buying less of anything, in general. Though I still make countless mistakes, my buying habits have changed drastically over the past three years. Overall, I buy fewer books, less clothing, paper products, crafting and art supplies, toiletries, accessories and shoes. Sure easier on the wallet, that’s for sure! Enjoy your 20!

  11. Pym’s there because of your reviews. I think that’s the one you suggested I start with (or if not from your reviews I thought that looked a good one to start with).

    Not yet re Mildred Pierce. I’ve been avoiding watching versions until I’ve read it.

  12. Literary, exactly. Buying can replace actually doing,which is pernicious. Thanks and I’m sure I shall enjoy them!

  13. Quite a varied and impressive selection. Makes me want to run out and buy half of them! (Not the point I am sure.) I have had the Isherwood on my shelves for probably 30 years and forgot all about it. The only one I have read is Open City. You seem to have given yourself a wide range and I will be looking forward to your (tempting) reviews. I may do this in the future but not before my trip to South Africa in June. I have a list of SA lit to source out in Cape Town and a 9 hour stop over in London. I may well need an extra bag to get home with the books I am likely to acquire. Then I will hold off for a bit. Maybe.

  14. No, although I did choose a draft twenty at the outset, a little pile that sat on the bookshelf. It got tweaked a little over the course of four months: I moved three out, slipped another three in to replace them. There wasn’t enough crime/noir in my original selection (that’s where I slipped up), so it’s good to see the diversity here. A literary novel got jettisoned in favour of a Chandler, and I got to the stage when I really needed something warm and witty so in came the Darcy O’Brien at the expense of another.

    I’m looking forward to hearing how you get on with the #TBR20 idea – wishing you all the best with it. Thanks for the encouragement on Mr Norris, I’ll include it in this round.

  15. rough, thanks, but hold back! From your blog I’m pretty sure you have a lot of great books already on your radar.

    The holiday thing is an issue. I have a holiday in the US this summer, and I bore that in mind putting the list together but it’s why I have the carve-out for the Kunzru. If I were in your position with a plan to buy books while out there I’d hold off for the return (though you could always do a South-African literature readthrough when you get back, I know I’d read it).

    Jacqui, thanks, and thanks for the encouragement to give it a go. Chandler by the way I consider literary, I think he’s an exceptional writer and the fact he writes in genre (a genre he part-created) doesn’t change that for me at all.

  16. Yes, you’re quite right, a poor choice of words on my part! Chandler is an amazing writer…Okay, I’ll name the book: Dept. of Speculation got squeezed out, so I’ll wait to see how you get on with it. 🙂

  17. This looks like a great selection, and I hope you enjoy the books you’ve picked 🙂 I’m glad to see Diving Belles on your list – I recently read this and loved it, I think Lucy Wood writes wonderfully.

  18. Really interesting idea, and some interesting choices. I really liked 9 Tail Fox – one of JCG’s better books, I think. Being part of book clubs means I tend to have quite a bit of reading mapped out for me, which means I’m not always reading the books I’d choose for myself. They just go on the TBR bookcase. I’m not sure I could go 20 without buying – 10 might be more realistic.

  19. I can’t even stick to reading 20 books from my piles, let alone decide in advance. Maybe I’ve done to much forced and scheduled reading in my life. I still think of the time when I was working for an editor. I read so much on a tight schedule.
    I’ve got many of your books on my piles. Speedboat, Diving Belles, Jesus’ Son.
    I try to follow your advice (in an earlier post) and don’t buy more books of an author of whom I’ve got a lot of unread books already.
    I do make lists though – so that i don’t forget all the books I really wanted to read.
    Good luck. You’ve got some great choices and variety, which should make it easier.

  20. Gemma, thanks. Link to your review? I think I missed it and I’d be curious to read it.

    liwella, to be honest that’s why I don’t join book clubs, though if it works for you that’s great. Picking my own 20 is one thing, reading books someone else picked is much less tempting. 10 seems a perfectly decent number. I only picked 20 because it had worked for others, but I don’t think there’s any science to it.

    Caroline, I’ve never had to read fiction for work and hopefully never shall. If I had that would change my attitude I’m sure.

    The thing about not buying more by an author you already have books by is I think a genuinely good discipline, plus it avoids you having three books by a writer it turns out you don’t even like when you finally try them.

    I’ve thought a fair bit about the list, though I’m sure I’ll have regrets in terms of inclusions and exclusions in due course. Still, I hope to stick to it.

  21. Okay, alright, I’ll go half-way, and promise to be judicious in my choices for the next 20 books I buy.

  22. I haven’t posted my review yet (unfortunately I have quite a long review backlog…) but hopefully I’ll get round to it soon 🙂

  23. I should do this with you. I need to decrease the TBR. I’ll think about it some more.
    Great list. I’m looking forward to your reviews.
    I have the Isherwood on the shelf and I want to read the Szerb soon.
    You know what I think about Proust, that Bainbridge is great and The Killer Inside Me is memorable.

    PS : If you go to San Francisco this summer, you HAVE to read The Golden Gate. It’s worth carrying extra weight.

    PPS : I asked for book recommendations when I was planning a trip to the US, here’s the link if you’re interested.

  24. Echoing Emma, if you go to San Francisco this summer bring along The Golden Gate, but more importantly stop by to say hello.

  25. Very restrained Scott! I am going to be in San Francisco, so I’ll update nearer the time. It would be great if we could catch up for coffee.

    Gemma, looking forward to it.

    Emma, since both you and Scott urge me to do so I’ll carry a copy of The Golden Gate as a holiday read. Thanks for relinking me to your holiday list. I made a note of a good few of those at the time. Did you find you actually read a lot in the end while away? I have a suspicion I may not and The Golden Gate and the Kunzru might well cover me for three weeks (plus whatever’s then left in my TBR20).

  26. Where are you going to, if you don’t mind y asking?

    I’ve read (before, while and after the trip)
    They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy
    The Postman Always rings Twice by James M Cain
    Book Lover by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack (not reviewed)
    Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
    Run, River, by Joan Didion
    The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
    Fire Sale by Sara Paretsky
    This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M.Homes (pre-blog)

    I tried
    The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon

    Read but not on the list:
    My Antonia by Willa Cather
    Indian Country by Dorothy M Johnson
    Sutter’s Gold by Blaise Cendrars
    Build my Gallow High by Geoffrey Homes
    A Parisian in Chicago by Marie Grandin

    Still on the TBR:
    Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien
    The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman
    Dames de Californie by Joseph Kessel
    The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
    Homeland and Other Stories by Barbara Kingsolver

  27. All over. San Fran. Vegas. Bunch of national parks including a return to Jackson Hole. It’s a three week trip. Should be great. Not LA, save possibly a drive-through. West Coast and South West mostly, but a bit of midwest to and a brief stopover in Chicago at the end.

    Howcome you didn’t review Book Lover?

    I’ve read a good number on your list. What’s Indian Country again though?

    Don’t recognise the Hillerman or Kessel, should I do you think?

  28. Great trip, similar to mine. Email me about it if you want. I hope you have time in Chicago. If you only have time to do one visit there, go to the Art Institute.

    No review of Book Lover because I didn’t like it (not that it usually stops me) and work must have gotten in the way.

    Indian Country is a collection of short stories in set in Indian territories. I think it’s OOP in English, I’ve read it in French.
    The Kessel is not available in English, sorry.

  29. Pingback: My #TBR20 or ma PAL20 | Book Around The Corner

  30. I’ll drop you an email, though our itinerary is fairly fixed now. Don’t know the Art Institute so will google that.

    Yeah, when I get behind it’s one thing to find the motivation to go back and write up a book I loved, quite another to find it for a book I didn’t care for.

    Indian Country rings a bell now, I think I’ve read a review of it, possibly at yours?

  31. Yes, I’ve reviewed Indian Country.

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