Looking back on #TBR20 and forward to #TBR10

Last year I took part in the #TBR20 project, started by Eva Stalker. My post about the concept, my reasons for taking part and the books I chose is here.

I finished my #TBR20 just before Christmas, which given I started it in April should pretty neatly illustrate the key problem I ran into. It was just too much of a commitment. Admittedly I departed from my list to read some books I was sent for review, and two or three times when going on holiday I allowed myself a holiday read that wasn’t on the list, but in the main I stuck to it.

Over the course of 2015 I read around fifty books. Forcing myself to take twenty of them from a single list proved to be too much. For a more prolific reader twenty might be a good number. For a reader like me it’s too constraining.

Some constraint however can be a good thing. I chose many of the books on my #TBR20 list precisely because I wanted to push myself to read them. Often they were books I’d meant to read for years, but kept not quite getting to. The list in that sense worked well.

On the other hand, I found myself taking more review books than usual (I suspect to give myself a break from the list) and around book 18 I simply broke and bought some new titles. I didn’t binge as much as many have, but I do think there’s an issue where holding off buying for an artificially extended period may cause one to simply bulk-buy at the end.

For me then #TBR20 was a mixed experience. I’m delighted that I finally made time for Lispector, Pym, Cole, Johnson, Levy, Adler, Wood and others. I’m less delighted that so much of my year was dominated by a single project.


The basic concept of #TBR20 is a good one, even if the length of commitment is too great for me. Going forward therefore I’m going to try a variant, which I’m imaginatively calling #TBR10. The rules of #TBR10 are as follows:

  • choose ten books I already own from my TBR pile;
  • make sure that every other book I read is from that list of ten.

And that’s pretty much it. Exceptions are allowed for review copies and poetry, but otherwise it’s that simple. There’s no ban on buying, but there’s no point in buying loads if half of the next twenty books I read have to come from the #TBR10 list. It’s much more manageable, and allowing myself ten books that aren’t on the list makes it much more flexible (and those ten could also be from my TBR pile, or could be new purchases, or whatever).

My hope is that this will still help me cut into my TBR backlog without ending up frustrating me as #TBR20 did. I’ll let you all know how it goes.

The list

Finally, here’s my #TBR10 list. in no particular order:

HeartofDarkness KingofaRainy Never Mind Nightwood Palfrey  Signs Vinge VoyageToTheLighthouseThe Palm-Wine Drinkard

The Proust slightly concerns me as I’m not sure it’s sensible to have a novel over 800 pages long lined up for the next two or three months, I simply may not have time to read it during that period. It’s therefore open to a substitution. A Fire Upon the Deep for the curious is one of the more highly regarded science fiction novels out there, but it’s very much hardcore SF and not at all a crossover book to an audience more used to pure literary fiction.

My only other concern is that it’s not the most diverse list ever. It would be good perhaps to add in something that’s not middle class European (which admittedly the Herrera and Vinge aren’t, but the rest pretty much are). Any suggestions welcome, though preferably nothing so fat that it’ll take months to read…

Edit: On reflection, the Proust is a definite goal for this year but will work better after the period this will relate to, as I won’t get a solid reading block of the sort I’ll need for a little while. If I do I can always add it back in as one of my non-list choices. Instead therefore I’ve added in Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard which should make for a nice change of pace.



Filed under Personal posts

26 responses to “Looking back on #TBR20 and forward to #TBR10

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings

    It’s a sensible project (I speak as one with a ridiculous amount of unread books on my shelves) but I would struggle to stick to it too. Having said that I am trying to read books I already own when they fall in with what I want to read or for other projects I’m taking part it. That’s a very nice selection you have up there!

  2. Well, you’ve condemned yourself to some grand reading there. And I’d never heard of the Vinge (which I read won the Hugo in 1991) so thanks.

    “The Proust slightly concerns me as I’m not sure it’s sensible to have a novel over 800 pages long lined up for the next two or three months, I simply may not have time to read it during that period. It’s therefore open to a substitution.”

    Perfectly reasonable, although I recall you booking time off work to read Proust (is that right?) and I think you should definitely do the same again. That was the coolest thing I heard about that year, whenever it was.

  3. That makes sense Kaggsy. I don’t tend to take part in challenges or German/Japanese/Brazilian literature month challenges (is there a Brazilian one? That would be kind of cool) so don’t tend to work stuff in that way. I can see why that might help though.

    Lee, that is actually an option for the Proust, but not before May or June I’d say. I do suspect it shouldn’t be on this list now, but maybe on the one that follows if this one works out.

    I’m looking at Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard, but hardly anyone seems to have read it to give me a steer on how they found it.

  4. You’ve got an excellent selection of books coming up (although Proust may well take a year in itself) and 10 feels much more manageable than 20. I also struggle with these type of challenges, but find that I do better when I don’t try to be too forceful about sticking to the rules.

  5. Great selection I want read night wood at some point great way to cut your tbr down

  6. I’ve been dipping into my TBR stack a bit more. No strict lists or numbers though. You’ll enjoy the Rhys and the Taylor. I wasn’t crazy about Nightwood.

  7. As you’ll see, I’ve edited the original post to take out the Proust for now and add in the Tutuola. The Proust is still definitely to be read this year, but realistically unless I get to read it on an upcoming holiday (which is possible, but far from guaranteed) it’ll be later in the year and I’d rather not set myself up for failure with this.

  8. Thanks Stu. Have you read the Tutuola? It seems very much your territory. The Herrera I’m pretty sure you’ve read, everyone praises it massively.

    Guy, I’ll check your Barnes’ review. Hopefully I’ll take to it more than you did. It seems a bit of a gap in my modernist reading as it were, which is why it’s on the list.

  9. As an addendum, many of those aren’t the covers I actually have. That Taylor though, I really do like that Virago cover though I can see why a contemporary publisher might prefer something with a little more zing.

  10. 20 would be a bridge too far for me too Max. I don’t get through a hundred or more like some bloggers/readers do in a year either. I do need thought to make a bit of an inroad into the pile this year as last year’s achievement was woeful, in fact, possibly non-existent. I think TBR#3 would be a fair goal for me, which really, is not worth setting as a goal!

  11. Yes, one has to be careful not to be signing up to something that works for people with a much faster reading rate or more free time.

    You could always try say to take one in three from your pile. That would slowly reduce it provided you buy less than you read, which I admit for most of us is a questionable proviso.

  12. Your new plan sounds great, much more manageable than the #TBR20. I crashed and burned with my second round last year. It was all going reasonably well until I visited one or two bookshops to do some Christmas shopping, but then everything went pear shaped. Too much temptation!

    I’m delighted to see Mrs Palfrey in your selection. She is such a treasure and that classic Virago cover suits her perfectly (it’s so much nicer than the current purple cover which is one of the worst I’ve seen in recent years). Several of the others on your list are new to me, so I look forward to hearing all about them.

    I started my own long-term reading project at the beginning of this year, partly as a way of reading more of the 20th-century/modern classics on my shelves (40 of the 50 books on my list are sitting in the TBR piles at home) and partly as a means of providing some direction to my reading. The Rhys is on my list as well.


  13. Christmas is a tricky time for any kind of restraint I think. I have the current Palfrey cover, I’d much rather have that Virago one.

    I’ve seen the classics club idea. My main concern with it is that I just can’t plan anything over five years (I’d have made a terrible Soviet bureaucrat I guess). Also, I slightly struggle to think of a book that’s 30 years old as a classic, possibly as like many I define classics as being at minimum published before I was born. The idea of something I could have read when published being a classic is somehow slightly dismaying…

    Will read your post and leave a comment at yours.

  14. When I do my 20 Books of Summer I do tend to wain as the list is whittled down and yearn for anything else to read! 10 sounds much more sensible.

  15. I had the same problem as you with my #TBR20 project. I also read about 50 books a year and 20 is too much.
    Good luck with the #TBR10 and your list sounds great.

    I came here after the Proust was retrieved : which one is it? (I’m currently reading Albertine Gone. Phew. Fortunately I know that the next one, Le temps retrouvé is more than excellent. It keeps me motivated)

  16. The Captive, The Fugitive (not clear to me why it’s published as one volume, I had the impression that possibly it was two). I do absolutely intend to read it this year, it’s just that realistically it likely won’t be in the next couple of months.

    Proust is a challenge, but a worthwhile one.

  17. Yes, I think 20 is ok if you’re reading 100 books or more a year. Basically I think committing more than a fifth of your year’s reading is just more than most of us are up for.

  18. I just installed a new cabinet/shelf and now have about six feet of shelf space to fill, so the “no ban on book buying” aspect of this appeals to me. Nice list. I should make one of my own just for the heck of it.

  19. I think bans are a bit hard to self-enforce. It’s like most forms of abstinence, it makes you yearn for the thing you’re abstaining from…

  20. Interesting thoughts on the experience, Max. TBR20 doesn’t really appeal to me, although controlling and reducing the TBR does (at least in theory – if it was so important I’d probably stop moaning and take action). The fact that you seemed to want to find ways out of the straightjacket of the list is telling.

    Your more realistic 10 look like a good mix. I got to Nightwood last year and will be curious to see what you make of it. Brophy seems to have popped up on Twitter a lot recently. I think you always bring something interesting to reviews of “classics” so look forward to your thoughts on Conrad.

  21. Brophy has been promoted fairly well by Coelecanth Press, and Anthony of TimesFlowStemmed has engaged with her work and spoken of it. She does seem to deserve a bit more attention than she’s had until very recently.

    The Conrad is just a bit of a must-read, it’s so often referenced in later books after all it’s a bit shameful I haven’t read it before.

  22. Can’t wait to hear what you think of the Tutuola. It caught my eye as a book I’d never heard of when I went to the British Library’s West Africa exhibition and is now high on my list of books to get hold of…

  23. I’m glad I added it on. I’m definitely looking forward to reading it.

  24. I’ve read 4 of the 10. I’m fairly confident that you’ll enjoy To the Lighthouse and Nightwood. I’m partway through reading Elizabeth Taylor, and I enjoyed A View of the Harbour quite a bit but A Game of Hide and Seek a bit less so, since I couldn’t bring myself to care about the two main characters and their on-again/off-again love story. In any case, I do admire her style, and expect you would like Mrs. Palfrey. I have yet to tackle any Jean Rhys, which is something I have to correct one of these days.

    In any case, I have read The Palm Wine Drunkard and its companion My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. It’s been a while since I read them, but I can remember finding them tedious. They didn’t adhere to conventions of plot, and almost anything could and does happen in this dream-like state. A little of this goes a long way for me, and I was sated around page 50. They remind me quite a bit of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. After I finished that, I realized I never wanted to read another Okri book again… Perhaps you will be more enchanted.

  25. I’m absolutely confident re the Woolf, and pretty hopeful on the Barnes. Guy didn’t take to it but I’m fonder of modernist stuff than him so hopefully.

    I’ve now read Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, which I loved. No idea which Taylor I’ll read after that, probably not though A Game of Hide and Seek given your comment. Rhys is one of my standbys, a hugely talented author.

    I didn’t know there was a companion to the Tutuola. I didn’t take to the Okri, which bodes ill, but hopefully my tastes have changed enough since then that this will be more fun than you make it sound…

    It’s helpful though to be appropriately warned. I suspect I’m much more likely to enjoy it knowing that there’s no real plot or anything than if I went in expecting something more conventional.

  26. Eric P

    I probably was a bit too harsh, but don’t expect a conventional plot. I would have liked it more at about half the length, which is exactly what I would say about the Okri.

    I would definitely check out A View of the Harbour. It’s hard to go wrong with Taylor, and eventually I will read all her books. Even A Game of Hide and Seek has some great insights and scenes, but I just couldn’t care about the main characters. I’ve heard that Blaming is very funny but you don’t sympathize with any of the characters, but that’s basically the point. I don’t think that works as well when the plot is still at least ostensibly a romance.

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