Shellby Kristina Olsson is one of the books on my booksofsummer list which is a virtual ‘holiday’ around the world.
Olsson’s novel gives me a reason to visit Australia. I’d planned to be in the country for real earlier this year but had to abandon that part of my trip. I never did get to see Sydney and its most famous building – the Opera House – which features prominently in Shell.
The novel is set in 1965; a time of tremendous change in the city. The Opera House is under construction has not met with universal acclaim from politicians and residents. In another unwelcome development, the city’s young men are being conscripted to fight in the Vietnam war.
Amid the turmoil, a fiercely anti war journalist and a Swedish glassmaker find each other.
Shell is an ambitious novel that is exquisitely written.
What I just finished reading
In a diversion from my summer reading plans I am enjoying a novel by a Welsh author which is due for publication on September 19, 2019. It’s translated from Welsh by Gwen Davies.
The Jeweller by Carys Lewis reminds me very much of the style of a Virago Classic. It’s the tale of Mari, a market stall holder in a seaside town, who lives alone except for her pet monkey. She surrounds herself with letters discovered while clearing out the houses of the recently dead.
I’ll have an exclusive extract from this novel to share with you on September 20.
What I’ll read next
I’m hoping I can squeeze in another book from my summer reading list just so that I can say I’ve read 10
Most likely my choice will be A Dry White Season by Andre Brink. This is described on Goodreads as “an unflinching and unforgettable look at racial intolerance, the human condition, and the heavy price of morality.”
I’ve read a number of South African authors but never anything by Brink. This is meant to be his best work of fiction.
I have some library books vying for attention (why do all my reservations arrive at the same time???). The Chain by Adrian McKinty is a crime novel that is getting a lot of attention and praise at the moment. I also have Lammy by Max Porter which is on the Booker Prize longlist and Aftermath by Rhidian Brook, a Welsh author I am embrarrased to say I have yet to read.
Those are my plans – what’s on your reading horizon for the next few weeks?
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny is book number 5 on my 15booksofsummer list which is a virtual ‘holiday’ around the world. So far I’ve visited Wales (well that wasn’t hard!); Austria, Croatia and the United States.
Penny’s novel gives me a reason to visit Canada.
The Cruelest Month is number three in the series of novels featuring Inspector Armand Gamache from the Sûreté du Québec. There are 14 novels in the series; the 15th – A Better Man – is due to be published in August 2019. I’ve read seven of these but not in publication order.
The Cruelest Month is set in spring in the tiny, picture-postcard village of Three Pines. Buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. For some bizarre reason, some of the villagers decide this is a good time to hold a séance at the Old Hadley House, a dilapidated property where nasty things happened years earlier. They are hoping their actions will rid the village its dark past. Of course it all goes wrong and one of the group dies. Was she murdered or did she die of fright. It’s up to Gamache to find the truth.
It’s one of those books that I’d been intending to read for a long, long time. It’s a delightfully atmospheric novella with an unforgettable character whose name Holly Golightly is forever synonymous with Audrey Hepburn who played the starring role in the film version.
I made a temporary deviation from my 15booksofsummer itinerary when my library request came through for Kate Atkinson’s latest novel Big Sky.
Of course, now I have been re-introduced to her private eye Jackson Brodie, I ‘m getting an itch to re-read all the earlier books in this series.
What I’ll read next
This is always the hardest question for me because I really dislike planning my reading.
If I continue on the summer reading list, I’m due to visit Jamaica via The Long Song by Andrea Levy.
Levy takes us to her native country in the nineteenth century, a time of slavery and sugar plantations. Her tale relates the experiences of a young slave girl, July, who lives through through the 1831 Great Jamaican Slave Revolt, and the beginning of freedom. The Long Song won the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction and was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2010.
The reason I’m hesitant is that there are some new acquisitions which are calling to me, including the book that arrived today.
Those are my plans – what’s on your reading horizon for the next few weeks?
Every shelf in every bookcase in your home is stuffed with unread books.
There are books on tables and on the floor.
Every conceivable space is occupied by books you have not yet read. They’re becoming a source of much grumbling by your nearest and dearest.
And yet each week you end up buying more. That TBR list is becoming a monster.
You’ve tried hiding the books, pretending that if you can’t see them, that they don’t exist. But when you trip over them at every turn, you know no can no longer stay in denial.
You occasionally talk about tackling this ogre. But you don’t really know how.
If this does sound familiar, then you are certainly not alone. Virtually every book blogger I follow has – at some point- grumbled about the overwhelming size of their TBR.
The good news? You can do something about this.
9 strategies to help you slay that TBR monster
1 Reframe the issue
My TBR currently stands at 314. I occasionally moan about this on the blog.But if I’m being completely honest with myself – and with you – that’sjust for show.
Because deep down I count that stack as a blessing not a curse. It means I have a personalised library at my fingertips, always open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Only thing I don’t like? Tripping over the piles around the house ….
So, as much as I love my library, I do want to scale it back to a more manageable number. I’m not going to get stressed out about it. I’m just going to be more pragmatic.
To reframe the issue, challenge yourself to answer this question:
Isyour TBR is a source of tribulation or a source of delight?
Switching to a more positive mindset could help you approach the next steps with more optimism.
2. Measure the beast
You can’t tackle the TBR issue until you know exactly the scale of your task.
That means you have to do a count of every unread book you have in your house/apartment/caravan/yurt.You’ll be using this number later.
Pull out every unread book in your home. Pile them all up on the floor or the table.
Count them all.
You might be surprised the total isn’t higher. (I doubt it since books seem to have a habit of lurking in dark corners, hiding down the back of the sofa. ) But you might also be horrified because never in your wildest dreams did you realise you had THAT many.
It doesn’t matter what your total is; what does matter is that you’ve done the tally.
Before you put them all back in their original homes you must:
A.Make a note of this number and the date you did the count. This is now your baseline
B. Take a photo of this stack. It’s a physical reminder of the scale of your challenge
3 Time to stocktake
Think of yourself as the owner of a bookshop. As a good business person you know it’s important to have a realistic view of four elements.
What items are in your shop.
What is ‘selling’ well.
Which items are slow moving.
What items are unsuitable for sale because they’re damaged goods.
All of these pieces of knowledge are just as valuable for you as they are for the owner of a bookstore.
When you have a clear picture of what you have in your TBR ‘library’ you’ll be in a stronger position to:
discover over-stocking ( ie duplicate or triplicate copies of the same book) and
find ‘lost’ items: books you thought had disappeared entirely and
unearth damaged books; those with loose pages or broken spines and
avoid waste (how many times in the past have you bought a book only to discover you already had a copy at home).
Stocktaking your TBR library means you need to make a record all of your books. As a minimum you should document:
book title and
author name and
You can use a spreadsheet or use a platform like Goodreads or Library Thing. The choice is yours.
I prefer to have my list in spreadsheet format because I want to record more than just the basics.
These are my additional columns.
Date of publication.
Nationality of the author.
Date I read the book.
Whether I finished it
Category (for example crime, classic, book in translation).
Notes about how I obtained this book (for example, was it a book club choice, a birthday gift, a review copy).
4. Set a goal
If you want to be successful at reducing your TBR, you need to set a goal. Without a goal you lack focus and direction. Goal setting not only allows you to take control of the project, it also gives you a way to determine if you are actually succeeding.
Your goal must be clear and well defined. Vague or generalised goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. So include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. If your goal is stated only as “Reduce my TBR” how will you know when you have been successful?
The actual goal is your choice. Only you know what you can realistically achieve.
How do you decide on a realistic goal?
Think about it this way:
How many books do you read on average each year?
If your answer is 50 and you have 500 + plus books in your TBR that means you have 10 year’s worth of reading sitting in your home. And that’s without buying or acquiring a single new book. Maybe you’d be more comfortable with 5 year’s worth of books – so your goal is a 50% reduction.
Your goal could be framed as a percentage or as an absolute number reduction from the total you identified earlier.
Reduce my TBR by 10% by end of [year]
Reduce my TBR to [xx] books by end [year]
If you have a very ambitious target, you might find it more satisfying to think of your goal in multiple stages.
Reduce my TBR by 20% by [end 2022] – reach 5% reduction by [end 2021]
How do you achieve your goal?
By taking one step at a time.
individually, these strategies are not designed to get you to your ultimate goal. But collectively they will ensure you can make significant progress.
5. Remove your ‘slow moving goods’
Slow moving goods is how I describe books that you’ve had for a very long time. You keep promising yourself you will read them. But you never get around to it – there’s always something new catching your eye.
Now is the time to get real. If you haven’t read it in the last five years are you realistically going to read it within the next five years? I doubt it.
Here’s what you do.
Make a pile of all the unread books you’ve owned for longer than 5 years.
Examine them one by one. For each book, challenge yourself whether you will really read it in the next 5 years. You have be firm here. Try not to sit on the fence.
If the answer is clearly “NO”, then put the book in an OUT pile. You’re going to give these away to friends, relatives, charity shops, hospitals etc. Anyone who will take them. You could try to sell them (for example via eBay, or services like ziffit.com)
If the answer is “MAYBE” set the book aside for now. If you find you have a tower of books in the “maybe” category then I’d question whether you’re being rigorous enough. You probably the exercise again…..
You could easily adapt this to a different time frame. If you have a particularly large target you may need to be more ruthless and choose books older than 3 years for example.
6. Get off the fence
You’ve ended up with a pile of books you ‘maybe’ want to read. Tackling this pile should be your next step.
First pick a book. Read about 30 pages. Then decide whether it’s interested you enough to want to continue reading.
If no, then add it to your OUT pile
If YES then you can put it back on your sheIf.
Make a note of when you last assessed this book. If it’s still unread one year after that date, then it’s clearly not for you. Out it should go.
7. Dealing with new stock
You love reading. But you also love buying books. Unless you control the number of new items coming into your library you’re never going to slay the TBR monster.
Some bloggers take the drastic step of implementing a purchasing ban. No new books until their TBR is down to a manageable level.
I know that would never work for me. Maybe it won’t for you either.
But you could use a variation on that theme. As an example: for every five books you read from your TBR you allow yourself to buy one new book..
For those of a nervous disposition, yes you’re allowed a few treats to mark birthdays and other special occasions.
Remember though, that every new book that comes in needs to be added to your TBR spreadsheet or Goodreads list, noting the date purchased etc.
8. Read the books
Yes it really is that simple.
Books are meant to be read. They’re not ornaments. But then you knew that didn’t you?
So all you have to do is read the ones you haven’t read until now.
If you find it difficult to decide what to read next, there are multiple challenges in the blogosphere that can help you overcome indecision:
The start of a new year is always heralded by announcements of new challenges, so keep your eyes peeled. But of course you don’t have to wait for a new year before you start tackling that TBR monster.
If you’re not into challenges, you might enjoy using a TBR jar to select your next read.This is where you can unleash your creativity if that’s what rocks your boat. For an explanation of this take a look at the post on The Chic Site.
9. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Congratulations on working your way through all these strategies, But this is no time to rest on your laurels. You need to exercise constant vigilance if you don’t want to end up in the same mess again.
Set a date to do at least an annual ‘stocktake’
Keep challenging yourself with those books you labelled as ‘maybe’s’
What are you waiting for?
Time to get started
These are strategies I’m intending to use to reduce my TBR mountain.
What strategies have you used that you found successful?
After months of self- restraint the wheels are in danger of coming off my book wagon.
I’m now on the cusp of a freefall…
The last two months saw a splurge of book purchases and acquisitions, sending my TBR count to its highest level for three years.
It’s giving me a nudge that it’s time to do a cull of the bookshelves (more on that shortly).
But for now let me tell you about the 19 titles that have made it through the BookerTalk doors. They’re a mix of:
advance copies from publishers
passed on by other bloggers
new titles from Welsh authors
hard-to-ignore bargains at book sales
Mythos by Stephen Fry: I’ve been complaining for years about my shaky knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology. There are plenty of books around on the topic of course though lots of them are rather heavy going. Fry is an appetiser in a sense, an entertaining way to begin getting acquainted with all those gods and goddesses. This could come in very useful when I’m reading Circe by Madelaine Miller which is the book club choice this month.
Two more titles to add to my collection of books by Émile Zola”
Le rêve (The Dream) is the sixteenth novel in the Rougon-Macquart series. It’s about a poor embroideress who falls in love with the son of a wealthy aristocratic family. This being Zola, it doesn’t of course end happily ever after.
La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (The Sin of Abbe Mouret) is the fifth novel in the series. It’s anticlerical in tone and scope, focussing on the experiences of an obsessively devout priest sent to a remote Provençal backwater village whose inhabitants don’t share his enthusiasm for the church.
Review copies from publishers
I’ve been very restrained in accepting review copies and even more restrained with NetGalley. But these were titles I couldn’t resist:
The Jeweller by Caryl Lewis (that’s the one you can see in the photo with September 2019 written on the spine. It’s being published by Honno in that month. Caryl is a former winner of the Wales Book of the Year and her new novel sounds different. It’s about a woman who acquires trinkets by clearing houses after the occupiers have died. In her tiny coastal cottage she surrounds herself with photographs and letters of these complete strangers.
The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg. This is a fantasy novel for children which comes out in July. Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, it’s about a fantasy theme park here the rule is “happily ever after.” This isn’t my usual kind of book but I’ve decided its time to get out of my comfort zone periodically and I’m intrigued by the description that this story is told through court testimonies and interrogation records
The Fast Spell Breather by Julie Pike. Another fantasy novel for children. The main character is a girl who uses magic to protect her village. All works fine until the day she slips up. Published by Oxford University Press.
From other bloggers
The Innocent Wife and One More Lie by Amy Lloyd: I won both of these thrillers in a giveaway hosted by Kath who blogs at NutPress.
The Innocent Wife is Amy Lloyd’s debut novel, She won the Daily Mail Bestseller Competition with it in 2016. One More Lie is her second novel.
Are You the F**king Doctor by Dr Liam Farrell. This was passed on by Susan who blogs at Booksaremycwtches
She thought it would be a good companion read to This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay which I’ve just finished reading. Kay was a senior house doctor in an NHS hospital where he specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology. Farrell’s book which is subtitled: Stories from the Bleeding Edge of Medicine, reflects on his work as a general practitioner. So both people are the front line of care but working in different circumstances. Susan’s review is here.
New Titles from Welsh Authors
West by Carys Davies. I read Carys’ short story collection The Redemption of Galen Pike in 2015 and though I’m not generally a fan of short stories, this books was superb. West is her first venture into novels and it’s been described as ‘stunning.’
In Two Minds by Alis Hawkins. This is the second in the Harry Prober-Lloyd series of historical crime novels set in Wales. I read the first, None So Blind, earlier this year and was so engrossed in the tale of a man suffering a degenerative eye condition who becomes a coroner, that I was glad I didn’t have to wait long before the follow up was published.
Human, Being by Gareth Davies. This has been described as the male version of Bridget Jones’ Diary. That comparison would normally have me racing out of the bookshop door faster than Usain Bolt. But having heard Gareth read some extracts at the launch, I don’t think the description really does justice to this tale of a middle aged comedian who’s been abandoned by his wife and has lost his comic mo-jo.
A Song of Thyme and Willow by Carole Strachan . Published by Cinnamon Press, this is the mysterious disappearance of a successful opera singer. Two musicians facing life-changing crises of their own, decide to look for her. Although the mystery is a key aspect of the novel, this is very much a novel about character.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best of ideas to volunteer to help at a book sale at a National Trust property? Though I picked out plenty of books for visitors to my staff, there were also more than a few that caught my eye. I think I was remarkably restrained in buying just two.
Actually it was just one purchase initially but then I had to call into the property on day two of the sale, and saw two other books I had to have…..
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler . I read loads of her books in the past but haven’t done so for quite a few years now. This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015 but lost out to A History of Seven Killings (one of the books I failed to finish this year).
A Rising Man by Abir Mukerjee. If I was being disingenuous I wouldn’t count this book since I already have an e-version. But it was only 50p and I find it much easier to read in paper format. It’s the first in a series about a British policeman seconded to Calcutta.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper. A friend has been raving about Harper’s novels and promised to pass on her copy of the first The Dry. But I’m still waiting…. In the meantime this was at the book sale. I know many other bloggers have recommended Harper, so maybe one of them can tell me whether to hold off from reading Force of Nature until I’ve read the two previous novels from this Australian author???
Having bought all of these my next problem is…..
Where can I find room to store them all???? Anyone have some spare shelving I can rent??
Circe by Madeline Miller is the selection for our next book club meeting.
My knowledge of Greek mythological figures is at an embarrassingly low level so I hope that isn’t going to prove an issue. I have a copy of a guide to Greek and Roman myths close at hand if I need some help.
All I know about Circe is that she was a sorceress, the daughter of Helios and she features in Homer’s The Odyssey.
The first few pages are promising. If I get on well with this I have a copy of her earlier book The Song of Achilles yet to read.
WWWWednesday is also about…..
What I just finished reading
I’ve been making great progress with my list for 20booksofsummer (or in my case 15booksofsummer) which is taking me on a virtual holiday around the world.
I’ve had to make one substitute because the book I had chosen to take me to Finland, The Midwife by Katja Kettu, proved unreadable. I switched to another Nordic country, reading The Room by Jonas Karlsson. A highly amusing, quirky tale – I’ll post my thoughts on this in a few days.
Robert Seethaler’s novella A Whole Lifehas been the best of the 15booksofsummer I’ve read so far. It’s an exquisite tale about a quiet man who spends most of his life in the Austrian Alps. Andreas Egger endures hardship and tragedy but survives by changing and adapting to his new situation. This is about the most beautifully understated work of fiction I’ve read in decades.
What I’ll read next
When I finish Circe I’ll probably return to my books of summer project.
I have one more book by a European author on my list – Alone in Berlinby Hans Fallader
This is my contribution to the #77club reading week run by Kaggsy and Simon. I managed to get a copy from the library just in time. It’s set in Egypt at a critical moment when the Allied forces are desperately trying to hold back the advancing German forces. Though the war is the background, so far the book is about the response of the Europeans resident in Cairo and their uncertainty about the future. Manning is excellent at evoking the atmosphere of the desert.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
I was looking for an antidote to the drama of the world of neurological surgery that I’d been reading about in Do No Harm by Henry Marsh. Gaiman’s book has been on my shelves since December 2013. I can’t remember why I wanted it since it’s a fantasy kind of story and has three ‘witches’ as characters which is not my usual reading material. But I’m now deeply impressed by Gaiman. It was hard to put this book down at night….
I’m trying not to plan ahead too much this year but to choose what takes my fancy in the moment. I might return to a book I started just before the Olivia Manning one became available; Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave . It’s another from my shelves that I’ve been meaning to read for some time since I love all the myths around Arthur and Merlin. Or I might pick up one of the Booker prize winners I still have to read. I’m weighing up whether to read How Late it Was How Late by James Kelman (I actually started this last year) or The History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. Both make heavy use of dialect so are not going to be easy reads. Any recommendations??