Book Reviews

A Year of Sample Sundays: Re-evaluating the TBR

Like just about every book blogger I know, I have hundreds of unread books on my shelves: 324 at the start of 2021 to be exact. Some have lain unread for about ten years and I thought it was time to decide whether my initial interest in them had waned. All through 2021 I’ve been taking a close look at these books, asking myself which titles I wanted to keep and which I would be happy to let go to another home.

Just to be clear, however, this exercise hasn’t been about getting rid of books as if a large TBR is a problem that has to be fixed. It’s more about making sure I have only the books I do want to read.

The result is a series of posts called Sample Sunday, each one focused on just three titles from the shelves.

Books now enjoying life on a different bookshelf

Over the course of 21 posts, I’ve put 63 books up for scrutiny, working my way through the alphabet according to the author’s surname.

Of those 63 books, I let 20 go to other homes in charity shops or little free libraries. They were a mix of genres: historical fiction, two short stories and a couple of crime/thrillers.

The 20 Books I Let Go

The Book of Tiblisi : various authors

English Music by Peter Ackroyd

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

The Good Neighbour by A J Banner

The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Silver Pigs by Lindsay Davis

Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble 

A Visit By The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Last Friends by Jane Gardam

Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa

A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena 

Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

Bound to Violence by Yambo Ouologuem

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Gulp: Adventures On The Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom

Lionheart by Sharon Penman

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor

The Undecideds

There were five books whose future I found difficult to decide. I’m hoping readers of this blog can help me come to a decision.

Black Prince by iris  Murdoch: I’ve had a mixed experience with Murdoch, loving her Booker winner The Sea, The Sea but failing to make any headway with The Philosopher’s Pupil.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides: his debut novel focuses on five sisters each of whom kills herself. A bit too grim a topic? 

The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald : When I considered this book back in May, I’d read only one book by Fitzgerald (Offshore) and hadn’t enjoyed it but I’ve since read The Bookshop which was significantly more to my taste. So I’m going to keep The Gate of Angels after all.

The Lonely by Andrew Michael Hurley. Is this a horror novel or more of a gothic tale? If the former, then it’s definitely being released.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: There’s a connection within the novel to surrealist movement but I wasn’t a great fan of Kingsolver’s most respected novel, The Poisonwood Bible, so she may not be an author to my taste.

How Does Sample Sunday Work?

Credit for this idea goes to Kate though her Sample Saturday posts focus exclusively on the Kindle samples she has downloaded. I use primarily physical books (they take up more space), picking three at random from the shelves. I sample about 10 pages from each book (not always the first pages), trying to get an idea of the writing style. I also do a quick search of reviews on Goodreads to get a feeling of other readers’ reactions before making my decision.

It’s been a good way of discovering books I had completely forgotten about because they are buried at the back of the bookshelf. But for this exercise I don’t think I would have got around to reading A River in Darkness, the disturbing memoir of life in North Korea or The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. So I’m going to keep going with Sample Sunday in 2022, this time working through the bookshelves in alphabetical order of book title.

What do you think of the choices I made? Are there any titles from my 20 Books I Let Go, that you would have chosen to “save”? Any thoughts about my “undecideds?”


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

30 thoughts on “A Year of Sample Sundays: Re-evaluating the TBR

  • Thanks for the link 🙂

    I’d give Virgin Suicides a go – it’s been a very long time since I read it but I remember being engrossed. I haven’t enjoed any of his books since (!), but have pledged to one day re-read Suicides.

    • Thanks for the tip Kate, I’ve decided to give it away knowing that it’s easily available in the library should I get the urge

  • I’d give The Lacuna a try, it’s quite different from Poisonwood. Kingsolver’s books can be uneven, but I’ve loved enough of them (like Flight Behavior) that I’ll always give her books a read. Lacuna has great history in it, of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and J Edgar Hoover.

    I remember really liking Virgin Suicides, but I do wonder if I would today.

    • Thanks for the tip Deb , I’ve decided to give it away knowing that it’s easily available in the library should I get the urge

  • Like some of the others I’d say give Virgin Suicides a try, though it’s years since I read it. Kingsolver.. maybe. I liked Poisonwood Bible. My problem though is that so many of the books I get through are audiobooks, so I don’t have to pay them 100% attention. eg Lindsay Davis who is great fun, but whom I couldn’t imagine ever sitting down to read.

    • Listening and reading are indeed different experiences. Sometimes I pick up on nuances in an audio version that I think I would have missed in the printed version

  • Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

    I’m currently charging through Eugenides’ Middlesex, and enjoying it so thoroughly I’m voting to keep The Virgin Suicides!

    • Well, I happened to be going to the National Trust property where I volunteer so I took a pile of books (including Virgin Suicides) to their second hand bookshop. I needed the space for all the new books I bought in December… BUT you didn’t waste time giving me your opinion Sheree because I’ve kept it on my list of books to consider getting from the library

  • The Virgin Suicides is a keeper, and I feel the same way about Kingsolver; didn’t love The Poisonwood Bible, bought The Lacuna at the library sale, and donated it back to the library several years later! No regrets.

  • Sadly I didn’t spot any titles I’d actually read so I couldn’t help you there, but I do admire the ruthless streak in you when you decide enough is enough! It takes a lot for me to give up a title I picked up for one reason or another but I’m unlikely to ever read in a month (or year) of Sundays—let alone offer up my weakness in this area for public scrutiny! 🙂

    • I’ve adopted the advice of Thoreau:  “Read the best books first, 
      or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

  • I never read the Virgin Suicides, but his Middlesex was excellent. I just got Offshore so now you’re scaring me. I enjoyed both The Book Shop and The Blue Flower, so I hope I didn’t make a mistake with that one!

    • There are many authors who have said they really enjoyed Offshore and you could become one of them. I enjoyed the setting but couldn’t engage with the characters

  • I think this is a really good way to deal with the TBR – I have periodic culls because I amass so many books and then decide I actually don’t want to read them after all… Of your query books, I read The Virgin Suicides decades ago and enjoyed it at the time, but I don’t know what I would think of it now…

    • Our tastes and interests do change over time. I’m sure if I were to read now some of the books I enjoyed in my late teens I would be wondering what it was that engaged me all those years ago.

  • It seems to me that many of the books you let go are ones that you could easily get in a library, so I wouldn’t have doubts there. I’m also working on physical books instead of e-books because, like you said, they take up a lot of space.

    • Yep the question of availability did influence my thinking. It’s also so,etching I take into account when I decide to give a book away after reading it. If I really want to read it again, there is sure. To be a library copy somewhere.

  • I recall borrowing The Lacuna from my local Library, and after a few pages, slammed it shut. I seem to remember being overcome by boredom. On the whole, I am not a BK fan.

    • Thanks Alison , your experience doesn’t fill me with confidence that I would enjoy it.

  • Don’t give up on Iris Murdoch! Her early books are reliably enjoyable before her sad descent into Alzheimer’s. My favorite is The Nice and the Good, with all the plot strands neatly and satisfyingly tied up at the end.

    • Thanks for the insight. I shall keep it on the shelves

  • It’s difficult to comment, really, because I don’t know any of these five. I’ve read and liked a few by Iris Murdoch, and The Black Prince is on my TBR along with some others of hers. I bought The Lacuna because I did like The Poisonwood Bible but I abandoned it after a few pages though I now can’t remember why. So that’s not much use to you!

    • You are the second person to comment that they abandoned Lacuna because it was boring,

  • Nice job! I really enjoyed The Lacuna, like almost anything by Kingsolver anyway.
    I’m more and more focusing on my TBRs as well

    • I’m coming to see that I’m being foolish just buying more and more books when I have so many already unread.

  • Well, I’d have kept Such a Fun Age, and of COURSE I’m going to say keep The Black Prince – it’s shorter than Philosopher’s Pupil and there are more events in it … This was an excellent idea anyway and I’m glad it worked well for you!

      • I’d love to know why you ditched Last Friends because I thought I was in the minority after I read the Old Filth trilogy years ago on the recommendation of several friends. They raved about how funny the books were – but I didn’t think any of it was funny, in fact I thought it was very sad.


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