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A Year of Sample Sundays: Re-evaluating the TBR

Sample Sunday is an opportunity to check all the books on my shelves and decide what to keep

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?”

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