TBR List Declutter: Week 1

If you go to my Goodreads profile, you’ll see that my to-read shelf has only seven books on it. “That looks pretty good,” you might say. “That’s a minimalist TBR that a reader can be proud of,” you’d aver. And you’d be right, if that were the whole story, which it isn’t. Turns out, I’m a little sneaky. I didn’t like how many books were on my TBR, so under the guise of tidying up, I shelved my TBR by year. Rather than having one to-read shelf, I now have twelve to-read shelves, a generic one and one for each year from 2007 to 2017.

If I add up all of the shelves, I have not seven books but 750.

This actually isn’t nearly as many as I’ve had in the past, but it’s still kind of a lot. Between 2008 and 2016, I averaged 76 books read per year. Even if I can maintain that average, which even I think is a little ambitious seeing as how someday I might actually learn to value sleep, it would take me ten years to read all of these books. And that’s if I don’t add any more books to the list.

So, inspired by Adam at Roof Beam Reader, who was inspired by a project by Lia at Lost in a Story, I’m embarking upon an incremental clean-out of my rather stagnant TBR on Goodreads. Each week, I’ll look at ten titles from my TBR, going in order from first added to last, and decide whether to keep it on the list or delete it. This will also help me to refresh my Cavalcade of Classics list, which has gone a little stale in the past year or so.

I like the categories on Roof Beam Reader, so I’ll be basing mine off of those.

Here, then, are the first ten titles:

55236#1: The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr

Date added: 12/12/2007

Why is it on my TBR? I’m not sure anymore. I assume that I read something someone wrote about Niebuhr, or perhaps something else he’d written and decided to add it. He’s quoted at UU churches with reasonable regularity (not as often as Emerson, but often enough to notice), so maybe that’s the first place I saw his name. This sentence from the synopsis catches me: “Cited by politicians as diverse as Hillary Clinton and John McCain, Niebuhr’s masterpiece on the incongruity between personal ideals and political reality is both an indictment of American moral complacency and a warning against the arrogance of virtue.”

Do I own it? No

Verdict: Keep!

Project list: Cavalcade of Classics.

214614#2: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Date added: 04/14/2008

Why is it on my TBR? Absolutely no idea how I first heard about it, but I probably added it because it was about Utah and I’d just moved to Utah in April 2008. These days, now that I’ve visited a few more national parks, including one in Utah, I’m intrigued by the idea of reading about Abbey’s experience as a park ranger in southeastern Utah.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep!

Project list: Cavalcade of Classics(?)

42914#3: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Date added: 05/09/2008

Why is it on my TBR? Dunno. Maybe because it’s about World War I, and I’ve not read much about that war. Plus it’s considered a must-read for every generation.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep!

Project list: Cavalcade of Classics.

14280#4: Runaway by Alice Munro

Date added: 05/12/2008

Why is it on my TBR? Probably because I love Alice Munro’s stories. Why this one in particular, though, I don’t know.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. Darnit, I was going to jettison this one, but I just can’t bring myself to let it go, even though it’s just a title on a list.

Project list: none.

16634#5: The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

Date added: 05/27/2008

Why is it on my TBR? My spouse read it and liked it, it’s supposed to be a book that smart people read, it’s a classic, it’s cited frequently, and people feel very strongly about it one way or another.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep!

Project list: Cavalcade of Classics.

288270#6: Sabbatai Zevi: Testimonies to a Fallen Messiah by David J. Halperin

Date added: 05/27/2008

Why is it on my TBR? David and I were in a writing group together in North Carolina in the early aughts. After reading the novel he was working on at the time and talking with him about his scholarly works published during his career as a Religious Studies professor at UNC Chapel Hill, I became interested in some of his scholarly writings. I minored in religion in undergrad, focusing mainly on Judaism, but while I read some Jewish writings from the Middle Ages, I’d not read about Sabbatai Zevi, who seems like a really interesting individual.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep!

Project list: none.

1617#7: Night by Elie Wiesel

Date added: 06/20/2008

Why is it on my TBR? Everyone’s read it, and it sounds stinking amazing. I read so much about the Holocaust and Jewish history in my classes in college, and I’m kind of surprised I’d not read this one.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep!

Project list: Cavalcade of Classics.

29744#8: Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

Date added: 06/23/2008

Why is it on my TBR? I read and enjoyed Roth’s The Plot Against America, and I’m guessing I added this one because it’s his first book and won the National Book Award.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep, but conditionally. If I’ve not read it by this time next year, I’ll take it off the list. I mean, it’s a novella. If I can’t even get myself to read a novella, I must really not care if I read it.

Project list: none.

89691#9: The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

Date added: 10/26/2008

Why is it on my TBR? A friend of mine in Utah was in a women’s book club that wasn’t taking new members. I had the idea that I’d read all of the books they read so that, if I ever got to join, I’d be on the same page (so to speak) as the other members. This, apparently, wasn’t a very compelling reason to add a book to my TBR.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. Ugh, I wanted to let this one go, but the combination of a murder mystery and a talking dog (okay, I know it’s not really a talking dog) really speaks to me. (Goodness, I’m into the puns tonight.) This one should be good for a break between classics.

Project list: none.

28921#10: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Date added: 02/10/2009

Why is it on my TBR? I probably added it at the time because it’s a movie. Now I would add it because the premise is interesting, friends have liked it a lot, and I really enjoyed The Buried Giant.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep!

Project list: Cavalcade of Classics.

And there you have it! My TBR declutter is really off to a great start! 10/10 remain on my list! Maybe the fact that these have all survived many frenetic TBR culls all of these years means they’re really books I want to read, and I would do well to move them up the list a few pegs.

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