TBR List Declutter: Week 6

Ten more titles, nine from the book of books—and one not!

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Titles 51-60: Read More

TBR List Declutter: Week 5

Well, what do you know? Ten more titles from the book of books (added January 15, 2010). I really went to town adding titles from that book.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Titles 41-50:

437067#41: A Cure for Dreams by Kaye Gibbons

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Southern Lit, published by Algonquin.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. I thought of replacing it with Ellen Foster, but I always feel conflicted when I read a debut novel. If it’s good, I despair that I could never write a first novel that’s so good. If it’s bad, I get down on myself because I’ve not finished writing any of the novels I’ve started, which I just know would be at least as good as this bad one that got published. It’s even worse if the author was quite young when she wrote the debut novel. And as I get older, my definition of “quite young” becomes broader. Long story short: I’ll read this one instead of Ellen Foster, at least to start.

Project list: none.

281114#42: In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Southern Lit. Also, this title keeps coming up, which maybe means something. Although it doesn’t necessarily mean that I should read it. The DaVinci Code comes up a lot, but I have no intention of reading that, but this one seems different because people who bring this one up are those whose opinions about books I trust. Also, I think I might have read one of her stories in college.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep.

Project list: none.

#43: The Odd Woman by Gail Godwin

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? No idea. Maybe I liked the cover?

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. If I had a B-list, this would be on it. The plot sounds like a lot of other books I’ve read, but it was a National Book Award finalist, so I’ll give it a chance.

Project list: none.

240628#44: The Long Night of White Chickens by Francisco Goldman

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Not sure. I probably put it here because of Guatemala, but I’ll probably keep it there because it’s set in part in a suburb of Boston (as am I).

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep.

Project list: none.

#45: A Sport of Nature by Nadine Gordimer

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Probably because it’s set in South Africa, and I can’t recall reading a book set in South Africa before.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep.

Project list: none, but with all of the different countries represented on my TBR so far, maybe I should start putting together a reading-around-the-world list.

 #46: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Probably because it’s famous.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Go. Famous isn’t a compelling enough reason for me.

Project list: N/A

#47: The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? I don’t know why I put it here, but it’s another one with very polarized reviews, which is always intriguing to me.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. A lot of reviewers who dislike the book dislike it because they can’t relate to the characters. I’m curious to see if I can relate to them.

Project list: none.

 #48: Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? This is described as a book about outsiders, and it’s about Germany during World War II. I probably put it on the list for one or both of those reasons, but the plot also sounds interesting. The reviewers who like the book note that Hegi doesn’t go for the melodramatic, Hollywood-film WWII treatment, and I would like to see what this looks like.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep.

Project list: none.

 #49: Ellis Island and Other Stories by Mark Helprin

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Maybe I added it because it’s supposed to be an eclectic collection of short stories. Sounds good to me.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. It’s possible that the author is over-hyped, but I guess I’ll have to read his writing to find out.

Project list: none.

#50: Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? I’m betting it’s here because the title sounds cool and because the author’s last name has that Scandinavian zero-looking “o” in it.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Go. The reviews—even the positive ones—don’t make this book compelling to me.

Project list: N/A


Two more titles off the list for a total of 9 out of 40 titles crossed off (1.2% of the original TBR).

There were another couple of B-list titles. I really do need to figure out a way to shelve these. I mentioned my first 25-50 pages idea to my spouse, and he approved of it, saying it sounds like the Silicon Valley prototype model, at least how he understands it. He said there are some who suggest applying the prototype model to one’s career by trying out elements of several different careers and seeing where they lead rather than setting out a detailed plan to follow for the next ten years or whatever.

I value forward-planning, but I’m also somewhat changeable. Because I don’t know how I’m going to feel about something after I’ve done it for a while, I don’t like to feel tied to any particular path. (Of course, I committed to parenthood, but that’s not even the same two days in a row, so it stays pretty fresh, even during periods of acute exhaustion.) These B-list books sound interesting enough that I don’t want to toss them entirely, but not interesting enough that I want to completely commit to them. I’ll have to mull over the dilemma. But then, the more time I mull, the less I have to read. It’s a double dilemma.

TBR List Declutter: Week 4

It appears that two weeks after my bulk addition of titles, I must have picked up the book of books again and added more. These are all from January 15, 2010.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Titles 31-40:

3388#31: Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? I suspect it’s here because it’s set during World War II but doesn’t take place in Germany.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. I’m a sucker for magical realism.

Project list: none.

#32: Paris Trout by Pete Dexter

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? National Book Award, and it’s about race issues in the American South.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep, for now. Revisit in one year and remove if I’ve not read it yet.

Project list: none.

422#33: A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? I read (and pretty much enjoyed) Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, and I’ve been curious to check out her fiction. Also, I like the title.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep for a year.

Project list: none.

132298#34: Frog by Stephen Dixon

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? No idea.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Go. Despite its award nominations, the premise doesn’t grab me enough to devote 769 pages of my time to it.

Project list: N/A

24910#35: World’s Fair by E.L. Doctorow

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? I think Doctorow is someone I’m supposed to read but haven’t. This book, despite being set in New York City, sounds interesting and won the National Book Award.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. If I want to read Doctorow, this seems as good a place as any to start.

Project list: none.

165422#36: English Creek by Ivan Doig

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? It’s set in Montana, and the synopsis says that it’s “a masterpiece of vernacular in the tradition of Twain,” which sounds interesting to me.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep.

Project list: none.

30512#37: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Probably because it’s set in Ireland and written from the point of view of a young boy.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Go. I’m leery of the stream-of-consciousness aspect, and the reviews aren’t glowing enough to get me excited about reading it.

Project list: N/A

119073#38: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? It’s a medieval murder mystery with monks.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep. It sounds a little like An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, and I liked that one, and it would be quite different from what I usually read (literary fiction and memoirs by literary-type people).

Project list: none.

12764#39: The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Mexican history is a subject about which I don’t know as much as I would like to, and it’s more fun to read about it in a novel than in a history book.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep.

Project list: none (or maybe Cavalcade of Classics?)

77092#40: Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García

Date added: 01/15/2010

Why is it on my TBR? Cuba! With our back-and-forth national policy around trade and tourism with the island nation, it seems like a particularly good time to read about Cuba, and this seems like a good book about Cuba.

Do I own it? No.

Verdict: Keep!

Project list: none.


Two more titles off the list for a total of 7 out of 40 titles crossed off (nearly 1% of the original TBR).

A couple of these barely made the cut (notably the Joan Didion), and I wonder if it would make sense to have a ranked verdict. Like an A-list and a B-list for those books I choose to keep on the TBR. Maybe I’d plan to get the B-list books from the library in a big stack and then really quickly read the first 25-50 pages and decide whether to continue or not. Or maybe I should just be more quick to cut titles since they’re on these posts anyway, and I can always look them up again.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland was the SBC selection for May 2017. Visit the SBC Page (linked above) for more books we’re reading/have read.


This novel took me forever to read. I started with the audiobook on May 5, but couldn’t get into it. Then I got the paper book thinking that maybe that would grab me better, but still I labored. The writing is beautiful, spare, poignant in its simplicity, but before I was fifty pages in, I decided to quit reading. I set the book on the kitchen table, and “Pulitzer Prize” glared up at me from the cover, so I made myself open the book again and keep going.

Despite the writing, despite the characters so realistically flawed, despite the kind of pacing that I usually love, which allows me to luxuriate in the language, the book remained a slog for me until the last page. Maybe the plot is just too much like real life: slow and accidental, full of poor choices and in the end meaningless, or at least pointless.

The “Pulitzer Prize” written on the cover on its own wouldn’t have carried me through the novel. Four sentences (or two sentences and two fragments) a little more than a hundred pages in gave me the boost necessary to keep me reading:

“Though he looked like any other Bengali he felt an allegiance with the foreigners now. He shared with them a knowledge of elsewhere. Another life to go back to. The ability to leave.” (113)

Although my life experiences are dramatically different from Subhash’s, I could relate to the experience of being in a place where so many others feel at home, surrounded by people for whom the possibility of living anywhere else simply doesn’t exist. For me, the possibility of leaving the place where I am is not only a possibility; it seems almost an inevitability. But since I’m not at home where I am anyway and never have been, this brings me comfort. It’s the prospect of staying in one place that’s unsettling to me.

I know this isn’t quite what Subhash is feeling in this moment. He’s not a perpetual stranger but rather has returned home a stranger because circumstances have cut him loose from the bonds that held him to that place, to those people. Even though the situation was different, those sentences spoke to me nevertheless and kept me reading.

However, the promise of those sentences was never realized for me. I don’t regret reading the whole novel, but I probably could have stopped at any point and been no worse off.

Bookends: June 2017

It’s finally strawberry time in Massachusetts! We’ve picked four weeks in a row and brought home a total of sixty-one pounds of strawberries.

I froze a bunch of them and gave a quart to a friend, but we ate most of them fresh. Gorging myself on seasonal, locally grown fruit has become a summer tradition for me. Next up: cherries!

In addition to eating fruit, I’ve also devoted Summer 2017 to doing lots of projects around the house and yard that I’ve been putting off. I’ve spent the month scheduling electricians, learning how to use tile adhesive and grout, deciding I don’t want to regrout my shower myself, trying to get other professionals to call me back, choosing paint colors, having mulch delivered, having trees removed, planting other trees, and weeding and weeding and weeding. It’s been surprisingly rewarding, but I do not regret procrastinating for the past six years.

I’ve also been doing a TBR List Declutter here on the blog. Each Thursday, I post the titles of ten books that are on my TBR, why I added them in the first place, and whether I’m keeping them or taking them off of the TBR. At this pace, it will take me seventy-five weeks to go through all of the titles, provided I don’t add any more. (spoiler: I’ve already added more.)

But wait! That’s not all! When not wrestling with my to-do list or my to-read list, I’ve been doing two Instagram challenges!

The first is Book Riot’s Riotgrams challenge. I started strong, but kind of lost my gusto as the month progressed. One of my favorites was the one for Day 24: Tiny Books. My son helped me with that one, choosing the background and holding the little dictionary up for the photo.

The other Instagram challenge was a progressive capsule, which I learned about from @loritironpandit but which originated with Karen at Sustainable Fashion Chat (@sustainablefashionchat). It’s pretty simple. I just kept track of all of the clothes I wore for the month to see how much of my wardrobe I actually use. I posted photos of myself periodically, usually with a book in front of my face. My friend suggested that we could start an #outfitwithbook hashtag. Here’s one of those photos:

I’m not much into fashion, but I do care about what I wear, and this challenge really was helpful. In the end, I wore a total of twenty-four items of clothing during June, including shoes but not including socks, underwear, night clothes (or even knight clothes), or workout/yardwork clothes, and determined that I can get rid of a lot of the clothes I own right now.

To see all of my posts for these two challenges, visit my Instagram: @imperfecthappiness.

And I read a few books. Not as many as usual, but still not a bad number for all of the other stuff I’ve been doing (and my total would have been one better if I’d not done May’s Bookends a few days late and included Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne on last month’s post, even though I finished it on June 2. Way to cheat Future Charity, Past Charity.):

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TBR List Declutter: Week 3

Mundane detail that I’m going to pretend is vitally interesting: I’m putting these lists together when I have chunks of time available and then scheduling them to post weekly because I never know when something’s going to come up and eat away at my writing time. I’ve found myself with some blogging time this week, so while it’s technically still Week 1 while I’m writing this, I’m actually working on Week 3. It’s like traveling into the future!

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

At any rate, here are the next ten titles I’m looking at from my deceptive, multi-shelf Goodreads TBR list. All ten of these titles are from that “book of books” I mentioned last week:
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TBR List Declutter: Week 2

Another week, another ten books from my TBR to scrutinize. For background about this weekly event, check out the introductory post.

In December 2009, I visited the Salt Like City library and got one of those books that lists the 500 books you should read before you die (because presumably reading after you die isn’t something one should bank on). Any titles that were added on 12/31/2009 were likely the result of the fit of New Year’s Eve optimism incited by that book of books. And since I was probably nursing a baby while putting those titles on the list, some oxytocin probably played a role, too.

TBR titles 11-20: Read More

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: Read More

Bookends: May 2017

May found me celebrating my daughter’s twelfth birthday and realizing that there’s less than 1.5 inches between her height and mine, writing and mailing our homeschool annual reports to the school district, removing my first tick (from myself; I’ve removed them from both kids in years past), having our front yard dug up by the gas company, and watching the gypsy moths chew holes in the leaves on all of our trees.

It’s been an eventful month.

Something I’ve not been doing this month: blogging. I’ve thought up some really cool book-related ideas for the blog, but none of them have gotten to the implementation phase. In the next month, I’m hoping to revise and relaunch my Cavalcade of Classics list and kick off a weekly feature to whittle down the number of titles on my TBR from “ridiculous” to merely “aspirational” and to give me some direction in choosing which books to read next.

But in order to move forward, we must first examine where we’ve been. I’m not sure if this is true, but it sounds like a meme, and that’s just as good. In this spirit, here’s what I read in May:

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Bookends: April 2017

April in Massachusetts was a stop-and-start process towards spring. We heard spring peepers peeping, watched the maple trees bloom and then make itty-bitty seeds, and now we’re seeing leaves galore. The lilacs and cherry trees are in blossom, and I can smell flowers on my walks around the neighborhood. And unlike last year, there’s been no late freeze (knock on wood), so it’s likely we’ll have LOCAL PEACHES this year!

What kind of monster looks at bunnies and thinks good things about coyotes?

I also see bunnies, bunnies, and more bunnies, which I bet thrills the coyotes and foxes in the neighborhood. The small-dog owners and keepers of outdoor cats aren’t thrilled about the predators traipsing around, but I’m a fan. Small furry creatures are adorable and I love them, but they spread deer ticks, which are awful already this year, so we can benefit from having a food-chain-related way to keep the furry population in check. I also like hawks and falcons.

Another wonderful thing about April: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon! To read about my progress during the readathon, check out my wrap-up post.

Here’s some of what I finished reading in April (funny…I felt like I didn’t read much this month, but my list argues against that):

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