Sunday Salon: What to Read and When to Read It

sundaysalonWow, it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, but as the end of the year approaches, I’ve got something on my mind, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts about it. As some of you may remember, I’ve attempted in the past to read books I buy within four years of when I acquire them. If I don’t read a book by then, out it goes (with some exceptions). Note that I said “in the past.” This year, I’m left with 13 unread books. I could discard some of these with no regrets, but others are more difficult. Some aren’t available in my local library, and I still genuinely want to read them. So I’m holding onto them, with the hope of reading them this year.

My failure to keep my usual resolution got me thinking about how I choose what I read. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I like to read a mix of old and new books in all sorts of genres. I like doing some planning, but this year I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in reading by whim, picking up what looks good in the library or what others are talking about at the moment.It was especially gratifying this year to pick up something like The People in the Trees on Jenny’s recommendation and then watch as other bloggers decided to give it a try. I also had tremendous fun anticipating the twists to come in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, a series I was just beginning at this time last year.

Those kinds of experiences are difficult to plan for and are unlikely to happen if I cling too tightly to a commitment to read from my own shelves. Online book groups and group reads, like the Slaves of Golconda, can help generate conversation about books that are no longer in the spotlight. I’ve not been participating in those events much lately, and I may do that more in the new year. The Slaves are reading The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns in January, and I’ve got my copy on order and am looking forward to reading it! But I’ll be watching out of other events and group reads that incorporate books I’m interested in.

But even though setting the list aside has been great, reading from my own shelves has rewards, too, not the least of which is the freeing up of space. Just as it’s fun to watch people discover a relatively new book because I blogged about it, it’s also fun to see people rediscover a lost treasure because I blogged about it. And often lots of other people have already read these books that are languishing on my shelf and are eager to talk about them. I’ve noticed no great difference in the liveliness of the comments on old books versus new books. If anything, comments are more vibrant on posts about old books. Classics get some of the best comments of all, and my reading of classics has been way down lately, even though I’ve got heaps of them on my e-reader. (Out of sight means out of mind when it comes to the e-reader. I’d have read more of those books if I had hard copies.)

tbr-dare-2014So all of this has gotten me thinking about whether are how I’m going to participate in James’s TBR Double Dog Dare this year. Each year, James dares his readers to read only from their TBR stacks from January 1 to April 1. Exceptions are allowed, and participants can join for a week or a month or all three months. I’ve taken the dare every year, with varying degrees of success. And I was all set to sign up for this year, when The Morning News posted the Long, Long List for the Tournament of Books in March.

I love the TOB. I love getting to see the judges’ logic for their choices, and I enjoy the smart comments about the books. It’s a wonderful blend of seriousness and silliness that acknowledges the value of good literature while recognizing that goodness is subjective. Every year, I wish I’d read more books in the Tournament, so I can enjoy comparing the judges’ rulings to my own opinions. And when the long list went up, I’d only read two books on it (Lila and The Paying Guests). I had one thought on how to deal with that:

Sounds reasonable, right? In the end, though, I decided that I’d just read the two books on the long, long list that I already had out from the library (Tigerman and The Fever) and hope that at least one or two of the four make it through to the brackets. But if they don’t (and maybe if they do), I’ll make a TBR Dare exception for TOB books I already intend to read. (Brown Girl Dreaming and Department of Speculation are on that list, and there are several others I’ve been pondering. If there are any I must try, let me know in the comments.)

So my TBR Dare plan is as follows: From January 1 to April 1, I’ll only read books that I own, either in print or electronic form or as e-galleys. I will not request any new e-galleys for books releasing before April 1. I will make exceptions for books that make it into the Tournament of Books that I was already planning to read and books from the swap Jenny and I do each year. As always, I can drop out of the Dare at any time, if my interest in some other book becomes too great to deal with and the restriction takes away from my pleasure in reading and talking about my reading.

Now that I’ve got my own thinking out of the way, I’d like to hear from you. How do you balance old and new, owned and unowned when deciding what to read? How much planning do you do and how much do you read by whim? And how important is the potential for conversation about books when you make reading choices? (In other words, do you read books so you can join the conversation about them?) Which choices seem to be working best for you, and what are you thinking about changing?

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30 Responses to Sunday Salon: What to Read and When to Read It

  1. lizzysiddal says:

    i’ve got round the culling books I still want to read dilemma by donating them to my library. i can always borrow them back if I need to. I still need to be more ruthless though – I’m going to give your 4-years or it’s over rule a try over New Year.

    • Teresa says:

      I donate to the library, too, but they usually sell them instead of adding them to their collection. I don’t mind that, but it means I can’t count on borrowing them later.

  2. Lisa says:

    I had forgotten about your four-year expiration date policy. If I adopted that, it would halve my TBR stacks right there – but I don’t feel I can do it just yet, partly because some of those books are older and hard to find in the library here. Generally I think I read by whim – I’ve been a failure at planning – but I am also very susceptible to enthusiastic reviews I read. One of my bookish resolutions this year is to click over to the library website rather than Barnes & Noble or ABE Books. I am signed on for the TBR Dare again, and I want to focus on the TBR stacks even past April. I’ve claimed an exception though for the new Mary Russell in February! Good luck with the Dare, and an early Happy New Year!

    • Teresa says:

      The four-year policy was working great until this year. Maybe I’ll adjust to say I can keep books the library doesn’t have as long as I’d like. I won a copy of the new Mary Russell from LibraryThing, so I don’t have to make an exception for that one, but there will no doubt be others that tempt me!

  3. We’ve been forced to pack up the massive book collection only a minister and a librarian would schlepp around for our whole careers, not to mention my cookbook collection :O, as they are doing work in our apartment.

    I signed onto the “Read Your Freebies 2014” Challenge, and have almost read 100 freebies! However, I have also downloaded many more than that. The actual physical books are going to be lovingly donated to some degree…at least the theology, as I am no longer using them as I am retired. And the hymnals are going to the Seminary.

    This year is another Freebies Challenge, signing up for a Better Yourself Challenge, a Library Challenge, being open to e-gallies as requested. I’d like to also read memoirs and biographies which might be my Library Challenge focus.

    We have until the end of January before we reshelve. The entire apartment is being worked on and we are doing a major “reset”. My book collection days are over…but I won’t get rid of some of my stuff…yet….for example, the cookbooks will go to the Schlesinger Library after I’m gone. Have you ever though of how a church or non profit cookbook can give you insight into a time and place? I have a whole bookcase of them, a lot of which are just that…windows into history and church communities

    • Teresa says:

      I used to move every few years, and I never had the “problem” of accumulating books that I have now. Packing and moving makes me more ruthless with culling, never mind that I also couldn’t afford many books!

      The Read Your Freebies challenge is a new one for me–that could be a good way to get myself to read all those public domain e-books.

      I have a couple of nonprofit/church cookbooks. I rarely cook from them, but they’re a lot of fun to look through. I end up using the same two or three cookbooks all the time or getting recipes online, but I have trouble getting rid of my rarely used print cookbooks. But I don’t have enough of them for space to be a problem (yet).

  4. Four years…hmmm. I might have to keep that in mind as I am culling our main bookcase later this week. I know there are several books there that have been there awhile.

    How do you balance old and new, owned and unowned when deciding what to read? I usually don’t think about it much, but I seem to keep it fairly balanced somehow or at least I think I do. How much planning do you do and how much do you read by whim? I do too much planning, but then often I return to books that I’ve had on my list for awhile. And how important is the potential for conversation about books when you make reading choices? (In other words, do you read books so you can join the conversation about them?) Not really. Most of the time, I’m reading books that others haven’t read and that’s okay too. Which choices seem to be working best for you, and what are you thinking about changing? I don’t know if any of my choices are really “working” and I’m always thinking of changing everything. Of course, I’ll probably end up pretty much the same as usual. :)

  5. Deb says:

    This year, my husband and I finally culled our 1,000+ book collection. I gave over 300 to a co-worker whose adult son moved into his own place giving her a room she’s now fitted out with shelves for a personal library (must be nice–ha-ha). Yes, we still have close to 700 books–classics, reference books, personal favorites–crammed on shelves throughout the house (including covering a whole wall in our bedroom), but our pledge is to read as much as possible from the library and to add new books sparingly. We’ll see how that goes–especially since we both got Barnes and Noble gift cards for Christmas!

    • Teresa says:

      It’s funny, even though I know how many unread books I have (194), I don’t know the total number of books in my library. I think it’s still in the triple digits, partly because I don’t have an extra room to turn into a dedicated library!

      Slowing down on the acquisitions really seems to be the key, and some years I do well at it–other years not so well.

  6. Jenny says:

    I have very few TBR books that I own — I get over 95% of what I read from the library. (I have the big benefit of having access to a university library ILL system for free.) I’d like to read some of the things I own, though, since my TBR shelf is actually full right now! And reading from my list, within certain parameters, has worked well for me for years now.

    I like your four-years idea, though. There are some books on my list that I don’t even remember putting there. Maybe I could clean house a little.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve kind of stopped keeping a real TBR list. I have a mental list and a few saved in my library’s website list as well as my Paperback Swap list for books the library doesn’t carry. But I lost my long electronic list last year, and I decided that I didn’t need it. If I forgot a book, it could stay forgotten. It’s not like I’m lacking in ideas for what to read! But losing the list has led me to read more by whim, which I’m enjoying more than I thought I might.

      • Jenny says:

        Your memory must be much better than mine is! One reason I started keeping this blog was to have a place to keep my list, so I wouldn’t keep wandering around at the library, going “I know I wanted to read something… what was it?”

        Like Jeanne, though, I often forget who made me want to read something by the time I get to it. Maybe I should annotate my list. That would be fun.

      • Teresa says:

        It’s not so much that my memory is great–it’s more that there’s such a constant inflow of ideas that there’s always something I can think of. I forget way more recommendations than I remember.

  7. Michelle says:

    I guess it depends on what the individual definition of TBR. I do include review copies in my TBR pile. I need to get better about not requesting so many review copies, as I find myself unable to read a decent number of the books that I do own and have yet to read. I know exactly what you mean about reintroducing older books to readers or reminding them how much they loved it when they read it. I don’t regret the number of review copies I request and read, but I do wish there was more time in the year to read everything I want to read!

    • Teresa says:

      I go through phases with review copies–and with library books and with new purchases. I think you’ve got it right, though, that the problem is wanting more time to read everything!

  8. Jeanne says:

    Ever since I read all the books on the list for my PhD comprehensive exams, I read only by whim. Occasionally I read something another blogger has just read, so we can talk about it, but I don’t keep lists of books I want to read (aside from an Amazon wish list my friends and family like me to update) and I sometimes don’t remember who made me want to read a book by the time I find it at the library or get it as a gift.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m really enjoying doing without a long list. The TBR pile is sort of a list of its own, and letting all my other reading be by whim seems to make for a decent balance.

  9. aartichapati says:

    I recently did my year-end post and realized that over 80% of the books I read this year were from the library, not books that I owned. I struggle with this so much. I try to remind myself that I often get rid of books once I’ve read them if they are not keepers, so obviously my shelves will be skewed more towards the unread than the read. And now that I’m reading more diversely, my shelves do not reflect my reading goals. And a lot of the books I read are now on my commute on audio, which also takes time. Still makes me feel guilty, but I think I just need to get over it. Every once in a while, I will cull books that I don’t think appeal to me any more rather than force myself to read something that I don’t want to. But a lot of them, I just keep – I believe pretty strongly in the right book at the right time, and for ones that still pique my interest, I figure the time may still come…

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve got several books on my shelf that don’t really appeal to me at the moment, but they still might one day. I’ve done massive culls in the past and was glad after, but I’m not really wanting to do that right now because I can see myself enjoying almost all the books on my shelves once I’m in the right mood. There are a couple I’m less sure about (gifts, prizes, or subscription books), but they seem like they might be good and I want to at least read a chapter to two. Maybe those are the ones that should have the strict four-year limit, and the others can be more flexible.

  10. Stefanie says:

    Like you I had no reading plan this year either and I had a blast! I still managed to read a few books from my shelves and mix old and new, but yeah, I read quite a few books from 2013 and 2014. I don’t know yet how I feel about that; don’t know if I want to try and be a little more deliberate in 2015. I do know I don’t choose books for conversational factors, I just read what sounds appealing at the time whether everyone is reading it or no one. Good luck with your first half of the year plans!

    • Teresa says:

      It’s hard to get away from the new books, because they do get talked about so much more, but I decided this year that the fact that a book is new doesn’t make it less good. If I trust the source’s taste and it appeals to me, I’ll read it. The additional opportunity for conversation is a bonus but one I really appreciate!

  11. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

    I don’t have much of a system. I do keep a list of books I’d like to read so that when I’m going to the library I can look at the catalog ahead of time and see what is available and what I feel like taking home that visit. Since I started blogging this year and got involved in various reading events I have picked up books I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, because of the conversation/discussion possibilities — but to me that’s a good thing! I have really enjoyed those opportunities.

  12. I read almost completely by whim, as I never manage to stick with any of the challenges I try. But this year I’m going to try to at least read some of the books I already own that I haven’t read yet. I got a ton of ex-library nonfiction books earlier in the year, and I haven’t read a single one so far.

    • Teresa says:

      Except for the TBR Dare, challenges went out the window for me a long time ago. Even if I completed them, keeping track was too much of a pain. I’d rather just join in when I see a fun group read happening.

  13. priscilla says:

    I’m going to do the TBR Double Dare again this year. The number of books I acquired this year and didn’t read–on top of all the unread books I already own–is astounding, even to me. I’m going to push myself to get through at least 12 books (a few are library books) by April. And I agree with finding a good group read!

    • Teresa says:

      It hit me yesterday that I often end up acquiring what amount to a book a week, usually thanks to used book sales. That seems like too much if I still want to use the library.

  14. Rebecca H. says:

    I love the idea of the TBR dare, but the Tournament of Books always trips me up too. If only the two events didn’t coincide! I try hard to read at whim and not plan, review obligations aside, so while I do try to choose books from my shelves, I’ll pick up whatever I feel like reading from whatever source available when it comes down to it. The problem is that my belief in reading at whim is at odds with my LOVE of acquiring books (by which I mean, my obsession, my addiction). But I’m just letting those two things exist side by side now, even if it means I need new bookshelves now and then. I’m lucky to have the space for them. I try to cull now and then too. I’ll probably do more culling as I get older. I just think about the pleasure I get from book shopping and tell myself it’s okay if I accumulate books and end up culling some I never read.

    Oh, but I started using a budgeting app recently and can now see exactly how much I spend on books each month, and that might lead to some changes around here :)

    • Teresa says:

      Maybe we can petition James to move the Dare next year ;)

      I keep looking around my condo considering where I can put another bookcase. I’m nearly out of wall space, and I need a little bit of wall space open for yoga, which rules out the best spot.

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