TBR Pile Challenge

I’ve read here and there about a TBR Pile Challenge, for which participants, between 1st Jan and 31st Mar 2012, have only to read books they’ve already bought – that is, prior to 1st Jan 2012 – and not new books.

With a TBR Pile of somewhere between 500-1000 books, however, I can’t see how for me this would deviate from normal practice. It would take no effort on my part whatsoever to spend the next three years (indeed, eternity) reading books I haven’t bought in the last 3 months. Indeed, I feel it is only right and proper for books to sit on the shelf awhile before reading them, so that they can mature and be better savoured.

So I thought I’d add a twist to the challenge: I’ll only read books that have been on my shelf for at least five years.

Now, it’s true, I don’t keep a log of when I buy books (unlike my father, for instance, who with great foresight for a challenge like this, always writes the date he buys a book on the inside cover), but luckily Amazon do. So here are the books I bought in 2006 which I haven’t read yet (I’ve put in bold the ones I’m more likely to read):

  • From an Occult Diary, by August Strindberg (I did read the other book in this double-header, Inferno)
  • Celestial Harmonies, by Peter Ezsterhazy (oh God, no – well, it’ll be a reason to throw it out when I find it)
  • Lords of the Horizon: A History of the Ottoman Empire (I started this once, but it didn’t seem very good)
  • The Class, by Hermann Ungar
  • Tales from the Saragossa Manuscript, by Jan Potocki (great, really looking forward to this, as I have been for the last 5 years! – I later bought the expanded Penguin Classics version)
  • Strange Forces, by Leopoldo Lugones (I’ve read, and been impressed by, the first few stories)

Actually, Amazon’s archive doesn’t seem to work so well for 2006. Maybe I’ll include books from 4 years ago too:

  • What a Beautiful Sunday!, by Jorge Semprun
  • The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen (strange, I started reading this the other day)
  • Wings of Stone, by Robert Menasse
  • Cronus’ Children, by Yves Navarre
  • Green Henry, by Gottfried Keller
  • Locus: A Comedy of Gestures, by Felipe Alfau (this is so close to being read anyway!)
  • Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade, by John Hawkes (ha, I’m reading this already!)
  • Dora, Doralina, by Rachel de Queiroz
  • The Tartar Steppe, by Dino Buzzati
  • Dom Casmurro, by Machado de Assis
  • Paradiso, by José Lezama Lima
  • Curfew, by José Donoso
  • Avalovara, by Osman Lins (hmm)
  • The Wars of Our Ancestors, by Miguel Delibes
  • The Stuff of Heroes, by Miguel Delibes (I’d be interested to know if I own this book – I don’t ever recall seeing it)
  • An Adultery, by Alexander Theroux
  • The Book of Lamentations, by Rosario Castellanos
  • Moonlit, by Antonio Lopez-Ortega
  • The War of the Fatties, by Salvador Novo (another book already picked out to be read soon)
  • Niels Lyhne, by Jens Peter Jacobsen
  • The Precipice, by Sergio Galindo
  • The Hedge, by Miguel Delibes
  • Slow Homecoming, by Peter Handke
  • Flight of the Swan, by Rosario Ferré
  • The Empty Book, by Josefina Vicens
  • Yawar Fiesta, by José María Argüedas (after Martin Seymour-Smith’s excessive praise, I dug this out)
  • Holy Week, by Louis Aragon
  • Pot Pourri: Whistlings of an Idler, by Eugenio Cambaceres
  • Bosnian Chronicle, by Ivo Andric
  • My Year in No Man’s Bay, by Peter Handke
  • Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort, by Roger Martin du Gard
  • Belarmino and Apolonio, by Ramon Perez de Ayala
  • The Liar, by Martin A Hansen
  • The Hapsburg Monarchy, by AJP Taylor
  • Canaima, by Romulo Gallegos
  • Angel of Darkness, by Ernesto Sabato
  • Street Girl, by Muriel Cerf
  • Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra, by Mary Butts
  • Words in Commotion and Other Stories, by Tommaso Landolfi (read some, so-so)

And that’s only the books I haven’t read which I bought on Amazon, which is probably nothing compared to the books I acquired elsewhere that year and haven’t read. Still, it seems a good selection (I was buying a lot of Iberico/Latin-American books that year!), with a lot of books I keep meaning to start on among them; – and then I might always add in other books too which I’ve quite clearly had a lot longer.


13 thoughts on “TBR Pile Challenge

  1. I should try and figure out how many of my TBR books are at least five years old. Might be a frightening exercise, though! Out of your bolded titles, I hope to get to the Buzzati (owned) and the Lezama Lima (not yet owned) in 2012. Loved that Machado de Assis title you have in store as well. Have no challeng-y plans in mind for 2012 yet, but if I end up doing a mini-project on Latin literature, might you have some authors/works as recommendations for me, oh cultured one? Cheers!

  2. Glad to see that the Sabato is not in bold: it’s a bummer of a book. I’ve been told that his two previous novels (The Tunnel and Of Heroes and Tombs) are good, but Abaddón el exterminador devolves into a tedious rant about a third of the way through. He’s a controversial figure in Argentina; if you mention his name on a university campus, you’ll apparently get spitting venom.

    I like The Liar by Hansen. It’s a bit annoying to begin with, but it does improve.

    What dismays me about all the unread books I have is that I look at several of them and think: why the hell did I buy that? You’re doing well to have so many of your titles in bold; would there be same proportion in a list of books acquired through channels other than Amazon?

  3. Richard: One of my ideas for next year (just to encourage myself to read certain books) was to have a Latin-American Classic Read-a-long-type Challenge, in which each month I read a Latin American Classic, and then no-one else joined in. That might at least be something I could stick to. I’d throw in some better known works, like Hopscotch and One Hundred Years

    One book that’s missed off the list (Amazon says I bought 63 items in 2006, but only lists 35 – it returns a lot of errors) is José Eustachio Rivera’s The Vortex (El Vortagine?). Have you read that?

    Cpt Ned: Yes, I’ve had a go at the first 30 pages of Angel of Darkness, and it wasn’t a great experience. It’s certainly put me off. I’d kind of been judging Sabato on it, so might have a look at the earlier works. – Someone put me off The Liar at some point, but I suppose it is quite short.

    I think Amazon books are less likely to have the “why the hell did I buy that?” factor, since my purchases on Amazon tend to be highly targeted and well-thought-through (that is, I’m buying books I want but which I’d wait a long time to find in my world of second-hand shops). I’m sure books bought in shops would show a much higher percentage. But in general I think I’ve become a lot better at buying only books I want to read. Ten years ago, when I culled my book collection, I could yield up so many unread books I didn’t want; I hardly find anything now.

    Mind you, looking through those Amazon lists again, I see I’ve already got rid of all the ones I didn’t like (and there are quite a few), and I haven’t included above anything I really don’t think I’ll read (Nélida Piñon’s The Republic of Dreams, for instance).

  4. I think the idea – and that’s what makes it a difficult challenge for many – is to not add to the TBR pile while you read from it. Once you crack you’re out of the game even if you still only reading from the TBR pile. Many don’t last longer than a week.
    I’m tempted as well… I should not make that pile grow more.

  5. What, you mean I can’t buy books in that time either? – Well, I suppose these things have to be faced at some point anyhow. Besides, my book-buying seems to have tailed off a bit recently, so perhaps I could manage it.

  6. Exactly – that’s the implicit part of the challenge. I should definitely participate.
    I have a few of your books on my pile as well. Paradiso and some Handke… and … never ending.

  7. Wow, what a lot of people own Paradiso! – I thought it was quite obscure.

    The Handke books listed, I’d always resisted because they looked difficult even for Handke – but looking again at No Man’s Bay, perhaps it isn’t as difficult as I thought. – I feel the same about the Ezsterhazy – in contrast to the other works of his I’ve read (or haven’t read), it looks remarkably intelligible.

    I already have a few caveats to the challenge:

    1. The challenge excludes all books I might read in French (since I need to encourage myself in this in whatever way I can)
    2. The challenge excludes all books I’ve already started prior to 1st Jan (I can’t just stop reading them for 3 months, or indeed finish them all before the end of the year – this again goes back to my peculiar method of reading 50 books at once, which seems incompatible with other people’s reading patterns) – though, of course, I can see some obvious loopholes here which I could exploit to get round the challenge altogether
    3. Short story collections don’t count – as they never count.

  8. I’ve yet to read The Vortex, Obooki. It’s a title that comes up often enough in my meanderings for me to be curious about it, but I can’t see reading it before 2013 at the earliest unless Eustachio Rivera merits Obooki Prize winning consideration. Judging from my own blogging experiences, your Lat Am classic idea will be sure to bring you great reading experiences and almost no new readers (you appear to realize that already, of course, so good for you for going against the flow). I’d likely join in for a title or two, though. P.S. Your TBR caveats seem eminently reasonable. I need to do something like that or at least limit new purchases for a year till I can make a dent in my backlog.

  9. The Vortex doesn’t merit consideration for the OP because, at a guess, Eustachio Rivera is no longer with us. – I bought all these Latin Am classics a while ago now and really need to read them, so a challenge might be the best thing. Or not, considering how good I am at challenges.

  10. I’d forgotten that one needed to be alive to be considered for the Obooki honors! Too bad–the dead speak so much more eloquently than the living for the most part (although often not as loudly or via cellphone).

  11. Perhaps there should be an Obooki Prize for the Dead too. We’ll see how the lists match up. This year’s would be Bely’s Petersburg, last year: Sophocles’ Theban trilogy. 2009 is a tough choice though.

  12. I read Lords of The Horizon about 10 years ago and thought it was an excellent general history of the Ottomans. It’s more of an introduction than anything else (hardly surprising given the size of the subject) but a very good one, I thought. I’m surprised you didn’t like it.

  13. Maybe I didn’t give it enough of a go. I’ve kept it for 5 years unread, so I must be intending to go back to it. But that may be because I really want to read a history of the Ottoman Empire.

    I think I was put off by its anecdote based beginning. Starting with an anecdote to engage the reader’s attention is a new fad in history books I find annoying (and which makes me think the writer is not really a historian). It’s much the equivalent of starting a historical documentary with a re-enactment / dramatisation.

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