Monday, January 7, 2019

New Year, Old Books

It is the real first day of my new year. By that I mean that school starts again for the kids, and it’s no longer OK to spend the entire day on the couch watching the piles of holiday debris grow and tilt on every surface. Of course, like every day in my life, the world has thrown a wrench into my well laid plans to Get My Sh*t Together (2019 resolution, already withering on the vine). One kid woke up with a fever, and our next door neighbors have decided that this is the day to clean out their vents. A big truck pulled up in their driveway, which is mere feet from the side of our house, and the suction process has commenced its ear shattering song. As I write this, it is 7:30 a.m., and I am already reneging on many of the commitments I made to myself (Hello, Internet and your many seductions).

But this is a book blog, not a whine blog (or a wine blog…if I started one, could I sip while I type?). I have decided, as part of the project to eliminate some of my many piles, to make 2019 The Year of the Backlist. And with that decision, I have chosen for the second time to join Roof Beam Reader in the TBR Challenge.

Here’s the premise: I pick 12 books (and two alternates) that were published before 2018 and that are languishing on my shelves (or leaning in a random stack in the closet, or gathering dust on my nightstand). I vow to read twelve of them over the course of the year, thereby reducing the clutter of things undone. This project is good for me because I have two reading habits that conflict: 1)I love to buy books; and 2) I check out hundreds of books from the library. The library books tend to win my attention because of those pesky due dates and even peskier fines. And what happens is the growth of the aforementioned piles and the general hauntings of unread pages.

I have to admit that I tried this challenge four (!) years ago and failed. Or, I suppose, I could reframe the experience and say that I was able to read five books from my incredible leaning stack, leaving just nine to clatter around my house. I am putting a few of those original TBR copies back on this list this year.

I have attempted to make a list that incorporates all the of things I like to include in my reading life – authors from different backgrounds, a mix of genres and topics, and a healthy assortment of challenging and “easy” reads.

It’s time to get started! Here’s the list:

1)    The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison: I got to page 111 of this book of essays before getting distracted. I was loving it and always said I’d need to go back to the beginning and try again. The first one describes the author’s experience being a medical actor, a practice patient for medical students developing their empathy skills. The receipt I was using as a bookmark says that I bought it new at Powells Bookstore in Portland, OR in May, 2017.

2)    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I have always wanted to read this book, and yet I always pass it over for other things. I know that several of you have read this and loved it. I admit to shying away from it because both the terrorist and the opera elements of the description been off-putting. It was on my 2015 TBR list, and I’ve had it on my shelf for at least a decade. I fear that I borrowed it from someone and never returned it. Sorry.

3)    Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I love this author, and I enjoyed Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah, and Dear Ijawele,or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (here is my blog post). One of my kids read this novel for school, and this is his copy. I don’t know where it came from, but it includes a 2016 receipt from The Cheesecake Factory (Pumpkin Cheesecake and Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch). Was he reading it while eating?

4)    Arcadia by Lauren Groff (alternate): I like Lauren Groff (though here's my conflicted review of Fates and Furies), but I’m not really interested in communes, which is the setting for this novel. I remember hesitating when I bought it at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas in 2016. You know how it is when you really want a new book, but nothing really calls out to you? It was one of those days.  I’d rather read Florida by this author – that one is also on my nightstand – but it was published in 2018 and doesn’t qualify for the challenge.

5)    The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin: This one came highly recommended from a friend, and it’s by a Pacific Northwest author. From the price tag, it looks like I bought it used at Powells Bookstore in 2016. Historical fiction is not my go-to genre, which is probably why it has sat unread for so long.

6)    The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma: I bought this one new at Bookends and Beginnings in Evanston, IL in 2016, after it was highly promoted on the Book Riot Podcast. And then the New York Times called the author, “the heir to Chinua Achebe.” Nonetheless, the violence promised by the description has put me off. I am hopeful to get over my hesitance and try it.

7)    Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: This is another one that friends have recommended, and I really enjoyed the author’s Sourdough last year. I bought this copy used at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA. I don’t usually gravitate to fantasy-ish books, but I hope to be charmed. A magic bookstore? OK, I’ll bite.

8)    Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok: I bought this Advanced Reader copy at the Friends of Seattle Public Library book sale for fifty cents more than five years ago. I know you're not supposed to buy unpublished copies, so my apologies to the literary world. I’m a sucker for an immigration story, so I’m not sure why this one has languished on the shelves for so long.

9)    Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: Another Patchett! I started this one in 2016 just as we were starting our house remodel. I read 75 pages and set it aside. I seem to remember that this was the time when I went four months without reading, because I was too overwhelmed by picking out paint colors and hinges and baseboard styles.  I got this copy for Christmas, and Santa found me a British paperback edition before the American version came out.

10) The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell (alternate): I also got this one for Christmas in 2016 and it was set aside for the house remodel extravaganza. The description says that the author goes around the world visiting bookstores. What’s not to love about that!? I have this down as an alternate, but now that I’m looking at it, I might read it first.

11) H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: I bought this copy from the remainder table at Third Place Books, Ravenna in Seattle. Everyone I know said it was fantastic nonfiction about grief, but I haven’t picked it up because I’ve been worried about ending up miserable. I want to read great things, but I don't want to propel myself into a sobbing heap. What a readerly dilemma!

12) Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides:  I got this one as a gift, and the gifter knows how much I enjoy this author. I looooved Middlesex (and, fun fact: Eugenides went to my high school, albeit several years ahead of me). This is a collection of short stories, and I am notoriously bad at getting through short stories.

13) The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: I know that this book the best thing since sliced bread, and I love sliced bread. I promised to read it when I participated in Nonfiction November years ago, and it was also on my previous TBR challenge list. I received this copy in hardcover for Christmas, maybe in 2010.  I don’t know why I am intimidated by this book, but it is time to overcome whatever it is that is in my way.

14) We Were Eight Years in Power: A Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates: One of the essays in this collection, Donald Trump is the First White President, knocked me down when I read it in The Atlantic in October, 2017. And I have written before how Between the World and Me changed me forever.  I bought my copy of We Were Eight Years... at Powells when it first came out, and it has been staring at me from my nightstand ever since.

My plan is to update you along the way as I successfully navigate my way through this list. I'll be keeping track of my progress on this entry, adding completion dates and links to reviews:

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Arcadia by Lauren Groff
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok -- READ 1/19
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

And if you’re interested in joining me, you can find the “rules” at Roof Beam Reader. Or you can just read your own backlist in your own way, but please let me know how it’s going. I hope you play along!



Lisa said...

That looks like a great stack! I have had The Warmth of Other Suns on my TBR list - but not the stacks - and even checked it out of the library once.

I waffled about signing up for this challenge. I know I'll read 12 books off the TBR stacks this year, but somehow committing to do so makes me feel like I'd fail at it.

jennifer said...

Hi Lisa! Yes, the risk of "failure" is great. But it was fun to go through my own shelves and find things to read -- kind of like going to the bookstore, but in my pajamas.

NancyAZ said...

This looks like a great list. I've joined the Roof Beam Reader challenge as well.
Bel Canto has been on my TBR for years. I've read Girl in Translation and liked it a lot (4 star read) and H is for Hawk I had to put down but I do think I'll go back to it. I think it just wasn't the right book at that particular moment. Good luck with the challenge. I'm looking forward to everyone's reviews!

jennifer said...

Thanks for stopping by, NancyAZ! I haven't started reading any of these yet -- maybe I'll pick up Girl in Translation first with your recommendation.

jennifer said...

Also, NancyAZ -- just looked at your list. I've read 2 of them -- The Last Child, which I don't remember but called a good airplane book on Goodreads; and Case Histories, which was soooo fabulous but soooo sad. Read it when you have tissues nearby.

Gabrielle Gerhard said...

How is the list going? I saw you post a few other books including the last bookclub book "Warlight" on Good Reads. Any other additions?

I keep getting stuck on that Warmth of Other Suns book, I said I had read it in grad school (impossible due to how new it is). I have been trying to track down what I did read. May have to email an old fellow student from NYU.

jennifer said...

Hi Gabrielle! I have read one of these backlist titles so far -- Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. So I'm a book behind on this challenge if I'm going to get through all twelve. Thanks for the nudge about an update. Coming shortly!