My Next Reading Experiment: Project TBR

I have a book problem: I have a lot of them. I have a healthy amount of bookcases (one tall 5 shelf plus top, four 3 shelf plus tops), all of them filled, some with multiple rows. Yes, at least one bookcase (a Wayfair bookcase that was trouble when I got it and hasn’t improved any) is buckling under the weight, the joints pulling apart because apparently books and gravity exert their own forces that defy the laws of physics and incur penalties in this reality.

No, wait, I realize this isn’t a problem like “I think my leg is going to fall off, it’s kinda purple and green on one side” or “payday is a week away and my cat needs a liver transplant by Tuesday.” But I do have quite a few books, which in itself isn’t so bad, excepting I haven’t read all of them. I’m not even sure if I’ve read half the books I own. I think I have. Maybe?

I didn’t mean to get myself in this position. Sometimes, especially with ebooks, it’s because I spy a book I want to read on sale. I know I’m going to read it eventually, so I go ahead and buy it when it’s down to a buck or two. Other times, I find myself being a completist and buying the rest of a series I enjoy so that I can just continue reading [side bar: this habit has bitten me badly a few times, and saved me others. Not all book series continue as good as they start.]. There’s a third case, but I’d rather not go there. Let’s just say it ends with me and books. Not helping is learning that if I wait to buy a book, it might not be available any more. Too many of the books I enjoy go out of print, making copies of them harder and harder to find (and more and more expensive, begging the question of whether it’s worth having the physical copy).

Which leads me to my next reading experiment: Project TBR (To Be Read) (my last one was the Penguin Summer, which is still ongoing, never mind the actual season outside). I’ve got it in my mind that I want to tackle this mountain of TBR I’ve accumulated. It’s a rather large pile of books, both physical and virtual. Enough books, in fact, that I think I could have something to read every day without gaps.

The first part of my attack plan is to read two books at once (normal). One book will be from my “classics to read” list, the other a book from my mountain. If a new book comes to my attention, I will put it in a list I’m maintaining, with the idea that at the end of my experiment I will go through the list, re-evaluate what I’ve marked, and make a batch of purchases.

Obstacles? Oh, there’s plenty. The biggest is that I tend to read by mood. It hardly matters if I have a complete book case of unread epic fantasy (I might) if I’m in the mood for something a little more modern and horrific, or if I’m really ready to get a good space opera on. In fact, it is mood that is largely to blame for my TBR being the way it is.

In order to combat that mood issue, I am going to let myself get books from the library (“let myself.” Hah. Hold your mockery for now, please.). Although library books don’t entirely fall under the TBR moniker, they also don’t increase the clutter of books that is my life. I also can’t say no books that are gifted to me at the holidays, can I?

How long will I be trying this? I gave that question a lot of thought, and have decided to start with a three month trial, beginning September 1st (yes, days ago as I write this) and ending December 1st. If I haven’t completely abandoned the experiment and am still able, I will extend another three months to March 1st. At that point my birthday is only a few weeks away, and no amount of self inflicted control will be able to stay me from wanting to get a few books to celebrate.

And yes, I have the TBR to support this attempt for more than six months if I am good about it, have no fear. What about you? Have you ever tried to tackle your TBR? I’m of course assuming that if you’ve read this far, you’re either judging me horribly (fair), or you too suffer from an addiction to good reads.

Yesterday Was The Last Day Of A Long Summer

Today is the first day back to school for two of our children. It’s significant for two reasons:

  1. One of our children is starting their Freshman year of High School while the other is beginning their Senior year
  2. It is the first time they have been back to school in person in 18 months

Internally, I’m a bit emotional. After a year and a half, I got used to working with them in the house. Sure, they’re typical teens, spending a lot of time in their room with the door shut, but they were there. I’d see them during breaks, meals, random bits of day. Maybe the older of the two would make a bag of popcorn for an afternoon snack and casually drop off a bowl at my desk. And then there’s our oldest, who is moving to college in a few weeks.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, because if the middle child is a Senior today, that means we have less than a year before they moved off to college too. How did they go from being the little people that you made giggle until their faces turned red, rolling in sheets decorated with flowers and fairies, to young adults preparing to leave for school? I’m barely reconciled with the oldest leaving to even begin contemplating the next kid.

And I feel guilty, because there’s a small part of me looking forward to the freedom and silence of having no children at home. But I think I want that freedom for just a few hours at a time. I’m not ready to be the father of children that have left home. This is the part of parenthood that you know is coming from day one, but when it gets here is a mad rush of chaos that happens too fast.

So yesterday was our last day of summer with all three guaranteed to be in the house. It was a quiet day. We spent some time spent together, just being us. It was nice.

A Penguin Summer

This past summer, I tried to have a Summer of Penguin. Here’s how it went, how it failed, and I how I didn’t understand what I was taking on. A follow up post will cover the iteration it inspired by accident.

When I was a teen (and, honestly, well into my 20’s), I worked for a public library system back in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area. I was fifteen when I started working in our tiny branch in North Stafford after school and weekends and quickly adapted to thinking of the library staff as an extension of my own family. One of the librarians in particular, LVK, offered me this advice once:

This summer, for every fun book you read, read one classic.


I, of course, scoffed. What did LVK know about me or my reading? I continued on my way, devouring a half dozen books a week, most of which I couldn’t recall the titles of now. But that advice haunted me, stuck with me, became a lamp post goal.

Until this summer when I tried it. I had grand plans, mind you – I average a week or so per book. Sometimes more if it’s a “thicker” read, sometimes less if I’m really into it. Surely I could knock off a half dozen books over the course of a summer?

With this in mind and the arrogant confidence of my teen years slipping through after all these decades, I bought a dozen Penguin Classics in hardback. They’re all books that are on the poster my oldest gave me, all books I want to read. How could this be a problem?

As it turns out, I can’t read them anywhere near as fast as I thought I could. Of the dozen or so books I set out with, I’ve read three so far. I’m still trying, and even that three feels like an accomplishment. The first book was Lord Jim, then Moby Dick followed (eventually) by The Picture of Dorian Gray. I really loved the Picture of Dorian Gray, which was a much easier read with a lot less whale bits. I read other books at the same time, and was often amused to see that most of them bore the Penguin imprint. I wish that had been on purpose.

Why Penguin? This goes back to college, when they were the publisher of choice for most of my Classics and Philosophy texts. I tend to enjoy/prefer their translators and formats.

Would I consider this a success? I think so. I finished this summer (school starts here on Wednesday) having read more from the classical canon than when I started the summer, and I do feel wiser for it. Will I continue? The pile of clothbound Penguin classics I bought in anticipation says yes.

But this also inspired me to try another reading experiment, the topic of a future blog post. Until then, keep reading!