The past (dearly missed) weekend involved hoarding four baby bookshelves, and thankfully they came cheap—each was roughly the price of a mass market paperback. They have been direly needed. Since the massive bookshelves reordering around the time the New Year rolled around, I’d realized I had no more space for new books. This really would have been a nice incentive for me to go read the books I already owned. And so, quite naturally, quite predictably: I spent January amassing an obscene number of books that, in any case, I had no recourse but to dump on the floor. Clever girl, me.
So, last weekend, I went cleaned up the Room of Requirement, fixed my shelving. I reacquainted myself with my books—which tends to happen when I purposefully go through jumbles of them—and I always like this immersion, though I’ve always favored books that I’ve already read. The plaintiveness re not having world enough and time to read all of them at leisure—that’s always a constant, sure, but it’s begun to chafe more so recently. Maybe it’s the reading of too many boring books lately? Maybe it’s the fear of readerly fatigue? So during this weekend’s quietly life-affirming chore, as I sorted through the books on the floor and looked at the books undisturbed on my shelves, I tried to remind myself why in hell I bought a particular volume—why it felt very urgent at the time to own a particular book. And I figured I should give them their due—and I should put in writing this reminding.
Here’s the first installment—because I expect there to be many—of The Annotated TBR, a wonderful idea I came across recently, via Pamela of Badass Romance. Here’s a selection of some of the books in my to-be-read list; here are the books that, when I first held them at the bookstore, I felt that I should read at the very soonest, read right that minute, possessed and squirreled away. Basically: Here are the books I’ve ignored for the longest time. Maybe it’s a way to make amends? Maybe it’s a way to push myself? Maybe it’s a way to revisit that initial need and that urgency. We’ll see.
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The more I think about it, the more I realize that 2013 was a particularly curious (and mostly in a good way) reading year for me: I read books beyond my usual genres. Sure, my usual genres have been suspect, since I’d been going through scads of reading fatigue then, too—but still. I read more detective fiction, a natural progression from Sherlock Holmes stories, methinks. And I read a lot of fantasy—I started and finished and cried over Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, I fell in love with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. It was on those experiences that I figured I should read more fantasy, and I planned on starting with the book that a lot of my friends—and a lot of the Internet—had been reading: The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. I actually started this in e-book format a few months ago, but since e-book aren’t real books, I went ahead and bought this one. Which has been moldering in my shelves with its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies. Well, then.
I’ve discovered that what I liked most about what little fantasy reading I’ve done: The books’ ability to fully absorb me. There’s an entirely different world within those pages, and that kind of drastic measure is what my brain needed the most when I was out of it. Lynch will offer that, too, I’m sure.
I bought Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann about three years ago? Was that when the Fully Booked branch open in Katipunan? Anyway, this book—still in its protective wrapping—has survived at least three book sales. I can’t seem to let it go, even if all I remember about my wanting this book is that I once really wanted this book. I don’t remember why, I don’t remember who was it that got me intrigued, I don’t even clearly remember what the book is about. But there it is, still in my shelves. Hefty and gleaming in plastic, and waiting waiting waiting.
I’ve fallen behind on my NYRB Classics reading. They’re arguably one of my favorite publishers—quite a lot of my favorite books come from them—and I’ll always remember fondly the fevered reading I did back in 2011. I want to revive that. I have a lot of NYRBs in my shelves, and I remain always on the search for more—and I need to start reading them again. In earnest.
The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg, is particularly memorable—it was when I planned to begin reading this that I was transplanted to my last happy, easygoing job to this exponentially more nerve-wracking one. Zweig’s novel, it almost seems to me, was part of a turning-point—to my life, to my reading. It’s taken a few years, sure, but I’m going to pick this up again. (I’ve only read one other Zweig, but I loved it—his Journey Into the Past, a beautiful, slim novel about loving and then-loving and memory.) I also hope he’ll mark a start into dedicated NYRB reading—that way, sure, I can seize on the excuse to acquire more of their books.
I’ve been knee-deep in the Batman universe; while I was acquiring the New 52 titles, I couldn’t get the Batwoman comic books out of my head. It promised complex, representative writing, as well as some of the most beautiful art I’ve ever seen. I’ve had minimal exposure to the work of J.H. Williams III, but even then they’ve always made me want for more. And Batwoman just looks amazing.
Curiously enough, it’s outrage that insists I read these books at the soonest. A year ago, it was announced that Williams and co-creator W. Haden Blackman would leave the Batwoman series because of some DC shenanigans: “We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.” And now I’m needier in my anger.
I apparently have four of Bill Bryson‘s books on my shelves. I read his At Home two years ago—when I moved into an apartment of my very own, and I spent the early days with that bright red book in my hidey-hole thirty-four storeys up in the air. I found this rather abused copy of A Short History of Nearly Everything at a Booksale a while back, and I thought such a smug find that I I couldn’t resist it despite its less-than-pristine condition. I’ve read one book of Bryson’s, and yet I keep amassing his other work—and A Short History promises what I loved about his writing that one time I experienced it: The ability to survey a vast body of knowledge and distill it, all the while retaining just how fascinating those facts are. Having access to the universe’s minutiae thrills me—and I’d hoped that Bryson would deliver a much-needed boost to my curiosity, my wonderment.
I’m pretty certain I hoard genres I love, especially since I’m picker with them. Comic books, yes, but also romance novels. There’s an entire baby bookshelf holding the romance novels I haven’t read yet, and I know I’m stalling. (So far this year, I’ve read only one romance novel—[oops, I've read two!]—that’s as fine an example of restraint as any, don’t you think?) I got A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant back in 2011, when it was first published—and, see, protective plastic’s still wrapped around it. A lot of people have talked about this book, have pretty much buried it under tons of praise. So. If you’re always on the look-out for complex, well-written romance novels, Sasha, don’t you think you should start reading them?
Back when I was nine or ten, my mother and I were killing time by the discount bin of a bookstore, and I found a copy of Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray—tiny and compact, hardbound, though the dust jacket was torn—and asked my mother for 50 bucks (roughly a dollar). I read this book over and over in my childhood; the dust jacket was eventually thrown to the winds, the onionskin paper inevitably frayed at the edges. But I’ve never revisited that book, the way I do Jane Eyre. So I picked up this annotated, uncensored edition, but never really cracked it open. But it’s about damned time—I’m going to be reuniting with Dorian Gray at the soonest, for the Classics Club.
I was thinking the other day, what with recent developments at work, that I could finally start reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. [Because have you seen how unwieldy this book is? It's an absolute nightmare for already-tricky Manila commute. But. This edition, though, is surprisingly light for its bulk; there is some publishing voodoo going on, I'm certain.] What was I waiting for? A few reminders: I was fevered for this book, months and months before it was actually released—at the very least, it felt like a vindication of my ardor for her first novel, the beautifully bewildering The Rehearsal. I was excited that it existed, excited to know that Catton completely changed her game for this novel—and excited for her Booker win, if only because that meant local bookstores were sure to carry this. I got this a couple of months ago, and I bought the book even though it meant not eating right for a week. Why must I make needless sacrifices? It’s time to read this book.