Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Too Long on the TBR List

By Scott Adlerberg

With the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting recently concluded, I've come to realize that there's something of a similarity between how the Hall operates and how I operate with the books on my To Be Read list.  With the Hall, each voting cycle, a group of writers names no more than 10 eligible players whom they consider worthy of Hall of Fame honors.  A player must be named on at least 75% of the voters' ballots to be enshrined.  Players are removed from the ballot if they are named on fewer than 5% of the ballots or have been on the ballot 10 times without being elected.

It's this last sentence in particular that has relevance to my TBR list.

The pattern goes like this:

However I heard about it, I get all excited about a book and buy it.  Amazon and the Advanced Book Exchange are absolute dangers in this regard because they so easily allow you to give in to impulse buying.  No more hearing about a book and then needing to go out and find it in a store. Initial enthusiasm leads to a quick buy leads to the book being delivered to your house leads......oh no, now I have another book to add to the pile and I'll get around to it soon, except that, well, though I still want to read the book, another book has caught my attention in the meantime and I'm reading that. Or: that momentary desire I had to read a science fiction novel has given way in the few days it took for the book to be delivered to a desire to read the new crime novel by my friend so and so. Oh yes, and after that, I have a book to read for a review I promised and then a book to read for a blurb I promised. Weeks pass.  What was the book I ordered again? I'm sure it's great but I'm not quite in the mood for it now.

Months go by, years, and the book I once was dying to read falls off the TBR list completely, its chances of making it to my Hall of Read Books, so to speak, remote to nil.

Except of course I still have that book taking up space in my house.

Well, this year, all that is going to change.  This year I'm going to assign myself specific books I've been meaning to read for years.  Because in truth I want to read these books. I really do. I feel enthusiasm when I imagine starting a TBR list veteran. I open the book, thumb through it....and put it down for something else. Why I do this, I'm not quite sure; it's as if the idea of reading this or that book has become a pleasure unto itself, superseding the actual reading of the book.  Silly, maybe, but there it is.

So my plan: I'll keep it simple.  I'll pick six of the books on the TBR Veterans list and set myself the task of reading them this year.  That's a doable plan - one of the veterans every two months - and it leaves plenty of time to read other stuff.

The six I've chosen as my 2016 homework?

Senselessness by Horacio Moya

Over the holiday break, I spent a couple days down in El Salvador so this is as good a time as any to finally pick up this short novel by El Salvador's premier novelist. To paraphase the Amazon description: "A boozing, sex-obsessed writer finds himself employed by the Catholic Church (an institution he loathes) to proofread a 1,100 page report on the army's massacre and torture of thousands of indigenous villagers a decade earlier, including the testimonies of the survivors."  One or two friends whose reading judgment I find impeccable have recommended this to me. 

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

I saw Tarkovsky's Stalker and recently read two other novels by the great Russian brother pair. No more need be said.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Pushkin Vertigo re-issued this last year, and I've never read anything about it that makes it sound less than superb.  Plus, I haven't read a good Japanese mystery or crime novel in way too long.

Chasm by Dorothea Tanning

A surrealist novel by the great painter. It's described as a kind of Gothic that takes place in the American southwest. This has been on my radar longer than any other book here.

The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor by Cameron McCabe

Everything I've read about this 1937 crime novel talks about how innovative it is, so it's about time I see for myself.

Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard

I've read a lot of Ballard but nothing for several years now and I'm feeling the need to get back to one of my absolute favorites.  All well-timed since, this year, the movie adaptation of High Rise will be coming out. In any event, Cocaine Nights is among the last novels he wrote and it's something of a mystery story apparently, so I can't wait.

I will check back with reports on these six books after I read each one.

TBR list veterans - this is the year you finally start to get the attention you deserve!


Dana King said...

I have much the same problem. I've kept a "Books REad" list for years. I just modified it to include books to be read as well. This keeps me from allowing authors I like from falling through the cracks altogether as I get fascinated by the next shiny thing. (I once went 6 years without reading a Robert Crais or Carl Hiaasen. That can't happen.)

Right now I have about 20 books back up on my TBR shelf and I'm aking myself not buy anything new until those are read. We'll see how well that goes.

scott adlerberg said...

Good luck!

John Shepphird said...

Interesing list Scott --

Over Christmas, a friend gave me Charles Portis' TRUE GRIT. I'm not necessarily a reader of westerns, but I had no idea how great and hilarious the novel is. Such a masterpiece. It's no wonder why twice this book was made into a movie. Now I have to read more Charles Portis.

scott adlerberg said...

John, I can highly highly recommended Portis' THE DOG OF THE SOUTH. A comic masterpiece.