Review: I’d Rather Be Reading

I'd Rather Be Reading

I’d Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.

Summary: A collection of essays on the reading life with its unique joys and dilemmas, by a booklover, for booklovers.

I’d Rather Be Reading is a delightful set of essays for those of us who really love books and reading. If nothing else, it tells us that we are not alone. Anne Bogel is the host of the blog Modern Mrs Darcy (A Jane Austen reference) and the “What Should I Read Next” podcast. Not only does she write and speak on reading, she is a reader, one of our tribe. She writes, “We are readers. Books are an essential part of our lives and of our life stories. For us, reading isn’t just a hobby or a pastime; its a lifestyle.” This essay collection explores the nature of reading and the quirky aspects of our reading lives that made me wonder, “have you been to my house?”

She opens with an essay on confessing your literary sins, from those unpaid library fines to the fact that you just can’t get excited about the book everyone else absolutely loves. She describes how books sometimes find us, particularly when they come up in several different, unrelated conversations in the same week. She reminds us of the books that first hooked us on stories and the books that have made us cry. In a variation of the idea that we are all the ages we have ever been, she reflects on the different readers she has been from the child who encountered A Wrinkle in Time to the twenty-something reading spiritual memoirs to the young mother rediscovering children’s books. She writes of fulfilling a fantasy of many of us booklovers to be a bookseller, at least for a day. She talks about her “inner circle” bookshelf of books by family (or those who are like family) and friends.

There are the darker sides of our love of books–the deadly sin of being “book bossy” in our recommendations of books to others (“you really should read this”). There is the quest to organize our shelves and what to do when we run out of them. She has a whole chapter on bookworm problems and the recurring thought of having more books than time and life to read them.

Even these are handled with self-deprecatory humor. The overall tone of the book is joyful–a celebration of what books and reading mean in the lives of those who are “book people.” She delights, as have others of us, in finding a “book twin.” She talks of her discovery of the delights of the “acknowledgements” pages in books (something I discovered only later in life). She concludes with an essay on reading journals and the preference to “rather be reading.”

This book came along about the time I was reading Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well (my review). Both books are celebrations of the reading life, and how our books shape who we are. Prior’s book focuses literary fiction and how our reading might help us reflect on and live into different qualities of virtue. Anne Bogel’s book is a good complement. It is lighter in tone, and helps us hopeless bibliophiles laugh at ourselves, find words for why we love books so much, and know there are many others in the tribe.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

My Favorite “Bookish” Things

20171129_185514A certain TV personality is famous for the show she does each holiday season sharing her “favorite things.” For me the phrase brings back memories of Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp singing about “these are a few of my favorite thing.” That got me thinking about a few of my favorite “bookish” things.

  1. Attractive and durable bookmarks. My favorite is the genuine leather bookmark pictured above that a friend brought back from a trip to Italy. I use it to mark my place in the Bible I use for my daily devotional time. I’ve had it for years and it shows no sign of wear–unlike most of my bookmarks!
  2. Well-made books to put them in. It is always a delight to read a book with a fine paper, readable print, and elegant binding.
  3. Elegant shelves lining one or more walls of a library room. Mostly, this is a dream for me, and as I’ve written recently, I think I’ve reached the stage in life where the prescription is not more shelves but less books! The closest I get to this most of the time is the East Reading Room in Thompson Library at The Ohio State University.
  4. Attractive dust jackets or book covers. This adds to the aesthetic of reading. I would also include the spine of the book, which may stare out at me for years on my shelves.
  5. Bookish t-shirts. I treasure my “so many books, so little time” shirt, which might be one of my life mottoes. I could probably use a few more.
  6. Book weights. Something I wouldn’t spend money on but I’ve thought to be extremely useful for books that won’t lay flat on their own, particularly while I am writing reviews or copying out a quote. Usually I end up using another book or a stapler on my desk.
  7. Chairs that are still comfortable after you’ve been sitting for half an hour reading. I have a few in my house. My son’s middle school football coach once said, “the mind can’t absorb more than the seat can endure.” Every bibliophile totally understands.
  8. Knowledgeable booksellers who actually seem interested in talking with patrons. Given that many bibliophiles are introverts it’s easy to see how you can get one without the other. When you find a bookseller like this, take good care of them!
  9. Bookish decor. We just cleaned and re-hung our bookshelf wall-hanging in our living room. One of the “shelves” from that wall-hanging serves as the header for this blog.
  10. A helpful review or a book recommendation that helps you find a book you really like. Hopefully, you’ve found a few of these here (and none that were unhelpful). I even enjoy books on books and perusing book lists!

With the holidays approaching, some of these might spark some gift ideas for the bookish person in your life (although booksellers are hard to gift wrap!). And if you are that bookish person (and why else would you read this?), I’d love to know some of your favorite bookish things.

 

Curious Bibliophiles

Karel_Rélink_Der_Bibliophile_1902

Karel Rélink [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bibliophiles are curious people. That may be taken in two ways and both are true. They are “curious” in the sense of being kind of odd or unusual. Books are part of their home decorating scheme. When packing for a trip, the question of “what books will I take?” may be more important than what clothes will I need. A great day is when I discover a new bookstore, or find a book I’ve always wanted to read. We are “curious” people, to be sure.

We are also curious people in that we read to understand our world. At least one of the reasons for at least some of our book choices begins with, “I always wanted to learn about…” or “I came across a book about…and I decided that might be fascinating to read.” Sometimes our curiosity is driven by real life concerns, such as when I read an in depth account of the battle of Gettysburg before visiting the battlefield. And sometimes, our curiosity seems just sparked by a whim.

Curiosity has taken me all kinds of places, from exploring the doctrine of the Trinity to the everyday phenomenon of rain. It has led me into the delightful world of Wendell Berry’s Port William Society, and through a friend’s suggestion, into the fantasy world of Middle Earth, a place I’ve visited again and again in every decade of my life. It’s taken me into darker places as well–the specter of eviction, the “problem from hell” of genocide and the evil of human trafficking.

This brings me to a question I’ve been thinking about lately. Ought we have any boundaries on our curiosity? I’m not talking about boundaries others set, which I would consider an improper, and in the American system, unconstitutional intrusion upon our liberties. The question was provoked for me when I read Bookstore, and particularly passages in which the store owner spoke of her fascination with reading about inter-species sex and about cannibalism. I think my first response was “yuck” and my second to wonder “why ever would you be interest in that?” Then it occurred to me that, much as I find these things repugnant, the truth is that they are part of the human experience, and it might not be utterly bonkers that someone would research these things and others understand them. As far as I know, this person never participated in such things and curiosity to understand phenomena like these no more necessarily leads to doing them than reading about human trafficking inclines me to traffic human beings.

I do wonder if there might be two situations in which curiosity might exceed the bounds of health. One is where that about which we are curious leads to an insatiable quest to know more and more, to the neglect of duties in real life. Do you know those who have developed an unhealthy absorption with conspiracy theories, who are constantly reading about them, talking about them, worrying about them, and in the process, alienating their friends?

The other is when curiosity leads to our minds and emotions going to places we know that for us are not healthy or even tempt us to act out in ways that are morally wrong. And here, two people may be very different. Descriptions of violence, even when not gratuitous, or erotic scenes may affect two people very differently. I had to set down the work of one science fiction writer, fascinating as I found his writing, because there was something in his recurring portrayals of violence that was not good for me. Nor do I think exploring the world of the occult, with the view of searching out the things God has hidden to be a healthy exercise of curiosity.

That said, for the most part, I think curiosity a good thing–that we were given minds of such capacity to explore every nook and cranny of God’s good world. Books are a wonderfully convenient way to do that. I don’t just read pages, but embark on a journey of discovery, whether it is of astrophysics or the composition of a Mozart. I think curiosity is one of the reasons for why we read. Curious bibliophiles, indeed!

What do you think?

Am I A Book Hoarder?

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The books we sold yesterday

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the answer is “no.”

The technical term is bibliomania, which Wikipedia defines as follows:

Bibliomania can be a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder which involves the collecting or even hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged.

My enjoyment of books may mean I have bookish friends, but my wife has no plans to leave me. I’ve not squandered the family savings nor is it impossible to walk through the rooms of my house because of my books. I can part with books, lending or gifting them (often the same thing!) to friends, or giving them to charity or selling them, as I did yesterday with a box of books. The one danger to my health is I, like many, have to guard against a sedentary life, but I do not sacrifice food, other activity or sleep for books. I don’t buy books simply for how they look. Nor do I commit crimes to obtain books (bibliokleptomania).

The general term for a person like me is a bibliophile. What I wonder is if we need another term for those who might love books a bit more than might be good, yet in ways that fall short of hoarding. I propose the term bibliohyperphilia or “the excessive love of books.” Here might be some of the signs of bibliohyperphilia (or BHP since that is a mouthful):

  • Very simply, we acquire more books than we read.
  • Our TBR stacks keep growing, perhaps into different parts of our living space.
  • We have more books than shelves to hold them.
  • We find other bibliohyperphiliacs and enable each other.
  • Cruising bookstores becomes a primary form of recreation.
  • We are tempted to read in a more driven, frantic way because of our unread books.
  • We have no hope in our lifetime of reading our unread books let alone re-reading books we’ve read and kept.
  • We do book blogs which serve as a form of justification for our reading habits! Look at how we are helping others connect with good literature!

I find that among others of similar ilk, we laugh about and pass off this behavior as our own brand of eccentricity. But to see this list in print, each item of which I have to confess as being true of me, sends up red flags that tells me I have a problem. But what is that, exactly? I think for me, the real issue can be a love for accumulating knowledge, particularly about dimensions of life I cannot directly experience. If I see a book on something that has piqued my interest, or a work of fiction I’ve heard to be good, and it can be had at an inexpensive price, I want to snap it up, even if I can’t read it for the next five years–I want to be able to sometime!

As a person of faith, to admit an inordinate love of books can be troubling. It’s not just about being a little bit weird. It raises a question for me about whether I love and trust books more than God. Convictionally, I would say an absolute “no!” But in practice…? Hmm, let’s change the subject!

Actually, let’s not. One thing worse than confessing our sins is ignoring them or being blind to them. One thing about bringing this inordinate love to God is to be reminded that not only does God forgive, God will love me back! That’s something no book can do. And that knowledge thing? A few years ago, it was pointed out to me that Colossians 2:3 says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. No library, let alone an individual book can make that promise.

I know that not all who read this buy the God part, but for me this seems part of getting any inordinate love back in order. There are so many things, from sex to food and drink, to clothing and books that are good in themselves, but can be taken to excess. The reading of books can help me grow in love for God and God’s world, when part of a life ordered by and offered wholeheartedly to God.

For those looking for practicalities, my reflections have led me to these steps:

  • To freely lend or give books to those who ask or when the subject matter would be helpful–even if I haven’t read the book.
  • To either dispose of a book I’ve read or if I shelve it, make space by getting rid of another book.
  • I’ve begun going through unread books stored away and getting rid of those I know I won’t read but could benefit others. At first this was hard but I find myself getting more ruthless over time, and more realistic about saying “I’ll never read that.” It also helps me be more selective about the books I acquire.
  • I’ve thought of adding more bookshelves but perhaps the decision is simply less books, only those I really need for reference or those special books that I have come back to and re-read. We have enough shelf space for the books I really “need.”
  • My wife has pointed out that we don’t want our son and daughter-in-law to be looking around our home and thinking, “are we going to have to get rid of all that?” That has motivated a good amount of getting rid of books and lots of other stuff.
  • To not enable others or rationalize my own BHP.

I’ve written pretty honestly about my own BHP in the hopes that it will be helpful to others. I’d invite my friends to help me as well. Remind me to slow down and savor books. Encourage me to pursue other forms of recreation besides cruising bookstores. Relieve me of my books as long as this doesn’t feed a BHP problem of your own! And for those who share my faith, please keep encouraging me in the pursuit of the love and wisdom that may be found in God alone.

 

Books on Books

20160601_204859One of the ways you know you are a bibliophile is when your reading includes books on books, or bookish subjects! Margaret Aldrich posted a great list recently on BookRiot of 100 Must-Read Books about BooksWhat particularly impressed me about this list were the number of fiction books that “give books a starring role.” About the only one on the list I had read was Fahrenheit 451, and that in my adolescence! One things bibliophiles always like is finding a whole new treasure trove of books. In this list I think I found one.

The non-fiction list was equally delightful. Roughly, it divided into two kinds of books. One was lists of great books, or the experience of reading them. We have for example, 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die by Peter Boxall. Books like these are a great shortcut to discovering interesting books you’ve not heard of. I discovered there is even a website based on the book where you can go through and check off all the books on the list that you’ve read and compare your reading with that of others.

The other part of the list are books having to do with various aspects of our passion for reading. One that looked intriguing was At Home With Books: How Booklovers Live With and Care for Their Libraries.  Personally, I am more on the end of being interested in what is between the covers, but there are many people who collect and lovingly display books and a number of books on this list discussed this aspect of our love of books. One that I reviewed not too long ago is about The Man Who Loved Books Too Much describing the search for and character of a book thief, and why he loved stealing and collecting books. There was one book that I thought aptly described my own life as a bibliophile: The Polysyllabic Spree: A Hilarious and True Account of One Man’s Struggle with the Monthly Tide of the Books He’s Bought and the Books He’s Been Meaning to Read by Nick Hornby. The title nails it for me, particularly if you add in the books that show up in my mailbox or on my doorstep from publishers to be reviewed.

I was surprised not to find David Denby’s Great Books, describing his decision at forty-eight to enroll in Columbia’s two core courses on the Great Books. In a similar vein, the list did not include the account of the birth of the “Great Books” phenomenon, A Great Idea at the Time (reviewed here). I suspect that this idea has fallen out of favor with the rejection of the idea of a canon of literature and the interest in more diverse books and voices. The World Between Two Covers sounded like a great way to read one’s way around the world.

I also have a couple on my TBR stacks (pictured above) that I did not find here that look interesting. One is Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co, by Lynne Tillman. This is the story of a classic New York City bookstore from its opening to its closing. So many bookstores have a lifecycle like this, and leave behind a legion of fans who loved hanging around them. The other is BiblioTECH: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, by John Palfrey. I’m intrigued with the whole question of how libraries are defining their mission with the advent of so many new technologies.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Margaret Aldrich’s post is that it part of a whole other genre of writing about books, of which BookRiot and Bob on Books are a part. There are a whole group of us who are not writing books about books per se’, but in the serialized format of blogging are doing what amounts to the same thing. Perhaps we are trying to recover, in the words of another title on Aldrich’s list, The Lost Art of Readingperhaps because we believe the assertion of the subtitle, that “books matter in a distracted time.”

Books I Wish I Had Read Sooner

Recently I wrote a post titled “Books I Read Too Soon“. Today I was wondering whether there were some books that I wish I had read sooner. So I perused through the books that I’ve reviewed over the past few years and came up with a list of some I wish I had come across or read earlier in life. It is not that I did not benefit from these books when I did read them. Rather, I just wish I had enjoyed the benefit of discovering their riches sooner. In some cases, this would just not have been possible because they were written in the last few years. What I would say is, if you agree with my reasoning about each book and you are younger than I am, don’t wait until your fifties or sixties to read them!

GoblinCurdieThe Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald. I even wrote in my review of the former of these two that I wondered why I hadn’t read this sooner. Both are stories that work on multiple levels that only get richer with each reading. Of The Princess and the Goblin, G.K. Chesterton said it “made a difference to my whole existence.”

QuietQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talkingby Susan Cain. I think both my wife and I wish this book had been written years sooner. Introverts often feel they should try to be extroverts, which it seems society prefers. Susan Cain’s book, without being whiny, suggests that introverts bring a unique gift to the world. Wish I’d read this one in high school!

CanticleA Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr. This was a sci-fi book I passed up reading as a kid because I thought “Canticle” seemed too highbrow. Read it a few years ago for the first time and was struck with both the memory of living under a nuclear cloud in the sixties, and the fascinating project of this book of preserving learning in a post-nuclear holocaust world.

Critical journeyThe Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faithby Janet O Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich. I wish I had understood in my thirties that faith was a journey rather than a static reality. It took hitting the wall that Hagberg and Guelich talk about in this book during mid-life to wonder if there are greater depths to the life of faith than what I was taught as a young adult.

Daring GreatlyDaring Greatly by Brene’ Brown.  This is a book I wish I had read as a young leader. Brene’ Brown talks about the strength to be found in vulnerability, not something most men do well, including me. Her explorations of the way we avoid vulnerability through perfectionism and through numbing and through thinking we cannot allow ourselves joy described the strategies I’ve too often used to “maintain control” and not risk.

Exclusion & EmbraceExclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf. I think we (and I include myself here) spend too much time dividing the world into “us” and “them” and I spent too many years thinking in these terms. Yet the real question is how do we embrace the “other” who really is different in important ways from us. Volf’s “drama of embrace”  and the practice of “double vision” gave me new ways of thinking about how we love across our differences and have genuine and deep encounters with the “other”.

to change the worldTo Change the World by James Davison Hunter. I’ve used “world-changing” rhetoric in my work during most of my life but my ideas of what real culture change looked like were naive and simplistic. Hunter challenges both our superficial engagements with the culture and the naive hopes we often have put in politics to change the world and calls for the “long obedience” of “faithful presence” in society.

I think I could have profited by reading each of these books earlier in life. Nevertheless, I’m glad I read them when I did because each of these were works of worth that have served me well since. I was also struck when I perused my reviews of how many books I did not necessarily wish I had read sooner. They seemed fine for this time and this group of books was in the vast majority. I’m really not overly troubled by this. But if the books I’ve mentioned encourage someone twenty or thirty or more years younger than I to read them and that person profits from the reading–then that will be a good thing.

Are there books you wish you had read sooner?

The Reader’s Paradox

The world beyond my books (c)2015, Robert C Trube

The world beyond my books (c)2015, Robert C Trube

I’ve been thinking this morning about the reader’s paradox.

If you are a bibliophile, you know what I’m talking about. You might even know what I’m talking about if you are a friend of a bibliophile.

Paradoxes. These are things that seem in conflict and yet both are true. I am convinced there are a number of these in life. Is light a wave or a particle? Are we one or many? I’m also convinced that many of us don’t like to live in the tension of paradoxes. We prefer to resolve them by focusing on one of the two elements in the paradox and exclude the other. This makes life simpler. But smaller.

So what is the reader’s paradox? It is that books often are windows onto the world that give us delight and insight and sometimes diversion. And yet life and the world are far more than the books we read and there are realities beyond the page (or tablet) to which books only point but are no substitute for our experience of the real thing. Like the love of God or neighbor. The pursuit of a just and peaceful world. The making or enjoying of actual music or art. The growing of a fruitful and beautiful garden.

The danger comes when we cease to live in the tension of this paradox, which is a tension I face. I love books and reading and encouraging others to connect with the best of what is thought and written. So I read, and write about reading and books, and interact with others interested in writing and books. There is a sense in which I feel I am employing a gift, however humble in doing this.

What I realize is that I also live in need of the gifts of the world beyond my bibliophile world. I think we actually need each other’s gifts. Reading and reflecting on what I read sometimes leads to insights into problems and challenges those in my world are face. But only as I am in loving relationship can any of this be life-giving. And love takes a goodly amount of time with one’s nose out of a book!

Equally, books can sometimes distort my view of the world and those real-life encounters where my book-inspired ideas come up short serve as a good reality check. That, too, is a life-giving gift!

My faith seems to embrace some of the biggest paradoxes of all. I believe in a God who is One and Three. I confess as Lord one who is fully God and fully human. This makes me wonder if in fact the other paradoxes I see in my world and my own life stem from this. It is clear that my faith would be simpler, but smaller without these paradoxes, just as would my life. And it makes me wonder if living in wonder, faith and obedience with these great paradoxes somehow is connected to living in the tension of the lesser ones, like the reader’s paradox.

What do you think? Have you experienced the reader’s paradox? Do you think there is a paradoxical aspect to life and how do you account for this?

Books for the Bibliophile in Your Life

People in my family have this dilemma. Given how many books I have and read, it is hard for them to know what to buy me short of asking.

That may be one way of finding out. If you don’t want to give yourself away the trick is being indirect, and probably far enough away from the time you are giving the gift that they might not remember. Asking them about what they’ve been reading or what kinds of things they like to read might give you some clues of genres to look in. Family members of the person may be of help if they know the person’s habits and don’t mind that they are a bibliophile!

If you have access, you can always try snooping around their homes and seeing what books they have. The challenge here, of course, is remembering what they have, and more importantly, recognizing what they don’t have, and all of this without being obvious. If you are a fellow bibliophile, they will totally get your book-snooping. Chances are they do the same at your house!

Once you have an idea of genre or genres in which you are looking, get some help. A good bookseller is a great resource at this point. In many cases, what you probably want are new titles that your friend may not yet have acquired, particularly if they like to wait to pick them up in second hand shops, a habit of many of us bibliophiles. They can point you to recent releases, particularly ones that have gotten a lot of notice or good reviews. This probably won’t be as cheap as Amazon, but this kind of service is worth extra, particularly if it is offered by an indie bookseller!

There are some indie booksellers that focus on particular genres. Friends who want to buy me theological books, for example, might not get much help at the local B & N. But if you contacted Hearts & Minds Books (probably via the web) I bet you can find something (and the bookseller sort of knows me!). There are stores around for everything from mysteries to feminist literature. You may have to check online–they may not be in your hometown.

There is some help online as well. If you have purchased on Amazon, you know you can create a wish list. Did you know you can also look up the wish lists of your friends? Of course, this presumes that they have created a wish list and it is current and that their name is not really common, like “John Smith”. To do this, just go to your wish list and you will see a box in the upper right hand corner that says, “Find Someone’s Wish List.”

You might also consider social media. If the person is a Facebook friend, their profile may show what books they have read. If they are on Goodreads (and you are) you can see what books they’ve read by genres and their favorite genres (or shelves). Some users also have a “wishlist” shelf. You can also look at their top-rated books and click on the book which takes you to the Goodreads page for that book and look in the upper right corner at the “Readers Also Enjoyed” recommendations. While Goodreads provides recommendations for books you might like based on what you’ve read, they don’t yet do this for your friends (I’ve suggested it!).

My son wins the award for the best book gift. For my birthday, he bought me A Heritage to Share: A Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio. He knew I was blogging on Youngstown because I grew up there and like all things history. He went to Acorn Bookshop here in town and found this book. Little did he know that I had been in there and had seriously considered buying it, had leafed through it, and put it on my mental “sometime” list but passed up the temptation.

How have you figured out what books to buy your bibliophile friends?

 

Cold Weather — The Book Lover’s Friend

In our patch of the world, the weather forecasts for the next week are downright chilly and our weather man even used the dreaded “polar vortex” phrase last night. It occurred to me that for the book lover, this is not such a bad thing:

1. I can feel good about not doing yard work when sleet is flying! No one else is out there either.

2. For the same reason, it is a good time to prowl your favorite book store. The ones that serve hot coffee or tea or cocoa are especially nice.

3. Or maybe it’s time to check out the latest additions to your local library. Ours even has a fireplace!

4. It’s a great time to catch up on those reviews and book lists for new ideas of books you’d like to read.

5. If you feel the need to do something that is considered household work, this is a great time to cull your own personal library and donate or sell those books.

6. Christmas is not too far off and it can be fun to think about the books you might give a literary friend!

7. If you log your books on Goodreads, LibraryThing, or a similar site, it is a great time to catch up on these entries and let your friends know what you’ve been reading.

8. Don’t forget, as Winston Churchill famously counselled, to “fondle” your books! Look through your shelves, open up something you’ve wanted to read some day and skim through some sections just to get a good sense of why you might still want to read that book, or not!

9. Of course, this is a great chance to catch up on past posts from Bob on Books (had to get a promo in somewhere!). A great place to start are my “The Month in Reviews”  posts which I do at the beginning of each month of books I reviewed the previous month.

10. Last of course, and what we’ve all been waiting for, is that this is the chance to snuggle up in that comfortable chair, with comfy shoes or slippers, a warm drink, and that book that will transport us into book lover bliss!

So when everyone is bemoaning the arrival of chilly weather or, as people in my city do, go bezonkers at the sight of a snow flake, you can quietly smile to yourself and think of the good book just waiting for you!

TBR

One of my TBR piles

One of my TBR piles

That stands for “To Be Read.”  One of the things that defines a bibliophile are the stacks of physical and/or e-books waiting “To Be Read.” You know how it goes. You are browsing in the bookstore or a library sale or online and you find a great bargain on a book you’ve wanted to read or you thought sounded interesting in a review you read. You can’t read it immediately so it goes on the stack–or one of the stacks.

If you are a bibliophile, you have probably struggled with this. On the one hand, there is the anticipation of reading the books, which sometimes can be as good as the actual reading! Just to look at the spines, the blurbs on the back of the book or the table of content can whet your appetite (and remind you why you bought that book in the first place).

On the other hand, this can verge on, or cross over the boundary to hoarding, particularly if it seems the piles are taking over your house! The challenge becomes even greater if you start getting sent books to review. I realized recently that I probably don’t have enough life left to read all the unread books I have, either in stacks in my house or on my Kindle. That for me seems to define the line where collecting is at least straying into the territory of hoarding–hard as it is to admit!

There is one TBR pile I probably won’t get rid of. It is by the bed and is what I’d call my “staging area.” When I finish a book, this is where I go for the next book to read. I usually filter books from other piles here as the pile shrinks. Right now the pile has some Jeff Shaara novels, a three volume Teddy Roosevelt biography, and some more “theological” books by Os Guinness, Jurgen Moltmann and an autobiography of Therese of Liseaux.  (Previews of future reviews!)

It’s the other piles that need to go. Truthfully, they all make the house look more cluttered. Either I do something or my family will stage an intervention! My first goal would be to clear the one in my spare bedroom by the end of the year (either by moving books into the stack by the bed or getting rid of them).

That confronts a reality I need to deal with. If the books have been on a TBR pile more than a couple years, I need to ask whether I’m really going to read them. This summer, I was able to give away two good size boxes of such books. Yes, I grieved, but I also remember what C.S. Lewis said about our libraries in heaven being comprised of the books we gave away on earth.

There is also the question of where books go after I’ve read them. Once again, it is increasingly apparent that unless it is a book I may re-read or reference, it probably needs to go. I’ve made a rule that I need to weed out a couple books for anything I shelve.

Finally, I can’t shrink these piles if I add to them! Perhaps a goal at this point is to not acquire a new book without reading five others and getting rid of at least that many. That means at most that I can acquire 24 books a year or 2 a month.

Here’s a big goal: have only the TBR pile by the bed by the end of next year. Looking for a good deal on books or even some free ones? Look for a big book purge next summer. It’s time to bring those TBR stacks in line with reality!