My Tottering TBR: A New Life for Neglected Books

We all know what it’s like to sustain a TBR that gets bigger, then periodically smaller, then smaller, maybe a bit bigger, then smaller, and so on. What about the TBR that simply seems only to grow out of all proportion? You know, like when you leave the wonderful bookstore carrying a delightfully heavy bag filled with new titles, but have yet to finish reading so many at home that you already own? This type of TBR finds itself, well, more neglected than actually maintained, even though we keep our volumes dusted and arranged in an appealing manner and smell them on a reasonably regular basis. 

What about TBRs born on various docs or even lovely tablets, hanging around the house, found at a later date, maybe even [*grimace*] yeeeeeeears later? Would you say this is neglect? What if books were indeed steadily being read and discussed, but just not these? Is it possible to borrow a book from the library more than ten times but never read it, finally purchase the book and then find, five years later, it remains unread? (Might anyone guess how I came up with that particular scenario?) 

I suppose there are all sort of possibilities for how a pile might find itself left behind, its only company the other unfortunate books celebrated at purchase and then left alone when life gets too packed full of other obligations. In the case of the following titles, which I compiled in 2015 (I know, I know), most were simply overtaken by life, though I do remember well select titles. Food at Sea, for example, came home with me a number of times before I found it at a library book sale. However, time went by and, because I have a habit of shifting furniture, as well as by necessity storing and un-storing items, including books, this one may have fallen sad victim to whatever causes very visible objects to simply disappear. I had forgotten about it until I discovered this list, and even stopped typing to go look for it.

Some titles might still be patiently waiting on my shelf, while others are ones I’ve never actually owned, but saw spoken of somewhere and really wanted to read. I no longer remember how I came to know about others, such The Sleeping Dictionary, which utterly fell off my radar until I happened once more upon this list. Re-reading the blurb*, I decided it surely must stay with me. There are a few others I’d collected as I saw them reviewed, in the library, at the bookstore and wherever else the bread crumbs might have lead me, and I share them below. I’d still really love to read these, and hope you are getting into the groove of your neglected TBR ~


Food in History by Reay Tannahill (Accidental find while browsing a used book store)

“An enthralling world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights–like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, and how food has influenced population growth and urban expansion.”

Cinnamon is linked to the discovery of America? (I bet he answer is inside!)

The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey (My son brought it home for me from one of his library excursions)

“In 1930, a great ocean wave blots out a Bengali village, leaving only one survivor, a young girl. As a maidservant in a British boarding school, Pom is renamed Sarah and discovers her gift for languages. Her private dreams almost die when she arrives in Kharagpur and is recruited into a secretive, decadent world. Eventually, she lands in Calcutta, renames herself Kamala, and creates a new life rich in books and friends. But although success and even love seem within reach, she remains trapped by what she is . . . and is not. As India struggles to throw off imperial rule, Kamala uses her hard-won skills—for secrecy, languages, and reading the unspoken gestures of those around her—to fight for her country’s freedom and her own happiness.”

Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times by Simon Spalding (Discovered in library’s new non-fiction)

Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times traces the preservation, preparation, and consumption of food at sea, over a period of several thousand years, and in a variety of cultures. The book traces the development of cooking aboard in ancient and medieval times, through the development of seafaring traditions of storing and preparing food on the world’s seas and oceans.
Following a largely chronological format, Simon Spalding shows how the raw materials, cooking and eating equipments, and methods of preparation of seafarers have both reflected the shoreside practices of their cultures, and differed from them. The economies of whole countries have developed around foods that could survive long trips by sea, and new technologies have evolved to expand the available food choices at sea.

Changes in ship construction and propulsion have compelled changes in food at sea, and Spalding’s book explores these changes in cargo ships, passenger ships, warships, and other types over the centuries in fascinating depth of detail. Selected passages from songs and poems, quotes from seafarers famous and obscure, and new insights into culinary history all add spice to the tale.”

Galileo’s Telescope by Massimo Bucciantini, Michele Camerota and Franco Guidice and translated by Catherine Bolton (Scored when prowling library new non-fiction)

“Between 1608 and 1610 the canopy of the night sky was ripped open by an object created almost by accident: a cylinder with lenses at both ends. Galileo’s Telescope tells how this ingenious device evolved into a precision instrument that would transcend the limits of human vision and transform humanity’s view of its place in the cosmos.”

Introducing Infinity: A Graphic Guide by Brian Clegg & Oliver Pugh (Happened upon in the library’s physics stacks)

“A brand new graphic guide from Brian Clegg, author of the best-selling Inflight Science, Introducing Infinity will teach you all you need to know about this big idea, from mathematicians driven mad by transfinite numbers to the ancient Greeks who drowned the man that discovered an endless number.”

*All blurbs from Amazon unless otherwise indicated

My Tottering TBA: The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin – Rediscovering Discoveries

The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin

 An original history of man’s greatest adventure: his search to discover the world around him.  In the compendious history, Boorstin not only traces man’s insatiable need to know, but also the obstacles to discovery and the illusion that knowledge can also put in our way. Covering time, the earth and the seas, nature and society, he gathers and analyzes stories of the man’s profound quest to understand his world and the cosmos.

As readers saw in a previous post focusing on the new year’s reading challenge, I’ve got a list of 21 – to match the year – and one is actually a re-read: Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself. I first read it as a teenager stuck on an international flight, having been previously drawn to the work by what might be one of the greatest covers ever, showing The Flammarion Engraving.

One of my favorite sections—if not the favorite—was that which discussed how long-ago people perceived time and the methods they used to divide it up, the work covering calendars and their evolution as well as timepieces eventually taking shape as the watches we know today. But all those stories in between, of lives within which lived obsessions, disappointment and jealously-guarded secrets—these and the people who lived all of it were such a source of fascination for me I simply couldn’t put it down and have gone back to it time and again.

Still, there is a lot I’ve forgotten, which I have learned from many others reads is often because I wasn’t quite ready for all the information at the time I first took it in. Subsequently, I hear about a particular topic, not always recalling that I’d read about it in this or that book. Then, if I am lucky enough to be able to re-read a book I loved the first time, I might happen upon that idea again, marveling at how knowledge of it had been resting in my brain, waiting for that further expansion to breathe more life into it. This doesn’t mean the long-ago read was written poorly, just that sometimes information has to be shaped like clay to take more a substantive form in my mind, to be retained and utilized.

In the case of The Discoverers, it is what my teen son might call a big boy book—the descriptor itself a big boy one, used by teenagers these days to refer to something of noticeably larger or generous size—filled to the brim with an amazing body of knowledge that I am tremendously excited to be able to read again, looking forward to the moments when I hit upon things I might call now-new—not necessarily new, but fitting into that category of information described above, buried in the recesses of my mind and that I hadn’t really exercized understanding of.

I have only vague memories of the other sections—grave-robbing medieval medical students; adventurers charting the seas and the stars; so much spanning the geography of time, beckoning us to remember and to place ourselves somewhere within these maps and how we fit in and the links to all in our past that make our places work.

For Your Information

The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel J. Boorstin 

Published: January 1, 1983 by Random House | ISBN 0-394-40229-4*

Format: Hardcover | Pages: 684*

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*my copy

Top: World’s oldest Sundial, from Egypt’s Valley of the Kings (c. 1500 BC), PD-Art, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Bottom: The Flammarion Engraving – A traveller puts his head under the edge of the firmament in the original (1888) printing of the Flammarion wood engraving. PD-Art, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Click images for more details

Reading 2017: Reading Challenge 2017

As readers are aware from my last entry in this series, I was not entirely satisfied with my challenge experience for 2016. It seemed to focus solely on numbers and achieving more—more than one’s own from a previous year, certainly. But it’s also difficult to deny the creeping competition involving others, which in this context I’m not all that interested in, to be honest. I read 60 books last year, more than some others did. Bragging rights? Hardly! Many other readers gobbled up a whole lot more books than I did. OK, so?

So, I wasn’t planning to do a 2017 challenge because, quantity being the primary accomplishment, I was bored. Plus, I didn’t really want the stress. Then I came across one of my Goodreads group’s discussions, and saw a few options that intrigued, opening me up to the realization that my imagination was lacking. As mentioned in that previous Reading 2017 entry, their many options included a serious re-visiting of one’s To Be Read (TBR) list; step reading through different series; re-reads; exploring new authors and so on. I decided to take a little from a couple of ideas and tailor them to my own challenge, which became:

Explore three genres that are new or newish to you and read five books that have been on your TBR for more than one year.

In the interest of a truer exploration, I added a “three by three” element to the new-genres side of the challenge: that is to say, three of each new genre for a total of nine books. There’s that counting thing again, but the real aim is to look into the genre from at least a few different angles, each author having their own style, and stories being like children in a family, typically they are completely different to one another. I wanted to avoid any expectation that one story could represent an entire genre.

I purchased this book in 2012 and still have yet to read it. Will it make the TBR challenge in 2017?

The TBR addition wasn’t merely to add bulk: I really do have a boatload of reads I keep saying I am getting to. I recall once making a very intellectual stranger laugh when I commented within some casual group book talk that I was trying really hard to be “just about to start reading” a non-fiction work about the Peloponnesian War. I wasn’t that keen on his resultant mirth until he told me most people skip anything that reveals the difficulty they have getting started, but the ease with which they name drop. OK, that stirred me a bit. That, dear readers, was in 2012.

As of now I haven’t yet chosen my TBR reads, though my “new or newish” genres are sci-fi, true crime and graphic novels. Having previously read and reviewed one sci-fi tale might have given me the courage to move forward, because I loved it (and a review of its sequel is slated for next week)! I do admit I was tempted to make this upcoming one part of my three-by-three bracket, but slapped my wrist and told myself to be brave.

Graphic novels, too, I have a tad bit of experience with, though I’d wanted to expand my repertoire and read a few more than the kiddie ones I’d been doing. I liked them, sure, but had also heard that some classics had been transformed into this genre and that really put me on alert for something fantastic that could be.

The first in my true-crime reading spree. (Click image for review.)

Finally, true crime had been recommended to me and I made the leap, reading and reviewing the first of the three I’d resolved to review one from each genre in their own three-part series, the start of which can be found here. Mark Fuhrman’s Murder in Greenwich was so well written I decided to seek out another from his collection. Another recommendation led me to my final true crime, which rounded out that genre early in the year. I’ll write more about the entire bracket later in the Reading 2017 series.

So: nine new-genre reads and five long-time waiting ones. A number again, but after all the challenge does require you punch one in. I made mine fifteen for a nice, rounded figure, and reached it quite quickly—though not having met my real goal. I’ve upped it to twenty-five, though this too has been achieved, and am about to raise it again. It’s a good feeling to be able to dismiss what that number might be, knowing there is something more important within, and the links that lead me, like stepping stones, along a pathway of ideas as I pile yet ever more on top of my already tottering TBR.

A few picks from my TBR (Click to read more about selected titles; what I’m currently reading is linked in sidebar)

Stay tuned for more in “Reading 2017” and its three-part spinoff series, “New Genre Library.”


Reading 2017: Origins of the Challenge

As many of you already know, I was never a diehard reading-by-the-numbers reader. Although some time ago I began recording my books in a wonderfully thick, green memoranda volume, later switching to an online database, it never occurred to me to count. I loved gazing at all the marvelous book covers, reminiscing about the stories and worlds I’d passed through. It also didn’t hurt that I could keep track of which books I owned, favorites and those I wished to read.

Until recently, though, it never occurred to me to put a number to them, and I admit at first it did strike me as an I-read-more-than-others type of exercise. At the start of 2016, however, when I noticed the Goodreads Reading Challenge, it also piqued my interest, perhaps owing to the gap in between my green-book recording and the recent years’ entries in another online library. I also contemplated that it might be a way to expand my horizons or hone my discipline (though I confess this latter element remained a vague goal).

And so it began with an aim of 50 books.

2016 book 1 of 3
A selection of books read in 2016, not in chronological order.

For much of the year I was ahead of the game, which I could see because of course the Goodreads algorithm notes how much you should be reading each day or week to keep up with your chosen number, and whether you are behind, on target or ahead of the game. As we got closer, perhaps a month or two before the end of the year, I reached my goal and increased it to 60. Other than for numbers, I’m unsure why I did this because, while achieving a goal is said to be such a great thing, this one really did very little for me except perhaps draw me into a competitive mindset I didn’t actually value and one that created a bit of stress.

Now, mind you, I don’t dislike competition in of itself but, having now experienced this reading challenge, it became clearer why this kind of contest doesn’t do much for me. What can I say I achieved by reading 60 books in one year? Bragging rights? The awareness within myself that I could do it? Without begrudging anyone else their goals, I simply didn’t really care all that much—it didn’t make me a more thoughtful reader because I did it faster, nor did I gain any real end aim for it all. I decided in 2017 I wouldn’t bother.

2016 2 of 3
A number of my 2016 reads will extend into 2017 by way of author interviews, musings, other works by the same authors and so on. The book missing its cover is called Growing Up in the Dark Ages (by Brenda Ralph Lewis).

I also left most of the groups I belonged to because I couldn’t keep up with the notifications, most of which I wasn’t interested in, anyway. Let me qualify that: I didn’t have the time to be interested in them. What I did see were considered notes to each other in groups that, had I more time, I would follow up on. Because I didn’t (and likely won’t for the foreseeable future), they began to clutter my mind rather than enrich it, so I had to sweep them off my plate.

And then one day I saw something that caught my eye—I no longer recall if this came from a group that invited me, or one I’d not yet left, or by some other path—and I was immediately interested. Actually I saw many somethings and ended up choosing one, possibly even tailored or trimmed to suit my needs better. It was a group having an ongoing discussion about a reading challenge and, at least in my memory as I sit here recalling it, there were dozens of options, none of which I’d ever considered! They involved getting serious with one’s to be read (TBR) list, step reading (i.e. one book from one genre or series, two from the next, three from the next and so on up to 15), re-reads, and all manner of challenges that I felt really fed the mind, rather than needlessly raced it. Unfortunately for me, I tend to get bogged down by the way all these notifications and messages back and forth in threads is set up, so I never ended up really contributing to the discussion, though I was encouraged and influenced by it.

2016 3 of 3
Click image to see books listed in order read and then individual covers for more details about particular works.

And so it is I decided to have at it for 2017, though in a different manner in which I approached last year, and that I’ll write about in our next installment of the Reading 2017 series. But let it not be said I got absolutely nothing out of 2016 reads–that would be categorically untrue. Of course, some I liked better than others, or perhaps it is more accurate to say they dug themselves deeper into my reader’s heart. Most were indie, many of which I wrote reviews for and which were part of different series (one, “950: 1066 Remembered,” still ongoing). Some, too, were traditionally published. A great number of them led me in other directions or linked to pathways I’d not yet traveled, or hadn’t in quite some time. Still others brought me to places and figures I found seemed already to be etched in my heart and our further travels together began.

And all that is the real victory.


Click here for the first entry in our Reading 2017 series, where a fellow blogger and I talk about books and blogging. To see what I’m reading now (or at any given time), click here.