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 TBR: Focus on Food

Today is sort of relaxing even though I’ve been doing some editing—my own and someone else’s—perhaps because it’s sort of rainy, I’m kind of of sleepy and I didn’t eat at the desk while working. I also broke to go to the library and post office, where I saw several packages waiting for me to collect them.

As it turns out, I had six review books in those packages, though I didn’t open them until at home, which is quite a change for me. Usually I get into them as soon as possible, sometimes even at a table in the post office, or in the car. Today, however, I ran a couple of other quick errands, came home and set up my lunch, opening as I ate.

frenchieNow, according to Mireille Guiliano, if I recall my reading correctly, one should never do anything while eating except relax, talk and enjoy the company you are with. I don’t remember if she allows exceptions for opening packets of lovely books (though she does kindheartedly prohibit reading), but I did do this today with deliberation and pleasure, and even slowly (which she would approve, I feel sure).

And so this brings me to the train of thought that inspired what is before you now. Well, that and an earlier invitation I’d received to participate in a blog concerned primarily with frugality, the debut of which went straight for the food. Frugal Days, my kind of blog!

No matter where in the world you go, food is the glue that binds the people of various communities together, and checking out that food is something I like to do. I’m not a “foodie,” that is to say I don’t have any special training and my culinary knowledge has loads of gaps. However, I care enough about food to keep, for example, charts of fruits and what their benefits are, to try at home tasty dishes eaten out, and to get creative or even just a little clever with what I’ve got on hand. There’s a savory satisfaction to re-purposing leftovers or putting to good use ingredients I’d forgotten the reason for buying in the first place, or purchased and didn’t use very much. Or even just taking it all out and with care and deliberation, putting it all together.

[Cooking food image to be replaced]

I really enjoy cooking and consider a delicious meal prepared from scratch to be an act of love. Sometimes I see pictures of food and the elements—cast iron pan, rich mixture of ingredients, hearty satisfaction, wondrous smells, attractive colors—and it brings memories of feeling comfortable, at home, in an environment that soothes and wraps itself around you like a warm blanket on a bitterly cold day.

As it happens I’d recently made in the slow cooker a similar meal—chicken chili. Until recently I haven’t really loved beans a lot, though I kept trying to talk myself into it because they do bestow benefits. So I got together this dish and the joy that coursed through my system when tasting it can hardly be overemphasized. It took me a few days to stop talking about it.

I'll use this book to help transform myself into a fearless home cook (click image)
I’ll use this book to help transform myself into a fearless home cook (click image)

Unfortunately, I do have a tendency to buy loads of stuff and not really use it all to its full potential—or at least to my full ability, which I would like to further develop. To me, it is also a matter of respecting the ingredients enough not to be wasteful of them, to engage with the creation stage as much as when it is time to consume. Earlier I sat with my books and my food, each one having its role in my little process but also its own moment—that is to say my hands never held books and food simultaneously—as each received its due attention. Awarding ingredients their place in part means using them, and making that into sheer joy also leads to really fun and delicious meals that friends and family can taste the love in. Even the sight of it waiting in its serving dish, or in a beautiful cast iron pan creates a real sense of home and being a part of something special.

Now what does all this have to do with a tottering TBR, or any kind of TBR? Well, my patient ones, I even like to read about food and I’ve got several books lined up that had given me many writing ideas since at least the last two years, though I’ve not had the opportunity to follow through. Well now…ta da!

Not just recipes, this is a must-read book (click image)
Not just recipes, this is a must-read book (click image)

As some readers already know, I’m also in love with the Middle Ages, and to that end had in the past acquired Food and Feast In Medieval England as well as Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony as part of my quest to learn about all things medieval. Before I began blogging I’d fallen in love with one of the salads included within the pages of the first book, a dish that incorporated turnips, parsnips and beets, simple enough, with such other delectables as almonds, filberts, figs, dried apple rounds and dried honeyed pineapple.

I also once saw (and would love to get my hands on again) a book about spices that, much like the fruit chart mentioned above, laid out from where the different spices originated, their various health and taste benefits and how they interacted with each other, amongst other tidbits. I do actually have on my shelf Spice: The History of a Temptation, a gem I happened upon quite by accident at a popular local used book store. The crude oil of its day, wars were fought over this stuff, and one passage speaks of “The Debate of the Body and the Soul,” a poem narrated by the ghost of a rather vainglorious knight whose trappings in life included the “fragrant spices sweet to smell.” A phrase used by the author in the same passage–“spices meant nobility”–brings to bear our understanding that people traveled amazing distances and died to acquire what today sits casually, sometimes forgotten, in those small jars lined upon our kitchen racks.

Click image for book description
Click image for book description

By the same happy accident I also discovered Food in History, a work that brings us all the way to pre-history (to start) and musings about who and how it was found that meat roasted over a fire tastes pretty good. One chapter, “Food For the Traveller,” talks a bit of food at sea, a topic discussed at even greater length in Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine From Ancient to Modern Times. Having a bit of love for the sea myself, I was no less than ecstatic when I came upon this one at our library. “Telling the story of food on ships requires the telling of the story of the ships themselves,” the author introduces. He references the changing designs of seafaring vessels, which affected what and how sailors and other travelers ate. He promises a lot of surprises and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a fantabulous time making those discoveries, and am very eager to see what it is I take away from the experience.

spice food