Sep 30, 2012

The Sunday Salon – Distilling the TBR Pile

The Sunday

Hello everyone! I’m writing this from my new location, where I’m finally reasonably settled and ready to resume regular blogging. I’ve really missed you all, and I’ve missed having more time to read. But I did manage to finish a couple of books this month despite the upheaval of the move, so I’ll have new reviews ready for you before too long.

I’ve moved enough times over the past few years that none of the challenges moving poses for book lovers are exactly new to me. Still, I’m starting to really long for the day when I’ll have my library all in one place again, and even more so for the day when I’ll have the certainty that it’s going to stay in one place for the foreseeable future. At the moment, the vast majority of my book collection is still at my parents’ (thankfully they’re very generous about providing storage space), and even when I know for sure I’ve come to a place where I’m going to settle it’s going to take ages to transport it all. There’s something a bit unsettling about not knowing when or how or where I’m going to be reunited with the books I’ve spend my whole life surrounding myself with.

But not all is dire. Thankfully I was able to ship a box of books to myself for a not unreasonable amount of money, and so I do have a half-filled bookshelf at my new place already. You can have a look below:

As usual, you can click the images to enlarge them. Also, I have no idea how I always manage to take pictures that make it look as though I have bizarrely crooked bookshelves. Lastly, some of those books may have been acquired over the past few weeks *cough*. Namely the Eva Ibbotson box set, which was a welcome-to-our-new-house gift from M :D

Deciding which books were going in the box had the potential to be a completely paralysing exercise, so I dealt with it by forcing myself not to think about it too much. I gave myself a couple of hours to decide and then I never looked back. Whatever felt right, whatever I felt I needed, went into the box; everything else stayed behind for now. This forced me to reduce my TBR pile to books I’m really excited to pick up over the next few months, which certain has its advantages:

The top shelf mostly has children’s and YA literature that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time.

The non-fiction and general fiction shelf. I’m so looking forward to finally getting to these books.

The adult speculative fiction section.

Another thing I did, much to my own surprise, was bring books I value as comforting physical objects: signed copies, special editions, books that have a personal meaning to me for some reason or other. I didn’t expect to feel the need to make room in the box for things I’m not necessary going to reread anytime soon, but having these books with me felt important to recreating my sense of home. Over here I have access to a well-stocked public library system, and between that, dangerous new book-lending neighbours, charity shops, and my e-reader, I know I’ll have no shortage of reading material. So having books whose presence makes me feel safe seemed more important than bringing yet more unread volumes.

More on that edition of Dodger very soon :D

On a related note, this move made me appreciate my e-reader more than ever. When I was deciding what would go in the box, I knew I could leave out any classics with qualms because of places like Project Gutenberg. A wealth of classic literature will always be within easy reach, and I value that every bit as much as the comforting familiarity of physical books. I’m so glad to live in a time when I can enjoy both.

Being forced to distil my TBR shelf just might have been what I needed to recover my sense of reading as a personal project. Back in 2010, and even last year to a lesser extent, I was very aware of how the books I read were in conversation with each other; of how everything I added to my mental literary map became a resource that I brought to future readings; of how the direction I picked as a reader affected the kind of reader I became. This year I’ve been drifting a little bit, but hopefully diving into the books I felt were important enough to haul with me across borders will give me a new focus.


  1. The idea of distilling my shelves completely freaks me out, but I can totally see how freeing it would be!

  2. I just got up and saw your tweet--you said you weren't going to posting anything too exciting. Ana, you lied to me! I love this post!!! Pictures of your bookcase...a look at the books that bring you comfort for their mere presence...a glimpse into you thoughts about your reading future and what you'd like it to be--Ana, this is pure gold! You obviously don't understand the meaning of exciting my dear!

    So glad to hear you're getting settled in! I shall email you soon--I only have like a hundred zillion questions to ask you. Yeah, lucky you. Ha!

  3. Your new bookshelf looks lovely :)

  4. Paring down can be oddly comforting. I could use some motivation myself to minimize my shelves; they are rather unwieldy right now. On a side note, I adore your chicks.

  5. First I thought the having to choose a few books would be daunting and remain so, but it does sound a good thing and I can't help but think that for all it might be planned your reading will be richer for it. Your parents sound awesome!

  6. I'm so glad you're settling into your new place and are ready to jump back into blogging! I've missed you. :)

    I love what you say as books as physically comforting items; I have one or two books like that, but I do have small things like action figures that are little totems for me—my LEGO Jem, for instance.

    Also: I have Ha'penny on my desk right now, and I have to get through other books before I can get to it. So good, Ana, it's so good.

  7. Glad to hear the move went well and you're settling in. Your book shelves look lovely and I can understand just how hard parting with books can be. My shelves are due for another purge and I can't bring myself to part with anything just yet. You're lucky that you have somewhere to store them when you can't have all your books with you though. :)

  8. The older I get the easier it is to purge both read and un-read books. I wonder why that is so. When in my 20's I had rooms full of shelves and books. Each time I moved I packed and un-packed them. All the while buying more and more. Now, with every tiny re-model I purge a bunch of books. Where I used to have shelves crammed full, I now have enough room to really see all my antique bookends.

  9. I'm glad you're settled in and have been able to get some of your beloved books there with you.

  10. I've been fortunate enough to only have to leave behind my books at my parents' a few times, but each time it's painful. The ereader is definitely a comfort though; I remember hauling my hardcover Jane Austen anthology to university when I first went and I'm glad I've not had to worry about bringing my classics with me for a couple of years now.

    I am very glad you're settling in, and happy to see you return to this virtual space of yours as well!

  11. WELCOME BACK! I have missed you. I see that Farthing *is* on your shelf, just as you promised :-)

    Let's do a buddy read soon! Even if it is not Farthing.

  12. Congrats on being settled! I love the little birds you have on your shelf, they're so cute.

  13. I was surprised at how easily distilled my shelves were when I was moving to New York. I only brought, I think, two boxes of books, which is almost nothing of course! And it was shockingly easy. My priorities became very clear very quickly.

    Glad you're settling into the new place! I've been in New York for two years and still haven't managed to get all my books together -- New York apartments are small! They're so small!

  14. I had the same experience when I moved out from my parents' place - I figured moving would be easy because I was only taking what was in my bedroom. I neglected to factor in my enormous book collection!

    Carrying those books in was definitely the hardest part! But I **love** reorganizing my bookshelves.

  15. I hope you let me know where you are so I can mail you a postcard. :D

  16. Hi you! So glad you've gotten this move behind you. I don't envy you the job of paring down. I think I could do it if I had to though. It would have to be an impulsive, emotional gut instinct. And yes, there are many advantages of e-readers and this is a big one. No boxes necessary!

  17. Moving and the whole books and storage issue are an incentive for me to try to cull my collection significantly. I've actually done quite a bit this year, but I still need to do more, sigh.

    So happy you are all moved in with your comforting books all around you. :)

  18. Glad to hear the move went well and you're back in action! =)

    I loathe moving, but occasionally need to be forced to pare down my books and other stuff which is so often overrunning my existence, which moving is always good for. When I moved to Boston, I could only take a box or two of my huge collection (the rest of which stayed home with my parents), and it was both painful and kind of a relief not having a threatening mountain of TBR books looming over me all of the time.

    Yes, I think maybe I need to move soon. The overflowing shelves demand it! ;-)

  19. I completely understand the need to have beloved books around, even if you won't reread them straight off. When I moved overseas, I brought five of my favourite books along just because I didn't want to be without them.

    And ooh, you have such exciting books in your TBR! Megan Whalen Turner, Jo Walton, Eva Ibbotson, Connie Willis, Scott Lynch... I'm getting a bit drooly just looking at them.

  20. I love your to-read shelves. All the ones I recognize have me wanting to shout, oh, read that first!

  21. I'm so glad you're settling in and posting again. I've missed you!

    I can't wait to have all my books in one place again. I'm fairly certain I've been purchasing multiple copies of books without realizing it, but beyond that practical need, I have this incredibly impractical desire to be surrounded by all the books ever.

    Anyway, enjoy settling in and I'm glad you have some of your favorite books by your side to make it feel more like home.

  22. I'm glad you are settled in and back with us. Your shelves are lovely and I've added a couple from your non-fiction shelf to my TBR list!

  23. Your shelves look so neat and tidy, I'm feeling the urge to go and straighten my shelves! :-) I understand the need to have your comfort books close to you. I'm the same way. Even if I have a few on my nightstand when things are tough, I feel better.

  24. Very nice bookshelves! Some of my books are in storage and I miss them. :(

  25. It makes total sense to me that you brought comfort books. I did that all through college, when I was moving around to lots of different places. The right books are a big part of what makes a place feel like home to me.

    Best of luck continuing to settle into your new place!

  26. I'm glad to hear the move went okay, and you'll managed to bring some prized books with you. I would love to have that Eva Ibbotson collection! Having a closer look at it I think the only one I've read in it is The Secret of Platform 13. Look forward to seeing what you think of them.

  27. I've missed you, Ana! I'm glad things are going fairly smoothly and you're getting settled.

    I loved reading about how you chose which books were most worthy of keeping. I'm thinking about distilling my shelves, for different reasons, and I've been thinking about how to do this. Such an emotional decision! I will definitely keep signed copies, books passed down to me by my mother, and certain old favorites.

  28. My daughter did the same thing with the most-beloved books she needed to have around her when she went off to college. In fact, I think she has our copy of MWT's The Thief which is a really good book I think you will like.

  29. Welcome back! So glad you are moved and getting settled in. It is amazing how comforting the physical presence of certain books can be, isn't it? I have to ask you about your rainbow birds. Did you make them? They are so cute!

  30. I'm wondering if I'm missing the time when you mentioned your new place. Where are you now? :) Glad to read you're settling down alright.

  31. Marg: It was in a way, but I'm VERY glad I didn't have to give up any books for good!

    Debi: I guess definitions of exciting are subjective :P

    Alessandra: Thank you!

    Trisha: Aren't they cute? They were a gift from Debi above :D

    Charlie: Yep, they've been very generous about storing all my stuff for quite a few years now!

    Clare: Aw, thank you! And I shall read Ha'penny very soon.

    Amy: Yes, I feel very lucky! It would be horrible to have to give up my collection permanently.

    C.B. James: Hopefully in a few year's time I'll star feeling that way too :P

    Kathy: Thank you! Looking at the familiar spines has been a great comfort.

    Meghan: E-readers definitely make things a lot easier! And thank you :)

    Aarti: I've missed you too! We should definitely read the Jo Walton books soon; I can hear them calling me from the shelf :P

    Cass: Yes, aren't they? Debi crocheted them for me :D

    Jenny: Sigh, I know all about tiny apartments :P Hopefully one day I'll live somewhere with room for All The Books.

    AnimeJune: Yes, the reorganisation part is tons of fun :D

    Care: Aww, you're the best! Expect an e-mail very soon :D

  32. Sandy: Yes, exactly - that was the only way I could make it happen. If I thought about it too much I'd empty the box and start over at least ten times.

    Amy: Good luck! It's so hard, isn't it?

    Megan: Thank you :D "Moving! for the shelves!" sounds like it should be some sort of campaign :P

    Memory: It's good to know other people have done this too! And I want to read all those books RIGHT NOW. Which means I should probably get started :P

    LibraryHungry: It's good to know I picked widely ;)

    Lu: Aww, I've missed you too :D I worry about the multiple copies thing too, but I keep my LT catalogue fairly up to date and I guess that helps.

    Gavin: Many of them do sound exactly like your sort of thing. Fingers crossed that we both enjoy them!

    Vasilly: Unfortunately the tidiness probably won't last all that long ;)

    Tasha: Sigh, I know the feeling :(

    Cheryl: Thank you! And I'm not surprised to hear this is a common habit among bookworms.

    Jessica: The Secret of Platform 13 is probably the one I'll start with. I've been meaning to read it for ages!

    Stephanie: Aw, I've really missed everyone too. It's good to be back :) I feel lucky that I didn't have to cull my collection permanently... THAT I can't imagine doing. Best of luck to you!

    Jeanne: Yes, I've been meaning to diving into that series all year. I'll get to it very soon!

    Stefanie: Thank you! About the birds, I wish - all my attempts to learn to crochet have been a spectacular failure :P They were a gift from fellow blogger Debi who's just incredibly talented. She's also made me a Cthulhu :D

    Mee: I'm back in the UK, so hopefully I'll see you around at bookish events? :D

  33. The thought of moving books and picking which ones to keep is daunting. So glad you're settled again.

  34. Beth F: It really is. I hope I don't have to move again for at least a couple of years. And thank you!

  35. I agree! No matter what, we need our blanket books, our security, those that make us feel good and surround us with beautiful feelings. Good to see you settled with your lovely books there, Ana. :)

  36. You're there! You've arrived! and starting to settle - I love seeing that the books out and on the shelf are among the first things done with you too, they are with me. That's how I know I've arrived somewhere.

    I had as much fun looking at the titles on your shelves that you want to read or give you comfort. You have a copy of Rossettis in Wonderland! I have only found it on Book Depository, it's not over here in Canada. And the Connie Willis, Jo Walton, very good, - have to say you will enjoy Name of the Star, which I read earlier this year and really loved. I have to review it still, I'm very slow this year. Some wonderful choices there. I like how you chose them too, just picking what felt right to pick.

    I'm so happy you are there, I was thinking about you for the past couple of weeks. I love the new book set to welcome you home, too!! I hope you and M have a wonderful years/life there, Ana.

  37. Your books are so neat and tidy! My bookshelf looks like an overrun used book shop. Books are 2 deep and sideways and behind picture frames. I need to whittle down the TBR a little and donate!

  38. *sigh* I remember these days... They were the early days of Lorrie and I... My bookshelves DO NOT look like this any more... And I still don't have my books all here... The not reading this year is kicking my butt. I read and then if I want to keep it goes to my mother's storage... Not reading means the shelves are overflowing and nothing is going to my mother's! Enjoy it while it lasts. :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.