Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How Does This Happen?

Organization is important to me, even when it’s only in my mind. This makes my book situation particularly vexing. I put all of the books on writing on one shelf, which means that I’ve got books crammed on top of the books in the shelf, so they can all fit.

Only fiction and memoir get shelved in the two bookshelves in my office. Non-fiction (with the exception of books on craft) gets relegated to either the bookshelves in the living room or it goes with the art books in Scott’s studio. Short story collections and essays are on top of an armoire in the bedroom between two bookends. This includes the entire collected works of Chekov. Most of these volumes technically belong on the “To be Read” category also, but I’ve segregated them because I do sometimes grab a volume and read one story.

The “To be Read” pile causes me problems. I’ve alternated between shelving the books where they belong – which would be alphabetically, by author – and pulling them out and leaving them in haphazard piles because I’m afraid I’ll lose track of them. Now there are so many that even outside the shelves, they need their own system of organization. Choosing which book to read next is typically a highly impulsive decision. It depends on how much energy I have, what I’ve read last and what time it is when I’m ready to turn to page one.

I’ve organized the books I have not yet read in several different stacks, according to loose categories and I’ve decided to show them to you and ask for your recommendations for what I absolutely must read next in each category.

Let’s start with what I’m about to read next. I just finished a book today and I’ve decided to read Atonement, by Ian McEwan now. I loved On Chesil Beach and Kristen highly recommends Atonement. To seal the deal, Matthew from my Monday night workshop said that Atonement was one of the two novels he’s read that he felt led to an inevitable ending that he was not necessarily expecting. In case you were wondering (as I was) what the second book was, it’s Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell, and yes, I just ordered it too.

Next, is my stack of books written by people I “know”. A Nail Through the Heart, by Timothy Hallinan is standing face out because it’s the book I finished at lunch today. Tim is the author of a number of books and he’s also a blogger. You can check him out here. More on this excellent book in a future post.

This grouping is comprised of all the signed first edition books I’ve received this year from the Odyssey Books signed first edition club. Amy at The Writers Group previously recommended Free Food for Millionaires and Timothy Hallinan just gave Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs five stars in a recent blog post.

This is a mix of titles that I chose either because I read a review that intrigued me, or because someone I trust made a recommendation. I’m especially interested in input on these.

These are books I bought because I like the author and I’d like to read more of him or her.

Last, by by no means least, I have the titans. The long, hard tomes that I'd like to read for one reason or another. I suspect I'll save and tackle these big guys for vacations or in case I end up in a body cast and incapacitated for months on end. I'm very interested in hearing from anyone who has read any of these books. I can see this picture doesn't show the titles well, so they're: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, The Recognitions by William Gaddis, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, All four Rabbit Novels by John Updike and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

So, I'd love to hear your thoughts -- pros and cons -- about the collection I've accumulated in this overwhelming stack of recycled trees.

What's up next on your TBR stack?


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Hey Lisa-

Okay, I'm not going to exactly follow your request, but I highly recommend BEL CANTO and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. I've read both and loved them. I also would recommend LAY OF THE LAND--I haven't read it, but I have read the first two books in the "trilogy" and I think Richard Ford is marvelous.

So, for what it's worth . . .

Maddy said...

I'm not really in a position to advise as it looks as if I'm as guilty as you are in the hoarding department.
best wishes

This is my calling card or link"Whittereronautism"until blogger comments get themselves sorted out.

leatherdykeuk said...

Not a rec but a suggestion.

File them on the shelves correctly but with a postal tag hanging from the spine. That way you can see your 'to be read' books and even number their priority.

Yogamum said...

I loved Atonement, Bel Canto, The History of Love. Loved Suite Francaise. The Air We Breathe is good but not as good as some of Andrea Barrett's other stuff. Cool narrative technique, though.

Wasn't impressed with The Emigrants. Can't stand Philip Roth or Pynchon. Would like to say I've read Proust, but I haven't.

kristen said...

History of Love, Bel Canto and Saturday (I'm a McEwan fan, as you know). Loved them all.

Here's a suggestion. Don't buy any more books. Keep a list somewhere of what you would buy if you had finished this daunting TBR pile.

Next up for me? Hmmmm. Good question. Maybe Crossing to Safety or Suite Francaise...

Ello said...

Holy crap! Your TBR is much worse than mine!!! And I thought I was bad.

Here are my recommendations of what you have to read in your pile:

Lottery (it's such a fast read!)
Free Food for Millionaires

good luck!

Anonymous said...

You have your work cut out. I have cut down my reading since i started writing. Emphasis: I haven't stopped, just slowed down.
And you have a lot of Hard covers. I think I'm in love with your library all ready.
Reality / Usman.

Lisa said...

Judy, Duly noted and since I know we share a love of Wallace Stegner, I rely on your picks. Thanks!

Maddy, Aha. Another hoarder. Well at least it makes me feel like I'm not alone :) I still haven't figured out the comments issue you and Julie mentioned (?) I can link back to all the people who leave comments with no trouble -- what are you seeing?

Rachel, You are brilliant! I've missed you -- and now I suspect you must be a hyper-organiser too!

Kristi, You are the ultimate reading resource for me. Recommendations noted, and I really want to try the Proust one of these days. I'm not sure I'll ever seriously tackle the Pynchon though. I did read the last book Gaddis wrote, called Agape Agape and I kind of dug it so I'd like to try The Recognitions eventually too. Everybody missed you Monday. Hang in.

Kristen, That's two for History (someone from The Writers Group originally recommended it), two for Bel Canto and I'm sure I'll want to read Saturday too. I keep telling myself I won't buy any more books and yet, I keep doing it! I figure I don't buy much else anymore, but I'm about to look for a 12-step program :) I loved Crossing to Safety and if you read Suite Francais you'll have to tell me.

Ello, I'll definitely find time for Lottery. I'm saving it to read after I read one that hurts my head since everyone keeps telling me it's very quick. I'm on Atonement and I thought I remembered you saying you'd read Finn. Good. And you're the 2nd vote for Free Food for Millionaires. See? I'm prioritizing already. All I need are those tags now.

Usman, Sadly, I'm a little in love with my library too :)

Julie said...

Hi - Husband has recently read Atonement and enjoyed it enough to want to see the film released here - though he didn't get round to it.

The comments frame prevents opening the blog profile out completely (or the blog) - it's held within the confines of the small frame; makes it difficult to work out the other blogger addresses. If you deselect
this style of comment box they are much easier to access; and the original post can still be seen as well, of course (tho' not photos).

I read Proust's Recherche in a gap year before Uni when I was working my way through key works of the major European writers - erring on the introverted side of the spectrum. You may find the books an acquired taste, depending on your familiarity with the style.

When I revisit books I read from that period, I'm often surprised how differently I react to them now - feel like there's a suggestion for a blog post in there somewhere!

PS - Spent time touring Denver and Colo Springs. Love the art you have. Do you have IKEA for bookcases over there?

Julie said...

PPS - Memory kicking in. I recently posted a short review of 'Proust was a Neuroscientist' - Jonah Lehrer Amazon; looks at aspects of consciousness (and includes Woolf's Stream of consciousness technique) if it's of passing interest.

Stuck-in-a-book (blog) did a thesis on Woolf and these refs are in his widgets. SIAB works in the Bodleian in Oxford your heart out re books...fascinating blog if you've not seen it. Build an extension...?

Therese said...

You already have lots of good guidance for your good books...

I haven't read many of these, but will chime in on recommending BEL CANTO. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is a book that captivates and disturbs in equal measure--not a recommendation, exactly, because in many ways it was a head-scratcher and when I finished it, I was impressed but at the same time was not likely to hand off the book to anyone and say "You MUST read this!"

I've heard wonderful things about THE HISTORY OF LOVE and FINN.

Next for me is ATONEMENT. Just read WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and found it very entertaining.

The Writers' Group said...

Lisa, I'm reading Atonement now and was up half the night trying to understand how Ian knew me as a child. That first chapter is breathtaking.

Loved Bel Canto, Three Junes, The Stand, and can't wait to read Run, Bridge of Sighs, and Brief Wondrous Life. I love your TBR pile and wish we could trade books.


kristen said...

Just want to chime in on the comment box for Julie. It's true that the little comment box doesn't allow you to click around and find addresses/blogs, but if you click on the title of the post itself (w/o opening up comments, you will be led to a full-size of the post and the comments on a single page and from there you can click and jump around wherever you like.

Lisa. Seriously. Stop buying books. They will be there, in the bookstore waiting for you when you are ready!!! A 12-step program may not be enough to help with this addiction!!!

Sustenance Scout said...

LOL, Kristen's comment cracked me up. I think we all need a 12-step program for this addiction, or at least a VERY good speed-reading course. Between your post and these wonderful comments I've got a LOT of additions for my TBR list. And I'm totally intrigued by the Odyssey Books mention but that sounds like big trouble!

My two cents: Read Lottery when you want to get a quick fun read in; it's a gem. I've read many Junot Diaz short stories and expect his novel to be well worth reading. I tried the Updike Rabbit novels and had to give up; I really didn't care about Rabbit or what happened to him, sorry to say. The rest of your collection makes me swoon! Time for a good Denver snowstorm, isn't it?? :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, that's a tough question. I have two shelves that are specifically dedicated to books that I am pretty sure I will like or that I feel I need to read. Other to be read books are in stacks in various places on my floors, separated in general by genre but not in any other kind of order.

As for suggestions on what to read next, "What Angels Fear" by CS Harris is great. "On Moral Fiction" sounds pretty interesting. I don't have any particular comments on anything else, but isn't it good to have a bunch of potentially good books to read? I may have to put up a picture like this myself.

btw, I'm thrilled to see one of my books in there. Thank you very much for posting that.

Mardougrrl said...

Wow! Your TBR list is awe-inspiring. I think I would have to put all of the books out of sight and start over. ;)

Am I the only person who disliked BEL CANTO? I might need to revisit that one--it seems like such a favorite.

You know how I feel about the BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR was *wonderful*.

The HISTORY OF LOVE has lush beautiful writing, but the end of the story left me saying "huh?" It just...stops.

FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES was interesting. She was striving for a Dickens' feel, and I think some of the characters get drawn with too broad a brush.

I also loved ON CHESIL BEACH and I remember loving ATONEMENT when I read it a few years ago. SATURDAY is on my life now.

And thanks to you *I* found a new book to read-the Empanada Brotherhood...oh no! And I have wanted to read ON BEAUTY for a while now. And THE RECOGNITIONS.

I need to stop now.

(But I can't let you go without asking you...any new craft books on your list? I am always searching for that one book that makes it all make sense. Yes, I know...)

Larramie said...

The "tag" idea is absolutely brilliant, simple yet efficient! And it sounds as if many of us are into Atonement. ;) Btw, think the movie opens nationwide tomorrow.

Julie said...

KRISTEN - Thanks. I thought there had to be something obvious - have found blogger fairly user friendly but there are a one or areas where they could give a few pointers for newcomers!
(Feed burning instructions being another of 'em....)

...If anyone wants to check where the state of the art has got to in terms of page turning online books,
I've just been browsing the Lindisfarne Gospels care of the British Library.
Comes with audio and magnifying glass. Need a good modem connection and pluggins. Hint of things to come?

Patti said...

i feel a little tingly and if i have finished looking at book porn. not that i know that's how one feels after looking at regular porn, just a guess...seriously.

i am jealous of your stacks...sigh.

Carleen Brice said...

Read ON BEAUTY, ASAP. One of my favorites! LOTTERY is a really quick read-like overnight. I'm reading Junot Diaz now and if you read it we could discuss. :)

Carleen Brice said...

I loved BEL CANTO too! I forgot. Sorry.

Lisa said...

Julie, I really want to give the Proust a try, but I know I'll need to save him for a vacation. I don't even want to try squeezing him in during the couple of hours at night that I'm usually limited to. The post sounds fascinating -- I'll have to find it and take a look. No IKEA in Colorado at all yet, although rumor has it we'll have one in 2009/10. The closest one is in Phoenix.

Therese, The way you've described
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN reminds me of the way I feel about THE ROAD. I read it, I admired the writing, but I don't think I could ever say to someone, "you must read this" because it was so dark. More good data points on the reading list. I'll bet ATONEMENT sees a big surge in sales this month :)

Amy, I'm a huge THE STAND fan too. It's one I haven't read in a long time so I wonder if it will have the same impact on me the next time I read it. I just started ATONEMENT last night and I can't wait to get back to it. You know when I lived in New England I used to swap books with my Dad all the time, but I just don't have anybody close by here that I do that with. I'd trade with you!

Kristen, I saw your comment and literally two minutes later the doorbell rang and the Amazon delivery was there. BLACK SWAN GREEN arrived, but after this -- no more, really, I mean it!

Karen, You are more than welcome to borrow anything I have! I mean it. The Odyssey Books signed first edition club is one I signed up for with a small independent bookstore in Massachusetts. I LOVE the way they run it. Every month they choose a book, the author does the signing, they put a card inside the book that says where and when it was signed, they put that plastic protective stuff over the book, wrap it in brown paper and box it up. I usually get an email telling me what the selection is, but I trust them. They seem to always pick pretty good stuff. Seriously, come borrow books anytime. I've got PLENTY. Good thoughts on the books -- I read one of the Rabbit books once and for some reason I kind of liked it. We'll see if I still do one of these days.

Charles, Well of course I have one of your books! It's the one out of the stack from authors "I know" that I'll read next, since I figure I know you best of the authors in the stack. I do want to read Candy's too though. I'm alternating them between these other books from people I don't know. By the way, I tried to email you at the address from your web site, but I have a feeling it didn't make it. Is that address correct?

Monica, I don't think you are the only one who didn't like BEL CANTO. I've been hoping Moonrat would come by because I think she may be the other person who said she didn't and I'm pretty sure she also didn't like HISTORY OF LOVE either. I'm thinking BRIEF WONDEROUS going to make the short stack. I keep hearing great things about it.
I haven't read any new craft books since the Butler one that I found through you, but I'm sort of boycotting them for the time being since I think I only let them confuse and frustrate me :) I've been thinking of taking a picture of and listing my bookshelf full of craft books for a future post. Naturally, I've read a lot and some I've just referred to, but not really read. I think these books are chameleons. Some of them don't mean much when you first read them and then a year later they suddenly have some fabulous insight. I think you can always learn something from most of them because we're always coming at them from a different place.

Larramie, I'm glad I'll read the book before I see the movie -- as a matter of fact I need to make sure I don't see any previews either. I am definitely buying tags this weekend -- that was a brilliant idea.

Julie, I checked out the books at the British Library -- what they've done is incredible!

Patti, Book porn -- ha! I know what you mean ;)

Carleen, I think I'm going to read Junot Diaz fairly soon after ATONEMENT. Now that I know I'll have someone to discuss it with live, that gives me an extra reason. Did you read WHITE TEETH too? Which did you like better?

Julie said...

Lisa -

You'll find the short review for Proust under that in my sidebar labels on main blog Virtual Journey. It did lead to a longer review in LA Times which may be O/D now. Just piqued my curiosity.
Proust can be more tedious than heavy.(Not seen PWANS here yet to read it, and wondered how much of what you read is available over here).

- Check out Lookybook blogspot for children flip over books.

- Realized I'm not an upfront book hoarder, partly because of easy availability in my locality. Read a much higher proportion of NF -

Amazon can deliver next day, and often find one book directly cue's the next, so if we're in Cambridge for an afternoon (or a massive local precinct) I just call in to Borders or Waterstones and track it down in sales. Had a brief spell working in the book trade in a gap year which probably breeds an easy come easy go attitude. (Did a post on this in Journey blog under bookshop).

Thanks, this has been a thought provoking post with all the contributions.(As usual!)

Another PS - Jane Holland (Dec 2 post) - is going to put up poetry exercises at Raw Light if anyone fancies them).

Bernita said...

Read the Gramlich, then Ondaatje and then C.S. Harris...
Bujold's The Curse of Chalion is next on my pile.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, that address on my site should work but I get a lot of spam there and may not have caught it. email me at

That's my home email.

Melissa Marsh said...

Oh. My. LANTA. That is a lot of books in the TBR pile! I suppose I have about the same, but they are shelved a little differently.

I have no idea what to tell you to read next or how to organize them. I can't do it for myself! ;-)

Right now, I am reading a romance novel, yes a romance, because it's light-hearted and frothy and takes place during Christmas. I need something like that right about now. :-)

Tim said...

Lisa --

Thanks for reading NAIL, When I look at your TBR shelf, I realize that my poor little genre baby was in extremely daunting company. Patchett, Pynchon, Gaddis, Wallace, tes. On the other hand (a purely subjective opinion: Proust? Eeeeek. But I know people who swear by it.

(If you don't swear off buying books, I STRONGLY suggest Anthony Powell's 12-novel sequence "A Dance to the Music of Time," which I've read three times at roughly five-year intervals. (See? There is something to be said for getting older.)

I liked "Bel Canto" and "On Moral Fiction," which got Gardner in hot water when he wrote it -- how dare anyone suggest that one moral perspective was more valid than another? Fortunately, tims are changing. And I agree totally with Mardougrrl about "Fast Food for Millionaires" -- interesting but some of it was drawn too broadly and she seemed to run out of good story quite a while before she stopped writing.

Speaking of writing, how's yours going?


PS -- The way I handle the organization problem is by getting rid of most of the books I've read and keeping only the top 20 percent or so. At the moment, I have probably 800 books that I've read and perhaps 200-250 on the TBR shelves. I organize the ones I've read by author and use a completely different bookshelf for TBR, which I intentionally do not organize. That way, I get some of the bookstore browsing fix without actually leaving home.

GREAT topic!

Sustenance Scout said...

Lisa, I just may take you up on that offer! First, though, I'm going to get my hands on a copy of The Wondrous Life; see my latest post.

Been out in the snow yet today? It might be a little colder than last time! K.

Julie said...

Lisa - have just posted a pick-of-the week on blogs/sites including a couple of v interesting bookshops and an amazing oil portrait morph video I've come across if you'd like a quick browse. (Dec 8 post VJ)

steve said...

Lisa--just to let you know I've done the middle-name meme. Right now I'm working on an article about Kenneth Rexroth in Indiana, so I'm going through An Autobiographical Novel. And if and when I find the time, In found out that Average Jones, the collection of mystery stories by Samuel Hopkins Adams, is available online through Google. It was featured in The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

Sarah Ockler said...

Wow, you've totally inspired me to catch up on my "grown up" reading. I spend so much time reading YA ("for research" :-) ) that I forget about all the great novels out there.

I'm afraid I didn't help your cause much. My bookshelves are just as crazy. And thanks to you, I think they're about to get crazier!

- Sarah Ockler

Jennifer said...

Look at all those sweet, sweet books! :)

I don't like working through a TBR stack in order, though I used to take that approach. Now I tend to alternate long or difficult works with shorter, "fun" reads, fiction with non-fiction, etc. But I don't always stick to that. It's arbitrary.

I recently had to start doing what Kristen recommends and stop purchasing books (or giving book titles to people who wanted to purchase birthday or Christmas gifts), because my TBR stack was just way out of hand. I now keep a list of books to buy at a later date. I ended up arranging my TBR's in a stack of clear plastic bins by the nightstand with an alphabetized list of the contents on top. They're all in one place, the cats can't knock them over, and I can still see the lovely spines.

I've just added several titles to that list, thanks to this post. I've been staring down Crime and Punishment for about three months now. I suppose I should tackle that one of these days. It should keep 'til after the holidays, though.

Australian Online Bookstore said...


I agree with you totally in regard to Marcel Proust teaching you how to read Proust. I have only read Swann's Way but plan to continue on. I found I needed to learn how his sentences were constructed before I could hang in there and reach the end of each one. I think some of his sentences are the longest I have ever read!

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf