Friday, January 13, 2012

Attack of the TBRs

Back a few years ago, I used to worry about finding mysteries to read. I would haunt the local bookstores and library and get recommendations from the few friends who were also mystery readers. I would read every mystery I got my hands on through those methods and I'd have a small handful of TBRs (to-be-read books) at most.

Then it happened. I went online and met Georgette, the Maltese Condor, Della, Periphera and a lot of other mystery readers. Because of their stellar recommendations, my TBRs now number over 100 and are threatening to burst out of their bookcase. Sometimes I hear their authors reproaching me for leaving them on the shelf, and for my seeming to prefer new books fresh from the library or bookshop.

Some of the authors with books among the TBRs boldly accost me. Ian Rankin demands to know why I tore through each Rebus book as soon as it was published, but now, just because he's moved on to a new character in The Complaints, I'm not so eager. Fortunately for me, his Scots brogue is so strong that I don't understand a lot of what he says. I think he called me a "bampot," though.

Graham Hurley points to all the shelf real estate being taken up by the second through eleventh books in his Joe Faraday series and asks why I don't read them, considering that I have a 2012 series reading challenge going on. He's particularly peeved that I've chosen to read Josephine Tey's books for the second time for the challenge rather than his books for the first. I weakly respond that I did read the first book in his series and my husband has read all of the series, but he seems dissatisfied with my answer. "Hey pal," I want to say, "keep it up and you're getting moved to the already-read shelves."

Charles Cumming reminds me how excited I was to pick up The Trinity Six at the library's used bookstore six months ago, and how fascinated I've always been by the Cold War's Cambridge Spy Ring. It's been awhile since I've read a Cold War thriller, he points out. "And now that the remake of le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is coming out, it's the perfect time to read my book," Cumming reasons. He could be right, so I pull the book so that it stands out an inch from the others on the shelf. You know, like a little spy signal.

Andrea Camilleri seems to understand that I respond better to positive enticements than to criticism and pushiness. "Ciao, bella," he says, "there you are in your winter with your short days, and you deserve a visit to Salvo Montalbano's sunny Sicily. Ecco, you have three of his first four books right here! Put up your feet, pour a nice glass of limoncello and read."

Don Winslow appeals to nostalgia. "Hey, remember back when you found me at The Book Passage in Corte Madera? A Cool Breeze on the Underground and my other Neal Carey books, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, California Fire and Life. Those were the days, right? I know The Dawn Patrol didn't work for you, but we can get past that. You picked up Satori: A Novel Based on Trevanian's Shibumi at a book sale on a whim and it's been sitting here for the last couple of months. Give it a try; it's totally different from anything I've ever done." Maybe he's right. So I pull his book forward a little bit too.

Tana French is sulking over there on the far right of the second shelf. She knows I wasn't crazy about Faithful Place and she seems to guess that In the Woods isn't going to entice me anytime soon, no matter how many of my mystery-reading friends loved it.

Jedediah Berry is diffident, but he can't keep the injured tone out of his voice when he asks why I abandoned The Manual of Detection for something newly arrived from the library and then never picked up his book again, even though I was enjoying it. Unfortunately, I have no answer.

It's just as hard to explain to Thorne Smith why I haven't yet read Topper, even though Georgette and my husband loved it. I can't even look at Carlos Ruiz Zafón over there on the far right of the bottom shelf. The Shadow of the Wind is one of the longest tenants on my TBR shelves. How can I not have read it after years of my mystery friends telling me how great it is?

Then there are my old friends, the Michaels Gilbert and Innes. They sit there together, Gilbert's Close Quarters and The Danger Within, and Innes's Lament for a Maker and six Appleby books. The Michaels don't say much, because they know I'll get to them. After all, having read others of their books, I know I'll enjoy these books and I'm a lifelong fan of classic British crime fiction. And, of course, being British, the Michaels would never be pushy. The American in me wants to tell them that's not the way to get ahead, but I know they can't change their inbred characters. (I suppose their being dead is also a bit of an obstacle to a transformation in their personalities.)

The clamoring and censorious looks from the TBRs became so bad that I recently moved them from the living room to the next room. I can still hear them, but faintly, and they try to accost me when I go past them to the laundry room, but at least they're no longer such a constant reproach. Now I just have to do something about my history TBRs. Some of those guys have guns!

Which of my TBRs would you spring from the shelf and place next to my reading chair?


  1. Oh thanks, Sister! My already double-shelved TBR bookcase is three feet from my desk, and suddenly I can hear it breathing. At least with the e-reader I can close the cover and not have those titles reproaching me.

    I would continue to let Tana French sulk; In The Woods was not one of her best. If you are expecting that nasty storm moving east, a date in front of the fire with Andrea Camilleri in Sicily might be just the ticket.

    Now my TBR bookcase seems to be LEANING at me. Yikes!

  2. Yes, thanks, Sister. Maybe these voices you're hearing should tell you that you're past due for a medical checkup. Or perhaps your hearing is just better than mine. To be on the safe side, I'll box up my TBRs and stick them in the attic.

    Peri, I agree that Tana French's IN THE WOODS has flaws, but it's still a hauntingly beautiful tale with a perfect ending, and it doesn't deserve to languish on your shelf forever, Sister.

    I see why you'd suggest a trip to Camilleri's Sicily when the snowflakes fall, Peri, but for me, the perfect snowed-in read is Carlos Ruiz Zafón's entertaining potboiler, THE SHADOW OF THE WIND. The lavish language of the book invites a snuggle in a blanket and a hot drink.

    Those Michaels do have the British stiff upper lip. If I were you, Sister, I'd schedule Innes's LAMENT FOR A MAKER for next December, because it's about the mad laird of Erchany, Ranald Guthrie, who falls to his death from the ramparts of his castle on Christmas Eve. A great traditional mystery.

    Save Thorne Smith's TOPPER for a night after a hard day. Then hop into a steaming hot bubble bath with a martini and this 1926 book and find out what happens when Cosmo Topper, a stuffed-shirt banker, buys the used car in which free-spirited Marion and George Kirby met their deaths. You'll love it.

    I know you have the satire COOKING WITH FERNET BRANCA by James Hamilton-Paterson on its way to your shelves. No doubt you've already read Ann Patchett's 2011 book, STATE OF WONDER, which finds research scientist Marina Singh in the remote jungles of Brazil, on a quest to find the body of her research partner, Dr. Anders Eckman, and this is why Patchett isn't also yelling from your TBRs.

  3. Ha! YOur little spy signal isn't going to fool anyone. REad The Trinity Six now. It's hypnotic Cold War spy stuff.After that you need to string a hair across your shelves and watch for suspicious behavior. Maybe your own. Kev

  4. My tbr pile is out of control, I am working on it but every time I knock out a chunk, some new books come out in my favorite series.

  5. Dan Fesperman's Lie in the Dark should be read soon. If it's not on your shelf of TBRs, it should be. To be read for its main chracter, police investigator Vlado Petric, and its sense of place, war-time Sarajevo. Nikki

  6. Thanks for all the advice, friends. I think Kev's advice is what I'll follow first. (About which book to read. I think if I start stringing hairs to monitor my own suspicious behavior, my husband will be booking me into the Happy Valley Home for the Hopelessly Confused.)

    I do have COOKING WITH FERNET BRANCA coming up. It's waiting for me at the library.

    Are you sitting down, Georgette? Not only have I not read STATE OF WONDER, I'm not feeling any urge to. One of my good friends read it and told me the entire story---at my request. I'm sure the writing is beautiful, but the story just didn't appeal to me.

    Nikki, I didn't know Dan Fesperman had a new book out. I read THE ARMS MAKER OF BERLIN awhile back. I'll have to look out for the new one. (As the TBRs scream in the background. . . )

  7. I bought 2 bookcases from Office Max and assembled them a year ago to hold all my TBRs.... um... they're totally filled now, with books overflowing the top... (sigh...) what's that expression.. the harder I run, the behinder I get? I feel your pain, Rhiannon.

  8. What's calling most persuasively from your TBR shelf? For me, it might be a book I ordered from the UK, Esi Edugyan's HALF BLOOD BLUES. It's about the Hot Time Swingers, a jazz band caught in pre WW II Berlin. But then there's TRIAL OF PASSION by William Deverell, a book that won the Hammett prize about 15 years ago. Its plot and Canadian setting make it sound too good to miss. I might have to read it next.

  9. Libby, I sympathize.

    I'd love to have a look at everybody's TBR shelves. Thanks for the glimpses into some of yours, everybody.

    Della, I was reading about HALF BLOOD BLUES recently. I think it's coming out in the US sometime soon. Maybe that's why I saw it.

  10. I'm officially embarrassed. After the holiday sales of free and reduced price e-books I somehow have 16 pages of unread titles on my Kindle on top of all the print TBRs. That 'Buy now' button is waaay too seductive.

  11. My reaction to the voices from my TBR piles is to tell them they will probably have a few more friends joining them soon and remind them that their time will come. If not in this decade, the next.

  12. The only thing worse than the TBR's is the SBHF [Started But Haven't Finished] These poor souls lie in a separate [and ever growing] pile, open at the point where I gave up [for whatever reason]. I cannot put them aside permanently because then someone will say - but if you kept reading you would have found out it was completely wonderful.

  13. Maddy, yes, those SBHFs are terrible, crying out from their land of limbo. Maybe we should have a separate page here on Read Me Deadly for people to list their SBHFs. Others can post helpful comments like "Just keep reading, it gets good" or "If you're not enjoying it by now, give up, it's not for you."

    Recently, I've been starting and stopping books like crazy. Sometimes nothing seems to suit.