One day, browsing the profiles of strangers on Goodreads with the intention on zeroing in on someone with lots to say on books to follow and inject some interesting opinions into my timeline, I came across one user who had only logged a small number of books in their read shelf, but had upwards of 1,000 books in their to-be-read, and was continuously adding to their tbr. This person, I thought, must be aware of what they were doing? They don’t seriously intend to read all of these books in their lifetime and must be having a bit of fun with their gargantuan tbr as a kind of defeatist, bookish anti-memento mori, saying to themselves, “Hey man, look at all these books you definitely won’t be reading and won’t feel bad about not reading anyway,” as they kept clicking that green “Want to Read” button book after unread book.
The shock at encountering a reader with such a cavalier attitude towards comparing their tbr with their own mortality was a reaction to how foreign I was to such an approach. In contrast, my own tbr list is currently at 14, and even 14 is a few books too many, I privately concede, to be lying undisturbed in a tbr. I think back to when I first joined Goodreads and my tbr was a much larger, only to delete the whole list a few years later in need of a fresh start when my stale tbr provoked feelings of insecurity and unfulfillment.
Still inspired by my first blog post, I’ll extend the minimalist approach to the book world with the aim of culling my to-read picks. I’ll be crafting a defense for each book on the list right now and deciding whether the appeal in favor of remaining on my tbr is strong enough.
#1: The Nightmare Factory by Thomas Ligotti
The defense: Prior to adding this one, I was impressed by my first encounter with Thomas Ligotti with another collection of weird short stories, Teatro Grottesco. I absolutely was eager for more, but The Nightmare Factory is the collection more difficult to track down, and as my weird fiction craving waned, I forgot all about it.
The verdict: It’s been several years since I logged Teatro Grottesco as read, and that was back when I didn’t write reviews at all. My memory is in need of refreshing and a reread is in order. Until I reread that collection and determine whether Ligotti’s stories are as good as I remember them, I shouldn’t concern myself with flagging down a copy of The Nightmare Factory. It leaves.
#2: Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen
The defense: An unusual choice, but I’d just finished and enjoyed the first book of The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce and was in the mood for more women warriors and medieval fantasy settings. And it looked so very unapologetically women-centered, so of course I was interested.
The verdict: Sister Light, Sister Dark is the only YA book on the list because it looked promising as a standout, but YA remains one of my least favorite genres, and at this point I’m not tripping over myself to overcome the book’s obscurity and get my hands on a copy. Maybe I’ll meet it again when I’m interested in feminism’s influence on YA… if the interest is ever sparked. It leaves.
#3: Dear Dead Women by Edna W. Underwood
The defense: Look at the cover.
The verdict: From the glimpses the handful of people who have had the privilege of reading this mysterious collection of weird stories provided me of Edna Underwood’s prose, her writing is as beautiful as that cover. The promise of beauty between the pages has ceased haunting me. It leaves.
#4: The City & The City by China Miéville
The defense: Miéville is an author whose imagination I’m still unacquainted with and would be interested in getting to know, and The City & The City was going to be my introduction to him. I’m fond of stories that feature extensive adventuring in fantastical cities.
The verdict: The plot seems to revolve around a murder mystery, and murder mysteries aren’t the most interesting things to me in the world. I’m in no hurry to pick this up. It leaves.
#5: Among Others by Jo Walton
The defense: Key words: “boarding school,” “magic, “like-minded friends.” Of course I would be interested.
The verdict: My library has a copy of Among Others right now, and I don’t see why I should pass up an opportunity to read a semi-autobiographical fantasy account of one young woman’s struggle for independence, belonging, and self-discovery. It stays!
#6: Tales of Hoffman by E.T.A. Hoffman
The defense: Here we have yet another collection of weird short stories. How unexpected. Hoffman’s tales sounded enticingly strange to me when I added them, and they appeared foundational essential reads all because they were penned much earlier than were Edgar Allen Poe’s tales.
The verdict: This author now occupies a low position on the list of weird fiction writers I’d like to read. It leaves.
#7: Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories by Algernon Blackwood
The defense: Algernon Blackwood has H.P. Lovecraft’s stamp of approval, so you know this guy’s stuff is going to be weird. The boring cover for the Penguin Classics edition of a big ol’ black cat doesn’t dissuade me.
The verdict: He was a major influence on one of my favorite authors, and he is often recommended to Lovecraft fans as Blackwood’s stories are thematically and tonally similar. It stays!
#8: The Dark Eidolon and Other Stories by Clark Ashton Smith
The defense: I’ve only heard great things about Clark Ashton Smith, and he’s usually lumped in with Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.
The verdict: Thumbing through his stories, I was unsure of his style and hesitant to begin reading any of them. His reputation for being similar to those two aforementioned authors condemns him to my list as a must-read. It stays!
#9: In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales by Lord Dunsany
The defense: More of an imperative read if you’re interested in fantasy than in weird stories, but I wanted to “expand my horizons.”
The verdict: I’ve heard mixed reviews of Dunsany, although his name in the is almost mythic. He seems to be the love-him-or-hate-him sort. I’ll think of getting back to him once I’ve sampled a little more fantasy and feel more like playing at the Lovecraftian scholar. It leaves.
#10: Revolt Against the Modern World by Julius Evola
The defense: Some unsavory fellows would memepost this book and I got interested in spite of myself.
The verdict: Evola sounds like a strange dude with skewed values. I would read this not because I would actually expect to learn something about politics, civilization, and morality; I tend to read about weird worldviews for enjoyment’s sake. It stays!
#11: Imajica by Clive Barker
The defense: The Birthday Massacre, probably my favorite band of all time, was originally named Imagica after this book, no doubt a book musical mastermind Rainbow and lead vocalist Chibi would recommend.
The verdict: I have to read any book that could have possibly inspired my cherished bard and songstress to think of such gorgeous lyrics evoking purple flights of fancy. It stays!
#12: The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
The defense: I bought a copy of this lauded biography of the most infamous of Henry VIII’s queens (and my personal favorite of them all) during the height of my Anne Boleyn phase.
The verdict: My fascination with Anne Boleyn hasn’t waned, but I haven’t prioritized reading an in-depth account of her life. I know I’ll read this eventually; it doesn’t make sense to remove it from the list. It stays!
#13: The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough
The defense: Colleen McCullough is one of the more recognizable writers of historical fiction, and I wanted to read about ancient Rome.
The verdict: I bought this book with three other books set in ancient Rome, and this one is the best of the lot. I actually read a small portion of this brick of a mass-market paperback and thoroughly enjoyed myself, so much that I prematurely determined it was the highest quality historical fiction I’d ever read! It stays!
#14: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The defense: This book is hailed by Goodreads reviewers (or maybe it was elsewhere on the Internet, I don’t remember) as being the best fantasy book they’ve ever read.
The verdict: It was probably added in the same spirit as when I added Lord Dunsany’s tales. Again, the fantasy genre will have to wait a little longer for me to turn my attention to it more closely. It leaves.
My tbr is now at a satisfyingly low 7. I rejected seven books, and I kept seven books. There was a beautiful symmetry to this conclusion, which I appreciate. If I don’t read any of these 7, I can say I’ve successfully taken responsibility for my tbr list and will never feel crestfallen at the fact that I’ve only not-read 7 books instead of focusing on the thousands of books that I would also potentially would’ve liked to read. It’s a psychological safeguard I’ve taken for myself and I would recommend it to any reader.