Twenty-one books

Ursula K Le Guin 1929-2018

There’s a meme going around under the heading of 21 books in 2021 — and I’m very tempted to adapt it for my own purposes as yet another prompt to guide my reading. I’ve already decided on a number of other prompts to take me month by month (or season by season) through the year, so you’d think I’d have enough by now to get on with. So did I until an anniversary hoved into view.

Today marks three years since the untimely death of Ursula Le Guin and I’ve realised that I have one of my periodic yearnings to revisit her worlds. I’ve therefore been trying to decide whether to reread one of her novels (as I did recently with Orsinian Tales and Rocannon’s World) or to tackle a title new to me (such as Malafrena, The Eye of the Heron or Four Ways to Forgiveness). Or indeed whether to go for both options.

And then I thought of how I might in fact use this meme: in amongst all my other prompts I’d not calculated how to create space on my bookshelves for any new tomes, so why not formulate my own twist for this twelvemonth, when lockdown has knocked down any physical bookshop browsing? I present to you … 21 TBR Books in 2021.

And so it has come to pass. This year I shall aim to read or reread twenty-one books already on my shelves, with the aim of passing a proportion of them on to new homes (saving those of course I’ll want to revisit a few more times in the future). I shan’t consciously be doing a tally of my progress but it’ll be interesting to do a tot up at an end-of-year review. UKLG will feature of course, and also the titles I’ve chosen for my classics prompts, but with lockdown in place for the foreseeable future I don’t think I’m going to find this a very hard prompt to complete.

Now, which Le Guin novel am I going to pick off the shelf? Shall I go back to Orsinia? Or one of those worlds light years away? And there are the multiple worlds in her Changing Planes collection that I never quite completed. Hmm…


What about you? Have you got your fill of memes, prompts, challenges, goals, or are you also tempted to reduce your book surplus before being tempted by shiny new titles in due course?

32 thoughts on “Twenty-one books

  1. I read somewhere that keeping books one has read comes with this idea that these books represent knowledge acquired (although given how little I remember about some of the books I’ve read, that could be a false assumption). By contrast, shelves of unread books which we intend to read is a future-oriented thing to to, and about who we aspire to be. Perhaps not the deepest of revelation, but at the time it did change the way I thought about the purpose of owning books.

    Anyway, this challenge sounds like a great plan – I’m another one with too many unread books right now so I’ll bear the target of 21 in mind. I’ve also started being more proactive about rereads – I’m finding I need the comfort and familiarity of old favourites right now.

    Shamefully, I’ve not read anything by Ursula K Le Guin – where do you recommend a new reader starts?

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    1. That distinction between previously read and TBR books in one’s personal library is neat, I agree, if not necessarily as profound as it sounds, but it does capture what I feel about my books. I used to worry that packed wall-to-wall shelves might seem ostentatious, a bit showy-off, but really it’s about self, isn’t it, a mirror held up to one’s aspirations, hopes and personality.

      Where to start with Le Guin? All I can do is say what my experience consisted of: I began with A Wizard of Earthsea, and though often classed as teen fantasy I see it as a literary masterpiece, profound and moving. I read it multiple times now. You could also try The Left Hand of Darkness; though this starts as classic hard SF it soon heads in several directions taking in anthropology, gender issues, a touch of Star Trek’s prime directive, an odyssey through arctic wastes and so on. For me this is well overdue a third or possibly a fourth read, I’ve lost count.

      Then see what takes your fancy, or browse my reviews and discussions so far (https://calmgrove.wordpress.com/tag/ursula-le-guin/).

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  2. That’s an interesting meme and although I’m trying to avoid any kind of formal commitments, I imagine that I will definitely read 21 books already on the shelves this year – making a dent in the TBR is always my wish. And the number of new books are the reason I don’t re-read as much as I should but I would like to try to rectify that too this year. We shall see… ;D

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    1. I tend not to acquire a lot of new books, Karen, but have probably accumulated more secondhand paperbacks from charity shops than I’ll ever have time to read, so tackling unread books during lockdown is not a difficult option — and therefore not a difficult meme to incorporate with all the others!

      And though I’d really like to support my local indie by ordering online, there are all those books I acquired from there in previous lockdowns which I have yet to pick up, let alone read. So, besieged by contagion, I have enough reading material to sustain me for however long it takes, and boxes of books no longer needing to be hoarded ready for charity shops when the siege ends!

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  3. There is little point in pretending that I am anything other than hopeless at the various tempting memes as I’m always being distracted by review copies landing on my doormat. However this one sounds ideal; making inroads into my TBR heap would be a very good idea. I shall write a list!

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    1. Please share when you’ve finished compiling it, Anne, I’d be interested! Luckily I no longer have the feelings of guilt when faced with unread ARCs as I’ve stopped asking for them and so am at liberty to read whatever takes my fancy. 🙂

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  4. I find it all but impossible to pass books on, which is why my OH bought me a kindle. Rereading, especially after a gap of years, can be a strange experience. Books don’t change but people do. Anyway, I think I’ll reread ‘The Dispossessed’, which I recall as more interested in ideas than characters.

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    1. I am trying to work through UKLG’s Hainish novels in some kind of sequence (not particularly successfully, however) so my reread of The Dispossessed is three or four instalments in the future. But rereading after a gap is nust as you say, almost like meeting a friend and hoping to pick up where you left off but finding you’ve somehow changed, and that age has let you to notice things about them you hadn’t picked up on before.

      I’m being more ruthless with books than I thought I would be, only hanging on to those I want to reread at least one more time or which represent a pivotal moment I want to remember. As for the rest, the process of taking notes and writing a detailed review is sufficient to lock them in my memory. Until senility takes over…

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  5. This sounds very doable to me given how much you read Chris. I might even be able to do it myself though I am not going to make a list of what to read. I know if I make that kind of a detailed plan I’ll end up hating the idea. Much better for me to just dip into whatever I want to from the TBR. The nearest I shall get to a plan is that at some point I’ll want to read at Zola novel.

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    1. I haven’t made a list of what I want to include amongst the 21 but it’ll include some of the classics I’ve committed to. In fact it’s an easy-peasy meme for me to adopt as I’ve already read six titles this year, four of which will no longer take up shelf room! Good luck with the Zola, Middlemarch will be my counterpart, I think.

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      1. Not so easy to dispose of books here at the moment. My favourite second hand bookshop seems to have doubled its stock and many charity shops have signs saying they can’t take any more stuff. All to do with our long lockdown. Almost six months here.

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        1. The upside of your sensible half-year lockdown is that you’ve kept your Covid infections and death rates down, unlike the UK which is rapidly approaching 100K excess deaths due to the virus.

          (Despite our Beloved Leader and his Exalted Ministers declaring that everything they tardily initiate is ‘world-beating’, the only superlatives they accomplish are in horrendous death tolls and billions spent on their cronies’ services which don’t deliver. Oh, and a UK Covid variant which is reportedly more virulent and transmissible than the original, that’s world-beating. ☹️)

          So I think excess book deposition being a problem is a burden I’d rather have than this shoddy wouldbe Churchill and his cohort of Apocalyptic Horsemen. But I do sympathise, Gert, really I do!

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            1. That, if it’s a serious offer, Gert, is a very kind and generous offer and in other circumstances would be accepted with alacrity, but — also in a serious vein — I’m trying hard to dispense rather than accumulate more! Hence the intended jettisoning of at least twenty-one books…

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            2. Our father when he died had a library of several thousand books, many leather bound tomes, Anatomy of Melancholy etc. We got a bookseller in to give us price for the lot. They were all full of mould and worth nothing. They ended in a skip on the street in the rain.

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    1. Our local library is currently shut (apart from a click-and-collect service) plus all so-called non-essential shops — since when are book outlets deemed non-essential?! — so I chose from my own shelves and fill boxes of completed books for distribution when the coast is clear of nasty Covid…

      I wish we had a Little Free Library here, Deb, though I don’t know if that would be competition for the local library, the bookshop and charity shops with a bank of bookshelves. I’d like to think they could all coexist!

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  6. I do like a nice, neat prompt! I’ve never read any Ursula Le Guin and see you mention The Left Hand of Darkness above which could be the one to include on my next challenge list – thanks!

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    1. I think it’s still as powerful now as it was when first published, if perhaps less controversial now that gender fluidity is better understood and discussed. That’s what I like about her speculative fiction, she was always prepared to think outside the box while focusing on individual and human concerns. Good luck!

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  7. piotrek

    I’ve been re-reading more and more for a few years now, and I’m definitely going to continue… will I get to 21? We’ll see, I’m not that good at setting specific targets 🙂

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    1. I’d have no problems re-reading books, Piotrek, it’s the ones that I acquired a few months or years ago that I’ll have most trouble with so those are the ones I’ll mostly focus on, like a few of Le Guin’s Hainish novels, titles by Angela Carter (I’ve just started her Nights at the Circus), some Ishiguro, Eco, and all those black-spine Penguin Classics and Oxford World’s Classics. But time and space will be made available for plenty of rereads. As for “setting targets”, remember is supposed to be a pleasure, not a task, and substitute the word ‘prompt’ for target, goal, challenge or whatever!

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      1. piotrek

        I just cleared half a bookshelf, removing Le Guin duplicates. And some triplicates… I’m even thinking of getting rid of some books I’m pretty sure I’ll never re-read, but that’s a tough fight with myself 😉

        Last year I sold or gave away many books, but only the ones I wasn’t attached to at all. Now it’s time for some I liked, but not a lot… and my fiancee decided she wants some book-space for her birthday in February (which is brutal, as I’m not allowed to buy more bookshelves, the only way is to remove some of mine…).

        But reading your post I thought – well, there are some books I have, unread, so perhaps it’s time to finally read them and decide if they should get a permanent place in my library, that is a worthy goal and I might even set a target for that 😉

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