Summer, in summary: 2

“Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.”

Arnold Lobel

Between now and 1st September I shall be joining in Cathy’s activity 20 Books of Summer — except I’m going for a less strenuous fifteen books. I’ve already indicated a few of the books I’m hoping — nay, intending — to enjoy so I won’t repeat them here but, if you’ll humour me, I do want to advert to my mile-high pile of books.

During our Covid winter lockdown — longer in Wales than in, say, England — I found it relatively easy not to acquire new books: with most “non-essential” retail shops shut (though I’d argue, along with the French government, that books were in fact essential items) and with not being a great online shopper I found it gratifying to watch my shelves get a little more bare and cardboard boxes filling up with completed books for the Red Cross charity shop.

Now, however, to my shame and horror I am starting to requisition replacements faster than I’m consuming them. I blame retail outlets, ‘non-essential’ bookshops and charity shops once more being open for business. Because of course I can’t really put the blame on my weak-willed self, can I?

At the beginning of 2021 I decided to see if and for how long I would be able to subsist on books just on our shelves. By Lady Day — 25th March — in olden times the official beginning of the year in England, I calculate I’d already completed and reviewed my 21 TBR Books in 2021 self-set challenge. Somehow I don’t think I’ll manage another 21 TBR books before midsummer but we’ll see: I’ve already got through eleven or twelve at this point.

Meanwhile by May, when lockdown restrictions in Wales were eased, I estimate I had acquired and read just three books, two were new books for review (Gill Lewis’s Swan Song and Tim Tilley’s Harklights) and one I bought online with a Waterstone’s gift book voucher (Ursula Le Guin’s The Complete Orsinia, review soon). Since then, however, I’ve picked up *ahem* a few more titles, mainly from local charity shops… How I love them! How I need them!

Anyway, it now being June I shall mostly be reading and posting about books I’ll have read over the next three months (with a few reposts thrown in for good measure): there shall be fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, one or two titles in a foreign language, and idiosyncratic analyses of particular works that have particularly engaged me. At present, for example, I’m reading Sam Youd’s A Palace of Strangers (received for review), Zoe Gilbert’s Folk (bought a year or so ago), and Katherine Langrish’s From Spare Oom to War Drobe (only recently acquired).

And of course I’ve been noting what some of you plan to spend your leisure time reading up to the first of September…

Do you too have tottering piles of ‘books to the ceiling’ waiting to be read (or neatly stacked shelves if that’s your thing)? Have you been able to reduce their numbers during your lockdown or did you stock up with online purchases in case of some bookish Armageddon?

35 thoughts on “Summer, in summary: 2

  1. At some point last year I rearranged my books into “read in the last ten years” and “not read in that time, or ever”. The plan was to power through the latter group, and I’ve had some success. I think for me the ideal length of TBR would be three books – enough to give some choice and provide some insurance against running out within a fortnight, but not so many that the house becomes cluttered. Alas, I currently have more like 103 unread books sat on shelves!

    While the charity shops were closed, I still had lots of books to get rid of, so I tried selling them online to a resale site for the first time. Although typing ISBNs into a search box to see if books will be accepted isn’t the most fun, I’d say I had an overall positive experience (and I did repeat the process last month).

    My lockdown book shopping has included a book subscription, and several poetry books I’d seen mentioned on Twitter or blogs. Since charity shops reopened, I’ve also made a trip to the Oxfam bookshop, partly to drop off some books, and partly to browse their literary criticism section. Academic books are so expensive new, and sometimes there are gems to be found!

    I’d be curious to know your thoughts on the Society of Authors’ (I think?) scheme to pay royalties to authors on the basis of second hand book sales, if you have anything to share on the topic?

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    1. Good points, Isobel, what a great response! I’ll attempt a return response in reverse order.

      Alison Flood in the Guardian recently reported that “AuthorSHARE, a royalty fund set up by two used booksellers [Bookbarn Intl was one of them] with support from industry bodies, is calling for more retailers to participate”. I see the justice in this though I wonder how that will pan out in practical terms. Will charity shops by the terms of their status be legally allowed to do this, and how would it work if they could? What would happen with community exchanges such phone box libraries and similar?

      Yes, I too love Oxfam bookshops for their academic selections, literary especially but occasionally other disciplines too. Again, the dynamics involved in pricing such new publications is curious: too high and only specialist libraries can afford them, too low and publishers won’t make a commercial return if sales are poor. There must be a middle way, surely. I must confess that there’s a lacuna where my appreciation of poetry is concerned—I can only assume that a musical training has resulted in music taking up the whole space any emotional and intellectual responses to poetry might have claimed.

      Selling books online has never appealed — the hassle involved in pricing and despatching would tire me inordinately — and I’d rather give them away, especially to charity where there would be a twofold return: the pleasure for a new reader and the potential aid given directly to those less fortunate.

      I tend to have around three books on the go at any one time — to cater for changing moods or receptivity on my part — but like you I’ve always lined up an equal number of potential reads for the future. Heaven knows I have an almost infinite choice on my shelves!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah, marking time then! One. Of daughters also has a policy of “one in, one out” for books but I’m just not very good at counting! But good luck, Bart, I await your final results in December… 😁

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  2. I’m afraid the lockdowns have *not* helped my mountainous TBR at all. To compensate for not being able to go to actual shops I ended up doing much online bookshopping and the piles just got even huger. I’ve filled numerous boxes to be donated and sold some that seemed to have a value but the house never seems to be any clearer of books. I suppose it’s a good problem to have, though a little overwhelming if we ever move…

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    1. Moving house would definitely be … overwhelming for me too! It was bad enough for our last move when I had to offload a fair number of books, some of which I rather regret — though I can’t for the life of me remember what most of them were. Luckily I haven’t developed an online shopping habit — I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to entrusting purchases to the aether!

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  3. I live in the middle of nowhere and have always done most of my book shopping online so that didn’t change. What did change was being able to read some at the library and see if I wanted to own them. My small-town library didn’t open, even for curbside pickup, for many months.
    I LOVE the rhyme at the beginning of this post! How I love them! how I need them!

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    1. Middle of Nowhere is one helluva address, so I can see why book-shopping online is a necessity for you, Jeanne, especially with your library out of bounds for sneak previews. As for the Lobel verse, I can’t remember when or where I picked that up (Goodreads possibly, it’s all over the ‘net anyway) but it’ll resonate with most of us bookish types, won’t it! 🙂

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  4. I’ve continued to pick up books and then not read them in lockdown — mostly from the little free library that has remained open (and has books in English as well as French and German). I’m hoping my new Make Me Read It feature will help me with checking off some of my unread pile! Last month was a success, at least — even though it was only an e-book, it’s still been sitting on my reader for too long.

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    1. I like your resolve in submitting to the choice(s) made in Make Me Read It although I’m now matching you for lack of resilience in adding to our respective book mountains! Still, at least I’m continuing to politely discard books I’ve finally read and being more ruthless with titles I’m never going to open.

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  5. My house seems to have turned into a hazard course of piles of books on every surface waiting to be knocked over by a careless human or a prowling puss, so I guess lockdown mustn’t have prevented my acquisition habit. Worse, it has prevented the trips to the charity shop, so my outbox isn’t compensating for my inbox! I may have to build an extension soon…

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    1. Hah, have you thought of using your books as paper bricks and building a den in the corner of a room which you can crawl into? Here you can enjoy the paradox of not having to contemplate haphazard piles of books while being surrounded by carefully constructed walls of books… 😁

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  6. I’d find it depressing to live somewhere without quite a few TBRs on the shelves, but have had to move enough not to go wildly crazy. On the other hand my TBR list is one of longest documents on my laptop. Plus I’m lucky enough to live in a place with access to three excellent library systems, and many lovely bookshops.

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    1. How organised to have your TBR books listed and stored digitally, Julé: mine are stored willy-nilly amongst read books, reference books and notebooks with no sense of order at all!

      I tend to select books as they serendipitously catch my eye, though I have to admit I’ve now dedicated two ranks of shelves to unread titles in a possibly vain attempt to shame myself into choosing them over one comfort read or another.

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      1. I wish I was as organized as you give me credit for Chris.

        I’m actually very much a believer in the idea that the right book will show up at the right time, which is why reading challenges are well, so challenging for me especially shorter ones.

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  7. The pandemic has been good for the crazy TBR around here. I try to avoid buying books online & our library has mostly been open and our bookstores mostly closed. I feel badly for the bookstores, but at least the unread pile is actually shrinking for now! (Don’t however expect that to last, however…)

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    1. I’m glad something good has come out of lockdown for you, Reese, if only for the reduction in your unread pile! Now that things are starting to open up in the UK (a bit optimistic I feel given the virulence of what’s now called the delta variant) I’m afraid my ‘one in, one out’ ideal is experiencing a knockback…

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  8. Like you I’m not much of an online shopper but now that bookshops are open I’m having a lovely time and particularly yesterday in Toppings and Company in Bath!

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    1. Ah yes, one of those delights found in out of the way places in Bath! When we last visited there was a small area decorated by (or for?) Chris Riddell in the style of a fantasy Victorian study where, presumably, he sat to sign books. Hope you came away with a decent stash of books, Jane, anything special?

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      1. I did! Another in the Penguin European Writers series and some micro Japanese short stories. I couldn’t tell you what was in the window this time, I love it when they all get creative!

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  9. You’re summer plans sound very interesting!

    I tend to buy several books at once and then not allow myself to buy more until they are read, although I make exceptions for really hard-to-find books which I have been looking for for a long time if I come across them. Or books I want which suddenly become available at a very cheap price. Or books that I just really really have to read now…… LOL

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  10. I did a bit of charity shop book shopping when restrictions lifted last year, and have been again, and I did do a fair amount of online shopping, I had book tokens to spend and spent them at Foyles online, I ordered from Hive and then I started ordering from Bookshop.org so that bookshops got a bit of the profit (there aren’t really any indie bookshops around here: one tiny one a few miles away with mainly children’s books). I have been reading more so the TBR has gone down, but in my case the piles are of books to pass along, as the usual BookCrossing shelves I used to stock weren’t accessible! Now cafes are open again I am hoping to get some onto their shelves, and I have a small pile waiting to post to people, but I don’t like crowding into the post office hugely, so tend to wait till I have a few to send.

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    1. If I didn’t have an indie literally just up the road from me, or a Waterstone’s half a dozen miles away, I’d be inclined to buy from Bookshop.org too rather than the monster that is Am*zon (from where I only buy if I’m given their gift voucher). Our indie is very good: even if I order late in the day from them Gardners usually have it delivered to them two mornings later. But I can see a lack of an indie is problematic for you, and the pandemic hasn’t helped; I’ve wondered how BookCrossing shelves and Little Free Libraries have managed — clearly not at all.

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      1. I think the Little Free Libraries have been OK as they’re outside, but the official and unofficial BookCrossing shelves I stock locally are in cafes so have been closed or takeaway only and I’ve not felt like barging through with books. I will ask the big cafe if I can pop some on the shelves now, though. We do have a Waterstones in town but I am wary of catching the bus in still.

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  11. Pingback: Bookish Ditty du Jour | Atlanta Booklover's Blog

  12. The shops might have been closed but there were still plenty of options to get books – two little free libraries in the village and two friends who swapped books with me. So I never ran short (little danger of that really with 300+ unread books in the house). I thought once the bookshops had opened I’d find it hard to hold back on buying but in fact I’ve been in Waterstones twice. And bought books only for my husband How is that for restraint???

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  13. =Tamar

    Although I don’t buy online, my book acquisition increased during lockdown because two friends began weeding their bookshelves and passed books on to me. I managed to read all of them (some very quickly – there is a reason they were weeded), and I now have stacks in boxes ready to donate when the various locations reopen. I think I have only a couple of dozen unread books at the moment.

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    1. There’s some real satisfaction in being able to pass on to others books you’ve read but don’t intend to read again (alternatively, never read and never intend to read). Just as long as you have some books in hand that you do want to read. 🙂

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