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On Not Spring Cleaning My TBR

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Tiffani Willis

Staff Writer

Tiffani C. Willis spends as much as time as she is able to traveling the universe by book and sometimes by, plane, train, boat, or car. When she’s not off on an adventure in a faraway land or trying to solve a mystery like a detective, Tiffani uses her powers as an academic librarian to help students survive school as they learn how to do research and write research papers. She spends her spare time rambling, raving, and ranting about books on her blog Passport Books, camping out in bookstores, and obsessively watching HGTV, usually with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine nearby. Twitter: @PassportBooks

My goal this month has been to spring clean and purge my apartment of stuff that I no longer need. It’s summer now, but whatever. Minimalism is not my goal. Houses that are too organized and clean always strike me as museum like in the worst way possible. I like my stuff and don’t mind a little clutter. I simply want less of the stuff I wasn’t using anyway.

The purge began with the closets and bureau drawers. Old clothes that hadn’t been worn in a year or more were discarded. Next came the kitchen. Gone are unused dishes and old kitchen appliances. My file cabinets have a bit more space in them too now. It has been very cathartic. There is one area of my apartment, however, that does not get spring cleaned – the pile of unread books in the corner of the living room.

Spring cleaning my TBR pile seems like a good idea in theory. After all, some books have been waiting for me to read them for years. At least a dozen of my unread books moved from one coast to the other with me, and that move was over a decade ago. One might think if I haven’t read it yet, I never will. Unfortunately—or fortunately—I don’t think that way.

Letting a Book Serve Its Purpose

In Sarah Addison Allen’s book The Sugar Queen, whenever the character Chloe needs something a book magically appears in her life. She doesn’t always immediately understand why she needs the book, but it always ends up being helpful to her in the end. While I don’t believe there is a fairy godmother who is blessing me with the right book at the right time, I do think there are reasons why certain books came into my life. If I haven’t read them, then they haven’t yet satisfied their purpose.

Take The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. This joined my TBR pile during my marathon years. I hated running as a kid but in my twenties took up running like someone was chasing me. My first race was a 5K Race for the Cure; my second was the Los Angeles marathon. (For the record, I would recommend some medium length races before doing a marathon.) In between training runs I picked up all the books on running I could, fiction and nonfiction. Eventually my enthusiasm shifted from a boil to a simmer. The Running Dream is about a woman who has to figure out how to put her life back together after a serious car accident. I can’t help but think there is a lesson I am meant to learn from this book. Incidentally, I still like to run and want to read this book, just not yet.

Prolific Authors and Reading Pledges, or, They Wrote So Many Books!

Speaking of simmering enthusiasm, Charles Dickens appears multiple times in my TBR. Many years ago I pledged to read every book Dickens wrote. I started with the easy ones everyone has read or seen a movie version of – Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. Next were the ones that are frequently referenced though perhaps not as frequently read anymore – Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield. Then came Nicholas Nickleby and Hard Times. Law and legal systems interest me so Bleak House soon followed. Then I stalled. Sketches by Boz has been sitting in my unread pile for over seven years now. Dickens wrote so much. I also pledged to read all of Jane Austen’s books. Getting through her bibliography was a snap. Dickens may take my lifetime to get through but one day I will finish. I made a pledge after all.

Writing this post made me realize that I have a (bad) habit of committing to reading an author’s entire bibliography. All it takes is one great book for exuberance to take over. Next thing you know I am scouring library book sales and bookstores for an author’s backlist. I can only read one at a time, so the others end up in the unread pile. This is why there are so many books by Isabel Allende, Haruki Murakami, and Henning Mankell in my unread pile. Moved by Maya’s Notebook, I immediately picked up copies of Allende’s The House of Spirits and City of Beasts. Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is still waiting to get read because it is the kind of huge that requires planning ahead. I am purposely taking my time reading through Mankell’s Wallander and non-Wallander books because there will be no more to come.

Some Books Have to be Prepared For

I found a copy of The Color Purple by Alice Walker at a library book sale. That I haven’t read it yet is something of an embarrassment. It is after all, a classic of African American literature and I am an African American woman. The thing is, I have to psych myself up to read about Black girls enduring abuse and other trauma. It is also for this reason I have yet to read An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, another book in my unread pile. I have to be in the right headspace for these books. My hairdresser loves The Color Purple, book and the movie, and swears it is worth the read. Sooner than most, this will move from the unread pile to the read pile. Maybe even this summer.

I bought Jon Lee Anderson’s Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers in San Francisco, California. My grandfather was a huge part of my life growing up. He taught me how to fish and how to bowl. He took me to my first father-daughter dance. I adored him. Periodically we would drive to San Francisco and spend the day exploring the city. He indulged my love of books and reading by taking me to the legendary bookstore even though I could have gotten any book there in my hometown. Che Guevara was the book I got on our last trip to San Francisco together before he passed away.

Series, or Why Spring Cleaning My TBR Will Always Be Impossible

Roseanna is the first book in a ten-book Swedish mystery series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. I stumbled across it at Bart’s Books, a used bookstore with a phenomenal selection in Ojai, California. I love mysteries and am constantly on the lookout for international mysteries. So even though I had never heard of the series before stumbling across it in Ojai, it seemed silly not to get it. Bonus, Bart’s Books had seven of the ten books in the series. How could I possibly pass up getting almost an entire series at a bargain price? A year later and I still haven’t picked up Roseanna. There are at least five other series I started and haven’t finished, and it seemed like a good idea to finish them before starting a new series. Of course, that means more time in the unread pile for Roseanna.

And so it goes. My efforts to spring clean my apartment continues, except for the unread pile. It remains more or less the same. I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Maybe it is none of the above. What books have been waiting on your TBR for ages? How long have they been there and why do you keep them? Or are you the type of person who can purge your unread pile without a second thought?