New TBR Reading Challenge – and Rereading

I’ve been following Jacqui’s recent deep-digging into her TBR pile with interest. Her latest blog post, reflecting on the experience of her #TBR20 challenge, was particularly enticing. Writer Eva Stalker launched the idea, and some of my blogging friends, such as Emma and Max, have also been persuaded to join in. So I plan to follow suit, while allowing some wriggle room for those inevitable review copies.

The principle is very simple. With so many books double and triple stacked on my shelves (not to mention stashed away on my e-reader), I really need to stop collecting and start reading some of them. So I plan to reduce the pile by at least 20, for however long it takes, and during this period I will refrain from buying any new books (other than those I am sent for urgent reviewing purposes). You are probably laughing, remembering how disastrous my TBR Double Dare challenge ended up… But this feels more manageable – or perhaps it’s just the right time of year to be doing it.

I do have an initial list of 20 in mind, but will allow myself to be open to the fickleness of moods and interests. I also want to incorporate a good selection of ebooks and real books, French and German books, poetry and non-fiction, crime and translated fiction etc. My Global Reading Challenge seems to be suffering a little here, so I may have to make some changes. I will probably need to do a serious cull of my ebooks at some point in addition to this.

So here are my first thoughts on the topic (the ones marked with denote crime fiction titles, is for woman writer)

1) Books in French:

P1030248All about the challenges and disappointments of everyday life in modern France – quite a contrast to the more luscious depiction of France in fiction written by foreigners.

Marcus Malte: Cannisses – small-town residential area C

Jérémie Guez: Paris la nuit – the alienated youngsters of the Parisian balieues  C

Emmanuel Grand: Terminus Belz – Ukrainian refugee in Breton village, aiming to cross over to Britain  C

Fouad Laroui: L’etrange affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine – Morocco meets France in this collection of bittersweet and often very funny short stories

Dominique Sylvain: Ombres et soleil – finally, a woman writer too! The world of international corporations, dirty money and arms trade – plus the charming humour of the detecting duo Lola and Ingrid.   C W

2) Books in German: 


Jakob Arjouni: Ein Mann, ein Mord  – third case for Kayankaya, the Turkish-born detective with a very Frankfurt attitude   C

Alex Capus: Mein Nachbar Urs – stories from small-town Switzerland

Judith Schalansky: Der Hals der Giraffe – the dying of the light in East Germany, a biology teacher who proves to be the last of her species  W

Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilch – this wasn’t much liked by the IFFP shadow jury, but I was attracted by its Berlin setting and thought it could be the Christiane F. for the new generation  W

Friederike Schmöe: Fliehganzleis – 2nd case for ghostwriter Kea Laverde: I’ve read others in the series and this one is again about East vs. West Germany and some traumatic historical events   C  W

3) Books on ereader


Ever Yours – The Letters of Vincent van Gogh – one of my favourite painters, need I say more?

Hadrien Laroche: Orphans – an allegorical tale

John Enright: Blood Jungle Ballet – the return of detective Apelu Soifa and his fight against crime on Samoa  C

Sara Novic: Girl at War – child survivor of Yugoslav war returns to Zagreb ten years later  W

Ansel Elkins: Blue Yodel – debut collection of poetry, winner of the 2014 Yale Series of the Younger Poets prize  W

4) Other:


Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts – Romanian writer who died of tuberculosis of the spine at the age of 29 in 1938 (perhaps fortunately so, since he was Jewish)

Sergei Dovlatov: Pushkin Hills – shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award this year, but written back in 1983, it’s all about Mother Russia, the artist’s life and living under censorship

Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night – the first in the Simran Singh series and always very topical about controversial subjects in India C W

Ariel Gore: Atlas of the Human Heart – a younger person’s version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (which I didn’t like much), a teenager’s journey of self-discovery and running away from America  W

Wendy Cope: The Funny Side – 101 Humorous Poems (selected and introduced by Cope)  W

Have you read any of these? Are there any you would particularly recommend starting with, or should I swap some over for something else? (They do strike me, on the whole, as a rather sombre pile of books).

The other idea that Jacqui planted into my head was to have a bit of a rereading challenge. I carry my favourite books with me in every place I’ve ever lived in and I look up certain pages, but I never get a chance anymore to reread them properly. (Where, oh where are the days when I used to reread all of the novels of Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen every year or two?) So who would like to join me and Jacqui on a #reread challenge? Perhaps of 6 books in a year, roughly one every 2 months? Would that be feasible?


Here are some instant favourites that spring to mind: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender Is the Night’; Virginia Woolf’s ‘Between the Acts’ (her last novel); Jean Rhys’ ‘After Leaving Mr Mackenzie’; Muriel Spark’s ‘Loitering with Intent’ and Tillie Olsen’s brilliant collection of essays about life getting in the way of creating ‘Silences’. What would you reread, if you could and would?







50 thoughts on “New TBR Reading Challenge – and Rereading”

  1. I’ve been silently reading your blog for a little while – it’s fantastic, I really enjoy it, so thank you.
    This TBR20 is appealing to me more and more as I read about the idea, but the #reread challenge even more so! I’ve been thinking about Hardy’s books lately and I haven’t read him in years and years, so I think I’m picking Jude for my first foray into old favourites. And perhaps Patrick Modiano’s Suspended Sentences, which I only discovered this year in translation but am very keen to try in the original, as I believe he is not too difficult a read for my rusty high school French.

    1. So pleased you spoke up, Audrey, and made a comment! Welcome and thank you for your kind words. Do let’s embark on the #reread challenge together. I fear some books may prove disappointing (perhaps you need to be a teenager to appreciate them), but some will have different things to tell at different ages.

  2. All very . . . er . . . challenging, MS! Not sure about the rereading business, though. When you get to my, harrumph, advanced age you begin to realize that there’s a limit to the number of books you still have time to read. So rereading seems a bit of a luxury!

    1. Bitten off a bit more than I can chew, do you mean, sir? And yes, that was exactly my feeling about rereading (guess I’m getting to that advanced age too) … but I miss my old friends.

  3. I really fancy the TBR20 challenge, seriously think I might try doing it. Re reading is something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. Just have to much to read.

  4. I’ve been following Jacqui’s challenge too, and wishing I had the courage to take it up. I have *plenty* on the TBR and I could happily go without buying new books or online books for a while. My main problem would be the danger of having to pass by rarities or bargains in the charity shops. And I would have to approach the challenge as openly as Jacqui did, as my reading is very much by mood too.

    Re-reading is sometimes hard to fit in as there are so many new books around! But having revisited both The Voyage Out and The Bell Jar recently, I’m sure I need to do more. Your booklists and pictures are very tempting – Jean Rhys is calling me, I think, and of course more Woolf. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on Pushkin Hills!

    1. There’s another reason for rereading in my case. Namely, that I can go more ‘deeply’ into a book and spot things I hadn’t noticed before. I read so quickly most of the time that I’m sure I get a bit superficial at times – and then move on to the next thing, before I’ve had time to properly digest.

      1. I do the same really – I read too quickly – and I definitely got tons more out of my recent re-read of The Voyage Out because I wasn’t rushing to find out what happened!

  5. I liked your idea very much, Marina Sofia. I sometimes think that the ‘Ooooh, shiny!’ phenomenon of a brand-new book from a beloved or new-but-intriguing author is so tempting that it’s hard to remember what one already has. And this sounds like quite a manageable plan for digging in. I like the variety in your books, too. I’ll be looking forward to your reviews.

    1. Given that I also have on average 3-4 books a month to review, that will mean a LOT of reading over the next few months! But I need to make a little bit of room on my shelves. Now the big question is: what shall I do with all my signed copies? Dare I give any of them away?

      1. I have to admit I draw the line at signed copies. I’ve been known to lend them to (very) trusted friends, but to give them? No. It means too much that an author took the time to sign her or his work.

        1. I’ll probably end up with autographed copies only on my shelves – which sounds boastful, but probably shows how much I hang around book festivals and conferences.

  6. Wow, I’m delighted to hear that my piece plus Emma’s and Max’s recent posts have inspired you to join #TBR20. I really hope it works for you, Marina. I love the diversity in your initial list of twenty, most of which are completely new to me. Pushkin Hills caught my eye as I’ve seen a couple of positive reports and it sounds fascinating. Right up your street I’d say.

    The Rhys is wonderful. After Leaving Mr Mackenzie was part of my #TBR20 – also a reread for me, so I would have no hesitation in encouraging you to revisit it. I am going to try to make time for more rereads with the aim of revisiting a favourite book every couple of months. I’m going to keep it flexible though…and I mustn’t think of it as a challenge (otherwise it will suck the pleasure out of it for me!).

    Best of luck with your reading plans – I’m looking forward to seeing how you get on. And thank you for the link to my post, most kind!

    1. Yes, sometimes the very word ‘challenge’ is enough to get my back up! Thank you, though, for giving me the idea. Your fine reviews whetted my appetite. And I really can’t afford to spend any more money on books (especially since most of them are also shipped from abroad and have VAT and whatnot whacked on top).

      1. You’re very welcome. ‘Challenge’ might be one of those divisive words: motivating for some readers, a turn-off for others! Delighted to hear you are going to give #TBR20 a go – looking forward to hearing more about your rereads, too. 🙂

  7. I really need a plan to get through some of the French books I bought on my last trip. But, like you, the TBR Double (or Triple) Dog Dares haven’t worked for me. Maybe this will. If I can refrain from visiting the library that is!

    1. Yes, the library is my downfall as well. I have to stay strong and only borrow books for the children (although I recently started reading some of theirs too).

  8. I think I’m not bad at reading off the shelf, mainly because I can’t afford to buy too many new books and I’m afriad to request more than 1 or 2 a month because I dislike the feeling of obligation and the build up of deadlines.

    I like to change my mind about what I’m intending to read and meander onto another reading route depending on what I read in the meantime, I might read a great review of a book I already have and that’s exactly the motivation I need to dust it off and go for it. I really value that small but exciting freedom, it’s part of what makes me happy. 🙂

    Some of the best books I’ve read recently have been old TBR volumes, like Wangari Maathai’s Unbowed which I must have owned for 2 years before reading it, now its been passed to my stepmother and being read in New Zealand and I know it will be passed around there too.

    I’m not a rereader. I have made myself reread a couple of books I say are favourites just to check that they really are, and while I enjoyed the books, I didn’t enjoy the feeling of already knowing and the fear that it wasn’t going to be the same as it was, I’ve lost that childhood desire and practice of rereading favourites, I need the promise of the unknown, the potential of discovering new words, passages, favourites.

    So I’ll read the reviews of yours and Jacqui’s rereads with the sure knowledge that I’ll find something I haven’t read from among them, something that may already be on the shelf, sounds to me like the perfect solution!

    1. You are so right, Claire – serendipity is a wonderful thing, and picking books according to mood. Like you, I really can’t afford quite that many books (especially since the ones in Switzerland are prohibitively expensive) so I feel guilty about buying anymore when there are so many lingering on my shelves. Do you know, until about 4 years ago I didn’t have any unread books on my shelves? (I was – and am still – a huge library-user though).

      1. Wow that’s amazing, I remember when I started to save unread books, it was when I thought I’d go and spend a year in South America and it occured to me I could collect a few extras and used to get them from 2nd hand bookshops. I never went to Sth America, but I never stop stockpiling books!

  9. Welcome to the TBR20 team, Marina! I hope it’ll work for all of us.

    I’m going to enjoy reading about all the books you picked. I don’t have any of them on my TBR so I can’t read any of them along with you.

    I like rereading books, sometimes. I’m currently rereading La Chartreuse de Parme and it’s rewarding. I read it as a teenager and missed lots of things.

    1. Pleased to be on board! But don’t remind me of all the French writers I want to reread (or read in the original): Le Rouge et le noir, the romans durs of Simenon, Jean-Patrick Manchette, perhaps even some Proust. I’m sure a lot of it went over my head when I was young!

  10. I have decided that I’m definitely going to try this challenge. I’m not going to choose in advance because I then won’t stick to it. But I will not be buying anymore books until I’ve read 20. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. I hadn’t heard of it.

    1. Welcome to the club – and you are probably very wise not to choose too far in advance. I think the only reason I did that was so that I could get those books off my triple-stacked shelves and put them into a separate corner.

  11. I admire that you have picked yourself up since your Double Dare challenge and found another that is more appealing. I have to admit this does sound appealing and I could easily pick 20 books from my bookshelf to read – no problem at all. I feel I have the hoarder gene but confined just to books 😆

    1. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again is my motto here. As for the hoarder gene, yes, I most certainly have it for books (and perhaps for shoes too).

  12. I have been following Jacqui’s posts with interest as well, and only recently ‘learned’ that this plan originated (at least in part) on Twitter. But, I am so tempted to join you as you read through your 20 books. What you say is so true: the pile gets ever longer, and I don’t even buy many of the books on my stack! I’ve received so many to review that now i feel guilty at letting them lie dormant, in the e-reader as well as my shelves. Not to mention the ones I’ve accumulated myself. At any rate, summer seems a good time to begin such an event for me. in the meantime, I will follow your adventures slightly drooling as I do with Jacqui’s blog.

    1. Have decided to incorporate this idea with the Japanese Literature Challenge 9, in which I have listed the 20 books I want to read from June until January. Thanks for the motivation and inspiration! Your post is linked to my intro to the JLC9 today.

      1. Honoured, thank you. But goodness, I don’t think I have 20 Japanese books on my current shelves (certainly not unread), so kudos on you for that.

  13. This looks like a really interesting selection, Marina, I look forward to following your progress.

    As for rereading, I’m starting to think I should do more of it. (I used to reread quite a lot when I was teaching because I needed to in order to teach texts.) Wuthering Height’s always top of the list but How to Be a Heroine’s made me want to revisit lots of books I read as a teenager/in my early 20s – Jane Eyre, A Room with a View, Jilly Cooper’s Rutchester Chronicles, The Bell Jar for starters. Now you’ve got me thinking…

    1. You’ve whetted my appetite with the ones you mention above – except maybe Jilly Cooper. I don’t think I’ve read anything by her. Is it admissable to start reading her once you are out of your teens?

      1. It is! Samantha Ellis said she very much enjoyed them, although she also said she thought they were unsuitable for teenage girls as their idea of sex will be warped – not my experience at all, they were just good fun. Riders/Rivals/Polo/The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous are the ones to go for. Enjoy!

  14. Wow, I just stumbled across one of your tweets and for some reason haven’t seen the #TBR20 tag before? I’m doing a massively expanded version as my own long term reading project.
    Any chipping away at the backlog is great. It shows commitment and a self acceptance that “former you” could chose a good book and that it would actually be a great idea for all concerned if “current you committed to reading it!!
    Thanks for introducing me to the #tbr tag 🙂

    1. The more, the merrier, do join in with or without hashtag! I love the idea of ‘post-consumer’ book club. That feels so right: let’s stop ‘consuming’ and start ‘enjoying’ the books we have.

  15. I love the idea of TBR challenges, I really need one, but I know that as soon as I select a pile of books something else will call. That’s part natural contrariness and part I sense that the books I’ve chose I ring-fenced and so I can’t lose them. I know none or you books, but they look intriguing. I’d just select – if it’s allowed – a small pile of very different alternate reads. And, of course, I wish you the very best of luck!

    1. Thank you for your suggestion: I’ll have a rainy day plan as well (or a sunny day one in this case, if it all gets a bit too serious and gloomy).

  16. I don’t think I’ve read any of your list. I’d be very interested though in your thoughts on the Arjouni, as I’ve wondered what he’s like for a while. Have you reviewed any of his already?

    What’s the Blecher? I’ve never even heard of that.

    Good luck!

    Oh, I might actually be interested in the rereading thing, but I need to get further in my #TBR20 first. The thing with starting with a volume of Proust is that the first of my #TBR20 is basically taking me a month on its own…

    1. I know how you feel! I’ve started rereading (and it was also one of my #TBR20) Tale of Genji in a new translation, and it will take me several months at the rate it’s going…
      I’ve read Arjouni before, not sure if I have reviewed him here though.
      This is what I thought when I reread his first book:
      ‘I’d read it a while ago and had been very impressed. This time round, I found it trying just a little too hard to be like Sam Spade. But then, the author was only 19 when he wrote it. There is a wonderful world-weariness and local humour which sounds like that of a much more mature and experienced author, though. A story where heartbreak is dealt with in oblique, cynical asides. And all the better for it.’

  17. Gosh Marina I am so impressed at the erudition of your list – even more so as you have reading you will do in 3 languages. Well I would like to tentatively take up the re-read challenge, let’s see if I succeed or not.

    My most predictable re read is Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair, which gets read I guess every 5 years, and John Fowles’ The Magus, which was one of the books I really encountered at an impressionable early 20’s age, which I think was the best time to be affected by it, I have re-read it several times, but I did a re-read of both, last year, so they aren’t due for the outing yet. The Fowles one has suffered, as quite a thick book, from one too many readings stuffed in a handbag, and has a broken spine, and loose pages and sellotape. The problem is I annotate and underline like mad. and part of the pleasure is seeing all the old annotations from previous readings, and trying to work out which marking is from when. So I can’t get a new copy!

    It has been in my mind to re-read a couple French books (in English, I’m ashamed to say) Le Grand Meaulnes, which again I read at exactly the right time – in my teens, and it is such a powerful book for a literary teenager, it will be interesting to see how I get affected, or don’t, by it – its influence is clearly there in The Magus. Second is Huysmans A Rebours and the third is Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time. Interesting that I put the 3 together – one so innocent, in many ways, and the last two cynical and filled with ennui!

    1. What fabulous, fabulous re-reading choices! I might join you in a couple myself. I’m sure I’ve read Lermontov, but can’t remember a thing! I so agree with you about The Magus and Le Grand Meaulnes as ideal youthful reading matter.
      And don’t be in awe of my reading in three languages – it’s only because I grew up in several different countries, not through any great effort of mine at all!

  18. And, actually I have had a happy thought, and maybe you will be the woman for this…I have a post coming up in a couple of weeks that mentions a Mallarme poem, and bewails the fact that the dreadful ancient ‘[Penguin Poets’ edition I had (I was interested in those late nineteenth century French poets) was translated by someone with not an ounce of poetic sensibility, who went for the kind of literal translation option that might have been appropriate (just) to instructions on using a vacuum cleaner. Possibly a bit incomprehensible and amusing…but for poetry? I’m amazed Penguin didn’t approach at least a writer, a creative writer, even if they couldn’t find a poet. Anyway, when I post my post, you’ll see……..I’m dreaming of a bilingual creative writer with poetic sensibility…………………….

  19. This is so inspiring, I especially like the way you’ve categorised your reading, I always find that some way into any reading project (I’m currently doing a chronological read through of Russian classics) my brain rebels and wants something different – a varied list of genres or languages and planned re-reading is clearly they way forward!

    1. Thanks for the visit. I find that if I’m too one-sided and focused in my reading or writing, then I get bored, so I need a bit of diversity. After I made this list, I also added some titles, took away others, to fit in with my mood and interests. Not set in stone, then!

Do share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.