Oh, the overwhelming allure.

Women's Fiction Prize Backlist Stack

Past Orange Prize nominees

So many of us have seemingly endless older books on our TBRs.

Sometimes these are tightly defined (spreadsheeted phenomena, like this Virago project of mine) whereas others are loosely conceived (“I’m going to read more Victorian potboilers”).

But, despite this, more recently published books are a persistant distraction.

Even though I snapped a photo of my February reads and acknowledged that the most recently published book in my stacks was a 1951 Gabrielle Roy novel, I knew my days of backlisted reading were threatened by the furor surrounding various spring events.

And I did read some newer books in March, like the Canada Reads contender, Jocelyne Saucier’s And the Birds Rained Down (Translated by Rhonda Mullins). This slim and accomplished tale managed to last until the third day of the debates, even though there is little that we would not rather think about than dying old (except, perhaps, dying young, and even that, if it’s in the context of a John Green story, can be dressed as entertainment).

And the Birds Rained Down was published in 2011 and became the most recently published book in my reading log for this year until…

I read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing. Both were tremendously entertaining and solidly written, and they have been longlisted for this year’s Women’s Fiction Prize, a prizelist I have followed since its earliest days, when one had to hope that such announcements would appear in a newspaper the next morning.

And, so, with the announcement of that longlist, I was propelled to the library hold lists once more, eager to track down the titles I hadn’t heard of, wondering how many of the longlisted books I could read before the prize is announced in June.

Well, quite simply, I could read all of them. But, another question is, what  would go unread if I did?

The simplest answer is that all the books that have been sitting untouched on my TBR for years would continue to go unread.

But I could gobble Rachel Cusk’s Outline and Laline Paul’s The Bees (both of which I wanted to read before they were listed for this prize). Along with one of my personal MRE (Must-Read-Everything) authors, who appears on this year’s list (Sarah Waters, with The Paying Guests) and those writers’ books whose works I have enjoyed for many years (for instance, Ali Smith and Anne Tyler). I have no doubt that, an April spent in their company would be worthwhile indeed.

And, yet, the same could certainly be said of the books and writers in the picture I’ve snapped of another list, a longlist of sorts, a sampling of nominees from previous years which I have yet to read. Andrea Levy, too, is one of my MRE authors, but I’ve yet to make time to read Small Island. And even though you couldn’t shut me up about Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods a couple of years ago, The Last Samurai is as yellowed inside as its outside, having sat neglected on my bookshelf for about fifteen years.

So I have read some of this year’s 20 nominees for the Women’s Fiction Prize, and I am currently reading Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China, but I am also reading Anita Rau Badami’s The Hero’s Walk, which was longlisted for the prize in 2002. Whether the coming reading weeks contain more of this year’s nominees or more of the past nominees remains to be seen, but not necessarily because I am distracted by this year’s list (but, of course, I am: you know that) but also because I am also distracted by other backlisted reading projects.

David Adams Richards Backlist Stack

Freshly pulled from the R shelf

A straightforward one is the stack of David Adams Richards novels, which I first snatched from the shelf last summer, when I was reading Crimes Against My Brother, a memorable but difficult read from my 2014.

Because he is one of those writers who populate their works in such a way that a character whom readers meet in one book might resurface in another later book, I was particularly keen to read more of his novels. And the only book of his which I had read previously was Nights Below Station Street.

I would have waffled on that statement even just a week ago. Because my copy of it has such a beautiful winter’s evening cover illustration, for years I have confused Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace with the only David Adams Richards novel that I had actually read before Crimes Against My Brother.

Perhaps even while reading Nights Below Station Street, I believed that I was reading Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace. (This kind of thing happens. I just realized that Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg are two different actors. Confusion can persist. uninterrupted, for years.)

And, yet, when I reached for Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace — ostensibly for a reread — I realized that it was Nights Below Station Street that needed rereading and, there, in the first few pages of these novels, I was reminded why, for characters do, indeed, recur and families populate the page in a suitably messy and sprawled fashion as they populate a tightly-knit community like the Miramichi.

There is no sensible reason for my muddlement of Richards’ novels. I can never recall which ones I actually own and which I have seen so many times on the shelves of libraries and bookstores that I believe I own copies. And the titles are individually beautiful but collectively blurred. So I wanted to read Mercy among the Children (because one of its characters appears in last year’s novel) but I have only copies of Brokenhearted and Meagre stories instead.

When, if I sit down instead with this year’s Women’s Fiction Prizelist, will I ever sort out such details?

And then there is the matter of my Once Upon a Time reading. Even online you can view my overly-ambitious reading plans from past years (2013 and 2012, for instance) and see how often some of the same books appear on multiple lists, with the best of intentions but never realized.

Of course I am inclined to stack an unreasonable number of books at arm’s length to peruse for a reading event, but some of my reading lists for OUAT are long even according to my own inflated standards of reading-list-ness.

OUAT9 Stack

Planning for OUAT IX

When will I finally get to Monica Furlong’s series, which only had two books in it when I first put it on my reading list? When will that happen, if I stop to invstigate Patricia Ferguson now (for I see she has been nominated for the Women’s Fiction previously, too) or sandwich in Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief (because, oh, I did love her novel The Wilderness enough to buy a hardcover after I had read a copy of it from the library)?

Some of the books on this list have been on my shelves, unread, for twenty-some-odd years.

And, yet, the new and shiny are seemingly irresistible.

Perhaps that is, in some cases, for good reason.

I finally read Walter Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow this year, which had been on my shelves for 25 years (and made repeat appearances on my OUAT lists) and I didn’t enjoy it half as much as I thought I would. (I do like a good animal story, but I should have guessed that a Christian allegory would complicate my response on those grounds.)

But mostly?

I simply avoid reading the books on my own shelves because I have had, for so long, the habit of choosing other books instead.

Of the 32 books I’ve read this year so far, 26 have been pulled from my own shelves, with an average publication date of 1988, many having been unread for a decade — or two. (Compared to 9 of the first 32 books read last year, 2 in that segment of 2013’s reading, 7 in 2012 and 6 in 2011.)

I was eyeing Terry Pratchett’s novels as a teenager (only because the covers were playful and stood out dramatically in the science-fiction and fantasy sections I loved to browse), but I have yet to finish The Color of Magic. And even though I did begin it (for perhaps the fifth time) earlier in March, I will have to begin again, because once again I have gotten off on the wrong foot with it. (I can’t explain it: the turtles and elephants just don’t line up for me.)

Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks landed on my shelf because it was part of a bookclub discussion in 1995 and it, too, remains unread. Which hasn’t stopped me from adding 5 of her other books to my TBR — the list, not my shelves — and, in the process of investigating that statistic, I added a sixth book to my EmmaBullTBR, the first in a series which has more than ten installments in it (here’s hoping that, if I ever do get to reading the first, that I do not enjoy it) and was reminded that the epistolary novel she co-wrote is nearly 600 pages long.

But, I think I should rush to read these recent nominees.

When do I imagine reading the books pictured here?

Perhaps After Before (another Women’s Fiction Prize nominee).

Or maybe I just need to figure out How to Be Both readers at the same time.

And you?

Just how serious is your library habit?

Just how hard would it be for you to make a change?