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#TBR20 or #PAL20: what now?

On May 12th, 2015, I started my own #TBR20 challenge or in French my #PAL challenge. As I mentioned it in previous post, I completed it by the end of December. I read the following books:

  1. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
  2. Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes (abandoned)
  3. Lune captive dans un œil mort by Pascal Garnier
  4. U.V. by Serge Joncour
  5. Petit traité des privilèges de l’homme mûr by Flemming Jensen
  6. Piazza Bucarest by Jens Christian Grøndahl
  7. This Should Be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle (abandoned)
  8. Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski
  9. Still Life by Louise Penny
  10. I Married a Communist by Philip Roth
  11. N.N. by Gyula Krudy
  12. Happy Are the Happy by Yasmina Reza
  13. Vienna Tales (Collection of short stories by various authors)
  14. Fateless by Imre Kertész
  15. Runaway by Alice Munro
  16. L’outlaw by Georges Simenon
  17. Continental Drift by Russel Banks (abandoned)
  18. Wandering Star by J-M. G. Le Clézio
  19. The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy
  20. Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien

I abandoned three of them because I couldn’t find enough interest in them. Some were truly outstanding and made it to my Best of the Year Reads. I’m not going to calculate statistics about the % of female writers, of 5 star books or of French writers. KPIs are for my working life, not my blogging life. Suffice to say that all in all, it was a good selection of books, novels and short stories and from different countries. I’m glad I finished it in 2015.

What do I get out of it and how do I feel about the whole challenge?

I’m happy that my TBR decreased a bit (still 180 books to go…) and I think it was good to focus on reading what I already owned. The difficulty came from defining the list of books in advance. I had put them on a special shelf and even if I had not set a special order for them, I felt a bit prisoner of that selection. Well, I fell off the wagon twice to read Australian novels set in Perth before our Australian guest arrived, so I had a good reason. But sometimes I wanted to read something else but I stuck with the list otherwise I knew I wouldn’t make it.

The other difficulty was to refrain from buying books. This asked a lot of effort. I joked about it in previous posts as well, saying that I bought books as gifts and got some new bookish accessories. Anything to justify my presence in book stores and spend time browsing books. I feel like I’ve been on a low carb diet for months and now all I want to do is get pizzas, lasagna or risotto. In other words, I’m starved from book buying, I’m in withdrawal and I’m ready for a book buying binge. Not so good.

So, what now? I treated myself with a literary day on January 2nd. I visited four book stores, got myself three books. I found some Hemingway tea and I went to the cinema to see the adaptation of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe. (It’s a French film directed by Michel Leclerc, starring Jean-Pierre Bacri as Mr Sim. It’s a brilliant adaptation of the novel.)


I’ve been reasonable. Agostino is January’s Book Club selection, the Keats is because I’m reading his Letters to Fanny Brawne and I didn’t even know his poetry. I was delighted to find a bilingual edition. And the Craig Johnson is pure lust for the second volume of the Longmire series.

But I don’t want my TBR to regain the weight it has lost. 2016 needs a new reading diet.

I want to continue on the #TBR20 trend but I want to do it differently. I read about a book per week, meaning that I already own 3.5 years of reading, so the TBR won’t vanish overnight. So, four books per month is my reading capacity at the moment. One book comes from my Book Club selection. Two will come from the shelves. And the last one is a free read. Either it will come from the shelves or it won’t.

And I’m not going to pick the books in advance this time. I have a new shelf of the books I’d like to read this year but I may not keep my word and read them in 2016. It will depend on my mood and I like it that way.

Last but not least, I’ll try to read the books I buy or the books I get as gifts within 6 months. This will probably fill in the fourth book of the month. I’ll try not to buy books if I think I won’t be able to read them within 6 months.

I hope that with these three new rules the 2016 #TBR20 – #PAL 20 project will seem lighter to pursue. I should decrease the TBR, moderate my book buying and still feel free to read what I want. We’ll see how it works for 2016.

Will you do a #TBR20 challenge this year too?

  1. January 4, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    Just three books! From those bookstores! (I assume I have visited a couple of them). Very, very reasonable. Almost unreasonably reasonable.

    I hope the Keats translation works well for you. I am reading him now, actually. He had the lightest touch.


    • January 4, 2016 at 11:46 pm

      I think you have. At least la Librairie Passages and maybe Le bal des ardents.

      Keats. I have a small volumes of sonnets. Sometimes the English is easier to read than the translation. It doesn’t make sense, does it?
      And of course I’m missing most of the beauty because I can’t pronounce the poems properly.


  2. January 5, 2016 at 12:24 am

    I don’t have a formal challenge as such. BUT I have started reading more of the piles of books I have here, and then I also want to try reading books as they arrive (or least attempt this). I think your new approach is probably healthy. Starvation leads to binge etc, and sometimes I am in the mood for something whether it’s on a certain list or not.

    I know I have too many books but so what? I get the eye-rolling etc but what the hell… there are so many worse things/habits.


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      I have to challenge myself, otherwise it won’t decrease.

      I agree with you: book addiction is probably the only addiction that reinforces the brain instead of destroying it.


  3. January 5, 2016 at 12:50 am

    My TBR is about 800 books and the size of it is a comfort, not a worry. It’s like having a full pantry:)
    I don’t have a system or a challenge, but as I finish a book I tend to think, what next? Oh, I haven’t read a translation for a while, or it’s been too long since I read a classic, or it’s time for another Zola or whatever. I buy books as and when I feel like it, it’s my only extravagance and I like to support authors by buying their works. And the TBR goes up and down a bit and the only time I worry is when I have too many authors to fit nicely on the shelf where they belong and then I read a whole lot of Ms, or Ds, or Ps, or whatever it is until there’s space again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 6, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      800 books? Keep giving me such numbers, that’s comforting. My 180 books TBR seems like a molehill now. 🙂

      I like your system as well and that’s why I don’t want to make a list of books this time. I just want to avoid over-consuming.


      • January 6, 2016 at 2:22 pm

        Yes, I take your point about over-consuming. Many of my books are second-hand, often bought very cheaply at Op Shops, and of course I use my library a fair bit too. But I also think it’s important to buy books, because sales are an author’s income, and I like to support my favourite authors by buying their recent releases. I don’t feel too guilty about that because our household “under-consumes” (growing our own; avoiding processed foods; avoiding shopping; taking no interest at all in fashion, cars, home décor &c and running a carbon neutral household with solar power). Buying books is really our only vice!


        • January 6, 2016 at 2:27 pm

          Now you sound like Guy.
          When I’m talking about over-consuming I’m thinking about buying books you don’t need right away and may never read.

          You can buy more books than me because you read a lot more than me. With 50-60 books read per year, 5 books is more than 10% of my reading time.

          Liked by 1 person

          • January 6, 2016 at 3:06 pm

            I started buying more of them because I was in a panic about eBooks. It’s not so long ago that they were predicting the death of the paper book and I needed to stock up so that I had enough to read into my old age!


            • January 6, 2016 at 11:32 pm

              I don’t think there will ever be a shortage of paper books, not in our lifetime anyway.
              So you’ve been stocking up books like squirrels stock up nuts. 🙂


              • January 7, 2016 at 1:20 am

                Now, I think you’re right. But our city lost dozens of bookshops and it is still true that if you don’t buy a print book in its first six months, you’ve missed out that’s the common shelf life. Booksellers don’t keep backlists any more either not even for famous authors.


              • January 7, 2016 at 10:55 pm

                The number of bookstores hasn’t decreased that much here but they have less books in store. I had to visit four different ones to find Agostino.

                Liked by 1 person

              • January 7, 2016 at 11:49 pm

                The ones that have survived the onslaught are the ones that are very good at marketing, have excellent service, and offer ‘events’ at their shops, e.g. author talks, story time for little kids etc. But I know that some people have abandoned print books forever and only buy eBooks from Amazon…


          • January 6, 2016 at 5:09 pm

            I had a discussion yesterday regarding various meltdowns I’ve seen with people going crazy into debt. Or exploding their lives in various self-destructive middle-aged ways. I look at my books and say big deal.


            • January 6, 2016 at 11:33 pm

              Like I said, books are a very healthy addiction.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. January 5, 2016 at 12:50 am

    Im not going to make a list this year either. I did a TBR challenge last year and found exactly as you did, that the fact the book was on the list became a turn off. So this year I am just doing the triple dog dare where for three months I read only what is on the TBR. But no lists are needed…..much easier to manage. I can still buy books but just have to wait to read them for three months 🙂


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      I really like picking books according to my mood and not to a list. It was almost a first to me. I have my Book Club choices but otherwise I never had any reading imposed on me since high school.

      I hope you’ll let us know how the triple dog dare works for you. How many books do you have on the TBR?


      • January 7, 2016 at 12:21 am

        According to the spreadsheet I updated last night it is 185. I can’t go much higher than that simply because there is no space for them


        • January 7, 2016 at 10:53 pm

          So your TBR is about the same size as mine. They’re not that bad, all things considered.


          • January 8, 2016 at 12:43 am

            I’ve stopped thinking that TBRs are bad things or problems. I’m even considering stopping using that name


  5. Chelsea McGill
    January 5, 2016 at 5:44 am

    The list is what puts me off of this as well. Sounds like your plan would work better; let me know how it goes!


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:19 pm

      I’m glad I managed to stick to the plan in 2015 (well almost) but I think this way will work better for me.

      I’ll keep everyone posted on the blog with the list of the #TBR20-2016 on the right of the screen, above the Currently Reading box.


  6. January 5, 2016 at 8:33 am

    That sounds like a sensible plan rather than a starvation diet! I too will attempt to read more from my existing shelves rather than keep on adding to them. But I still need to allow some room for serendipity.


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Successful diets are based on balance. I think this time it’s more balanced. Serendipity, impulses and whims are possible!


  7. lizzysiddal
    January 5, 2016 at 9:22 am

    “KPIs are for my working life, not my blogging life.” Oh well said!

    Though I have put a ratio on my 2016 reading, 80% of which has to come from the pre-2016 TBR. With somewhere in the region of 2000, I have plenty of choice.


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      2000 books on the TBR! Your number is even more comforting than Lisa’s! 🙂

      80% of the 2016 reads coming from the pre-2016 TBR, that’s a good way to do it too. I’ll keep that in mind for next year if my system doesn’t work.


      • lizzysiddal
        January 6, 2016 at 7:54 pm

        About 10 years ago, someone said that they were collecting books to read during retirement. What a good idea, I thought …. the rest you know,


        • January 6, 2016 at 11:34 pm

          You too! You can compare notes and TBR with Lisa, then. 🙂
          Do you also dread the disapearance of paper books?


          • lizzysiddal
            January 6, 2016 at 11:51 pm

            No. I don’t believe it will ever happen.


  8. January 5, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Your new plan sounds like a good way of managing things going forward. The pick-as-you-go-along approach worked fairly well for me when I did the #TBR20 this time last year – I’m not sure I could have stuck to fixed set of twenty without feeling restricted in some way.

    Over the past year I’ve been trying to put a little more thought into the books I really want to buy (rather than getting distracted left, right and centre by various things). If I see a book that catches my eye, whether it’s through a review or in a bookshop, I try to put it on a wishlist rather than buying it at the time. That way I can take stock and review the list at a later date.


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      I’m glad it worked for you, there’s a good chance it’ll go well for me too.

      I’m using a wishlist on Goodreads too. I should review it, btw and see if some should be deleted.

      Books can’t be discounted much in France (by law. because books aren’t a commodity) so I’m not tempted to buy a book because it’s discounted and cheap.

      What also helps a lot is that I’m attracted to British and American books and when I see them in a bookstore, they’re in French. So I’m tempted but I refrain because I’d rather read them in the original.


  9. January 5, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Well done for getting to the end Emma. I have two books to go, and my no buying thing rather broke down over Christmas as several books on Amazon that I’d wanted for a while were heavily discounted.

    In truth 20 is too many for me. I also read about a book a week on average, and 20 therefore is nearly 40% of my reading for the year. It’s too much and I increasingly suspect like food diets it encourages famine followed by feast to compensate for the famine. It starts to feel a bit like a prison too, though it has at least encouraged me to read some books I’d long wanted to but kept not getting to.

    Anyway, I’ll write a #tbr20 post myself when I finally get to the end of it, hopefully later this month. Your three new rules look pretty good. I may well adopt something similar myself going forward. They seem more flexible, and perhaps therefore a little more forgiving.


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks Max, you’re not far away either.
      As you know, heavy discounts on books are not allowed in France, so I’m free from this temptation to grab a bargain.

      20 is a lot, I agree with you. I knew when I started it that it would take me the rest of the year to decrease the pile.

      I’m looking forward to reading your post about this experience. If you adopt the same set of rules, we’ll compare notes at the end of 2016! 🙂


  10. January 5, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Rather novel that you found your way to Keats’ poetry through his letters and not the other way around. That’s admirable restraint though, picking up only three books. I’ve tried to be restrained while in France, but between gifts and a few self-directed purchases I’m heading home with almost enough to constitute a ready-made #TBR20 challenge. I won’t do it, through. If I read everything I owned, what would I do during those white nights when nothing will do except something almost completely unfamiliar and forgotten on the shelf?


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:41 pm


      Well, I never do reading the usual way, I suppose. 🙂 I like reading letters. I knew Keats was a famous poet but that’s all. Poetry is difficult for me in French. In English, it’s very difficult and frustrating. I don’t like reading poetry in translation and I can’t read the original only. Bilingual editions are great for that but like I said to Tom in an earlier comment, I still miss a lot. I can’t pronounce the verses properly because of my accent, sounds are unreachable for a French and I’m never sure to put the accent at the right place.

      I like visiting bookstores when I’m abroad, even when I don’t speak the language. Just looking at local editions of books and what is on display tables interests me.
      What did you get in France? Books in French not available in English?

      I like to have a TBR for the same reason as you. I like to browse through it to pick my next book. But mine is unreasonable now. I just want to decrease it, not erase it.


  11. January 5, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    Oh, and also, why did you abandon Virginie Despentes? I ask because a friend here has been tearing through her work with enthusiasm, so I’ve been tempted to pick it up. I too abandoned Russell Banks, and on more than one occasion, though his novella The Sweet Hereafter is unforgettable (though almost objectionably grim – there must be some personal trauma that drove him to write it).


  12. January 5, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Congratulations on your successful whittling down of the your TBR.

    I think that it is a good idea that you will not be planning too far in advance what you will be reading. Though I do plan myself, strictly adhering to such plans seems to be too stifling.

    By the way, I think that this is funny coincidence. As it is my blogging anniversary I went back to my first post. I think that I mentioned to you before that you were the first person to comment on my blog ever. Your comment was to the effect that your TBR had gotten out of control 🙂


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      “Stifling” is the right adjective, Brian.

      Funny, yes. My TBR went wild after I started blogging. Before that, I had less reading ideas…


  13. Tom Cunliffe
    January 5, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    Oh I’d love to see the Maxwell Slim movie! I hope they do an English subtitled version.

    I am impressed with your reading plans – I just like to seek out a new book whenever I finish one and have no grand scheme other than my usual theme of modern European novels in translation to English. My overwhelming wish for 2016 is that Britain stays in the European Union and I do a little campaigning on that topic through a local organisation


    • January 6, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      I’m sure the film will make it to the UK.

      This year, I don’t have precise plans. I’ll just read what I have, mostly and ask myself before buying a book if I’ll be able to read it within 6 months. If not, well, it goes on the wish list and I can get it instantly on the kindle if I’m in the mood to read it.

      Good luck with the campaign.


  1. December 13, 2016 at 11:30 pm

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