If you’re a serious book reader (as I, and many of you are), I’m sure you’ve encountered the classic dilemma of how to choose what to read next, also known in the online book community as deciding on the ‘TBR:’ To Be Read List.
On the one hand, there’s the allure of the fun, easy read. The one that will pull you in right away, keep you turning the pages at a rapid pace and allow you to breeze through it in a few days. This category often encompasses crime, mystery, young Adult and those various romance novels.
On the other hand, we have the ‘literary’ books. These are the ones considered the greatest novels of all time, works of arts that force us into deep contemplation and make us ask the big questions: what is the meaning of life, what are the strongest forces surrounding us, who are we, etc. They’re heavy, often lengthy and to be completely honest, quite gruelling at times. Are they fun? Not exactly. However, they do provide us with a strong sense of fulfillment when we’ve plodded our way through and conquered them at long last.
You can see how we’ve reached the dilemna: how to choose between pure entertainment and accomplishment? It’s a tough one, but I’ve found the key is doing the balancing act. When I’m selecting my upcoming TBR list, I try to choose a couple of books from each category in order to satisfy my lust for fun and my more rational desire to learn. Hence, I have a rule that as soon as I finish a mammoth novel (cc: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Underworld by Don DeLillo), I immediately pick up something light and easily consumable to remind me of the pure joy reading can bring, knowing I deserve a reward for my hard work.
With this in mind, I present to you my December TBR List.
Book # 1: Jonathan Safron Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
This book is a bit of a hybrid of both categories, although I’d likely place it in the latter due to its heavy subject matter, nonlinear storytelling and creative use of visual content. The novel follows nine year old Oskar Schell as he embarks on a journey around New York City to find information on a key found in the bedroom of his late father who was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The novel also examines the lives of his paternal grandparents, survivors of the Dresden bombings in WWII.
I just started and find it a bit disorienting with the various multiple voices, but am excited to see where it goes. Safran Foer has gained a lot of attention in recent years with his innovative storytelling techniques so I’d say he’s a good contemporary author to follow moving forwards.
Book # 2: Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic
This novel 100% falls in the former category of pure entertainment. A prequel to one of her most famous works, Practical Magic, we are taken on a journey into the world of 20th century witches and wizards living in New England and New York City. The novel follows the lives of three siblings, Franny, Jet and Vincent as they come of age and discover their magical powers with the help of Aunt Isabelle.
I’ve only read a few pages so far, but already it’s full of those warm, mystical fuzzy vibes you want for the holiday season.
Book # 3: George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo
The winner of this year’s prestigious Booker Prize, this falls strongly into the latter category of thought-provoking reads. The novel takes place following the death of Lincoln’s son and much of it is set ‘in the Bardo,’ a space between life and death.
I’ve previously read only one Saunder’s book, a collection of short stories called CivilWarLand in Bad Decline . Set in a near future dystopia, the stories are full of satire, black humour and contemplation of consumerism and materiality. Saunders has an intensely unique voice, so if his new work is anything like these stories, I’m in for a existential crisis fuelled bumpy ride.
Book # 4: Patrick DeWitt’s Ablutions
This work is also a bit of a hybrid, but since it’s quite short, almost a novella more than a novel, I’m putting it in the fun category. DeWitt’s novel follows a bartender and is shockingly written in the second person. The only novel I’ve read that has used this technique (it puts the reader into the story by using ‘You’ constantly as the main pronoun) is Jay McInerney’s classic Bright Lights, Big City. I’m curious to see how it works out.
DeWitt went on to win Canada’s big literary award, the Governor General’s prize for his novel The Sisters Brothers so I have confidence it’ll be an enjoyable, if fairly experimental read.
You’ll notice I only have four books on my list for December and this leads me to another point: the need to leave space for spontaneity. We all know what it’s like to walk into a book store, pick up a book and immediately want to buy it and start reading. As much as it’s good to plan it out, I wouldn’t want to deny that fun living.
And so, my hope for me and you this December is we fall in love at first sight with a book, and it immediately goes to the top of our TBR list right into the cherished ‘Currently Reading’ position.