This is NOT a Book Club

Last Sunday I got an email from my dad. Unlike my mum, he is an infrequent correspondent (embarrassing me and my siblings on Facebook is a different matter…), and when he does write it’s usually for practical rather than conversational reasons. This latest message was no exception.

“Would you have any great objection if I disposed of the piles of Empire magazines groaning quietly on the shelves in your room?

Put it another way: if Mum & I were to move in two or three years’ time, would you be likely to want to collect them, or to read them again in the meantime?”

To be clear, I last subscribed to Empire in 2003. Since then, six years’ worth of the monthly film magazine have sat in my childhood bedroom collecting dust, alongside old hockey trophies, videos of the 2000 Sydney Olympics (I shit you not), school reports, holiday photo albums, and a million other unwanted and long-forgotten relics of my youth.

Yep – my name is Exhibit A, and I’m a hoarder.

Even now, as a ‘proper adult’, I cart boxes of junk from apartment to apartment; there are some I’m not sure I’ve unpacked since I left my place in Oxford in January 2011. They hide away under beds or on top of wardrobes, waiting patiently for the day when I move into a house of my own…and shove them all up in the attic where they belong.

I’m particularly bad with books – I suspect a lot of us are. I buy them, or I’m given them as presents, or I borrow them from friends who forget to ask for them back*, and for years they just pile up on my shelves, unread and seemingly unloved, except as decoration. The hardest thing about moving to Warsaw, for example – far harder than saying goodbye to friends, family or fuckbuddies – was deciding which books to take** and which to leave behind. In the end I limited myself to 15, tucked neatly into my two suitcases between the layers of clothing. As much as it broke my heart to do so, I eschewed the comfort of old favourites; far better, I thought, to take a handful of those unread, unloved paperbacks, in anticipation of a long, lonely Polish winter in front of the fire. Plenty of time to clear the backlog, right? Right.

I left with 15 books and came back with 28 – 17 of which were dishearteningly, thrillingly, predictably unread. The pile has only grown since then. So when I tweeted this earlier today, I had an idea:


I’m never going to stop hoarding books – and I’m ok with that. However, it would salve my conscience somewhat if I was better at actually reading the books I buy/borrow/steal; even now, I glance up at the bookcase next to my bed and wince at my casual consumerism…at the cavalier waste of someone else’s words. Getting better isn’t easy though: I’m a hoarder, after all, and there are only so many hours in the day. Getting better will require help.

So here’s what I’m going to do. Right now we’re a fortnight (plus change) into 2016, which means the year has roughly 50 weeks left to run. I’ve picked 25 unread books off my shelves (including The Versions of Us), and for the next 11.5 months I’m going to work my way through them. Here they are:


Every two weeks I’m going to read one of the books in this stack, starting with The Versions of Us. When I’m done, I’ll post a review somewhere (new page? new blog? Twitter?) and let y’all know which one I’m going to pick up next. Should any of the 25 remain unfinished by the end of 2016, I’ll donate them to a local charity shop – writing this post ought to be enough to make me read them, and if it’s not…well, clearly it was never meant to be.

If any of you want to join in and read with me, that would be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G – not only will it encourage me to keep going, I’ll also feature your reviews/thoughts/verdicts in whatever I end up doing with my own.

Alternatively, and as a way of maybe giving something back, I’ve put together a second stack, made up of 25 of my favourite books (from the ones that currently line my shelves***):


If you’d like to borrow one of those instead (and/or review it) drop me an email/DM with your postal address and the title of the book that interests you. I’ll put it in a jiffy bag, trust you to return it****, and find a way to add your gushing praise measured comments to my blog if/when you do so.

The aim is to get to December having read a load of really great books in 2016 – but having shared even more with friends, lovers, and the rest of you who read this blog. That’s what would really make me happy.

Mm…I suppose it is sort of a book club…

*That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

**Don’t you even dare say the word ‘Kindle’.

***I have a bad habit of lending out my very favourite books to people who ‘forget’ to return them. Yes, karma.

****(/name and shame you if you don’t)

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12 Responses to This is NOT a Book Club

  1. mariasibylla says:

    I like this! ‘The Versions of Us’ isn’t available in US until May, but I haven’t read any of the books in your stack so might tackle a few. Great idea!

  2. whistlingwoman says:

    Hello, fellow hoarder! I have roughly 7 metres of Billy books shelves filled to the brim with books. (Maybe one or two shelves contain records and DVDs.) I would love to take part in a book reading challenge! I might even have some of those books in my own collection. What are you going to start reading?

  3. Both those McEwan books are a joy… Chesil Beach was sublime!

  4. Molly says:

    I hang my head in shame. I am a total book hoarder. We have an Oxfam book shop in town and I find passing by and not popping in almost impossible. Like you, they sit in stacks around my house and I fail to read tons of them, much to Michael’s frustration as he reads mountains of books. He has already read 6 books so far THIS YEAR. I swear he is not actually a human.

    I am currently reading the second book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness. It is all witches and vampires, not my thing but these are actually surprisingly good and lots of it is set in Oxford too.

    From your ‘to read’ stack I have only read Chesil Beach, which is an excellent book and from the other pile I have read both Atonement and White Teeth. Also both excellent.

    Anyway, you have inspired me. I will knuckle down and finish the book I am currently reading and then attempt to tackle some of the many I have hoarded.


    • Unsurprisingly I have a real soft spot for books set in Oxford, so I might have to check out the Harkness trilogy. And I agree, charity shops are my weakness too – as much as I try to balance it out, I never seem to donate anything like as many as I buy…

  5. I’ve read the Life of Pi!

    Reading has been central to my indentity since I was very young, but recent self-evaluation has made me realised I’m not really a reader any more.

    My life has so not gone the way I expected.

  6. Brazzaville Beach I have read several times and loved it for different reasons over the 4-6 times I have. White Teeth is just fabulous as are other Zadie Smith books. Life of Pi I really struggled with and will never read it again (nor have I watched the film) .. The Time Traveller’s Wife however brought me to tears and the film adaptation was really good.
    Most recently “Room” by Emma Donoghue (just released and Oscar nominated film) was a “one day” read as it was quite simply the best thing I’ve read in a long time.
    I love books – lucky enough to have a good friend who is an author too.

  7. Twiglet at hundred acres says:

    love the idea behind this, always meant to read white teeth, I think Beastly has a copy among the racks of books he has, and I have a time travels wife on my urr, looks shamed faced, iPad/kindle… but the one that caught my eye because I have never heard of it is “love virtually…’ maybe I can be persuaded to move on from my ‘utter-trash-vampire-werewolf-paranormal-romance-guilty-pleasure-thank-you-author-for-not-requiring-me-to-engage-my-brain’ binge fest…

    • YES! Read Love Virtually – it’s great. I picked it up without knowing anything about it, and basically read the whole thing in one sitting. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy 🙂

  8. Fay says:

    Well hello there! It’s certainly been a while. I have a suggestion for your book reading antics. DM or email me xx

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