Life (Not Death) By TBR

Janet Coburn
4 min readMay 14, 2023

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By now, everyone’s seen that cartoon where a grieving widow and a coroner are looking at the squashed husband, saying, “It was his TBR pile.” There are even those who say that will be my fate — to be smashed into a literary pancake by all the books I mean to read someday.

That could certainly be true if all my books were dead-tree editions. But slowly (more quickly since the tornado) I’ve been replacing my books with ebooks. (To those who say ebooks aren’t real books, I say phooey! They each have their good and bad points. Ebooks don’t have that delicious new-book smell, but ebooks allow for dwindling eyesight without having to resort to the 50 or so books in the LARGE PRINT section of the library. They both do, however, convey the same information or story. But I digress.)

I usually read two books at a time, one with each eye. (Not really. I wish.) I switch back and forth between a book of fiction and one of nonfiction. If I read two of the same sort, they can get muddled in my easily-muddlable brain.

Right now, my two books are Artemis, a science fiction novel by Andy Weir, the guy who wrote The Martian. Artemis is a city on the moon, and our MC (Main Character, for those of you not up on the jargon) is a shady delivery person who gets in far over her head. If it were a movie, it would be a caper film. The nonfiction book is The Suspect. (It has the impossibly long subtitle An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle, which at least tells you what the book is about without me having to. But I digress again.)

But what’s next? I have over 1,000 choices (another of the benefits of ebooks — they can all exist on my bed table without the threat of pancaking me). There are a few front-runners.

Fiction:

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. About women astronauts.

Calypso, by David Sedaris. (I mean, if it counts as fiction, which I can’t always tell.) I hope it’s as good as his early works.

While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams. Just to see if she can really write as well as legislate.

Battle of the Linguist Mages, by Scotto Moore. Because, duh.

Any of Dick Francis’s oeuvre, which I’ve been making my way through a little at a time.

Nonfiction:

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker, because I’d like to see him prove that.

Live Forever: The Songwriting Legacy of Billy Joe Shaver, by Courtney S. Lennon, because I love his music, if not his voice.

To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu, by George Takei. Oh, Myyy!

Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance, by Leonard Peltier. I’ve read about the case from a law enforcement perspective. Now I want the man’s own story.

Killing Rasputin: The Murder That Ended the Russian Empire, by Margarita Nelipa. Because I love Russian history.

Of course, that’s just a sampling. I have hundreds more to choose from. I tend to read the books that I’ve bought most recently, since they caught my eye for one reason or another. Almost none of the books on my Nook are popular, current bestsellers. With as many books as I buy, I try not to pay more than $3.99 per. Of course, that means I buy a few that are real clunkers. I read a chapter or two and then mosey along.

(To those who are curious, I generally read on a Nook or an iPad with Nook software. (I can also read on my phone or iPod, if I’m willing to read a paragraph or less at a time. Sometimes it becomes necessary.) Recently, I acquired a Kindle Fire (it was given to me) and I have at least a few books on it, including Rift, by Liza Cody, which I’ve never been able to find for Nook, for some reason. My problem will come when B&N (and my Nook) finally turn belly up and I have to find a way to convert the 1000+ books to Kindle. Or find someone who knows how to do it for me. But I digress again. At length.)

And for those who remember that I used to be a full-time literary maven, rest assured that I do have serious works on my Nook as well — the complete Shakespeare, James Joyce, Cervantes, Emily Dickinson, to name but a few. But I read them all, back in grad school (100 years ago), so they’re not high on my TBR list. They’re weighty tomes, to be sure — but not anything likely to topple on my head. Hold the maple syrup.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.