2019 TBR Pile Challenge

One more challenge I’ve decided to join after seeing many of my dear blogger friends joining. The 2019 TBR Challenge at the Roof Beam Reader.

As one of you doing this challenged mentioned, I like its simplicity. It was another opportunity for me to give my books some love and attention. This year I’m shopping at my own shelves. I have many books I haven’t read yet. That doesn’t bother me at all. I enjoy becoming more familiar with all I have, -read and unread-, and remembering why it is I bought my books, and deciding which of the unread ones I wanted to read, and which old friends I want to re-read.

I also wanted an excuse to photograph my books, and to focus on 12 titles, (that’s what this challenge proposes, along with 2 alternates), and to share why I’m determined to read those books this year. Since I’ve already picked 12 classics for the Back to the Classics challenge, I’m going to choose more recent books than classics for this challenge, along with some non fiction.


  1. How Should We Then Live? Francis A. Shaeffer
  2. A Briefer History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  3. Peace like a River, Leif Engle
  4. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
  5. Washington Square, Henry James
  6. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie (completed, Jan 2019)
  7. Farewell Spain, Kate O’Brien.  Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, Roy Bedichek.
  8. Speak Memory, Nabokov
  9. Eothen, A.W. Kinglake
  10. Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard
  11. Glaucus, or The Wonders of the Shore, Charles Kingsley
  12. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Two alternates:


How Should We Then Live? Francis A. Shaeffer

It’s my perception that Shaeffer has fallen from grace somehow. His popularity as a representative of the evangelical movement wave was at its height in the eighties. His son later revealing a more nuanced view of his father’s private life and his years at L’Abri, leaves us with much to ponder on him as a public figure. Maybe that’s not as important as to reading his books. I can say that his book Escape from Reason was short and quite an impact.

If his son is right, what mattered to him was art and culture, he was moved by beauty. I’m eager to see what he has to say about how art’s purpose has changed through history.


A Briefer History of Time, Stephen Hawking

I know I couldn’t do the original, but this briefer one is thin and not intimidating, and the topic of time should be interesting to hear. I have no clue how Hawking fairs as a writer. I hope to discover it this year.


Peace like a River, Leif Engle

I bought this book 3 or 4 years ago. I even started the first pages and loved it. I have no clue to why I quit reading it. Like her who came up with this acronym, SNGATI (“somehow never got around to it”), mine should be NCWIQRI. Never mind, it’s too long for it to be successful.

Peace Like a River shows in the lists of christian valued literature. The book refers to a line in the well known by many song, It is well with my soul.

The book received different awards, and I hear it mentioned as a possible future classic. Leif Enger was born in 1961. I’m seeing Peace Like a River a lot in diverse book lists since he published his latest book, Virgil Wander, in October 2018. He also published So Brave So Young in April 2009. (Peace Like a River came up in September 2002).


Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy is another author I saw at the christian influence writers of our times. His book The Road, took me two attempts to read. I had to understand why it was written in such a simplistic style, and also I had to decide to trust the author. When I did that, I could read it. It’s actually an easy read when it comes to sentence structure. Pretty plain, straightforward. The difficulty resides in the story told. A father and his son wandering and trying to stay alive in a very desolate and cruel post apocalyptic world.

Listening to the Bibliophile Podcasts has stirred a desire to give another title a try. I’m going for no less than Blood Meridian. I heard it’s the book that signifies the end of all Western books. Don Quixote would be the same but in regards to the cavalierly books.

I’m glad, though, to have a couple of alternate books, since they also say the book has lots of blood in it, 🙂 and I may not be able to read it for that reason. Knowing a tad of what Cormac is trying to achieve, I may, though. I’m highly intrigued by this title.


Washington Square, Henry James

Four years or longer I’ve been wanting to read Henry James. There’s no excuse for my neglect. Graham Greene speaks highly of him. To my embarrassment, I also haven’t read any Greene book yet. I wanted to pick Greene’s Monsignor Quixote for the classic comic novel category, but the book was published in 1982, and it didn’t fulfill the 50+ year old condition for that challenge. I wish this year sees me reading at least one book by each of these authors.

I have several blogger friends and Goodreads friends who love Henry James. I want to see for myself the qualities his books have.


Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Rushdie was uber popular in Spain when he wrote his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, -quite a provocative title that surely granted him worldwide attention-. Muslims accused him of blasphemy. His style is magical realism. I’ve never read any magical realism set in the Eastern world, only Latin American magic realism. Rushdie got my attention over a year ago, when I heard Ishiguro say he didn’t write as beautiful prose as Rushdie, one of his favorite authors. Have you read any Rushdie? Please, do share.


Farewell Spain, Kate O’Brien

My British blogger friend Kaggsy, reviewed it, and I had to buy it, so I better read it. How can I pass on a book about my birth country, written at a time of great interest, during the early days of the Spanish Civil War, -which started in 1936-?

Over the years, I know I don’t like historical fiction when it comes to reading books on wars. I much prefer non fiction, –The Hidden Place, Life and Death in Shanghai, A.A. Milne’s Autobiography, The Boys in the Boat-, or fiction classics such as Catch 22, Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans, or my recent read Slaughterhouse Fiveare preferred.

After preparing this post, I read the challenge requirements more carefully, and realized the book had to have been in my TBR pile for at least a year. Since the Back to the Classics has a category where this one can fit. I’m swapping it for this one instead. And this has been well over a year in my TBR pile.



Speak Memory, Nabokov

After being fascinated by reading Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, I bought this his unconventional biography intending to read it right away, which, of course, never happened. I’ve only read this and some of his fabulous articles on literature and about reading. I like him both as a professor who is also an author, -and who looks at other writers from this vantage point as an author himself-, and as a writer. His writing put a spell on me.

I read a review of someone who said that it took him some time to finish this memoir, and while difficult or demanding, you couldn’t stop reading either, -such was the mesmerizing effect-.

Nabokov’s mastery of different languages and the cultures in which they are embedded, make him an interesting person to read. I also had fun watching him in different interviews. It’s very enjoyable to hear him talk about language, books, writing, etc.


Eothen, A.W. Kinglake

This is another title from the shelves I have full of non fiction books on history, science, geography, biography, etc. The blurb at Amazon.com says this, ‘This delightful travelogue of a young Englishman’s journey through the middle east, in 1835 has become a permanent classic’, which sounds very promising.


Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard
Picture of my kindle, where the Spanish translation of this book lives.

Another recent addition via recommendation from the same friend who told me about Spark. I’m embarrassingly only vaguely familiar with a bit of the life of Kierkegaard. I say this because after studying philosophy for five years, (in Spain bachelor degrees are five years long), I read almost no original books, just ‘re fried’ titles, as we call books on philosophers, and not by philosophers. I hope this counts, because I’ve been wanting to read Kierkegaard for many years, though I only managed to get this title for my kindle recently.


Glaucus, or The Wonders of the Shore, Charles Kingsley

Nice antique book I planned to have read with my daughters. It’s a naturalist walk on the shore. I know I’m going to love it. I needed this challenge to motivate me to read books like this, that are not seen much in anyone’s lists.


This is the only book I don’t own. I’ve requested it at the library after seeing many people read books by her the past year. However, reading the challenge qualifiers, I’m going to move it to the alternates section, and probably find another book that has sat at my TBR pile for a year or longer.

I truly want to read this book. A friend who is studying to teach the book of Job at our congregation, mentioned it to me this past week. Apparently, Spark wrote a book in which the main character is writing about the book of Job. It’s entitled The Only Problem. The library book has these two, and a couple more? Let’s see how it goes. Some Goodreads reviewers speak about the difficulty with her prose.


  • MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, ELENA FERRANTE. I got this book at one of our used books store book sale. It’s truly pretty to handle, nicely published, and I hear everybody raving about it. My fear is that it’s the first of a trilogy. But if I like it, -and I think I will-, I’ll pace myself, and savor the other two some time from now.
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
  • THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, TIM O’BRIEN. What seems like ages ago, a friend of mine recommended me this title. I believe it will be a good fit for a reading about the war, the Vietnam War in this case. I know nothing about it.
The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

My aim is to read all of them plus the alternates. I’m committed. Let’s see what life unfolds. It’s been great to focus on these fabulous titles, and remember why I bought them, or requested them from the library. If you see any favorite, -or any loathed- title among them, please do share. I love to hear your thoughts on these picks.

30 thoughts on “2019 TBR Pile Challenge

  1. Nice list! I will TRY to read the Francis Shaeffer, the Cormac McCarthy, and the Nabokov this year, too! I started the Shaeffer book at one time and didn’t get around to finishing it, but not because I didn’t like it. And even though I love McCarthy’s Pretty Horses trilogy and The Road, I feel afraid to read more of his books, so knowing you are reading will make me brave. 🙂

    Are you reading in the order you have them listed, or not necessarily?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay! I love your companion for these books. Let me know what months and order, and I’ll be sure to read along with you. I do need to see that Blood Meridian. It makes me think about Candide, such a short book, but full of violence and humor. It’s not making fun of the violence, it’s an exercise on exacerbation, a hyperbolic account of the world as it was, with all that up and downs, sort of like the violent world in DQ. It’s good to go into it together. Same with the other two. I too started a few pages of the Shaeffer’s book, and same, I quit reading it but not intentionally. I’m going to need your company for ‘Speak Memory’. I don’t know to what extent his writing will be hard to read. I’m optimistic, though. It may be like reading C.S. Lewis, in a way, when even though I don’t get it all, I still love what I get and read.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an interesting collection, Silvia and such pretty pictures! I am glad to have helped contribute (!) and good luck! Your copy of the O’Brien is very similar to mine, although with different coloured background (mine is green) and I’ll be very interested to hear what you think of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So good to hear, Chris! I didn’t know about the 200 years thing. I am sure I will enjoy reading Glaucus. I read Heroes, and Madam How and Lady Why to my girls, and we learned a lot from them.


  3. No Clue Why I Quit Reading It. I think it works! 😀

    I have read Midnight’s Children. I see why it is admired, but I had to read it with a reader’s companion because so much its symbolism depends upon Indian/Pakistani history and I had no real understanding of that at the time. This was a few years ago. I recently read The Tin Drum by Guenter Grass and it is clear that Rushdie was inspired by it (I think this is documented somewhere). But my knowledge of 20th century German history is more solid and so I had a better grasp on what Grass was doing with the novel.

    I really love your list. It is so varied! The Things They Carried is on my long, long list. I’ve heard it is brilliant. I LOVED the Ferrante Neapolitan series. I hope you do too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thanks Ruthiella. I read The Tin Drum in my twenties, found it fascinating, but had no idea that Gunter Grass was doing something deeper. Maybe I absorbed it unconsciously, I remember when the boys got to the church. Yes, there must have been a historical layer. (All good literature has it, right?) I am going to see if I can get a reader companion, or see how I can get a crush course on India/Pakistan. I am going to ask my husband, lol. He is a history aficionado, and we have a large Indian community here, he works with lots of Indian and Pakistani.


    • Thanks for your comment, you always do comment. And for the reassurance on the Neapolitan novels. Did you know they made a series based on them?


  4. I want to read more from shelf this year too. I included it as one my personal reading challenge goals. 🙂 Let me know when you are thinking about reading Peace Like a River. I would totally re-read it. Maybe Kim might want to read it at the same time too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Katie, who read The Gray House with me and others some time ago, would like to re-read PLAR too. I told her what about the summer? Does that sound a good time to you?


  6. Wow! Lovely list, Silvia. I’m drooling at your descriptions and photos. I’m trying to stay on task with my reading pile and not fall down the rabbit hole with yours. 🙂 I can’t wait to hear what you think on My Brilliant Friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I will read Peace Like a River, too, this summer. I was just thinking that it feels like a necessary time for it. I am reading The Chronicles of Narnia now, which seem to have a life-saving quality to them right now, too. I am super commitment-shy right now, but I will work on a list. 🙂 Currently also reading The Life of David Brainerd (his diary, edited/;published by Jonathan Edwards). I am only 25 pages in, so too soon to say wow, but…WOW!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Understood. I can see that life saving quality of Narnia. Intrigued by The Life of David Brainerd, but I also can’t and shouldn’t go to other titles right now. Discipline, ha ha ha. But seriously, thanks for considering PLAR for the summer. And the list is only for me to see where your intentions and interests lie, for ideas, (not a list you are necessarily committed to get to in 2019, if that makes sense.)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Silvia: I loved your list! I’m eager to hear how you like Rushdie; his Midnight’s Children has been on my own list for longer than I like to admit. Somehow, he’s always been one of those “challenge” writers for me. Nabokov, too, although I HAVE made it through some of his works (Lolita, ages ago; some shorter things). Many years ago, I read his Lectures on literature from his days as a professor at Cornel (sounds like you have too) and found them absolutely wonderful. My only brush with Cormac McCarthy was an early novel, All the Pretty Horses; all I can remember is a bit of a struggle with the style (I think he left off the punctuation or something); I’ve been curious about Blood Medidian so this is another review I’ll eagerly await! I think you made a great choice for Henry James; I really liked Washington Square myself and even thought of re-reading it for the Classics Challenge. So many books, so many great adventures ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janakay, how interesting. When I get to Rushdie and Nabokov, I’ll be sure to report the challenge level for me, or I will understand if I can’t cut through, 🙂 If it’s too much, I may leave them, -and I’m fine with that-, I hope I can hold to some of them enough as to make the effort enjoyable and rewarding. But I’m at a time in life when I don’t see me reading Joyce, for example, just to be able to say I’ve read Joyce, LOL.

      I’m super curious about Blood Meridian as well. I need to do some research. Maybe the lack of punctuation was deliberate. Duh! I mean that if we understand why he’s not using proper punctuation, we may appreciate it. I’m going for all of it, LOL. I have the All the Pretty Horses, but a short snippet of the movie adaptation made me lose all interest, huh. I have it in my head that it’s all this fluff and romance. It may not be the case. But now my money is on Blood Meridian.

      Glad to get your blessing for my Henry James’s choice. Graham Greene praises this particular novel. I have not read Greene either, but I know we are talking about two great authors worth of, at the very list, one book. I’m even thinking I may become a Henry James convert. You’ll surely know, I’m not going to allow 2019 pass without me reading Henry James. I’m making a public pledge, ha ha ha.


    • And Nabokov must have been the great teacher people say he was. At least we have his lectures, and they are absolutely wonderful. He makes you gain such a new respect for the authors he discusses, and it’s like he shows you the magic tricks of a magician, but instead of thinking, ‘oh, I can do that’, you just ponder, ‘wow, how could she do ALL that?’


  9. Silvia: I share your feeling about Nabokov’s lectures–they offer incredible insight into the works he discusses. Can you even imagine being able to study literature with someone like him? My copies of the lectures are in two facsimile volumes, complete with his doodles! I haven’t looked at them in years; this discussion may send me back to the shelves. Did you know that his wife, Vera, is rumored to have covered his routine teaching duties such as grading papers to relieve him of the burden? She’s a remarkable person in her own right and the subject of a highly regarded biography (Véra, by Stacey Schiff), on my TBR pile since 2011!!!

    I’m just not sure about Cormac McCarthy. In all fairness, I think the movie version of All the Pretty Horses was supposed to be quite bad and not at all reflective of the novel. I found the novel itself pretty slow going and only finished it through social pressure (I was reading it with a small book club). At that point in my life, it just struck me as too, too macho, too much into the American legend of the heroic western cowboy male. Again, I’m not at all sure that my verdict now would be the same; I’ve always meant to try McCarthy again before I write him off, as so many have such a high opinion of him.

    Almost forget — I loved Miss Brodie although I found it quite disturbing in many respects …..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I need to read more of Nabokov´s lectures. I only have one volume of them. I had no idea that about Vera, what a remarkable person. I’m taking note of that biography.

      Now that you mention it, those whom I’ve heard recommend McCarthy are men. I should have figured out the movie was a bastardization of the book. As for the book itself, I’m going to keep your impression present when I read Blood Meridian. In fact, yesterday night I started to read a bit, and it’s impossible to judge with that tiny bit, but it was very promising what I read. There’s this boy, and it’s presented as one born into a very violent world, but he also seems to be a prototype. Like Western-Mythology-Legend? But then I remembered my dear friend Sherry wants to read this book too, so I quit until I talk to her to either read it first, or try to arrange to read it together somehow. I can see Blood Meridian as a tragicomic culmination of the westerns, a book in the legends tradition, maybe the macho element is there for a purpose, -if it has it-, -if it’s macho like The Iliad, which to me it’s a very macho book, ha ha ha-, I may stick to it and read it. He didn’t take “The Road” down that macho path, -cheap pun-. Actually, there was a lot of tenderness between father and son. That’s why, like you, I’m willing to give him at least one more chance before writing him off.

      Now that you mention this, do you think some people regard some titles as too frilly?

      When I read Miss Brodie, we need to chat somehow. I’m sure I’ll have questions.

      It’s been a blast to chat about our reads, likes and dislikes.


    • I finished Miss Brodie. Lately I’ve been busy with life, and not writing much about my reads, but all of them this year have been amazing, Miss Brodie included. Wow. It was disturbing. She did something else there with the book. She leaves so much to the reader, to understand and to work out. I admire how well she captured the Edinburgh of the 30’s. It’s like an English Great Gatsby, set in Edinburgh instead of Long Island. Short and perforating. Some women of her generation, had a talent for short stories and short novels, (I”m thinking about O’Connor, Shirley Jackson too.) I want to read more of her books.

      I can’t believe I have not gotten to your Henry James yet… -it’s not for lack of interest!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Silvia: so nice to hear from you and so glad you liked Miss Jean Brodie! It’s such a distinctive (and disturbing) book, I’m always a little hesitant to recommend it; liking it is just so much a matter of personal taste (myself, I like a little walk on the dark side!). Spark has written a lot and, although I haven’t read most of them, I loved Memento Mori (my personal favorite), as well as A Far Cry From Kensington (a little gentler than Brodie; really wonderful story).

        I know what you mean about life interfering — I’m behind writing up a couple of my Challenge books (this blogging takes TIME!). Not to worry about the Henry James, as my yoga teacher says, “when the student is ready, the guru will arrive” ….

        Liked by 1 person

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