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Category: life stuff (Page 1 of 26)

Reading the TBR

Before I became a writer, I was a reader. I think most of us start out that way – I mean, the love of story has to come from somewhere, right? In my case, it came from my parents reading to me as a child¹.

There were always books in the house, everything from mainstream thrillers and romances to my Dad’s Penguin Classics and as I grew up  I devoured them all. I don’t recall ever being told “not that one” or that something was too adult for me. Actually, I don’t think I ever even asked permission. If it was on the shelves, it was fair game².

As soon as I was old enough to go into town on my own, I was regularly to be found haunting the stacks at Newcastle’s bookshops, or maxing out my library card. I coudn’t get enough of books. Once I had an independent income, well. It came as no surprise to anyone that my first house contained a significant number of IKEA ‘Billy’ bookcases and I filled them all to overflowing.

Fast forward through two house moves (and marriage to MrC, who is also a bookworm) and I now have a to-be-read pile which . . . well, it looms. Not quite so vast as to distort the fabric of space-time, but still enough to induce backache when it has to be packed into boxes and moved from house to house. Since I also appear to be constitutionally incapable of not buying even more books, something has to give.

To that end, I declared 2024 to be the Year of Reading the TBR Before It Crushes Me and made a start. By the beginning of April, I’d completed 9 books from the pile and come very late to the party on some great reads:


These books have been waiting patiently on my shelves for years, quite frankly. In many cases, since they were published. The longest-resident on the list is Daughter of the Empire, by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts, which I bought in 1996. I bounced off it back then, but kept it because I thought I just wasn’t in the mood for it at that time³. It has been staring accusingly at me from the bookcase ever since. Maybe I’ll get around to it this year after all.

If I’m honest, I would have liked to have read more from the pile by now. According to my mostly-accurate Goodreads list, I still have 209 books I want to read, of which the physical Mount TBR is 138. The only problem is I started the year at 206.

Um. Whoops.

¹ They had a beautiful illustrated edition of Ivanhoe that became my favourite bedtime story for a number of years, and a comfort read for many more thereafter. I don’t remember much about it as a physical object so I don’t know if it was abridged or a kid-friendly edition or what, but the story had such an impact on me that when I moved out of my parents’ house at age 23 I wanted to take it with me. Alas, it was nowhere to be found. Gentle reader, I was gutted.

² Which was how I came to read The Iliad and The Odyssey before I’d finished middle school. Quite enjoyed them, too.

³ “Books and the Moods In Which To Read Them” would be a whole other post.

Clowder of none

For the first time in more than 30 years, I have no cats. On Wednesday night, we had to take Tinkerbell to the vet for the final time, and now the house feels empty and wrong.

I grew up with a cat in the house. Uncharacteristically for a Siamese, he was a placid old gent who according to family legend appointed himself my guardian by lying down beside my carry-cot the day I came home from the hospital as a newborn. I have been a cat person ever since.

When I had grown up and moved out into a house of my own, within a month I had rescued two little kittens from a sad hutch facing a wall in the local pet shop. I named them Felix and Cleo and I was smitten.

Ginger tabby cat sticking her tongue out

Pepper being sassy

Six months later, two little ginger girls followed from the RSPCA. Though only vaguely related (they were from the same feral colony) they bonded like siblings. Pepper was a medical basket case from the get-go, but ten tons of personality packed into five pounds of cat. Her sort-of sister Sophie was pale, elegant, utterly gorgeous and destined always to push on doors marked ‘Pull’. *

Tabby cat with white cheeks and chin, dozing on a flat stone, shrubs behind him


In time, I met Rob and we moved in together, adding his cat Barney to the clowder. Barnes was a reserved sort, affectionate only on his own terms, and possessed of the loudest snore I’ve ever heard in a cat.

As the years passed, we had to say goodbye to all of them. Cleo was the last of the original crew to go, and it was tough on both of us. I’d had a particularly close bond with her; she always came to find me if I was sad, as I often was in the early stages of my illness, and she made sure to tell us to go to bed if we stayed up past 10pm.

After she was gone, we weren’t going to have any more pets. Dealing with Cleo’s tumour, two surgeries and ultimately kidney failure was so emotionally draining, we didn’t think we had it in us to do that again. I was sick, book two was running behind, and Rob had just lost his mum. It was not a good time.

But I was selfish. I was writing full-time by then, having given up my job earlier that year. I struggled to adjust to the new routine. The house felt cold and the days long; I was lonely, and probably more than a little depressed. Something was missing, and I decided what was missing was a cat.

Of course, after a visit to the shelter, that turned into two. Tigger and Tinkerbell, a seven-year-old brother and sister who’d been surrendered by their owner. Rob was dubious; I begged, and so home with us they came. The house felt complete again.

Fast forward. My two editorial assistants helped me shepherd three books into the world. They listened to me ramble, drove me to distraction and loved me when I couldn’t love myself. They asked for nothing but a warm lap, and I gave them my whole heart.

Tabby cat with white paws sits in a sunbeam on beige carpet, an oak chest of drawers behind her.

Tinkerbell in the sun. Sleep tight, sweetheart.

We lost Tigger to kidney disease two years ago, at the ripe old age of 18. Soon after, we learned that Tinkerbell too was showing early signs of kidney disease, and moved heaven and earth to get her on a supportive diet, ameliorate her arthritis, treat her hyperthyroidism. But this last month an aggressive bout of cystitis led to the words no-one wants to hear from the vet: “I can feel something in her abdomen.”

So here we are, at the end. Saying goodbye never gets any easier. Grief is the price we pay for the good times, for the funny photos, the littery footprints in the shower tray, the soft nudge of head against hand. Pets might only be with us for a short while, but for them it’s their whole lives. That’s a sacred trust, so while both Rob and I are broken-hearted right now, we know we did our damnedest to ensure all those lives were well lived, until they couldn’t be. And then we did right by them.

Knowing that doesn’t stop it hurting like hell, of course.

So I woke up yesterday morning to a new normal. It doesn’t fit, and everything is weird and uncomfortable, like wearing clothes in the wrong size. There’s a furry patch on the rug under my chair in the kitchen where Tinkerbell liked to sit, but no-one sitting in it. Her food is still in the cupboard, her blanket on the bed, but she’s not coming home. Although I’ve washed her bowls and put them away, I’m not ready to let go entirely just yet.

When I do, will I get another cat? I’ve said no, because it’s not fair on Rob, who feels these losses deeply. If the days get long and the house feels cold again, I will just have to find a way to deal with that. In the meantime, I have lots of memories to keep me warm.


* Seriously, she never got the hang of doors that opened towards her

All photos (c) Elspeth Cooper.
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