The Tsundoku

The Tsundoku

For as long as I can remember I have loved to read.  I was brought up in a family that made regular trips to the library to look for new books to read every week or so.  It was an adventure.  I loved getting lost in the stacks and trying out new books to take back home.

I remember the wonder I felt entering the small library at Cherrington Elementary School in Westerville, Ohio.  And I remember one book I loved and checked out multiple times – A Rocket in My Pocket.  While in elementary school I joined the Scholastic Book Club where you could order books and then the teacher would present yours to you when the box arrived in the classroom.  It was like Christmas.

In college I remember spending a lot of time just hanging out at the main library at The Ohio State University.  Books still had to be found through a card catalog, but I loved how each card meant one book somewhere in the stacks.

I worked at The Little Professor Book Center in Westerville, Ohio for years during high school and college and ended up being able to buy books from different book publishers for the store.  I worked part-time at The Harry W. Schwartz Book Shop in Shorewood, Wisconsin for a few years so I could be around books and use the book discount to buy more.  My favorite job was always shelving the new books that would arrive at the store each week.  I loved maintaining the ordered system in each section of the store and I got to hold the new books before any customer could even see them.  Many times, the customer would have to wait for the next copy.

My grandmother introduced me to the world of collecting books and guided me to some of my favorite authors even today – Paul Gallico and J.R.R. Tolkien.  And we shared and read a few new authors together – Richard Adams and William Wharton.  I learned about first editions and signed editions.  I’m not sure if she created my book craving or just fanned the flames.  I look back and think I have always wanted to be in the presence of books.  Books call to me.  They comfort and challenge me. They remind me of all I don’t know.

Just this weekend I spent over an hour wandering through a Half Price Bookstore nearby.

I cannot stop buying books.  And I mean the actual three-dimensional ones.  I tried my iPad.  Not the same.  I need the form and texture and weight.  I need the sound of a page turn.  The smell of a book.

I have one shelf at home that is full and double-parked with books.  Unread books.  And yet I bought another one yesterday.

I did go through a short period where I said I would not buy another book until I had read all the books I currently had – futile.  I cannot remember how long that lasted.  I went back to read one and buy two.

Some may say there is a deep-rooted issue here.  I say I love words.  I love reading them.  I love hearing them.  I love playing with words.

There are studies that prove the value of reading – increased cognitive skills, greater empathy, reduction of stress and a better understanding of the world. 

Maybe my shelf of stacked, unread books is giving me the power to keep reading – one after another.  Maybe the unread ones are more valuable than the ones I’ve read.

Three books sitting there right now waiting patiently for me while gathering the dust of life…  One is focused on the history of famous mazes across the world, one shares the wisdom of elder Americans in their eighties, nineties and even hundreds, and one holds 1000+ little things happy successful people do differently.  Maybe there’s a personality assessment somewhere in those stacked books yet to be developed.

Did you know there is a Japanese word for this pleasure of mine?  It’s the Japanese word for stacks of books you’ve purchased but haven’t read.  Its morphology combines tsunde-oku (letting things pile up) and dukosho (reading books).  The Japanese call this practice tsundoku.

I now have a name for something that has been with me forever.  There is so much more that I do not know.  So much to explore and discover.  So much unknown to know one day.  That’s what is important and of value.  I never want to believe I know enough.

I may need a new shelf for the tsundoku.