Sunday, 19 March 2017

unread books

tsundoku: n.
buying books and not reading them; stockpiling books

Via Danny Yee’s ever-interesting and pathologically polymathic blog, I recently came across the following article:
There’s a word in Japanese for the literary affliction of buying books you don’t read 
So many books, so little time. In the age of media binging, too often we end up buying books we never actually read. 
The moment goes something like this: Skim fascinating book review online. Buy on Amazon with 1-click. Scroll down. Buy two other titles with 1-click. Leave books on bedside table. Repeat two weeks later. Scold yourself for killing the trees. 
It’s an affliction so common that there’s a word for it in Japanese, and a support group on Goodreads.
I don’t know what’s worse about this article: the use of the term “affliction”, implying there might be some sort of problem with this behaviour; or the thought that one so afflicted could make do with the storage space provided by a bedside table.

I belong to a different demographic where books are concerned.  I much prefer the philosophy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, as expounded on the very first page of his book The Black Swan:
a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.

I will continue to buy faster than I read; I will continue to commit tsundoku: it’s my pension fund.  It also provides a pleasing two-stage book choice process: what am I going to buy next, and then, given what I’ve bought, what am I going to read next.

This is nothing like my own to-read pile.  It’s possibly the right size, but I shelve mine much more tidily.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! I'm cheered to have a name for my low-level affliction. My library suddenly looks tidy too :)