Might you have a tsundoku?
Yes, if you are one who stacks books, piled high and earmarked for reading, you have a tsundoku. Charmingly, the Japanese combined elements of ‘piling things up ready for later’ and ‘reading books’ to create this colloquialism… it perfectly describes the squirrel-like habits of many who treasure books and endeavour to read them all.
Indeed that seems to be me, for the mere presence of books creates an atmosphere full of promise. They comfort and reassure, offer the hope of knowledge, or the prospect of being transported to other places and lands. And they can be irresistible, especially those ‘rescued’ from a second hand bookshop, previously gifted, prized, or even bequeathed.
Our shelves are weighty with books from our travels, perhaps covering topics that I’ve written about, or maybe plan to. And there’s also poetry. A small red, leather-bound edition of poems by Robert Burns comes to mind. Purchased in St. Andrews, Scotland, we bought it on the day of our engagement – it seems we started out the way we meant to continue. But gosh, these books are piling up!
In our family, everyone receives at least one well-chosen book for Christmas. There was Let There Be Water, 21 Lessons for the 21stCentury, and mine, Becoming, by Michelle Obama. It didn’t even make it to the tsundoku pile. I eagerly delved into it over the New Year’s period and I’m already enthralled by it.
Despite a full household, having welcomed home our children and close family from the Netherlands, I adored the fact that in between skiing, games and woodsy walks, the blazing fireplace was often a backdrop for reading. Snuggled in warm throws, many of us were drawn to that spot to lose ourselves between the pages. Even in the midst of a dozen people, there was serenity and peace to be found in reading.
So why do we read? A recent article on brainpickings.org (yes, I recommend it) offered a few suggestions.
Galileo considered reading ‘our sole means of having superhuman powers.’
For Kafka, a book was ‘the axe for the frozen sea inside us.’
For Anaïs Nin, ‘the alarm to awaken us from the slumber of almost-living.’
Perhaps Carl Sagan said it most beautifully, ‘A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.’
The book, as we know it, was conceived at the height of the Roman Empire in the 1stCentury AD, by binding together sheets of papyrus or vellum, taking the place of scrolls. Since then, the written word has evolved, even into the ‘magical’ realm of digital. Yet I confess, I am a complete holdout and do not read e-books.
I recall the resolve of a friend as I was about to leave India. Despite wanting a signed copy of Monday Morning Emails, she resisted. “I no longer buy books, any book. I’ll read it online.”
I’ve tried, but I just can’t do it.
As to why I read, it is also to write. I am reminded of a message I received just before New Year’s from a dear friend who had read Monday Morning Emails over the holiday. She wrote: “I want to write to you as I read each letter to recognize, acknowledge and support this open and courageous endeavour. Sharing your story is inspiring. Sad. Moving. Glorious. As I step into 2019, I am going to start writing again.”
This makes me incredibly happy, for it’s another inspiration that comes from reading… that perhaps, you may be inspired to write.
And so, in this emerging year as I begin work on a new writing project, I will also steal away moments to read. I wish the same for all of you.
Happy reading everyone!