I went book shopping yesterday. I don’t know why I picked up anything. I already had 130 books on my TBR list, three of which were recent arrivals via my boyfriend that I wanted to check out. And I already had six or seven that I have been sitting around various places in the house, set aside from the last trip to the used book store. Two of them, I’ve started but haven’t finished, and the others are patiently collecting dust like the long-suffering forgotten treasures that I’ve (unfortunately) let them become.
So why did I pick up five more? Why did I jump at the opportunity to re-own a book I gave away once and never got back? Why did I snag one from an author I’ve never heard of, largely based on cover art and the back cover summary? (And its placement in the store.)
I do try to do that though. As a lifelong reader, I’ve found that grabbing random books from unheard-of authors is how to discover new authors, new worlds, new adventures. I love to return to ones I know and cherish (who doesn’t?), but what joy there is in wandering the aisles and finding a gem.
The Japanese language has a word for book ownership like this: tsundoku
Literally translated as “to pile up reading,” the general meaning is the practice of buying books with the intention of reading them, but letting them pile up instead. Maybe you just never get around to it. Maybe you get distracted by something else. Maybe you just run out of time.
One popular meme discusses how the Old English word for a library was “bōchord”, which literally means “book hoard,” and this implies that librarians are dragons. Now, I’m no librarian, but I’ve had people exclaim, “Your house is like a library!” when they walk in. So, that sounds like a reasonable comparison to me. And I wouldn’t mind being a dragon.
I think part of the reason we (as people) do this is that we like to aspire. We like to see ourselves as someone different. New. Growing. Doing things in the future that we’re not doing now. It’s hopeful, isn’t it? It’s optimistic that we’ll be more someday than we are now.
Is it a stack of books, a list of recipes to try, a bucket list of places to travel that reminds us of who we want to become?
Is it the comfort of being surrounded by familiar objects? They don’t change. They simply are, simply existing, simply remaining, ready to be laughed at or change your life, at any moment. They’re so comfortable, those books, sitting in stacks and on shelves, just waiting for an excited mind that cracks their spine and discovers what’s inside. Even without being opened, they provide some sort of vital energy to a room, whispering secrets that you must be quiet enough and open-minded enough to hear.
A room without books is truly silent.
I guess if I ever want to become a better writer, I better get started reading.