Later today – maybe tomorrow – I will be dealing with my tsundoku. It’s a Japanese word for the pile of unread books we all have. We all do, right? It’s not just me?
We’re revamping the house this week. It’s needed doing for a while, but you know how it is. You move in, his stuff is already in place, and you’re trying not to disrupt his life too much because no one knows if you are staying forever… or maybe that was just me. But in time it became clear that this was home, and my home, our home. However, because it was incremental and life was rushing onward like the tide (or the tsunami tsundoku makes me think of) the house evelved into patterns that were not the most efficient. Well, we’re changing that this week, while we have some cooler weather to work on it.
And part of dealing with the house is going to be dealing with the books on the shelves. Having been forced to gut my library so many times over the years, I’m very reluctant to do it again, but I know we may be moving soon (most likely will) and moving books… oof! That, and I know there are books on the shelf that neither of us will read again. They were ok the first time, but there’s no point in taking that ride over. The unread books? Now, there’s the rub.
An unread book is potential. Potential for so many things. Usually, a fiction book is about potential to escape to a different world for a few hours. For me as a writer I try to also look at aspects of the story, plot, characters, scene-setting, for things I like and can use – or things I hate and should avoid. A non-fiction book is potential to feed my brain, add another dimension to my knowledge. I’m very unlikely to get rid of a non-fiction book on my tsundoku. Then again, I know that yesterday while we were moving furniture out of the office, I had in my hands a book I’m highly unlikely to ever open again – the textbook for my ‘public communications’ (read: speech) class. I’ve got a day full of hard decisions ahead of me.
I primarily read ebooks, because it’s easier to carry them around, read in bed with the lights out, and find my place (unless the Kindle app is glitchy, which does happen). On the other hand the weight of a paper book in my hand is still satisfying, even if I will have to be careful of the dust today while I’m moving books around. And the old books, the ones with the patina of years yellowed into their pages, the covers worn and torn – those are like windows into the past. I have to be careful how indulgent I am of that, though. Sentimentality is how I wound up with a most of a bookshelf full of books I’ll likely never re-read. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of them.
I was in a bookshop in NH – it’s gone now, sadly – and I looked up at a high shelf. “Oh, you still have those.”
The owner, who had been talking to me, looked up and made a face. “I can’t get rid of them.”
“I almost bought them for my Dad’s birthday two-three years ago.” I told him.
“Tell you what, give me ten bucks and they are yours. I’ll even box them up and help carry them to your car.”
Which is how I came to own about 120+ volumes of hardback Zane Grey novels, the classic red white and blue covers I vividly remembered from my Great-Grandparent’s spare bedroom shelves, where I slept when I was visiting them as a young girl. I look at them, and they make me smile, and my mind goes back to those times long gone. There is joy not in what lies inside their covers, but in the art of them. It’s like looking at a photograph of the Oregon coast, and remembering the smell of the ocean, and the fog, and the taste of huckleberries eaten while hiking in the woods. The golden gleam of a chantarelle mushroom against the emerald moss of the Pacific Rainforest floor. Those books aren’t a part of my library, they are a memory in a glance, a painting evocative only to me.
Maybe that’s what all of my tsundoku is. Art. The sculpture of my life, all this potential untapped until I turn to the next page. Blank paper that the words flood into, rushing to create meaning and bring back memories of places I’ve never been, but oh! I want to go.