MWD33 - On Tsundoku

Or how I plan to address my Smaug-like tendency to hoard books

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A few years ago, I was deeply comforted by a loose cadre of articles winging around the internet. These pieces not only affirmed my deep and abiding desire to buy more books than I could possibly read; they also gave me the Japanese name for my practice: Tsundoku.

This article from the Times explains the phenomena and explains why I was so comforted by it:

A person’s library is often a symbolic representation of his or her mind. A man who has quit expanding his personal library may have reached the point where he thinks he knows all he needs to and that what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him. He has no desire to keep growing intellectually. The man with an ever-expanding library understands the importance of remaining curious, open to new ideas and voices.

That idea of the unread library as symbolic of all the things I still want to learn is so appealing, so full of hope. It gives me permission to keep acquiring because, hey, I’m curious! But the titles in my unread bookcase deserve their chance, don’t they? There are excellent, highly-acclaimed books in there, titles I know I will love, some I suspect I won’t. And as more of my work demands I read new releases, the time available for these titles shrinks dramatically. Something must be done.

Related/Unrelated: independent bookstores are in trouble. Back in the spring, I spent ridiculous amounts of money (thank you, stimulus check!) on books from Parnassus in Nashville and Little Shop of Stories in Decatur. These are my favorite bookshops, and I want to see them not just survive but thrive. I did my part back then, but it has been months, and many store owners are still worried. helps by diverting online sales from Amazon and returning profits to brick-and-mortar stores, but if we want bookstores to survive this season, we all need to pitch in. Some have suggested we buy all our holiday gifts through independent booksellers, and I love the idea. Unfortunately, not all of my recipients are readers, so that could get tricky. Another potential hangup is on the publishing side, where concerns about printing delays are leading some to suggest you order those holiday gifts early. As in today.

And then there is the unread bookcase. Currently sitting at 280 (yes, I actually counted. And then I found 8 more books on a side table I had forgotten, so I had to edit the number) unread titles, that’s at least 3 years of reading, and that doesn’t include the 15 or so library books I currently have checked out. How can I justify buying more books when I have so many already? How can I protect and preserve the bookstores I love if I don’t buy more books?

I, of course, don’t have an answer. But here are a few things I’ve been doing and a few I plan to do.

  1. Request new releases from your local library. Many systems encourage patrons to place requests for titles not yet in their collection. When the title I requested arrives and is processed, it’s automatically placed on the holds shelf for me. This week, I’ve had my system order the new Alan Jacobs book and a YA title by Helena Sorensen put out by a small press out of Nashville. In my system, you can’t place a request until the book publishes, so this would not work for those titles you want to preorder, but it has been a good solution for me, especially with titles I want to read but may not necessarily want to own. This option does not help independent booksellers, but every purchase helps our authors, so I’m keeping it here.

  2. Buy gift cards from your favorite indie. This will give them revenue now without the costs of ordering and distribution. (I think this will be my go-to gift for all the kids in my life this holiday season).

  3. Look for the “other” stuff you can get through independent booksellers. Some have t-shirts or other merch, others offer puzzles, mugs, socks, and more.

  4. Finally, consider a charitable gift of books purchased from an independent bookseller. Especially for those family members you don’t see very often, it could be nice to say something like, “in lieu of gifts this year, we have made a donation of books to the [women’s shelter, prison, elementary school, etc…] in your honor.”

I also plan to start making my unread collection more of a priority. I’ve written before on making do with what we already have, comparing my stash of books to the preserves designed to get us through the long winter. The more I’ve thought about it, the more appealing this idea feels. So, this winter, I hope you’ll join me in a new series I’m tentatively calling The Book Cellar. With COVID cases on the rise around the country, we might all be on the precipice of another season of lockdown, and this may be just the thing to get me through. I’ll let you know more as it unfolds.

Unexpected Joy Department:

I don’t even care if you’ve already watched it. You can watch it again.

Published This Week:

Chapter 16 is a review organization in my home state, and I’m so pleased to have gotten connected with them and to have reviewed Jamie Sumner’s new middle grade novel: Tune it Out. The main character, Lou, has a lot going on — the music career her mom is set on her having, the constant travel and living in their truck, and the undiagnosed Sensory Process Disorder that makes most of that a nightmare. Click below to read more.

Tune It Out

Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is super popular and hitting the awards lists, yet the critics were somewhat lukewarm about it. I found it fascinating, and I think the major critics missed the point. Here’s my correction of their mistake.

The Vanishing Half

I almost missed the mark myself with the latest from Eula Biss: Having and Being Had. Through the first quarter or so of the book, I was disappointed, deeply so. It just felt so . . . inadequate. By the time I finished, however, I was convinced of its genius. And comparing it to an 19th century dance.

Having and Being Had

Thanks as always for reading and thinking with me. Have comments, suggestions, or questions? Reply to this email, and I promise a response.