Elizabeth: There’ s a Word For That

The latest random subject to have caught my attention

I am a big fan of books, a fact that comes as no surprise to readers of this blog nor anyone who has ever been inside my house and seen my library – a floor-to-ceiling shelved room that technically is supposed to be an extra bedroom.  Periodically, like someone determined to lose those last annoying ten pounds, I’ve gone on a book diet, steadfastly staying away from anywhere that I might be tempted to acquire another book to add to my overflowing stash.

Just like other crash diets, my book diets are easily derailed by a pretty cover, a clever title, an innocent recommendation from a friend, or an entertaining back-cover blurb.

I’m okay with that.

When I was a kid, lack of money and opportunity meant that I’d read every book that resided on my bedroom bookshelves.  These days . . . not so much.

My library is filled with a variety of books.

  • There are books by my favorite authors, which I tend to reread frequently – kind of like comfort food for the mind.
  • There are the books recommended by my Oxford tutors – books that we read snippets from during class and I always intended to read in more depth later though later has not yet arrived.
  • There are freebie-books, given by friends or picked up at conferences that seemed interesting.  They’re books that I’ll theoretically get around to reading at some point, once other, more appealing books, stop usurping their place in my reading queue.
  • There are those classics that I feel like I really should read at one point or another, but I need to be in the right frame of mind to buckle down and read them.  In the case of War and Peace, which has been waiting patiently on the shelf for years, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m ever going to be in the proper frame of mind to wade through a thousand-or-so pages of story.
  • And then there are lots of reference-y type books.  Books on all sorts of topics that, at one time or another, caught my fancy.  Books on writing, art, the Regency, science, philosophy, and dozens of other topics.  The bargains from the remainder tables at Barnes & Noble are responsible for many of these titles.  They’re not necessarily the kind of books one sits down and reads cover-to-cover but, should I wake up one morning with an urge to learn about Postmodern Philosophers, I’ve got a book for that.

I was feeling a bit guilty about all of the unread books I own until I saw this essay in The New York Times a few days ago, talking about the accumulation of books.  First, I was delighted to find that that there is a Japanese word for a stack of books that you have purchased but not read – tsundoku.  More importantly, the article provided an excellent justification explanation for my ever-increasing library:

The man with an ever-expanding library understands the importance of remaining curious, open to new ideas and voices.

There you go – it’s curiosity, not rampant acquisitiveness that has my shelves overflowing.  I think the closing lines of the essay summed things up very nicely:

The sight of a book you’ve read can remind you of the many things you’ve already learned.  The sight of a book you haven’t read can remind you that there are many things you’ve yet to learn.  And the sight of a partially read book can remind you that reading is an activity that you hope never to come to the end of.

So, what do your bookshelves (physical or electronic) look like?  Do you have an accumulation of unread titles or are you more of a buy-it-and-read-it type?

6 thoughts on “Elizabeth: There’ s a Word For That

  1. The library here used to run a yearly event where they sold hardbacks for a quarter.

    A quarter is a very seductive amount. For a quarter, you will load up your shopping bag with far more books than you can comfortably carry back to the car.

    These days, due to the limited ability of my floor joists to handle any additional weight, I tend to load up more on electronic books.

    You can never have too many books.

    • Once he retired, my dad used to go to the monthly local library sales and always came back with a shopping bag full of paperbacks for almost no money. He would power through them, donate them, and bring back another bagful the next month. No accumulation of un-read books there, so the floor joists were untroubled.

  2. I accumulate physical reference books, mostly writing craft and story research ones. They’d be super-useful if I had the time to read and digest them thoroughly, but I must have a few years’ worth.

    Fiction wise I’m strictly a buy-it-and-read-it type, and almost entirely digital. I love the self-indulgence of deciding exactly what I want to read, buying it on the spot and diving straight in. It’s no exaggeration to say the Zon transformed my life 🙂

    • I will admit that the convenience and instant gratification of finishing a book in a series and being able to head to Amazon, click on the next book and have it instantly appear on my Kindle is very addictive.

      I try to keep that to a minimum, but sometimes ……

  3. I have three large bookshelves in my apartment, one in the living room and two in the “office.” The office is the former bedroom; I converted the attic to a sleeping space, which is accessed by a ladder, when I started to work at home.

    At some point, I won’t be able to get up that ladder any more, so I’ve committed in a vague and non-time-specific way that I will read all the books I haven’t read on the two large bookshelves in the office and donate them, not adding any more, until I can take those empty bookshelves themselves to the thrift store (because when I move the bed down from the attic, there won’t be room in the office/bedroom for both the bed and the bookshelves).

    I have a long way to go. I donated about eight books this week, and I was proud of myself. But so, so far to go.

  4. Too many books, not enough bookshelves: that’s what my stuff looks like. Piles and piles of books on every available surface. Reference, pop science, loads and loads of fiction. And in bags, books that I got from people who were moving or downsizing their libraries. “Give them to me, give them to me!” I used to cry. So, now I have a lot of books that are 3, 4 and 5 in a seven-book series, or textbooks that are too old to be current, but not old enough to be interesting. I have several books (out of the hundreds I’ve gotten) that have turned out to be true treasures. Like Terry Jones’ book about Medieval Lives (I think that’s the title; that’s the topic, anyway).

    My kids once organized the books in the living room by color. I was livid (but I think I hid it well). When I settled down, I realized there were some very interesting juxtapositions, there. At any rate, they were formerly organized by purchase order (so, to some extent, grouped by interesting topic), so it’s not like the color scheme really destroyed any important sense of order.

    My dream is to get a code bar scanner, and upload all of my books to something like Goodreads, then put them on virtual shelves — most available for lending to friends, a few that I won’t ever reveal to anyone else. By the time I do that, I suppose most of my books will be digital, anyway.

    I’ve got a complicated relationship with my library, that’s for sure. I do know that I don’t respect it enough, and I feel guilty for that. Book abuse isn’t pretty.

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