Tsundoku or the disgrace of unread words

Towering with menacing heights, a constant reminder of words unread, and dust uncleaned, book piles keep on appearing and growing throughout our living space. The shadows they cast on sunny days are reminiscent of the gaps in my literary knowledge and the “failed ambitions, unrealised hopes, unfulfilled good intentions”, as Sam Jordison writes in his article The tyranny of the to-read pile.

The official number to qualify as a book hoarder is 1000 or more. I am a book hoarder and I am a member of the very select Compulsive Book Hoarders group and I would be diagnosed with hoarding disorder, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, described by the DSM-5[1], “characterized by the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions”, and I am surely a bibliomaniac. Thank you DSM-5. Thank you Wikipedia. May be I should buy the latest edition of the DSM-5 and Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s Bibliomania? May be not.

Once in a while, pressured by the omnipresence of the many book towers invading shelves, tables, chairs, sofas, floors — and by the persistence of my wife — I overcome my apprehension to rediscover the books I meant to read, I start alphabetizing, hiding those unread books in bookshelves, and I hope I will never see them again, I will never be worried again, I will never be reminded of my “failed ambitions”. Tabula rasa. I know that at this rate, however, the unread books will outnumber those that I have read. It is about time I stand trial for book hoarding, for dilettantism.

Hence begins The trial of Laurent Uhres, a play in one act.

Characters of the play: The Prosecutor, The Defendant, The Jurors.

Setting: At a court of justice, piles of books scattered around.

Prosecutor

This is the case about a defendant who cannot control his compulsion to hoard books, to build dusty book towers of guilt, to invade vital space with book piles, to leave words unread. The prosecution will call three witnesses. And at the end of the case, there is no doubt that the defendant will be found guilty.”

Defendant

The defendant stands here, wrongly accused of Tsundoku, the Japanese word for the constant act of buying books, but never reading them. I stand here for uncountable bibliophiles and I surmise that books inevitably lead to other books.

Prosecutor

Firstly, American writer and journalist Daniel Handler says that “there is a whole category on my shelves of Books By People I Know And Love Which I Have Not Read And Have Pretended To Read. Obviously I will not identify these books. I feel pressure to secretly read them but I take them down from the shelf and sigh at them.”

Defendant

Guilty

Prosecutor

Secondly, Australian writer Mark Dapin’s unread books include Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, and Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which he threw away after two pages.

Defendant

Guilty.

Prosecutor

Lastly, American journalist and book critic Cynthia Crossen writes: “As I scanned my shelves, I found I had convincing arguments why I shouldn’t read each one of the orphans — or convincing to me anyway.”

Defendant

Guilty.

Prosecutor

Three witnesses have been called to testify and have helped to establish that the defendant has not read all the books he owns. He should be found guilty as charged.

Defendant

(Deafening silence)

Jurors

(In unison)

We find the accused guilty of hoarding books and thereby leaving words unread. For such a disgrace, the defendant is sentenced to …

(Blackout)

(End of scene)

So, here I stand, in front of another pile of books, found guilty by common sense of keeping too many books, read and unread, I still believe that every book, read and unread, should be kept because when I take the first unread book from the first pile and I remove the dust from its cover and I start to read José Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon, and I finish this monumental novel by the Portuguese Nobel Prize in Literature, I will be able to take another unread book from the top of another pile.

Unread words surround me like an uncharted universe and I am an explorer navigating through this universe, book after book, pile after pile.

[1] The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.