Tsundoku, Bibliomania and The Joy Of Owning (So Many)Books

Confessions of a Bibliophile

Beth Bruno
May 23 · 5 min read
Photo by Radu Marcusu on Unsplash

Books. Just the word conjures worlds and ideas and possibilities. If you are a book lover, chances are you have a stack of books right now waiting for you to read them. And if you are like me, you may have more books on your shelves than you will ever read. And yet, if you are also like me, this does not keep you from buying more.

The Japanese have a word for this tendency — tsundoku. Roughly this word translates to “collecting stacks of books you’ll never read.” This is not a word that carries any negative stigma in Japan. Tsundoku carries the underlying understanding that there is at least an intention to read the books you collect.

By contrast, bibliomania, as defined by Wikipedia “can be a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder which involves the collecting or even hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged.” I am happy to say that my health and social relations are in good shape, despite my desire to buy more books.

So I continue to haunt all my favorite bookstores. There is nothing more intoxicating than walking into a quirky little shop jammed with books from floor to ceiling. It’s a heady experience and no matter how many unread books I have on my shelves, I always find more to bring home to keep them company until the day I am ready for them. Because I will be ready for them one day, but I never know when that might be.

Recently I pulled a book off my shelf that I have owned for at least 20 years. I was curious about why I had never read it, and why it had survived the culling that occurs from time to time. When I sat down with this book, it made me laugh and cry and cheer. It was so beautifully written that I had to go back and re-read passages several times, relishing the gorgeous way the words were woven into ideas. I was so glad that book had waited for me there and that I was finally able to read it.

Photo by Beth Bruno of the book that had been waiting for me all those years.

This is why I am not dismayed by the fact that so many of my books are as yet unread. I know that I have to be in the right place in my life for a book to resonate and I never know when that will be. But when the stars line up, the book will be there. I continue to buy books with this in mind.

When I go into a bookstore, there are times I may have a list of particular books I am looking for, but most of the time I wander freely and let the titles call out to me. Sometimes it’s the cover of a book that will entice me, or the size and shape of the book. I never know why some books seem to ask to come home and join my collection, but I have learned to trust that process.

My husband counted our books not too long ago. There are more than 2000 volumes on our shelves and several more boxes in storage we have yet to bring into the house. I moved the bed out of the guest room and created a studio for my creative pursuits. Its walls are lined with books and the table is stacked with many more. I find great comfort and encouragement in being surrounded by the energy of so many smart, thoughtful and creative people. They cheer me on as I work. Some of those books I have not read, but they are there, waiting for the right moment.

I believe books are the soul of a home. I have been in the homes of many friends and family and there is always a discernible difference in the energy of a house where the inhabitants read and value books and where there is little interest in reading. I stayed overnight with some acquaintances once that did not have one single book anywhere in their house. Not ONE. There were not magazines or newspapers, either. No children’s books in their kids’ rooms. I am sorry to say that their house felt soulless, to me. And I felt very sorry for them, and especially for their children.

Children who grow up in homes where they are read to and where they see their parents reading are more likely to be readers themselves. My mother-in-law did not own books, except for a Bible, and once when she visited, she was both fascinated and puzzled about the number of books that lined the shelves in my children’s rooms. She counted my son’s books — he was 4 — and he had 150 books. Her eyes widened as she asked why he needed so many books. He answered her simply “Because I like to read, Granny.”

And so do I. My reading comes in fits and spurts depending on what else is going on in my life, but the books I want to read are all waiting for me because I have been carefully choosing them for that day. And I take great comfort in knowing that when I am old and I am less able to move around and stay busy, I will have this great library waiting for me. The books will be there, like old friends, and I know I will find just the one I need to read at just the right time. They are waiting patiently for the day they will be pulled from the shelves and read, and I am looking forward to it, as well.

Beth Bruno is a writer trying to make sense of the world as she sees it. She lives by the mantra “If not now, when?” When she’s not writing she works as a horticultural therapist with dementia patients. She spends her free time gardening, camping and reading. She lives in South Carolina with her husband, 6 chickens and 2 cats.

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Beth Bruno

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Lifelong spiritual seeker with a desire to learn to live fully, love unreservedly, forgive completely and suck all the juice out of life.

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