Ruminations on Being a Bibliophile and a Book Buying Addict
Sahoko Ichikawa, a senior lecturer in Japanese at Cornwell University has come up with a word that explains the malady of a bibliophiles like me. The word is ‘tsundoko’, which means ‘stockpiling books or reading materials without ever reading them’. The lecturer explains that ‘Tsunde’ means ‘to stack things’ and ‘oku’ is ‘to leave for a while’. There’s even support group on ‘Goodreads’ to gather book buying addicts and discuss their psychological and financial consequences. I myself could feel how the reading habit has dwindled slightly, while the book buying habit has blasted to higher levels. Some online bibliophiles in ‘Goodreads’ confessed how there’s feelings of guilt to stockpile unread books that they hide a lot of purchases from the family. Although my parents have never condemned my book buying routine (except for a scoff at the Amazon courier people) I do share that feeling. I sneak my books in as if it’s some illegal substance. It is to avoid the simple question of ‘Where are you going to keep the books? Which shelf are you going to clear up? And why do you buy these bulky historical non-fiction books you aren’t going to read?’
I do have a rational answer to this behavior: some indulge themselves by injecting substances to do bodily harm; I’m just indulging (or over-indulging) myself with purchase of paperbacks. I have read a lot in a week when I used to go to library than when I am buying all these books. But, there’s something soothing in browsing through sites to buy a Thomas Pynchon, Haruki Murakami, Jose Saramago, Mikhail Bulgakov novels or Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Steve Coll’s non-fiction etc which aren’t always awarded huge discounts. The minute I see these books bestowed with 30 percent discount, I decide to just order it, even if on the previous day I have bought books worth 2 or 3 thousand rupees (I have now made a habit not often visit Amazon, especially after buying huge load of books). My Amazon wishlist is 100 percent full of books (no clothing accessories or electronic gadgets). Despite all this little feelings of guilt and coming to terms with book-buying addiction, I kind of love this addiction. We all indulge or over-indulge ourselves with some ‘thing’. Why not books? It is a positive addiction. I mean I am not just pouring money on words written on brittle paper; I am buying an unerasable, unique experience of the writer.
The general thought the obsessed book buyers have is they would read all the books ‘when there is more time’, meaning the time after retirement. But, then I heard few elderly bibliophiles complaining how they are busier than ever and the titles of books to read are only increasing. There also feelings of excitement when you look at your book shelf to gaze at the most interesting titles waiting to be read. I take very little doses of the works of Satre and Camus (haven’t fully read at least one of their books), but there’s something enticing in taking those little doses and ruminating upon their profound prose.
The way I (or we all bibliophiles) approach reading over the years also drastically changes from the days we pick up one book from library and read it from start to end in one go. I used to think that people who say they read 3 or 4 books a time are having as attention deficient problems. But, when I tried the same I loved the flexibility of reading multiple books at a time. Although there’s little trouble over recalling when reading multiple books, it nevertheless allows me to select a book that fits my mood at the given moment (currently I am reading 3 books – 2 novels & 1 non-fiction). Reading a paperback or a physical book, I feel is worthwhile than reading an e-book or listening to literature. A printed book brings me comfort and a sense of nostalgia (I one of those bibliophile who’d love to smell the pages of a newly bought book). I feel I derive the full emotional catharsis of a story while reading a paperback.
One thing that’s hard to digest as a bibliophile is people asking ‘why am I frequently buying books?’ (They think there’s something weird about buying big books). An individual owning three high-priced smart phones are considered ‘normal’ than buying few books worth few hundred rupees. Of course, I make disapproving comment on person spending thousands on a fancy meal, on a stupid movie, etc. I agree that I deliberately buy stack of books, citing the arrival of festival season than buying couple of shirts (which naturally irk my parents). But, I don’t see the worth in consuming products that’s going to make you feel less satisfied, the minute you hold it in your hand. You can own a high-end smart phone and within a month you could discover list of flaws with the gadgets and feel a little doubtful on choosing it. That line of thought never happens with stacking good books in a shelf. Each time looking at the books read or waiting to be read, you only feel immense satisfaction.
It’s often misunderstood that book buying or reading is a mere hobby. It may be a hobby for few, but when you call yourself a bibliophile, you know that you don’t wade into the world of books as a hobby. Being a cinephile & bibliophile is my identity. It’s an identity I am proud of than the Engineering degree I have got. Most of us obsessed book & movie-lovers don’t follow this habit to fill up our leisure time. We desperately search for time to fill it up with the reading & viewing experience. Social media always threatens my time, provoking myself to indulge in irrelevant outrage over ridiculous comment pieces. And, I regret the day I spend by scrolling the Facebook page, looking at ‘joyous life’ of ‘friends’ than focusing on a beloved printed page. Of course by confessing your addiction to literature & movies, people might ask you to ‘have a real experience’. The fact is we do have real experiences and we don’t live like a hermit. We do everything to carve our place in this society and then go on to pursue our beautiful obsession. We have all the time to read & watch movies, despite doing those ‘normal’ things that’s expected from us. So I think that when a well-earning or well-educated person tells ‘I don’t have time to read’, they are just lying to themselves. There’s plenty of time to be found in our life to at least read ten amazing books & watch fifty great films. Remember that there’s an added advantage to being a bibliophile or a cinephile: the indifferent education or the soulless work you attain in this society isn’t going to make you a non-judgmental, intelligent & empathetic human being; but books and movies will definitely transform you.