Tsundoku is a Japanese word meaning buying books and not reading them; letting them pile up unread on shelves or bedside tables or floors. It is a word that is at once beautiful and tragic.
It's also something I'm guilty of. Buying and borrowing and stacking and rearranging. Telling myself that I'll read that next, but then quickly finding something else instead. It's not something I do intentionally. I'm not hoarding books, I'm not deliberately not reading them. It's just, there are so many stories I want to read. And I find myself adding names and titles to the bottom of my must read list quicker than I seem to cross them off as read.
And so what I end up with is a tbr pile. Tbr, of course, standing for 'to be read'. Mine sits on my bedside table, though I must admit it has now spread across two piles - safety reasons you see. And amongst the titles are such gems as Graham Greene's The Quite America, James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, George Eliot's Middlemarch, Margaret Atwood's Stone Mattress, a half-read textbook on anthropology and Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Well, I mean, I assume they're gems - I haven't read them yet.
A tbr pile is a distinctly personal thing. It's says something about who you are. When I glance at mine, as I do many times a day, I see my disparate style of reading. Switching genre and era and wandering from fiction to non-fiction and back again with plenty of enthusiasm.
Over the past few months I've taken to capturing the tbr piles that people post to various social media channels. And I'm quite fascinated. Not just by their choices, but by their willingness to share something which feels so personal.
It's easy to talk about books you've read once you've read them. At that point you can form a, somewhat, coherent opinion. But while it remains in that pile you cannot do that. So sharing that tbr pile feels like exposing yourself before you've had a chance to think, to wonder why and how and to come to any real conclusions. But then, maybe that's ok.
Maybe the beauty of the tbr pile, and in its sharing, is that you are revealing yourself. Telling the world what you want to read feels akin to telling the world who and what and how you are. And maybe even what you want to be.
When I cleared the debris from my bedside table to take the picture above I wondered for a moment what anyone seeing the picture would think about me. When they looked at my wide-ranging choices, what would they see?
Would de Beauvoir indicate my feminist leanings? Joyce my desire to explore my Irish heritage? Would books on Wikileaks and international sex trafficking correctly indicate my interest in the world I live in, a desire to understand as much as I can? What does Margaret Atwood say, or Susan Sontag or Virginia Woolf?
And then after the picture, I thought maybe it doesn't really matter. Maybe the point of sharing our tbr piles is not so much about who and what and how we are but about the importance if stories in our lives. Maybe constructing those piles and sharing those pictures is a way to demonstrate your appreciation for stories. and for the writers that put them into the world.
I don't know. Maybe it's a little of both. Maybe I'm trying to find something where there isn't really anything. Maybe a tbr pile is just that, books you're going to read.