Tales from a Local Librarian

1. Dangerous temptation and the Japanese art of acquiring books you will never read

Having recently started at the one of the libraries in the Wakatipu Basin (which one will remain secret as I feel it adds to an enticing mystery befitting my new profession) I found myself suffering from a new and unexpected dilemma. Yes I need to buy more cardigans but that wasn’t the main problem. It was another, far greater.

The causes of the problem are various and I have outlined them below. Perhaps they are familiar to you:

  • Having recently started a job at the library and being confronted by the number of books I haven’t read
  • Having been out of the reading habit for a few years and conscious that I was falling behind in my reading list
  • The huge and unrelenting temptation of beautiful books. Turns out libraries are full of them. Swathes of them, in fact. Fingered pages and unbroken spines, weighty and richly illustrated coffee table books, children’s books full of memory and hidden meaning, books to teach you how to live your life, mend a sock or plant a tree, classics with romantic arcs of Mr Darcys and Anna Kareninas, poetry and myth and magic and mystery and you get the picture. It is heaven to work in a library.

Confronted by these things I started taking books out. Far many more than I could ever possibly read. Like a child in a candy store or a librarian in a library I would process a recently returned book and immediately need to issue it to myself. At home the books piled up and up. Eventually the family intervened: “You need to stop bringing all the books home” they said. “You still haven’t read the ones you took home from last week” they also said.

Apparently there is a name for this behaviour, and it fits my situation perfectly. Reader, I suffer from Tsundoku Syndrome. Tsundoku (積ん読) is a beautiful Japanese word that fills me with both love and guilt. Roughly translated, tsundoku means, “Acquiring books and not reading them.”

Having now been diagnosed I find I don’t particularly want to be cured. I love my piles of unread books. Books do furnish a room and all that. There is also something to be said about the value of knowledge untapped, that the unread book is just as valuable to our lives as the read ones - Umberto Eco himself wrote: “You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.

Tsundoku (積ん読) Syndrome is therefore nothing to be ashamed about. So I will share with you right now 5 Books sitting on my shelves, which I haven’t read and want to, but probably never will. But I just might one day. I think.

The Lord of the Rings Tolkien, J. R. R.

I know, can you believe it. Well, I have read most of it, but got a little bored at the end.

Ulysses Joyce, James

I imagine this is rather typical. Ulysees is so often mentioned as a book people own and never read. But, really I must read it, simply for the reason a large part of the dialogue is given to a cat. “Mrgkgnao?”

The Alchemist Paul Coelho

 Given to me as a gift. But it was a German translation, a lovely gesture of confidence in my conversational German, but a little over-estimated. It still sits in my bookshelf.

Lolita Vladimir Nabokov

Full of sauciness so I can’t really understand why I haven’t read this one. I must get round to it one day. (See Madame Bovary)

War and Peace Tolstoy

It has an index of the characters. This is too much for me. Apparently it’s great.


Do you suffer from Tsundoku (積ん読) Syndrome? Which books are gathering dust on your shelves? Does your visit to the library clutter your house with piles of unread books? Which ones? Please share lest I feel alone in the cruel and tempting world of beautiful books.

Send us an email at frankton.library@qldc.govt.nz and we can all discover what treasures we are sitting on!