The List and the Library

Tsunduko is a Japanese word that describes buying books and not reading them, or letting books accumulate unread on shelves, tables, or your life. I don’t know why there isn’t an English word for this phenomenon, because I know plenty of people whose homes fit that description. Even mine, and I have very little budget for buying books. If I could afford it, I’d quickly qualify for an episode of Hoarders. (“Did you notice how his bookshelf was made out of other books? How does a person let it get that far?!”) My tsunduko is especially acute because I don’t actually read much at all. I’m not blaming my kids, but they do a good job of denying me the luxury of defining my own schedule. At the pace I’m at, it’s going to take 137 years to read the books I already possess, so it would be absurd for me to buy another book.

But I probably will. I can’t help myself – whether it’s a remaindered price on an unfamiliar author who intrigues me, a new title by an author I already like, or a review that spurs action by pushing the right psychic buttons (“fans of Amy Hempel will enjoy…”), the urge is hard to resist. It happened again today when I listened to the Selected Shorts podcast and heard a story by Lauren Groff. Line after line of the reading delighted me, but being on the bus, I was helpless to transcribe any of them (my tendency toward motion sickness means any sentence I attempt to write on a bus ends with me vomiting.) I tried to keep them all in my head but felt like a toddler attempting to carry an armful of eggs. By the time I got downtown, most were lost and the rest were broken shells of cleverness.

My intended solution, of course, was to go to Powell’s on my lunch hour and find that story — because what other option did I have? I suppose I could “make a list” of books I’d like to investigate, but making such a list means I need to keep the list where I can access it, and I don’t have a list shelf, I have a book shelf. That’s where the book goes when I buy it. Honestly, there’s a simplicity to this process that appeals to me. Ikea probably has some form of List Shelf in their sprawling, meatball-scented store, but I’d prefer any money I’d spend on a List Shelf be spent on books.

Besides, making lists is a terrible strategy for a chronic note writer. I have notes to myself all over my desk, and because there are so many, I never see any of them. It’s a ritual I have, writing down important things and ignoring them until they no longer have any logical context in my life – phone numbers without names, dimensions to items I can’t remember measuring, and cryptic phrases that seem like a secret code. I don’t write these notes so that future-me will be well-informed, I write them so present-me can enjoy the comfort of having written something down and purging the information from my memory. It doesn’t actually matter what I write – a list that reads “pancakes, flagstones, algebra” would be as valuable as anything else on my desk.

With lists being off the table (figuratively if not literally), one might suggest that I check-out the book from the library rather than buying it. That would be good advice for someone in the movies, the director then showing a montage of peaceful scenes in which the bookmark quickly moves through the pages of the novel. But as I said, I don’t have cinematic control over the extenuating demands in my life and the pressure of a three-week deadline drains the joy out of reading. The desire to read a particular book may be strong, but that doesn’t mean I want to read it right now. I have to respect the queue. (Though I use the word “queue” loosely, as my unread books are piled with the orderliness of a Target store on Black Friday.)

But as it turns out, the Multnomah County Library offers an alternate solution to my life’s ongoing collision of word lust, family commitments, and inherent laziness: a little link next to every item that says, “Save for later.” I was already in love with the MultCo library site, clearly designed by people who understand the love of books as much as the art of coding, but this was next-level service: a digital post-it note that I can leave online, exactly where I need it. No chance of it being lost in a shuffle of papers and no need to recall where I hid it for future updates. That little button is a shining example of how technology can improve people’s lives – namely, mine.

I found Lauren Groff’s book on their site, clicked that magic button, and voila – all of my problems are solved. Except, of course, finding the time to read to actually check-out and read the selected titles, and the chronic tsunduko that overwhelms me when I breathe in the sweet mustiness of a used bookstore. But I’ve sent the library a letter, and I’m patiently waiting for them to figure out a solution for these other problems, too. (They haven’t answered my letter, but these are complex issues – I’ll give them a couple of days before I write again.)

2 response to "The List and the Library"

  1. By: Patricia Posted: 05/12/2015

    I was going to suggest Goodreads, because that’s where I put my endless list of books that sound interesting. Or I used to. They have a “to-read” shelf (this is all virtual, so no actual shelves are involved.) Mine has over 500 books and I never actually look at it. I eventually came to the conclusion that if I want to read something, I should put it on hold at the library. When it arrives either I will make time for it, or I won’t. Books that sound interesting, but not interesting enough to read RIGHT NOW (or whenever the hold comes in) I just figure they will find me when I need them.

  2. By: Willreagan Posted: 05/12/2015

    Thanks Patricia. Being a recent discovery, I hadn’t contemplated what I would do when the “save for later” page became as cluttered as the bookshelf at home. (Uh-oh.) I like your advice — if the book and I are meant to be together, hopefully we’ll find each other again. (Though that’s much more likely to be true if it’s in my house….which brings me back to my original problem.)

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