R. Alan Lewis
President, Ground Zero Books, Ltd.
As we all know, even if only after googling the term, Tsundoku is the practice of acquiring reading materials and letting them pile up and not reading them. It is an interesting term—sort of like ‘hoarding’ but specific to reading materials. It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf. The word originated as Japanese slang. As currently written in Japanese, the word combines the characters for “pile up” and the character for “read”.
We confess, as booksellers with an about 60,000 items listed on-line and perhaps an even greater number of items awaiting cataloguing, that we practice Tsundoku in effect but not in intent. We revel in each book, professional journal, pamphlet, brochure, report, manual, and other material as we prepare our database entries. We often experience the joy of discovery when we determine that a signature is significant or that an item was a seminal work in its field or that there was an unexpected association—such as learning that Sendak’s first published illustrations were in a book on nuclear energy—Atomics for the Millions published in 1947. While we do not delve into the motivations of our customers, we hope that the purchases we fulfill provide stimulation as well as the joy of possession. But we respect the goal of possession for its own sake. A. Edward Newton is quoted as saying: “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.” Please be assured that we would never shrink from the opportunity to sell items to provide ‘mere presence.’
The United Kingdom’s National Literacy Trust recently examined the possession of books in its study: Book ownership and its relation to reading enjoyment, attitudes, behavior and attainment. This report presented findings that show that book ownership is not only associated with educational attainment but is also related more broadly to reading enjoyment. Book ownership can be exceptionally important for children. The number of books in the home has as great an impact on children’s educational attainment as parental education levels. The multi-year study by Mariah Evans and her colleagues at the Australian National University, UCLA, and other academic institutions found that having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant on propelling a child to higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit. Can you imagine the quantum increase in benefit if there were 20,000 books at home? Thus, the acquisition of books can, and we hope should, have a multi-generational positive impact. Purchasing books today, then, can directly benefit the next generation and beyond. Perhaps destiny is calling you to buy books today, for your own purposes and to benefit future owners and readers. Do you owe it to your posterity to perform Tsundoku? Only you can say.
So, what to buy? As you know, we have a broad and deep stock of books, monographs, pamphlets, technical reports, government documents, and some odd-ball items. While we focus on the areas of war, peace and politics, we have significant holdings in many other areas—as a result of acquiring collections over the past 40 years or so. We hope as you browse our website you will find items to delight your senses, or at least satisfy a need. Additionally, if you do not see exactly what you are interested in, please let us know and we can survey our current holdings and work with our international network of other book dealers to try to find what you want.
As always, we appreciate your comments on our columns, your suggestions for future topics, your requests for additional information on items we have for sale, your want lists, and your research needs. We invite you to contact us directly, by phone, mail, and/or e-mail, to purchase our items, and will gladly grant, upon request, a ten per cent discount. As we end this month’s column, even if it seems like we are ‘piling on,’ we will use a forced metaphor—May the Tsundoku be with you!