Books

Tsundoku

The Japanese word for new books that pile up unread on the bookshelf is Tsundoku. This photograph shows part of my humble contribution to the honourable practice. There is a mysterious relationship between owner and books; a bibliophile loves their fate and not just their content. To obsess about the content of books borders on the utilitarian as it values them for their usefulness only. I prefer the lordly disdain of Anatole France who, on being asked whether he had read all of the books in his vast library, (a boringly frequent question from my visitors) replied that he hadn’t read a tenth of them “and I don’t suppose you use your Sevres china every day”. The non-reading of ones books is nothing to be ashamed of. A book collection is a disorder that has accommodated itself so it can appear as order. Walter Benjamin has written of this dialectical tension. One notion of his is the definition of a writer: the most praiseworthy method of acquiring books is to write them oneself. The translation of Tsundoku into English therefore should be a private library of books not written by its owner.

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