The sin of tsundoku – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 7 December, 2014

The sin of tsundoku
Posted on December 7, 2014, Sunday

Bookshelf with books
Books bought fro the Big Bad Wolf Sale

DECEMBER is the month I tread with a little trepidation.

No, I have not been bad. I also have not made a list of things I want from the chubby guy with snowy white beard and ridiculous red costume. Even when I did, I never got what I asked for.

The season of giving is not the reason too. I like the notion that people are reminded to make extra effort to be generous to those who have less than us. After all, it is a blessing to be able to share what we have. This act enriches the givers as much as those who receive.

It is neither the thought of unfulfilled plans made at the beginning of the year that troubles me. I have stopped calling them New Year resolutions because I realised these personal goals I set required more than 365 days to come to fruition. I am ambitious in that way.

After all, noting ventured, nothing gained. Rather, this is the time of the year when the word ‘tsundoku’ rings loud and clear inside my head. It is the Japanese word for the act of buying books, leaving them unread and piled up together with other unread books.

I am a book hoarder and I admit it. But I want to state that my wife initiated me into this obsession. She used to get me to accompany her to book fairs organised by major publishers and retailers where the prices were so dirt cheap they cost only a fraction we usually paid for at bookshops.

What got me hooked was the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale. First held in 2009, it has since evolved into the world’s biggest event of such nature offering three million books of all genres and with discounts of up to 95 per cent.

How can one resist the temptation of buying books that usually cost between RM30 and RM50 for less than RM10? So, being suckers for bargains, we have been visiting the fair annually and always return home lugging cartons filled with books.

For the past two years, it has been held in December at a convention centre within a 20 minute drive from where we live. The proximity made it extra difficult to restrain ourselves. I would tell her that I would just drive her there and wait while she browsed. By the time she was done, I was the one who ended up buying most of the books.

My wife has no preference for genre and selected whatever caught her fancy. I am a fan of Asian fictions and syndicated comics. Between us, we have bought over 300 books, most of them gathering dust on shelves, untouched and unread since we brought them home. By my estimate, I have read less than 20 books from those forays.

I grew up reading classics like ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. Although those books had seen better days, having lost their crispness when I found them in a long forgotten nook, the tales within called out to me the moment I held them in my hands.

The yellowed pages and stale smell of paper coupled with the occasional scurrying of silver fish made the adventures in lands faraway even more gripping. These stories stirred the restless spirit in me to seek out my own escapades which I enjoyed very much as a child.

Nowadays, reading for pleasure has become a luxury. Work and declining eyesight are stripping away the one leisure activity I have always enjoyed. Where I once could read a book from back to back in one go, I can now only manage a few pages at a time before eye fatigue and sleepiness set in.

Still, I continue to buy books at fairs with the intention of enjoying them later and also fearing I may not be able to get the same titles for the same bargain price at other times. In some wicked way, I find spending money on books gratifying, perhaps the vestige of a time when reading was fun and stimulating. They still are if only I can find the time and vigour for them.

There is no more shelf space for another shopping spree. It does not help that the 11-day Big Bad Wolf Book Sale has just began and my wife is already making plans to go. I can resist as much as I want to but in the end I know I will still succumb to the sin of tsundoku anyhow. If I have one weakness, this must be it.

Since there is very little probability of circumventing this obsession, I am going to go with the flow. If I cannot beat it, I might as well jump into the fray and get myself some good books. And since this is the season for giving, I am going to indulge and buy books to give away as presents to friends as well. At the very least I will feel less guilty for this extravagance.

I hope they will not call me cheap for getting them presents at steeply discounted prices. After all, it is the thought that counts and reading is a good habit to cultivate. Nevertheless, I will tread gingerly lest I go hog-wild and burn a big hole in my pocket like I have done in previous years. The only spanner in the works now is where and how I can make space for the new batch of books.

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Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.