I Can Afford to Hoard Now


Part of my job as an English teacher is to stay current on developments in the language, from Oxford comma debates to ever-changing citation styles. Keeping track of all the “loan words” that seep into English from other languages is a small part of that work, but it’s one of the more enjoyable things I get to do, if only because it helps me learn more about other cultures. It also provides an ongoing example of how languages change over time, and aren’t the static constructs that so many people (especially transphobic assholes) make them out to be.

Of all the loan words I’ve picked up on over the last decade, tsundoku — Japanese for “collecting reading materials but letting them pile up without reading them” — has probably been the most useful for me. In my last few years in Toledo, I had to start borrowing other places to store all the books I was picking up there, even though I was doing a fairly good job of reading most of what I got. Completing the BBC Books Challenge before my fortieth birthday played a big role in me upping my reading time for a while there, and the fact that I wouldn’t allow myself to shelve a book until I’d read it also motivated me to keep reading as much as I could. Still, there were always a few books in piles just above my television that I could never seem to get to, whether because of my teaching work or my writing work or just because I just had other books I needed to read first.

Most of my physical books are still in Toledo, due to a variety of factors; I had to effectively give away a small number of them after Mom passed away (including one of my bigger collections of literary journals), but I managed to hold onto most of them, and I’m hoping to haul them here to Wisconsin sometime next spring or summer. (I am worried about the sheer weight of them, though, since I’m on a top-floor apartment here.) I’ve certainly missed them these past couple of years, but I’ve had bigger concerns to worry about during that time.

I wasn’t into the whole ebook thing at first, in part because I spent so much of my life with physical books that trying to read a book on an electronic device feels like a totally different activity to me. In all honesty, I still have enough of an ego that I also like being able to look at shelves upon shelves of books I own and have read; it’s basically a primitive version of all the trophy/award mechanics in modern video games, and even if very few people have ever had the opportunity to gaze upon my little library, I still enjoy having it. Add in the positive associations I have with “old book smell” from my earliest years, and I doubt that I’ll ever truly be able to give up my addiction to physical books. (I frequently remark that I could live quite well in a tiny house, as long as I had a real house next door to store all the books I want to own.)

Eventually, though, I bought some ebooks because they were cheaper than the printed versions, and my travels over the last few years have really driven home how convenient it is to have so much reading material “in the cloud” that I can access through my phone or tablet or desktop computer. As I’ve been researching my next book, I’ve really come to appreciate the highlighting features in the various ebook apps; not only is being able to pull a list of highlighted passages up a real boon to my research process, but I’ve always avoided marking up the physical books I own, just because I feel a need to keep them as pristine as possible. (For the physical books I have to use in my research — some because they’re long out of print and probably won’t ever be digitized, some because the authors are assholes and I don’t want to give them any money — I have to use those tiny sticky notes to flag everything I want to use, and I may go through a whole tree’s worth of those notes by the time I get done here.)

If you read ebooks yourself, or even if you just get promotional emails about the tablet and/or smartphone you own, then you probably know that the companies behind the major ereader apps will occasionally offer discounts, sometimes on specific titles but sometimes on any purchases you care to make. I don’t want to say that getting one of those emails qualifies as a highlight of my day, but it’s darn close to one, since I still need to get a mess of books for my research here, and being able to save money helps. It’s gotten to a point now where I often won’t buy ebooks unless I have one of those discounts awaiting me, at least unless I hit a point with my research where I absolutely need to get a specific book right away.

The ebooks I’ve picked up this way are starting to pile up, unread (for now), in my virtual library for each reading app I have. This isn’t the same problem that tsundoku for physical books is, of course, but as I was figuring out how to use an ebook promotional credit I got last week, I realized that I hadn’t looked at my bank account before making my purchases. I didn’t need to, because I’m finally at a point now where I can keep a good chunk of cash in my bank account, to the point where buying thirty to fifty dollars’ worth of ebooks isn’t something I need to worry about doing. The fact that they’re all research for my next book definitely helps me avoid guilt over spending money so freely, but it’s another one of those signs of just how far I’ve come here, being able to make these purchases without having to make sure I can still pay all my other bills on time.

If there’s one thing that makes me want to live another hundred years (even more than all the books I want to write), it’s all the books I want to read. In addition to all the physical books and ebooks I’ve been picking up here to help with the research for my next book, I’ve also snagged some on-sale novels I want to read when I get the time. Between my teaching and writing and research, though, I really don’t know when I’ll have the time to do some leisure reading here. I may wind up starting another small library here in Wisconsin before I can go grab my library back in Toledo. At least I don’t have to worry about being able to afford all these books any longer, so I guess that helps me feel better about the whole thing, but I hope my tsundoku doesn’t wind up becoming another source of stress for me as I try to get so many things taken care of here.

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