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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Tsundoku and the anti-library

Column- Buying books and not reading them can sometimes be a good thing, writes Piyush Jha

books Updated: Sep 19, 2019 11:58 IST
Piyush Jha
Piyush Jha
Hindustan Times
(Photo: Istock)

I grew up in a home full of books. Although many of them remained unread by the self-professed bibliophiles in my family, myself included, we kept adding more and more books until we filled up every available shelf space. And then, as aesthetically as possible, we piled them on the ground.

I found out only recently that we were unknowingly practicing the Japanese art of Tsundoku, which loosely translates to- buying books with the intention of reading them and then letting them pile up.

For many years I felt sheepish about not having read all the books, which were a mere arm’s reach away for me. I regretted the opportunities that I had lost. But, now I take heart in a new study, which finds that homes with lots of books around increase literacy and cognitive skills and lead to a solid educational advantage for children. Apparently, just growing up in a bookish atmosphere creates a positive pressure to seek knowledge and can spur a child to succeed as a grown-up. And most importantly, being in the presence of large amounts of unread books at home can create self-awareness about one’s own ignorance. This particularly builds a sense of curiosity and intellectual humility that sparks better learning. Haven’t we all had this feeling inside a bookstore or a library, at least once in our lives?

According to writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the Anti-library, a term he coined for a collection of unread books, does actually end up keeping people intellectually humble. Indeed, whenever I am seized by bouts of self-importance about my words and ideas, all I have to do is glance around my home library and I’m quite swiftly brought down to earth with the understanding that much greater thoughts and ideas have been captured in the pages of the books that sit on my shelves. One day I might get around to reading them, but till that time the books stare back at me unread. A daily reminder that there is so much I still don’t know and the possibilities that the future holds.

Bibliophile, A. E Newton articulated perhaps the most important facet of unread books when he said, “We cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access, reassurance.” Keeping this in mind, I’m now also future-proofing Tsundoku on my e-reader, steadily building an impressive Anti-library of e-books!