Tsundoku

My beloved Mark Forsyth noted last January that he has two tsundoku (“a pile of books you’ve bought and haven’t got round to reading yet”).

I have something like that.

First, I have The Pile of Books I’ve Read, But Want to Review Before Returning to the Library:

unreturned

Then, the Pile of Shavian Poetry (thankfully Luci’s, not George Bernard’s):

luci-shaw

Then, the Pile of Apple Books – i.e., the books I took one bite of, and then put down to take a bite of something else.  If I’m not careful I shall have to make a bucket of applesauce.  So to speak.

unfinished

All that said, since I took these pictures, I’ve managed to remove a couple books from each pile.  Hurrah!

What’s in your tsundoku?

Variation on a Theme

“I’m back.”

“Oh, good.  …good Lord.”

“What?”

“Nothing, just – I’m sorry, how many bags of books do you have there?  I thought you said you were going off to read, not raid a bookstore.”

“It wasn’t a bookstore.  It was the library.”

And there wasn't a book sale. I didn't even get that many new requests. This was just me cleaning out my car.

And there wasn’t a book sale. I didn’t even get that many new requests. This was just me cleaning out my car.

“Oh.  I’d thought maybe a coffee shop…?”

“No, coffee shops are full of people buying coffee and chatting over their tea and – and then there’s the pressure to earn your seat by buying more coffee, which I don’t need.  Bookstores have no BYOB policy and in fact discourage bringing your own book….whereas the library has a fine parking lot, and a quiet table inside.”

“Sorry – what, exactly, does the parking lot have to do with anything?”

“Oh!  Well, on a fine evening like this, you can read in your car.  More airflow than indoors, and there was at least an hour of light.  And then inside for another hour and change.  I almost finished off that volume of Milosz, finally.”

“Seems a shame to read so fast instead of lingering over the words.  You can’t get as much out of it.”

Quirk of a bemused eyebrow.  “Is that how you always read?  Lingeringly?”

“Well, yeah.  More or less, depending on the book.”

“Tell me: do you always sip daintily at every glass of water?”  A blank look in response.  “Do you always, always let your beer or wine set for five whole seconds on your tongue before you swallow it?”  Sheepish shifting of feet, eyes drifting to the floor.  “Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Sure, maybe I don’t remember as much of it as you do, or as much as I’d like to recall – but good God, man, sometimes it’s sweltering out and you’re sweating too hard to do anything but gulp.  Sometimes you’re too caught up in conversation to attend so studiously to your beverage.  And that’s all for the best, honestly – drinks go with your food and conversation, not the other way ’round.”

“But contemplating words makes a good deal more sense than contemplating wine.”

“Not all words.  And, for that matter, not all wines, either.”

Alphabooks: W is for Worst

W: Worst Bookish Habit

Photographing my bookshelves reminded me just how many books I have: between four and five hundred, perhaps half of them unread.  Dozens have been dragged back and forth between my parents’ home and my college, and then to my Ann Arbor apartment, and then to the house I live in now.  They’ll all be boxed up and moved again in a couple months.

So it’s a bad habit that I often neglect the books I own (“They’re mine!  I have all the time in the world to read them!”) in favor of library books (“Oooh!  I don’t have to buy this but I can absorb all its stories and characters and ideas before returning it!”), though perhaps that’s preferable to buying even more books and then being stymied by indecision whenever I regard my shelves.

But I have a worse habit yet, which is checking out about 3 dozen books and a dozen CDs from the library and then ignoring them, too.  They wait week after week on the bookshelf I purchased specifically for borrowed books.  Eventually, the library e-mails me a notice that someone else has requested this or that item and I can no longer renew it.  So then the book is in demand.  Then I start to read it.  Then I find that I have wasted the time I might have spent with it, and either keep it until it’s two weeks overdue, or return it unfinished and pine after it.

Dreadful business.

But I have a worse habit yet, which is clicking around on Archive of Our Own and reading fanfiction incessantly.  It’s like overeating because your body never tells you it’s full.  It’s like voluntary insomnia.  It’s like opium.  I click and click and am not satisfied with clicking until it’s 1 AM and I am going to regret getting up for work in the morning.  That’s the worst habit of all.

Do you have any bad book habits?

Alphabooks: E is for E-Reader

E: E-Reader or Physical Books?

This isn’t quite the no-brainer it used to be. I don’t happen to have an e-reader of my own, which prohibits me from making too many vast sweeping judgments for myself in favor or against the things. As a user of Project Gutenberg, I can certainly appreciate the utility of an electronic book: so long as the book is available, it can be yours instantly; presumably it’s easy to highlight and share quotations electronically; and it saves a lot of space in an apartment or house. E-readers take me one step closer to being Hermione Granger: a library can rest in my purse and accompany me everywhere.ereader libraryThe advent of e-readers and e-books also changes the publishing game in seemingly positive ways. Publishers who needn’t produce a paper-and-ink copy of a book can apply resources differently: less production, storage, and shipping; more graphic design, cloud storage, and general tech. Or so I suppose. I also suppose this enables publishers to work with more authors than ever before, while authors who prefer to self-publish can also do so more readily.

So: less space, less money spent per book, more authors and ideas available: hurrah!

But, of course, the fact remains that an e-reader costs some $80 to $200 at the outset, requires maintenance of its software and battery, and could lose books without warning. I am also concerned with privacy – would such a device report my reading list to someone? Would companies pay to interrupt me mid-chapter with ads? Ugh. No thank you.

So let us consider physical books. They take up space (I don’t have too many books; I have insufficient bookshelves); they’re heavy to move, especially in bulk; they’re subject to all kinds of damage; they aren’t backlit. You may not be able to find a particular volume through the bookstore or library, and whether you buy a copy or reserve it, you must wait days or weeks to receive it.

But upon receipt, that book opens right up, and no one can take it away (without being present). The book’s tangibility doesn’t change the ideas within it, but it does change how the reader interacts with them. Each volume has unique opportunities for beauty. The heft of the book as a whole, the design of the cover, the margins for easy annotation, the sight and color and smell: all such things render the experience of reading a particular book more distinctive. Opening my Complete Shakespeare is unlike opening my favorite Father Brown book is unlike opening the slender volume of Yeats.

I’m not the first or last to wax poetic about such things.  E-readers would do in a pinch, but for the most part I prefer the hard copy of a book.library book stack

Library Guidelines

There is a meme making its way around the interwebs that declares, “I would marry the beast for his library!!!” Or something like that.

It sounds like a great idea.

There is even a facebook group for these brilliant and enterprising people.

At first I was amused and pleased by this sentiment. A library is marvelous, magical, mysterious place, and I see nothing whatsoever wrong with marrying in order to get material possessions books.

And then I remembered what this library looks like.

The Library of the BEAST!!!!*

And I cringed.

Oh, in theory it looks amazing. Millions of books, gracious curves, elegant stairs, long ladders, shiny marble, towering ceilings, etc.

But where is the familiarity? the comfort? the ease of finding your book? I get the feeling that even the librarian (do we meet a librarian in the movie?) has a hard time finding a specific book. Do we need to establish architectural rules for what makes a good library? I think yes.

So in reality, that library only has two attributes from list my for Good Library. Not a brilliant library, mind you, just a good library.

A Good Library

  • Books (Yeah . . . )
  • Some system of organization, so that you have an idea of where to find the book you want.
  • All books are within arm reach. I am not saying don’t have several floors or balconies (what do you call an indoor balcony?) but the ladders make things a tad ridiculous. Just add more walk ways!
  • Many cozy corners, with seats and windows, or maybe a window seat!
  • A friendly ceiling that does not threaten to echo every footstep or loom over you from such a cold distance. (Seriously, how did they keep that room warm in the winter?) High ceilings and open space is good, but not if it is overwhelming.
  • Colors that put you at ease, so you actually want to spend time in the library.
  • The atmosphere should be peaceful and relaxing, so you actually do spend time in the library.

I realize that this rather vague. Also, it is hard to find all this in an existing library. Most public libraries pick one, maybe two, items from this list, and discard the rest. And the old renaissance libraries are worst! They must have been the inspiration for the Beast’s library, as they tend more towards the grand than the comfortable.

Stiftsbibliothek, Admont Monastery Library, Austria. Would really want this in your house? Where would you read?

 

That all as my caveat, here is my list for my future dream library.

 

A Brilliant Library

  • Everything from the Good Library List.
  • Everything has organization, but it is okay if books get slightly out of order, or will not fit, or somehow mutiplyand suddenly you have books than bookcases and must start stacking on top of the neat lines of books.
  • Wood. Lots of wood. Wooden floors, wooden shelves, wooden chairs. Everything from oak to mahogany to ebony to purpleheart.
  • Because wood can feel cold, carpets. Possibly oriental carpets. And cushions on the chairs.
  • More window seats. A few must have a little ledge that can also serve as a desk.
  • A spiral staircase. Like in Henry Higgin’s library.
  • A fireplace. Like in Henry Higgin’s library.
  • Huge, plush, comfy armchairs. The kind in which a person can curl up. (There is no way to not end that sentence with a preposition. Sorry.)
  • This color scheme: —>
  • More windows. So you get good reading light. And you can get some idea of what is going on in the outside world without needing to leave your seat.
  • More books. You will find the room. And if you can’t, build more shelves! This is not hard. Books seem to breed; every time you turn around there are more!

 

 

The Beast’s library is too huge, hard, and cold. I would not even know where to start looking through the books!

 

The only public library that comes close (but lacks comfy seats!) is the Bodleian Library. In fact, I cannot find a photo of anything I would deem perfectly brilliant. But all of these below come pretty close.

The Bodleian, Oxford. So pretty, AND friendly!

Wood paneling and fluffy chairs. Yay!

What is with those knick-knacks? Get rid of them, and get more books! Otherwise, perfect.

Oooh! So awesome!

Not quite comfortable, but the piano is brilliant idea!

It needs more soft things!

And last but not least, Henry Higgin’s Library. Ideal. (Actually, it was filmed in the Groussay Library, and the comfy cushions have since been removed. But you can imagine them there!)

My dream library is in the body of an old lighthouse, carefully refurbished. The bottom floor would be the children’s books, comfy chairs, large desk, and fireplace area, and each landing up the hand carved wooden spiral staircase would have its own set of shelves and designation (poetry, lit crit, philosophy, etc.). The top, where the light would shine out, would be a 360 window seat, with very comfortable seats and an amazing view. As soon as I can figure out how to take photos of dream land, I will let you see it!

What is your dream library? Do you have certain guidelines for what you need in a library?

*Because saying “The Noun of the Noun” is so much better (read ” more pretentious”,) than saying “The Noun’s Noun”.