Roses are red

Violets are blue

Sugar is sweet

Tsundoku

My mother taught me to read at a young age, using a series of comic strips called ‘Shortcuts to Reading’ that were printed in the Chicago Tribune. I can recall the letters, printed in bright colors, and the panels filled with examples of things that began with that letter. The colors suggest that they must have been printed in the Sunday supplements. I know that I could read by the time that I went to kindergarten, so I must have been learning from these comics previous to 1966.

It was in kindergarten that I learned to love not only reading, but books. They were mysterious things; some very simple to understand, and some impenetrable. I remember going to the school library and looking into a Babar book when I was very little; the cursive writing fascinated me. I knew that it was some kind of English, but not being able to understand it was an exciting mixture of frustration and curiosity.

Since then I have been an unrepentant book-lover, all through the fifty-eight years of my life. There have been times when I had no money, and times when I had plenty — but I never wanted to spend it on anything other than books. With a few exceptions, I have not been a book collector, exactly; I love the design, care, and wit of Edward Gorey’s books, and I try to buy them whenever I come across them. A very good friend, who has since passed away, advised me to read J B Priestley — and so I began to hunt up books by him — and apart from the fact that Priestley is a good writer, and having the books reminds me of my absent friend, they are just rare enough for me to consider it a special occasion when I come across one in a used-book shop or a flea market. And so I buy them.

The true fact is that I have a personality that I would describe as ‘Faustian’, and so I have gathered together a large amount of books on a huge variety of unrelated subjects over the years. Not ‘Faustian’ in the sense of wanting to sell my soul to the devil and live forever, though it’s crossed my mind, but rather in the sense of being at least a little bit interested in practically everything. Tsundoku is probably the key to understanding Faust; he didn’t want to live forever to gain power and money, but because he needed the time to read all the books he wanted to read.

Which brings us to a brief explanation of tsundoku — if you’ve read this far you may be a book-lover yourself, in which case you may already know what tsundoku is — a Japanese word meaning something like ‘the activity of piling up books that one can never hope to read’. No easy equivalent in English. And while the ‘activity of piling up books’ part is well-known to me, and always has been, the ‘that one can never hope to read’ bit has only recently been preying on my mind. Because, as I near sixty, I know quite well that — even if I live to a very old age — I may not be able to read all the books I have now, let alone any I might want tomorrow or next week. My beloved bookshelf is a daily reminder of the onrush of my mortality.

Thus, this — my blog about books, The Tsundoku Line. I figure that if I can’t read them all, I can at least consider all my books and try to write something interesting about them. Some of the forthcoming entries you’ll find here will be about the content of the books, some about their design, and some about both. Many of the books will probably serve as mere springboards into my opinions and analysis of any number of things. That Faustian streak again.

I hope that we will have a good long trip before the Tsundoku Express pulls into the Terminal Station, but who knows — it’s not up to me. But I’ll do my best to make it a colorful and intriguing journey, and I hope you will come back often and hop aboard.