interior of book tower in Prague Municipal Library

The State of the “Read Me” Project

The New Year’s resolution that gave rise to the Read Me Project – “I am not buying any more books until I have read these” – finally went the way of many New Year’s resolutions.[*]

First, there were the free books outside the library. It’s not buying a book when you get an armful of free used ones. Not technically.

Then, there was my birthday. As usual I got book store gift cards from everyone in my family, since everyone knows that’s what to get me for my birthday. Using those gifts cards was, technically, buying new books. But, I reasoned, getting a gift card is in effect getting the actual book, wrapped up as a gift, only in kit form. If you look at it that way, technically buying new books with birthday gift cards could be seen as NOT technically buying new books, which clearly constitutes a resolution loop hole.

And then, there was checking out a couple of new titles for classes. Which clearly involved buying books, not receiving books, but which also seemed like it should constitute an exempt category, since the book-buying was practically a requirement.

For work.

Almost like I didn’t have a choice.

And then at last there was this article.

I learned that not only am I not alone in this habit of buying books that pile up waiting for years to be read – because they are so totally going to be read, by me, eventually – but it turns out there is a word for this phenomenon – tsundoku, a Japanese word that pretty literally means “piles of unread books” – and that I am a piker when it comes to this book-piling thing. An amateur, even.

There are tsundoku clubs that won’t even let you join until you have 1,000.

I am nowhere near 1,000.

(Pretty sure books on shelves do not count.)

In light of this new information, I’ve decided to accept the things I cannot change without more effort than it appears I am willing to make, and change the things I can by aiming for a kind of dynamic homeostasis.

This year, the goal is to read more books than I add to the stacks.

Add by whatever means. No more of this “not technically” stuff.

Because those books that I didn’t technically buy still had to be stacked somewhere.

I will be updating the tsundoku list accordingly.

[*] It turned out to be harder than I thought it should have been to track down anything like a SOURCE for the widely reported figure that just 8% of New Year’s resolution-makers keep their resolutions all year. That statistic just seems to keep getting passed around from website to website like Aunt Pittypat’s holiday fruitcake, vaguely attributed to “a recent study” with a link to whatever other slow-news-day article about “how not to make your New Year’s resolutions this year” said it the last time.[**] But I finally tracked down a source (“How Fast You’ll Abandon Your New Year’s Resolutions” at FiveThirtyEight) that named an actual SOURCE, one that actually reported actual data and methodology, from 2002, if you call that “recent,” most of which was behind a paywall with too high a price tag for me to want to check out any further. Evidently that’s where my journalistic ethics and scholarly persistence end. According to the free abstract, though, 46% of “resolvers” were still hanging in there at 6 months. This was a lot better than the “non-resolvers” with similar aspirations were doing. Just 4% of them were making progress on the same or similar goals. So, New Year’s resolutions may have a short half-life, but if we’re aiming for “progress not perfection” we still may find making them worth our while.

[**] Articles on tsundoku have something of this holiday fruitcake quality as well. The earliest mention I found was an article on untranslatable words from BBC News, but Wikipedia had a couple of earlier ones, one of which pointed towards a now-lost internet source from 2013 or earlier. I also ran across some interesting analysis of the Japanese word, for English speakers, at Tofugu.

interior of book tower in Prague Municipal Library
There’s a word for this.

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