Remona Aly
Thursday 29 August 2019 BBC Radio 2

Tsundoku and the Unread Book

Tsundoku and the unread book

I’ve been stuck in the middle of reading a world classic for quite some time now – ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, whose wronged hero – Edmond Dantes – is in danger of spending longer than his sentence of 14 years in the Château d’If prison, thanks to me.

I’ll shift the blame to the distractions of TV drama and social media, but I do wonder what happened to the days when I demolished books like a box of chocolates. ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ has been on the back burner for months, I took two years to get through Vikram Seth’s, ‘A Suitable Boy’ – and many more to find one in real life – but the worst of it is, I still have a huge heap of books I’ve not even picked up.

The Japanese have a special word for letting unread books pile up on the shelf – ‘tsundoku’. I feel other words that sum up my life need to enter the English language. Like the Inuit word, ‘iktsuarpok’ – when you keep checking outside to see if someone is coming – basically my state of being when checking my mobile.

Or, when I’m on the road, the German word, ‘deppenfahrerbeaugung’, literally meaning ‘moron driver eyeballing’ – when I give a judgy side glare to a bad driver I’ve just overtaken.

I still haven’t found the right word to define the failure to turn myself into a real go-getter. My complacency means I relegate my life to a waiting room, and I let the days, months, years slip me by, and then wonder how I’ve got to xx age and feel it’s a life half-lived.

A little anecdote from the Sufi Muslim tradition, sums me up pretty well: A man went into a shop and asked the shopkeeper, “Do you have leather?” “Yes,” said the shopkeeper. “Nails?” “Yes.” “Thread?” “Yes.” “Needle?” “Yes” – “Then why don’t you make yourself a pair of boots?”

I know I’ve got the raw materials in me already, I’ve just got to read that unread book, build that go-getting mode, live life to the full. Like the American author, Gina Greenlee, says: “Embrace those parts of yourself that you’ve skillfully avoided until now. That’s your true adventure.”