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I RECENTLY LEARNED THE JAPANESE word つんどく, tsundoku, which means acquiring books but letting them pile up without reading. To which I add ちょっと, chotto, Japanese for “a little.” That is, I do get around to reading some of them eventually.
Here are tidbits about つんどくas well as a sampling of my books in this category.
Etymology. According to Wikipedia, tsundoku “combines elements of tsunde-oku (積んでおく, to pile things up ready for later and leave) and dokusho (読書, reading books). As currently written, the word combines the characters for ‘pile up’ (積) and the character for ‘read’ (読).” That is, つんどく is the rendering in hirigana; 積ん読 uses kanji characters.
Wikipedia says the slang term dates from the Meiji era (1868–1912), when Japan opened herself big time to western influences. Hence, perhaps, this bibliophilic practice came along with bowler hats and railroads.
Wikipedia notes, “The American author and bibliophile A. Edward Newton commented on a similar state in 1921. Thus there’s a certain American heritage in the practice, if not in the exact word.
Here are a few of my tsundoku books.
Shakespeare in Hollywood. This is Ken Ludwig’s play: “Lights, Camera, Shakespeare! It’s 1934, and Shakespeare’s most famous fairies, Oberon and Puck, have magically materialized on the Warner Bros. Hollywood set of Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“Instantly smitten by the glitz and glamour of show biz,” the blurb continues, “the two are ushered onto the silver screen to play (who else?) themselves.”
Having shared a few of the movie’s wacky backstories here at SimanaitisSays, I just had to order this play.
Reading a play is good fun, though it requires a certain frame of mind and enough time to do it with maybe one intermission. I know I’ll eventually enjoy Shakespeare in Hollywood even though it’s one of my ちょっとつんどく at the moment. There’s a Voltaire’s Candide on a nearby pile as well.
Genius. Earlier this year I was sorting books in the garage and uncovered Patrick Dennis’s “new novel” Genius. My copy is a first edition and I recall finding it a real hoot back in the Sixties.
Fairly recently, I learned that Dennis’s Leander Starr (“one of the world’s most famous directors and the world’s most famous deadbeat”) was patterned after Orson Welles. My fascination with Welles came long after I read Genius, and thus it calls for another go. One of these ちょっとつんどく days….
Wagner’s Ring: A Listener’s Companion & Concordance. This one is a fairly recent addition to my ちょっとつんどく. For years, I subscribed to Mark Twain’s view: “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”
Marjorie Harris mirrors my change of heart in “Ring Heads of the World, Unite,” posted at CBC Radio: “Over time, I devoted myself to learning Wagner’s glorious musical leitmotifs; then I set out to know the dozens of characters and to understand the impossible twists and turns of his wild plots. Never mind that The Ring Cycle operas tell the story of the birth of a world gone mad with greed. They are still able to banish, if only temporarily, the rancidness of our own era.”
I’ll be dipping into Holman’s Listener’s Companion & Concordance before long and would enjoy chatting with Marjorie. I wonder if she has ちょっとつんど as well. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022