I thought everything was fine until I threw my book into the freezer and discovered that I had stepped into a steaming pile of tsundoku.
Perhaps I should explain.
On the way home from the gym yesterday, I passed a table covered with used books that had been set up outside a local secondhand store.
Keep walking, I told myself, you’ve got books at home that you’ll never read.
This is painfully true. There are stacks of used books all over my computer room and boxes of them in my closets.
Hell will freeze over and Satan himself will be handing out ice cream sodas before I ever get to them all, but I can’t seem to part with any of them.
Knowing this, you’d think I would’ve kept going yesterday, but I couldn’t resist. I’m always amazed at the excellent books I find for a fraction of their original price.
I came across my all time favorite novel, Ken Kesey’s Sometimes A Great Notion, at a secondhand store more than 25 years ago, and that book has stayed with me ever since.
Kesey's writing is so powerful it’s like a creative writing course you can hold in your hands—and it only cost me 50 cents. So ever since then I’m constantly on the lookout for another great literary find.
I did a quick review of the books on the table, decided there was nothing there for me, and turned to leave.
And that’s when I saw Strivers Row.
This is the third in a series of connected books by Kevin Baker, the author two fantastic historical novels, Dreamland and Paradise Alley.
Published in 2007, Strivers Row reimagines the early days of Malcolm Little, who would later become Malcolm X. I had heard that this novel did not stack up to the two earlier works, but I wanted to complete the series.
When are you going to read this? My cranky old conscience demanded. You’ve got tons of novels and God only knows how many freaking self-help books to plough through. You can barely get through the Times every day.
Still, I didn’t want to leave the trilogy hanging. The book was only a buck and I promised myself I would leave it in the cafeteria at work for my coworkers to read the second I finished it.
My Back Pages
Now the only problem with second hand items, books included, is that you can have unwanted guests coming home with you in the form of horrible little insects.
I’ve heard that putting a book in the freezer overnight is the best way to exterminate these little bastards, so Strivers Row got the Big Chill treatment the minute I got home.
With that out of the way, I decided to check my emails and saw that I had not yet read Rob Brezny’s Astrology Newsletter, which had come in day three days earlier.
This was unusual, as I always read Brezny’s weekly horoscopes the minute they come over my digital transom.
I won’t and say I believe the stars are controlling my life; I just like to cover all possibilities. And I enjoy Brezny’s positive attitude and fine writing style.
Then I started reading.
“The Japanese word ‘tsundoku” describes what happens if you buy a lot of books but never read them, leaving them piled up in a neglected heap,” my horoscope read. “I recommend that you avoid indulging in ‘tsundoku’ any time soon, Gemini.”
In fact, my horoscope urged me not to indulge in any kind of tsundoku for the immediate future.
“You are in a phase of your cycle when it's crucial to make conscientious use of your tools and riches. To let them go to waste would be to dishonor them, and make it less likely that you will continue to receive their blessings in the future.”
Oh, great. I had just unwittingly given the Zodiac the finger.
I’ve got clothes I haven’t looked at in years, a DVR about to bust like a piñata with unwatched movies, and a Netflix list that has reached critical mass.
I’m tsundoku-ed up to my eyeballs.
But I didn’t intentionally ignore my horoscope. I just kind of neglected it. Is astrological ignorance a legitimate defense?
The issue got even more star-crossed today when my sister stopped by to drop off some birthday gifts from my niece, Victoria, and my sister-in-law, Amy.
Opening up the package I found a little gnome statue, which means my niece has not forgotten her vow to make me pose for a photo in a gnome hat when I visit her in Colorado.
One of the gnome’s legs was broken—thank you, Post Office—but I glued it back into place and now the gnome is as good as gnew.
There was also a felt pen with the head of a lion—hand woven in Nepal, according to the label.
And-Holy Tsundoku--another book!
But this wasn’t just any book. This was a little item called How to be Happy, Dammit! A Cynic’s Guide to Spiritual Happiness.
Now the crazy thing is that I once owned this very book—for about two hours.
I had won it at a friend’s holiday party about five years ago. But I left it at the friend’s apartment and then we lost contact, so I never got my book, dammit!
So now it’s back in my life. Surely this kind of crazy karma packs enough goodwill to overrule any brand of tsundoku.
Let us hope so. I’m going to move How to Be Happy, Dammit! to the top of my reading list with Strivers Row in the number two slot.
I’m also going to work on giving away my old clothes, slow down my DVR-ing and strive to keep the Netflix list in check.
And when my horoscope comes in, I’ll make sure it’s the first thing I read.