Tsundoku, or, So Many Books, So Little Time

The Japanese seem to have a word for all of the abstract, post-modern things. I like that. (And now I have Björk’s The Modern Things playing in my head. I like that, too.) If, like me, you happen to work in Bookselling (and please, do make yourself known. Hopefully we’re not exactly an endangered species, but we are rare, these days), then a state of tsundoku is an occupational hazard.

But what is this tsundoku? I hear you ask. It is, put simply, the buying of books, and not reading them. Letting them accrue, pile up, in heaps, on the floor, on bookcases, on bedside tables. And I am oh so guilty. I seem to have lost the stamina I used to have, for devouring books. The stamina, but not the appetite. It’s just my eyes have become too large for my reading belly. Also, the depression thing is a bitch for making it impossible to focus on reading. Hence I am months* behind. And then there’s the tiredness thing. Last night I decided I’d go to bed early and read. And I fell asleep about a third of a way down a page (just one page!). I woke up with the book on my chest. I’m beginning to think that my chest is better read than I am.

I stopped in the middle of composing this post to go around the house collecting my unread books. And I’m a bit worried now, there are so many of them. So, I refuse to count them.


But, this is just a small selection of what is waiting to be read. I have recently begun William Gibson’s The Peripherals, and Katherine Heiny’s collection Single, Carefree, Mellow (I tend to read short fiction when it is quiet at work). And each week, when I go to work, I swear that I won’t buy any more books, because God knows I have more than enough. But then, something gets a glowing review, or is released in paperback after I restrained myself from buying the hardback the year before, or someone I know rates a title highly, or my curiosity is piqued… etc. You know how it is. I seem to be an addict. Ah well. It could be worse. All I need is time. Anyone know where I can buy some?

*years, really.


Heart On My Sleeve

Last weekend I was in Portugal, to celebrate my youngest brother’s wedding. It was a joyfully beautiful occasion, in a beautiful location, with beautiful people. I wore purple shoes, and red lipstick, and I danced the night away with the new friends I made. The sunset was amazing.



My brother has always worn his heart on sleeve, despite the risks. His closest, dearest friends admire him for this bravery. And now at last he is truly happy. And I am so happy for him. And I admire my little brother, because wearing my heart on my sleeve is a thing I have been unable to do for a very long time. I doubt I ever will again. I fear to give myself away. And I think, perhaps, that this is partly why I write. I might give myself away in fiction, but fiction gives me some distance from the things I cannot otherwise say. I know that I cannot be the only one who does this, among the writers I know. And who, among those who read what I write – and who knows, even like what I write – can say with any degree of certainty which detail is personal, and which is not. To borrow from Margaret Atwood, only I can say how large – or small – is the blood transfusion given to the Ginger Bread Man, in order that he may live, and run.

Books books books

Here’s a sort of review of my year in books, in reverse order.

First, books that are still waiting to be read…

Next, the books that I’m still in the process of reading. It was only once I’d gathered them from around the house for the purpose of this photograph, that they really began to reproach me. Now I’m suffering book-guilt…

And lastly – and quite satisfying it is too – the books I have read, or reread this year. Not included in this picture are Jane Shilling’s The Stranger In The Mirror, because I’ve loaned it to someone, the first four Harry Potter books (I’m working through them with my daughter), or The Hobbit, which I’ve read to my daughter at least twice this year.

I enjoyed ALL of them. I can recommend all of them too. Thoughts have been provoked, wonder evoked, and one of them (Nik Perring‘s Not So Perfect) even staved off the onset of madness while I was stuck at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting to find out if Heathrow would become sufficiently unfogged so I could return home. (It didn’t, but we eventually flew anyway.)

What have you been reading this year?

First post of the year – it’s a bit random

The year has begun; Christmas is almost over, normality – or at least my version of it –  will resume soon. In the meantime, I continue to cultivate the art of foozling at my desk, and pottering in the kitchen. Once the Not Quite So Small Daughter goes back to school and we regain some sort of routine, then writing can begin again. Chocolate continues to be consumed, as do cranberry and orange muffins, and the by now ubiquitous sloe gin. There is one bottle as yet unopened; I intend it to remain that way until the end of 2011. And in the next few weeks I will branch out and have a go at making Seville gin…

On New Year’s Day I cut my own fringe. Didn’t make too much of a fist of it either, so that’s quite cheer-making. My hair has a tendency towards idiosyncrasy if left too long (in both senses). Perhaps it’s my age? At least my hair does respond to pruning/treating/styling, unlike the wondrous Neil Gaiman‘s. It is a thing he freely, ruefully, admits on his blog at semi regular intervals. Or hang on, perhaps, Samson-like, his talent is connected to his willfully unruly hair? I wonder how many of my other writerly-deities have a similar relationship with their follicles? Margaret Atwood has wondrous hair like a dandelion clock haloing her fine-boned face. Tolkien (born 119 years ago today) had wispy grey bits that blew about. What about Audrey Niffenegger? <having Googled> Hmm. Not exactly wild, but her hair looks as though it could have unruly tendencies when no one’s looking… I might not be utterly wrong you know – consider Coleridge in Kubla Khan, eulogising the creative imperative;

Could I revive within me

Her symphony and song,

To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,

That with music loud and long,

I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!

And all who heard should see them there,

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

I know I’m right. Or I think I am. It’s a theory, that sort of works, on the highly selective evidence that I’ve presented. Then again, Hilary Mantel has incredibly neat hair. Or she’s just found the perfect style to keep any incipient unruliness in check. I think I’ll leave it there.


The holiday has been, and gone. The weather was wondrously hot, with an occasional spectacular thunderstorm (sometimes three at a time) to keep things loudly interesting – there was even a mighty hailstorm, that left the garden flooded with lumps of ice ranging from marble to golf-ball size. The wine was potent, the food delicious. I finished the books I took with me – although not The Iliad, I ended up not packing that – and enjoyed them immensely. And I made notes. Lots and lots of notes. I’m world building again. I’ve even drawn a map, which I will shortly be redrawing and expanding, on ever larger pieces of paper… the socio-economic structure has worked itself out, as have the social mores, some of the laws, and the traditions tied to the seasons. The music I will need when the time to write this story finally comes, is building its list in my head. Once my daughter goes back to school, I will begin. I’m quietly excited.

Don’t really know what to call this one. Perhaps Fred?

So things have mostly been in a holding pattern since last I blogged. Adjustments have begun to be made in the head-space area, and a new character has introduced herself to me and has begun to intimate her story. So there has been note-making galore. This has made me quietly happy. Really, you have no idea HOW happy this has made me! <does chair-dance of glee>

I’ve spent the last few days running through and rewriting endless lists, and the last couple of hours packing. Later this morning I will be on a plane. And away from my Mac. Even if I had a laptop, I fear the part of Eastern Europe for which I am bound, is sadly lacking in the provision of wifi – at least in the countryside. Mercifully, Moleskines require no batteries or other issues of connectivity (ghastly word). And the red wine there is delicious.

I finally got around to watching the decent fist that whichever production company it was made of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal. Very enjoyable, even if the budget clearly didn’t allow for properly populating Ank Morpork. Golems, a vampire and a werewolf, lovely; but where were the trolls and dwarves? And it was too clean, somehow. But still, as adaptations go, it worked. But it did remind me of a not so successful adaptation I saw several years ago. You may or may not be aware that Stephen Briggs adapted several of the earlier Discworld novels into plays, most notably Wyrd Sisters. A local theatre company put on a production, and I and some friends went to see it. We were dreadfully disappointed. The (desperately) amateur thesps had decided that a passing knowledge of Macbeth would be suffice for their effort. And a knowledge of Macbeth does help – it informs the narrative in a wonderful and witty way. BUT it is not what makes Wyrd Sisters – either play or novel – intrinsically funny. It was quite clear that neither the director nor the performers were in any way familiar with Discworld, because they did not know where the laughs were, or why the jokes were funny. It was, quite frankly, toe-curling to watch.  The audience, were for the most part, fans of Sir Terry’s particular brand of humour and insight. We knew where the jokes were, and why they should be funny. We expected them. And we did not get them.  A week later I had the dubious pleasure of overhearing one of the actors complaining to a friend that audiences were not appreciative (I think there were three performances in all), and that the whole cast were deeply pissed off. The reason they had put the play on in the first place, was because of the Macbeth connection. Clearly the audiences didn’t have a clue. The friend had heard of Discworld – she dared to ask if anyone in the <geometric shape> Theatre Company (I don’t wish to fully name it) had read the original novel.  No, they didn’t see the point, because Discworld novels are only fantasy and therefore not worth bothering with. If I hadn’t been working I rather think I would have had something to say about that. As it was I had to bite my lip and tongue quite hard. That theatre company were rude, and ignorant. They insulted their audience, they insulted the author, and they insulted the glorious plurality of literary genres. Twelve years later and it still makes me angry.

<Deep Breath>The next question is, what to take for holiday reading? A little Murakami (or rather, a fat one), the newest Atwood paperback, The Iliad (although sadly not the Fagles translation) – I can’t remember what else I’ve packed; I’m pack-lagged. So that will have to do for now.