How many books is too many books? What makes you a book hoarder? What do you do when you have too many?
In Japanese, there’s a word for it: tsundoku. It’s a noun that describes a person who buys books and doesn’t read them, and then lets them pile up on the floor, on shelves, and assorted pieces of furniture.
Frank Rose had a tsundoku problem. After he retired several years ago from his job as a state employee, he accelerated his purchases. Two years ago, he told the Friends of the Arden-Dimick Library in Sacramento, Calif., that he’d donate his books when he died, the Sacramento Bee reports. By this summer, his collection had grown to 13,000 volumes.
Finally, this month, Rose, 85, decided he didn’t want to wait any longer. Library volunteers this week began packing the books — 500 boxes’ worth. It was the biggest donation in the library’s history.
A library official told the Bee that “we’re glad he didn’t have to die to give it to us.”
“I bought all of them, so that I could read them when I retired,” Rose says in a video posted by the newspaper.
Writer and critic Rachel Kramer Bussel approached her tsundoku problem differently.
“I wish I could honestly answer ‘there’s no such thing as too many books,’ but as I learned from experience, that’s not true,” she wrote for the Toast. She hired a trash removal service to “cart away hundreds of books — read and unread, purchased lovingly or attained at book parties or conferences” from the two-bedroom apartment where she’d lived for 13 years.
“The most heartbreaking part was seeing anthologies I’d edited, with my name right there on the cover, being swept away into giant garbage cans.”
That’s a fairly hard-core way to deal with your tsundoku problem. I’ll never throw a book with my name on the cover into a trash can — among other things, it seems like bad writer karma.
“Lest you think I’m too awful a person to have let so many books find their way into a New York City dump, I will tell you that I tried to let my books go gently in the months preceding my move,” Bussel wrote. “I donated hundreds to bookstores the Strand and Housing Works.”
Bussel says she still owns more than 2,000 books. She points out that Shelfari’s Compulsive Book Hoarders group will grant you membership if you own a mere 1,000. It’s a figure that this book lover thinks is way too low.