So Many Books, So Little Time

This is not my pile of unread books. Mine are in better shape.

One positive aspect of the pandemic for me is that bookstores are closed and I can’t get lost in the endless sea of spines on shelves. In the before-times, I used to walk into every bookstore I came across and if I felt I had five minutes to spare, I would browse for at least twenty minutes and in 99.9% of cases I would end up buying at least one book, often more.

The result of this is that I have an overflowing bookshelf. I came to Canada with four books in my backpack. My dad later sent me another handful, but that accounts, at best, for one row of my shelf. But there are over a hundred books (I haven’t counted them) and, If I had to guess, I’d say that I have read about half of them, maybe less.

Now, Germans are often accused of having a word for everything. While that is mostly true (I mean, look up Waldeslust), we don’t really have a word for the compulsion to buy a book whenever entering a bookstore – at least not that I am aware of. Sure, I could make up a word. German lends itself really well for creating neologisms by simply mashing up existing words. Bücherkaufzwang, consisting of the existing words Bücher (books) and Kaufzwang (oniomania or compulsive buying disorder) sounds good and pretty much hits the nail on the head. But just making up a word, without confirmation and approval by your peers feels like cheating.

Other languages have terms that focus mostly on the collection of books. The Japanese have a term for collecting more books than one reads: Tsundoku. The term consists of the words doku (“reading”) and tsun (“to pile up”). And of course there is the English bibliomania. But both words are only about possessing books and piling up unread literature in one’s collection. That may be the source of my problem, but I am still left searching for a term for the specific symptom of having to buy more books upon entering a bookstore.

I guess I will have to stick with my German neologism for now – and hope that bookstores remain closed for a few more months.

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