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Tsundoku, Abiliophilia, and Ballycumbers

Currently on my bedside table are Hotel Cuba by Aaron Hamburger; Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit by Lyanda Lynn Haupt; The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe by Stephen W. Porges; The Swallowtail Legacy 2: Betrayal by the Book by Michael D. Beil; Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls; and Still Life at Eighty: The Next Interesting Thing by Abigail Thomas.


In addition to this growing stack of books, I’m currently listening to Finding Me by Viola Davis on Libby, and repeatedly rescheduling multiple other books—Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Have I Told You This Already? by Lauren Graham, and Someone Else’s Shoes by Jojo Moyes—for a later delivery. This is one of my favorite Libby features, by the way, because it allows patrons to decide when the book will be delivered to them once it becomes available. In other words, it’s the perfect anecdote to the collection of hard copies piling up on my bedside table. Will I finish all of these books before they are due? Goodness no; I don’t stand a chance. But I want to. I aspire to. And I’m fairly proficient at fooling myself into thinking I will, so the books keep coming.


The Japanese have a word for this: tsundoku—"the act of piling up books to save for later, even if you’ll never read them.” Or, perhaps at a deeper, subconscious level I’m prone to a degree of of abibliophobia—"the fear of running out of books.” However, I’m convinced that the most accurate term to describe my current problem is ballycumber—"one of the six half-read books lying somewhere in your bed,” or in my case, piling up on the nightstand.


The word “ballycumber” was coined in 1983 by writers Douglas Adams and John Lloyd in their book The Meaning of Liff, a humorous dictionary of toponymy and etymology. I know I’m not the only one with a few ballycumbers lying around. Many of us will never finish every book we begin, and that’s okay. There are countless books waiting to surpass ballycumber status.


Every month members of Books for Lunch meet to share their ballycumbers, the books they didn’t like, and the books they highly recommend. Here are a few recommendations from the latest Books for Lunch gathering:


· Choosing to Run by Des Linden, a memoir about Linden’s journey as a runner and her 2018 Boston Marathon victory.

· The Dry by Jane Harper, a debut thriller that took off as an instant New York Times Bestseller and is now a major motion picture.

· The Golden Spoon by Jessa Maxwell, a murder mystery set in a baking competition. One review describes the book as a “delicious combination of Clue and The Great British Bake Off.”

· The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune, a young adult novel involving a magical island, a dangerous task, and a burning secret.

· The Gunkle by Steven Rowley, a heartwarming and hilarious story about a gay uncle (gunkle) who begrudgingly agrees to take in his nephew and niece for the summer.

· Hang the Moon by Jeanette Walls, a prohibition-era novel with a feisty and fearless heroine at the center.


Books for Lunch meets on the second Tuesday of every month from 12:30-2:00 pm in the Community Room of the library. We’d love to hear what books you’d recommend and what ballycumbers are piling up on your bedside table.




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