One of the few Japanese words I know is tsundoku. While it’s new to me, it’s actually an old word that dates from at least the Meiji era (1868-1912), and it means letting books pile up to read later. Or as we might think of it today, tsundoku is “the art of buying books and never reading them.”
I have books waiting for me on my bedside table, books in my office ready for review, ebooks in pdf on my laptop, Kindle copies on my tablet. I didn’t buy them all, but I can definitely identify with tsundoku. “So many books, so little time” as Sara Nelson titled her year of passionate reading.
In the last few weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic has kept me home more, you might say I’ve been practicing some reverse tsundoku by reading my way through my various piles of books. The time for reading them has finally come, and I happily recommend the following with a brief review and a favourite quote from each.
Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much by Ashley Hales (InterVarsity Press, 2018)
Consumerism. Individualism. Busyness. In this book, author Ashley Hales explores these and other challenges to faithful living in the context of suburbia and offers some practical alternatives. Instead of individualism, her “counterliturgies” include getting outside yourself, noticing what you complain about, and then later in the book she explores practices of hospitality and generosity which also work to dispel individualism. These are just a few examples among many of what it means to find holy in the suburbs.
There is no place that Jesus loves more because it contains a particular population demographic—rich or poor. You are not more holy if you’re working in full-time vocational ministry. You are not more holy if you have much or little. God doesn’t love you more because you have a big house or small one. Material wealth is never equated with blessing. You are the hands and feet of Jesus right where you are; yes, even in your subdivision. (page 112)
A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson (InterVarsity Press, 2018).
Author Natasha Sistrunk Robinson weaves her own story of formation and growth as a mentoring coach and leader with the biblical story of Moses. For her, the truth embraces both pain and grace, both experiences of racism and resistance, both times of wilderness and freedom. As I read, I kept asking myself, “Why did I wait so long to read this book?” It both encourages me and challenges me.
The problem in our culture, especially in the modern-day church, is that we are too quick to rush to a false sense of forgiveness without acknowledging the hurt, or taking these healing actions. Demanding forgiveness without addressing the sin only reinforces bad behavior, strengthens individual heartbreak, and increases communal division. It does nothing in the pursuit of justice–and this is nothing short of spiritual abuse. We must understand that forgiveness can be delayed when patterns of abuse are at work, confession is incomplete, and repentance has not taken place. (page 187)
Try Softer: a fresh approach to move us out of anxiety, stress, and survival mode—into a life of connection and joy by Aundi Kolber (Tyndale, 2020).
You may have already seen my review of Try Softer at When You Work for the Church, but it’s such a good book that I wanted to include it here too. For someone like me who grew up on “Good, better, best, never let it rest, until the good is better, and the better is best,” this book offers some good balance. Instead of trying harder, sometimes we need to try softer.
We are not defined by our best days or our worst days.
We are [God’s] beloved. (page 87)
Grow (intentionally), Cook (passionately), Eat (thoughtfully), Share (generously) by Caran Jantzen (Homestead Press, 2019)
This is an engaging read by a local author on her move from suburbia to homesteading with her husband—Mr. Green Thumb—and their four sprouts. With humour and warmth, she shares their journey in keeping chickens, making jam, experimenting with herbs, and much more. I’m not about to try homesteading any time soon, but I came away from this book with a greater appreciation for farm life and affirmed in my own attempts to grow, cook, eat, and share more intentionally.
Homesteading is not for the faint of heart, although I have felt faint of heart often since homesteading. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. Although falling into bed after a long day of outdoor laboring or indoor jam making has its appeal, to do this daily requires more than an acreage and a yearning for the country life. It demands equal parts grit and romance—seeing through both the sweat of my brow and through rose-colored glasses. I am still trying to decide if I have what it takes. (pages 278-279)
Blessed is the Man by Dale Fredrickson
I’m cheating here by including Blessed is the Man because it’s not a book, but a 12-track album that comes with a journal and a booklet of poetry, art, and thoughtful questions. I’ve featured Dale’s work before in Help Me Be: Praying in Poems and Keeping Pulse: Poems for the Heart.
This is his most personal collection yet as he considers, What does it mean to be a man? What are the burdens and blessings? How can love shape men in ways of healing and wholeness? I love the way he wonders aloud about these questions, about the stories of Scripture, about his own experience with his father, as a father, as a man living in a time of #metoo, #churchtoo, and searching for a healthier vision for masculinity. Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean at Dale Fredrickson’s website.
Favourite quote from an author interview with Mike Morell:
What I learned from writing these poems is that masculinity has been defined in such narrow ways that it has stifled the growth of men. If we define masculinity as emotional restraint, worth judged by productivity, and relational distance, then men will suffer in a shallow pool of regret and never learn to swim in deeper waters. I think that inadequate notions of masculine identity have led to great suffering. This is why I wrote in the poem to my son, “Masculinity is not a bumper sticker or cliché but an epic poem that you must write and rewrite.”
Writing/Reflection Prompt: What are you reading these days, and why?
Disclosure: Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me with review copies of Finding Holy in the Suburbs and A Sojourner’s Truth, to Tyndale for a review copy of Try Softer, and to Speakeasy for a review copy of Blessed is the Man. As always, the choice to review and all opinions are my own.
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6 thoughts on “Reading My Way Through Tsundoku”
I am reading all about the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, historically and in novel form. My grandmother was the same age as the older Romanov daughters and she always grieved their horrific murder by the Bolsheviks. “The Russian Revolution: A New History” by Sean McMeekin gives me all the historical facts, while the novelist Gill Paul (having done major research on the Romanovs) helps me to understand their emotional trauma, and also helps me to understand my grandmother’s journey, her family branded as “Kulaks” (landowners) who did not deserve to live. I want to write my memoir and this provides me with some good background material. My grandmother lost her father, her in-laws, her husband and two sons during this terrible time and was separated from two other sons for a long time.
That sounds like some heavy reading, Elfrieda! But I see that the historical is also deeply personal, and you are coming at that history by delving into the historical facts, while also exploring a fictional retelling, and doing all of that through the lens of your own family and life experience. Your memoir will be wonderfully enriched by all of this.
You’re doing a lot of catching up. I especially like the quote above from Caren Jantzen, “It is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing.” We don’t have a homestead but a large garden and as I did the first plantings yesterday by myself (husband had knee replacement 6 weeks ago), I was ready to go to bed last night!
Ah, that sounds like a good kind of tired, Melodie, and I hope your husband’s recovery is going well so he will be able to join you in the garden before too long. I’ve tried to be more deliberate about setting aside time to read, and that’s one change I plan to continue even when the pandemic eases, and we’re able to get out more. Still, my to-read pile keeps growing with another two books added this week!
I like the idea of trying softer. I thought, in lockdown, the to-do list might get shorter, but it only seems to get longer with few resources for carrying it out! Ah well. It must end soon says she hopefully. Thank you for your post.
Yes, I’m also finding that the to-dos tend to multiply even during this time, but I’ve been doing some pruning and have let some things go. For me that’s part of what it means to try softer, and another practice that I hope to carry into the “new normal” whenever we get there.