Don’t judge the book by its packaging. Yet, for the first time in five decades, I hesitated to unwrap a book, so enamored was I with the brown kraft paper wrapped around it like a drape of seaweed.
I used to believe one discovered a book by happenstance: the stars aligned; actual bills, not receipts, fattened my wallet; and The Book was waiting in the darkest corner of a bargain bin on the incredibly roach-poo-festooned floor of the last independently owned bookstore staying open in a city that placed a premium on cell phone accessories and Mega Lotto bets.
Then I relocated and found serendipity elusive in a metro that still seems, after nine years, like a very good imitation of the Cretan Labyrinth that was so cunning, its creator Daedalus barely escaped after finishing its construction.
In no time, I dug two holes from online book buying.
“Tsundoku” must be familiar to persons whose books pile up on shelves or have turned into quasi-shelves from remaining unread.
The word combines “tsun” from “tsumu (to pile up)” and “doku (reading)”. The first syllable has an accusatory clangor, followed by the next syllables onomatopoeically mimicking the drooping and dropping of one’s head, felled by guilt and remorse.
Does tsundoku offer repentance or reform? I donate to school or public libraries, as well as give away books to students, friends or colleagues.
A sign that we are learning to live amidst the pandemic is the revival in some malls of the reading nooks that invite barter. For, really, how many books are considered as too many?
The other consequence of online book buying is not rhetorical but ecological: does bubble wrap have a second life?
Like a two-headed ogre, I am crestfallen when a book is shipped in a shocking state of undress (clingwrapped as if it were a lunatic or swimming for life in a pouch with other survivors with maimed covers or dented spines) but also flustered by the non-biodegradable material used as protective sheaths or space fillers.
Recently, a bookseller’s honeycomb-like green wrapper was so pretty, it made me flirt with the idea of ordering again.
What stopped me was not a head blow from the guardians of tsundoku but simple math. Six layers of packaging brought the new expanded edition of “The Essential Rumi” into my hands: the shipper’s pouch held a layer of bubblewrap protecting the corrugated cardboard sheets encasing the kraft-paper-and-cellophane “green wrap” sheathing the clingwrapped copy of Rumi’s poems.
Plastic is the Minotaur of modern consumption, a labyrinth that brings to mind the Sufi mystic’s words on words: “I used to want buyers for my words./ Now I wish someone would buy me away from words.”