“Saying there are too many books is like saying there are too many flowers in the garden.” – St. Thomas More, probably.

Recently I became acquainted with tundoku, a Japanese word that means possessing a bunch of unread books. The gist is that one has a lot of books, one just never gets around to reading them.

First of all, I’m highly amused that there’s a term for this phenomenon, because it means there were enough individuals afflicted by this particular condition that a whole new word had to be created to describe it. On the other hand, this word makes me uneasy. Isn’t it common sense that there’s just not enough time to read all the books we want to read? Wouldn’t it be more dignified to allow folks quietly to go about amassing their collections, cluttering bookshelves, closets, cupboards, desks, and kitchen tables in peace without being called out with a very specific label?

As my friend Sr. Miriam likes to say, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” Well, in the spirit of being healthier, here’s mine: My name is Heather, and I suffer from tundoku.

I wasn’t always a non-reading book collector. My parents read to me from infancy, and recognized that their little girl, who began reading at age four, had a special relationship with the written word. They generally encouraged my bookish nature; we made regular trips to the county library well into my tweens/teens. I still remember the sense of awe and wonder I experienced visiting the Douglas County Library as a tot. There were so. many. books. The number of book friends I wanted to lug home was often severely limited by my parents. I’m sure there were many moments fraught with frustration and tears when I was told that, no, I could NOT take all the Beverly Cleary books home. It was very common to find young Heather reading at the breakfast table, outside on the swing set, in the back seat of our family car, and under the covers after bedtime.

Something strange happened, though, as I entered high school. Suddenly, I found myself in a classroom where reading books was encouraged – but only if they had this or that title. AND my peers and I were expected to read in concert. AND we had to write endless essays answering ridiculous questions about the horrendous texts. AND take tests about them. Sure, some of the books were okay. But mostly, these hallowed tomes didn’t contain enough “scope for imagination,” as Anne of Green Gables would say. To my teenaged mind, the vast majority were dull, wretched, and useless.

And so, sometime during high school, I stopped reading for enjoyment. I don’t know if it was just the compulsory nature of assigned reading that fed my rebellious nature, or if suddenly I was more interested in being caught up in social situations than a well-written yarn. I don’t remember if I stopped cold turkey, or if my reading dwindled to a trickle. All I know is that it was a good many years before I allowed myself to read — for fun — again.

Fast-forward to today, and I’m back on the reading train. I read quite a bit, actually. However, I usually find myself reading chapters and essays and articles on my phone rather than the copious books I’ve amassed over the years. It seems easier — more efficient. I can just see 12-year-old Heather rolling her eyes at me: “Why don’t you just put that phone down and read a real book?” she’d chide in a slightly obnoxious, know-it-all way.

I like to think that my intentions are good – I really DO want to read all the books I own. I just don’t. And why? Because there are so many other things I could be doing with my time. Because I’m working. Because the kids need me. I’m tired. The lighting in our living room is too dim. I should be praying! I should be decluttering! Whatever the excuse, I’ve decided: No more. 2020 is going to be the Year of Books!

It’s still the New Year, right? 2020 hasn’t lost its clean, dewy new year smell and sheen yet, has it? I can still make some sort of promise to myself with you, dear reader, as my accomplice, can’t I?

Here’s my plan: This year, I’m going to read more actual books I already own, like “Introduction to the Devout Life,” by St. Francis de Sales, “God or Nothing” by Cardinal Sarah, and by Mother Angelica, Fr. Jacques Phillippe, and Michael O’Brien. Although I have a lengthy wish list of books on that certain “one-click” shopping site, I vow to not purchase any new books this year. Zilch. Zero. Nada. I’m going to read the ones I’ve got. This will make my husband very, very happy. And likely my bank account. But most importantly, my soul.

I’m not completely crazy, though. When I MUST read something I don’t already own, there’s a library within walking distance from my house. I hear they have books — lots and lots of books.

Renshaw is a wife and mother, and author, who lives in the wilds of suburban Portland.