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Confessions of a book hoarder

Bless me for I have sinned.

Based on my Goodreads account, I have more than 500 books on my TBR (to be read) pile, or a list of books languishing on my study table and bookshelves waiting to be picked up and read.

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I’m used to receiving comments on my book-buying habits from people with good intentions who keep on asking why I buy so many books when I still have so many others left unread. Some accuse me of being a book hoarder, a description I initially didn’t like for its negative connotations, but later learned to accept because no other word can best describe me. Other terms have been thrown around: bibliomaniac, book madness, “tsundoku,” all of which sound like I have some sort of health condition that needs to be treated.

But if this were a medical condition, let me trace its pathogenesis.

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The first book I ever owned was “Return to Laughter,” a novel about an anthropologist’s stay with a West African tribe. I never finished the book because I was too young to comprehend everything, and because my parents bought it for me over a “Goosebumps” book. Later, I got around reading age-appropriate books (Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Harry Potter), but all of them were borrowed materials and I remember hating to return them back to their owners because I wouldn’t be able to reread them. I already showed signs of being a voracious reader but, as there were no bookstores in our city then and my parents couldn’t afford to buy books, I had to rely on borrowed books for my dose of literature.

I think the book-hoarding habit stemmed from that deprivation: The constant need for and perpetual absence of personal reading materials fired my brain into buying all the books I could afford and start my own collection once I had the means.

It was when I moved to Davao City for college that I started the collection. There were many secondhand bookstores (the many Booksale branches in the city with their allure of the unknown certainly helped me a lot) which sold cheap paperbacks that fit nicely with my meager allowance. I started amassing many books which I was also able to finish fast, so my TBR pile was kept at a controllable level.

Then I graduated and got a job, which intensified my book-buying even more. I could now buy books from expensive bookstores without the guilt of having to forsake food allowances. I could now order books online with the total price amounting to something my college self would have fainted at.

Everything is peachy, until the guilt settles in after you start arranging the books you bought in shelves and noting their huge number. My TBR pile started at around 20 in college six years ago. Now, it is inching toward the thousands.

It is easier if I read all the time, but I can’t afford to do so because I also have a job to keep. The busy schedule—I teach full-time and am also trying to finish my master’s degree — makes reading something that I do on the sly. I used to read around 100 books a year, but that number has plummeted to around 30-50. With that rate, it will take me around a decade or more to finish reading all the books in my TBR pile, with the (horrifying) condition that I will not be buying any other book in that same time frame. Easier said than done.

When I prowl around a bookstore (or search its online counterpart), I usually buy books that I like. I am seized by a fear that the book will disappear next time and I won’t be able to read it ever. This is more applicable to secondhand bookstores where looking for books is like treasure-hunting, guided by luck more than anything else. Once you see something that you like, buy it. Pronto.

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I’ve long accepted the futility of controlling my urges. I’ve stopped feeling guilty whenever I return home with an armload of books. Reading has always been a wonderful vice: For all the theories about its purported benefits, the fact that it makes you feel good and happy stands out. In this world that’s currently full of hatred and negativity, books can serve as your ballast to maintain your sanity. With the ongoing pandemic that forces us to stay home as much as possible, reading is a good way to ease the solitude and to prevent you from running amok due to cabin fever.

I know that my habit opposes the current trend of the “KonMari” method, which promotes organization and minimalism. Marie Kondo routinely reminds us to keep only the things that “speak to our hearts and discard those that no longer spark joy.” I concede that her sentiments are in the right place (who doesn’t want an orderly and clutter-free existence?), but as I look at my shelves that are sagging with the weight of the books I own, I think I will never part ways with them, for they always spark not only joy, but also memories of having spent hours between those pages. It’s hard to part with the good times.

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Christian John Villahermosa, 28, is a college instructor in the Medical Laboratory Science Department of San Pedro College, Davao City.

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