Tsundoku of history

Tsundoku is a Japanese term, used to describe a person who owns a lot of unread literature. Bibliomania refers to compulsive book buying. I don’t think these two terms are mutually exclusive. In fact, in my case, they are closely interlinked. And I suffer from both these conditions. Happily.

My love for buying books is not restricted to new books only. Kindle books. Second-hand books. Picture books. Historical books. Novels. Philosophy. Facts. Fiction. Faction. Books that reflect what I aspire to be, to know.

So, during lockdown when I was looking for a book to read, the book “A sin of omission” by Margaret Poland was recommended to me on Twitter. I love a historical fiction novel, and this appealed to me because of the history of religion and land dispossession. I deeply compassionate book about the experience of a black missionary, trained in Cambridge, and the conflicting emotions of not really fitting in anywhere. I don’t want to spoil the story, it is a gripping read, and it set my mind racing about the interconnectedness of cultural ontkenning (negation) and land dispossession.

The other morning, as I was going through some old books that I bought at the Collectors Treasury, a dangerous place for a Bibliomaniac. I wanted to read Schapera’s account of life in South Africa, so I opened “Western Civilization and the Natives of South Africa”. In the covers of the book were newspaper clippings, that I carefully unfolded.

It was as if these were letters from a previous owner, carefully cut out and hidden in the pages of this book, in the hope that the stories of these news-clippings are told one day, are not forgotten. Many of these clippings in German, and many of them from missionary newspapers and newsletters, some of them showing how the Lutheran church spoke out against Apartheid.

After reading “a sin of omission”, with a begrudging feeling of the injustices that the missionary churches meted against the native people of South Africa, I was skeptical. But I am thinking about this skepticism, and I will, when I have time, read the clippings of six decades ago in the hope to understand better.

But I am also sitting here thinking, that history is indeed strange and complicated and messy. It is not a linear chain of events, it is often a stumble from the one moment to the next. Often stories of history are piled up unread. Other times those stories are dug up later to be re-interpreted to serve present politics and ideological needs. There remain so many stories that must be told.

And I, for one, look forward to at least buy more stories, in the hope that they will not only remain on the pile of unread books. 

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