Tsundoku, The Subtle Art, and Ramana Sir

A few months ago I wrote a blog “My Week-end Is Booked” where I talked about my decision in 2018 to stop buying new books. However my close friend and IIM-A classmate sent me a book on Advaita and advised me to read. I started it and left halfway through since I was writing an exam in June.

I cleared that exam and as a gift I was offered two more books (my near and dear ones know that I would only accept books as gift, nothing else). One of the books arrived last week – The Growth Delusion by David Pilling. The other one is yet to arrive.

The reason I decided not to buy more books in 2018 was simple. I have too many unread books, or partially read books. So I wanted to clear the backlog first and hence decided to stop buying new ones. I maintained my vow for first 3-4 months but broke it when the friends gifted me those books.

I always wondered how common this phenomenon – of buying books and not reading them – is. Luckily I came across an article recently which mentioned that there is a word for this in Japanese language:

Tsundoku: The burden of the unread book. The art of buying books and never reading them. Books bought in a fit of enthusiasm but eventually lost among the daily din of what has become a much-cluttered life”

When I read about Tsundoku, I thought about Lean, minimalism, being clutter-free etc. I’ll write a separate blog on those aspects. But for now let’s continue with the books.

So continuing with my art of piling up books, I added one more book on Sunday – Reflections by Prof. Pruthi which was gifted to me by Ramana Sir! Thanks a lot for this precious gift…

This brings me to the second part of this blog.

I, along with my friend, met Ramana Sir on Sunday at his home (mansion would be the right word, considering the super-affluent locality and spacious rooms/garden). As I always do, I gifted him a book titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k” by Mark Manson. I usually don’t like self-help genre. But this book caught my attention because of few quotes I read on Twitter. Then I read multiple reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and liked the central theme of the book. The reviews were either extremely positive or extremely negative – which made it a compelling read.

I liked the central theme because it was similar to the advice given to me by the same friend (and few others) who gifted me the Advaita book. The advice was:

“Choose your battles carefully. Not every battle is worth fighting for. Sometimes peace is more important than being right”

I haven’t yet completed the book “The Subtle Art…” but based on initial few pages I have read I felt that the core message of the book was more or less same – with excessive use of “F-word”. Some reviews also said that it gets repetitive after a while…let’s see if it’s true.

Coming back to Ramana Sir. I gifted him this book and he (who is a prolific blogger and far more avid reader!) was kind enough to write a blog on my gift. Check it here: An Unexpected Gift.

I was a bit skeptical of giving him the book with “F-word” in the title. I myself never say any cuss word – be it in English or Hindi/Marathi. So I chose to wrap the book. If he had opened it during our meeting and had talked about the title, I would have been in awkward position. Fortunately he didn’t! I feel the author could have used a different/sober term for “Not giving a f**k”. But considering that he is a young man born in 1984, I think he is used to that kind of vocabulary.  Anyways, once we put up with that phrase the rest of the book is quite readable. I would use/read it as “damn” instead of “f**k”.

In his blog, Ramana Sir wanted me to address the point what made me think that he didn’t or did give a damn. Well, I wouldn’t be able to address that question directly. But let me explain why I picked that specific book.

I had never met Ramana Sir before. We had interacted on a common WhatsApp group where the interactions were edgy – to put it mildly. Later we happened to communicate 1-on-1 and I got to know him better and understood that he is extremely well-read person with vast  and rich experiences – in personal as well as professional life. He had also mentioned that he follows Vedanta – something which I am curious about (I have watched few videos on Youtube by Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Sarvapriyananda and liked the core message). So there was no point in giving him any book on that subject – he would have plenty of them already.

There was no point in giving him any technical/management books (he had retired long back and being an IIM-A veteran he would know it all), or leisurely stories/novels etc (which may not interest him).

When I gifted him the book, I thought he would have expected it to be about my “ideology” or “political lineage”. But let me honestly confess, I am not what many people would like to label me as. In fact, I am not a stooge of any “ideology” or “-ism”. So there was no question of gifting such a book (Sorry to have disappointed him!).

So there were very few types of books which I understood and which I felt would get him curious. “Subtle Art…” by no means is a classic or legendary stuff. But the good thing, I feel, about that book is that since it is written by a blogger, it has many isolated “thoughtlets” (i.e. titbits of thoughts) which are scattered across the book and which could be worth writing blogs about.

For example, consider several quotes from the book:

  1. Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. It’s the most simple and basic component of life. Our struggles determine our successes.
  2. Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that does not necessarily mean they are the same thing
  3. The only way to overcome pain is to first learn how to bear it
  4. You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others
  5. The problem with people who hand out f**ks like ice cream at a goddamn summer camp is that they don’t have anything more f**k-worthy to dedicate their f**ks to
  6. Then, as we grow older and enter middle age, something else begins to change. Our energy level drops. Our identity solidifies. We know who we are and we accept ourselves, including some of the parts we aren’t thrilled about
  7. What determines your success isn’t “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The path to happiness is a path full of shitheaps and shame
  8. What is the pain that you want to sustain? That’s the hard question that matters, the question that will actually get you somehwere. It’s the question that can change a perspective, a life. It’s what makes me, me and you, you. It’s what defines us and separates us and ultimately brings us together
  9. You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of f**ks to give. Very few, in fact.
  10. As the existential philosopher Albert Camus said: “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.
  11. Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience
  12. Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect.

So to summarize, and to address Ramana Sir’s question, I wanted him to read the book and pick few such thoughtlets and comments on them in his own profound and deep way, backed by decades of experience and introspection.

If I have to narrow down the above list I would pick #4 and #12 and would like to hear his thoughts on the same…

In the end, I would like to go where this post began, and share a perspective diametrically opposite to Tsundoku – which said:

Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read

Now I am feeling better…and not guilty of piling up the unread books in my library!

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4 thoughts on “Tsundoku, The Subtle Art, and Ramana Sir

Add yours

  1. Great post and well worth waiting to get your response, which to say the least is very diplomatic! While I can straight away shoot off my responses to #4 and #12, I would rather wait to read the book fully and then do so. Perhaps through my blog but, also may revert here to comment. In the meanwhile let us banter away in our blogs or WhatsApp.

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