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La Novella Orchidea

The ‘shame stack’ and other rights

The man builds houses because he is alive, but he writes books because he knows he is mortal.

This is how one of my essays in high school began (or ended), and I don’t even think it was the first time I used this phrase. It was the naïve period of school youth, the time when you try to impress teachers with adult quotes. Obviously, one of my reference authors was Daniel Pennac, and Like a Novel fit perfectly in many occasions.

The ten rights of readers

Even though I’m an adult now and no longer randomly quote books, the ten rights of readers remain among my cornerstones (or, better said, among the best excuses). In fact, growing up inevitably leads to experiencing partial (or total) abandonment of reading. There are more important things: work, afternoon naps, scrolling through Facebook…

Indeed, it is entirely plausible that Pennac himself drafted this list to justify his unorthodox habits and passed them off as reader’s rights, which both young enthusiasts and bored adults can recognize themselves in.

In short, here’s what any reader can do: not read; skip pages; not finish a book; reread; read anything; become emotionally involved in the story; read anywhere; read a few pages at a time; read aloud; not comment on what you’ve read.

New trends

It’s hard not to identify with at least one or two of these ‘vices’, even belonging to different generations. Indeed, in recent years, especially thanks to social media communities like TikTok, new neologisms have emerged, which in a sense expand and complement these ten rights.

For example, one of the most popular trends among the very young is the ‘shelfie’, which is a photographic shot of a bookshelf or stack of books. These books, carefully selected to fit certain literary genres, contribute to the ‘credibility bookcase’. So, the more books of a certain type one reads, the more credibility and social following one gains. A kind of right to be what we read.

Some of us are ‘bookaholics’, literally addicted to books, probably the same ones who engage in ‘binge-reading’, which is the frenzied reading of many chapters in a row. For others, books are a “therapy,” so much so that they are prescribed as psychological therapy. Still, others experience a ‘book hangover’ after finishing a very engaging book and cannot fill that void even after satisfying their desire as ‘shippers’, that is, rooting for the romantic union between two characters. In short, a real right to consider what we read an integrated reality with our own lives.

Tsundoku: tell me what you (don’t) read and I’ll tell you who you are

However, one of the most interesting words comes from Japan and is ‘tsundoku‘, which means piling up things (‘tsunde’) and leaving them there for some time (‘oku’). A right very similar to the first ones mentioned by Pennac, which specifically identifies the practice of buying new books and never reading them. The so-called ‘shame stack’, to which any reader has allocated at least one shelf in their library.

In some cases, this is indeed ‘bibliomania’, a clinically recognized obsessive-compulsive disorder. Those who suffer from it compulsively buy books they have no intention of reading, solely for the purpose of owning as many volumes as possible. It is not uncommon for the bibliomaniac to buy multiple editions of the same book and after a while be overwhelmed in terms of quantity, to the point of compromising their relationships or even their health.

Different is the case of ‘bibliophilia’, which often manifests itself through collecting. The bibliophile deeply loves books and accumulates many of them, even just for the pleasure of owning a particular edition. Unlike bibliomania, bibliophilia is not a pathological condition; indeed, even though the bibliophile buys a mountain of books, they read just as many.


However, most of us fall into the more genuine category of tsundoku, that is, individuals who buy books with the intention of reading them, but never quite get around to it. Although this may cause some guilt, in reality, the practice is not considered negative.

Books fill our lives, whether they are in paper or digital format, with the promise of wonderful content, capable of making us forget our everyday pains. As Alfred Edward Newton, a bibliophile who lived between the 19th and 20th centuries, wrote, even when we cannot read them, the presence of owned books produces a form of ecstasy. […] We appreciate books even if we haven’t read them: just knowing they are nearby makes us feel comfortable.

Classicista di formazione, opero da nove anni nel campo della correzione di bozze, del copywriting e dello storytelling. Coordino tutte le pubblicazioni della collana "La Novella Orchidea" fin dalla sua fondazione e collaboro anche in altri progetti nell'area Social Media Marketing.
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