In Search of a Collective Noun for all of those Unread Books

By Megan O’Brien

I’ve long thought that the pile of books that sit above my bedhead waiting to be read deserve a collective noun. And then I ask, should the collective noun represent the emotion that goes with every extra book that gets added (an “ebullience” of books) or just the reality that the pile is getting quite high (an “aspiration” of books)? Quite often, my boyfriend has suggested that the pile will be the death of me (a “murder” of books—but no, that one is already taken).

We have settled of late on an “incident” of books, as from time to time, I barely escape injury when the pile reminds me of its existence by quite literally hitting me in the head. Don’t get me wrong, the pile does change, but it never seems to decrease in volume (a “phenomena” of books). At present, it is a very eclectic mix (an “excitement” of books) of a few new, a couple of old and some forthcoming titles.

Amongst the “incident” (just trying it out) are of course books I will never get around to reading. So next to the upcoming Georgia Blain novel Between a Wolf and a Dog, which is set during one day in Sydney (the title alone draws me to this contemporary tale of modern life), is a new translation of Homer’s The Iliad (by Caroline Alexander, published by Vintage). Next to that (also upcoming and Australian) is Inga Simpson’s third book, Where the Trees Were. Inga’s previous outings, Mr Wigg and Nest, are beautifully written, so I’m really looking forward to this new book, which means that while I’m really looking forward to talking about Alain de Botton’s upcoming book, The Course of Love, it has just been relegated to the bottom of the pile.

Another Australian book awaiting my notice in the pile is David Ireland’s The Glass Canoe. A recommendation by a customer, this classic is right on top and I can’t wait to get to it and its colloquial and understated yet literary evocation of pub life.

where the trees were cover .jpg

Having finally gotten around to reading Jesse Ball’s brilliant A Cure for Suicide, I couldn’t help but race out and buy his previous book, Silence Once Begun, which is the story of a court case set in Japan. However, I did just read his previous book and very soon I will be adding his new book, How to Set a Fire and Why, to my already teetering “incident.”

Only on the pile still because I’m enjoying stretching it out (but really should be reading other things—this is an occupational hazard and the main reason something stays in the pile) is Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick. This is smart, funny and completely compulsive. And then there is the new Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time, and the upcoming Chris Cleave, Everyone Brave is Forgiven

There really just aren’t enough reading hours in the day.  

But then, an “incident”-­free existence is, to me, unthinkable. The thought that I may find myself without the next book to go on with or to read concurrently with I Love Dick is worse than the possible death I live under every time I turn off the lights to go to sleep.


Megan O’Brien is a bookseller at Potts Point Bookshop in Sydney. 

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