• Linda Borromeo

Lighthouses, Libraries and Tsundoku: 3 Bright Connections

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Who hasn’t dreamed of reading in a lighthouse tower?

With the world looking so different right now, lighthouses are a reminder of what abides and endures—faith, generosity, illumination and caring. It's a poignant theme for National Library Week this year.

And, it sounds wonderful to climb the stairs to read in a lighthouse tower—a place surrounded by the freedom of sky and ocean. A way to enjoy traveling to a different place.

With most library doors closed, the updated NLW theme, "Find the Library at Your Place," shows that digital books and other resources are just a click away.


However, I always need to see a comforting stash of print books nearby too. I stocked up and now have a teetering pile of books to tide me over until library doors are open again.

And now, I have the perfect word to describe my stash.


I learned from devotional writer Lisa M. Samra what tsundoku means. It's the Japanese name for "the stack of books on a bedside table waiting to be read.”

I feel a little unsettled if my To-Be-Read pile begins to shrink. However, as the nuanced meaning of tsundoku indicates, I may not get to every book. Still, my library pile represents a lot of reading adventures.

Even while we’re sheltering at home or providing essential services, reading is a vital and comforting way to take a break, travel to new lands and revisit old friends (no social distancing needed!). Reading is a wonderful way to gain a different way of looking at things, as from a lighthouse tower.

Traveling Lighthouse Libraries

Destruction Island Lighthouse

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Many Lighthouse Keepers and their families served on remote islands where outside company was rare. They would have been the ultimate experts in social distancing!

During the golden age of the beacons, lighthouses and libraries had a close connection. I discovered that link when I wrote my book, Mystery Shores. In the story, Christie Edwards finds an intriguing clue in an unusual place on a lighthouse island.

A traveling lighthouse library Photo Credit: Library History Buff Blog

In their rare leisure time, many lighthouse families turned to a surprising source of entertainment in their homes…the traveling lighthouse library. It is there that Christie finds her clue to a puzzling mystery.

Beautiful wooden chests filled with books and magazines circulated among far-flung lighthouses. It was always a banner day when a new traveling library arrived.

A world of ideas and enjoyment (and maybe clues) were found beyond its doors.

MORE: Find additional lighthouse lore about the traveling library here.

Radio, Television and…Musical Instruments?

A 1952 radio advertisement Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1950s, you’d find very few lighthouse families watching television in the Keeper’s Quarters. However, you’d have a much better chance of seeing a radio and at least one musical instrument there.

How did that become a problem for the promotion of reading in all homes across the United States?

Greg Landgraf writes about a pivotal survey conducted in 1957. The results? Only 17% of Americans were currently reading a book then. And, based on the way people spent their entertainment money, radios, television and those musical instruments were outdistancing books in popularity.

In another age of tension during the Cold War in the 1950s, fear and uncertainty could feel overwhelming. Books again provided a way to have a thoughtful perspective on events that affected everyone personally and all over the world.

To help promote reading, the first National Library Week was held in 1958. Successful from the start, NLW made another appearance in 1959. The theme for both 1958 and 1959 was "Wake Up and Read." I love this innovative poster, which definitely got the theme across:

Image Credit: ALA Archives. Used with permission.

I like how the face's lips look flat and unengaged on the non-reading side, but after waking up, this avant-garde figure wears a joyful smile.

This year, it would be a delight to wake up and read in a lighthouse tower. However, very few of us have that privilege nowadays. For all of us staying at home now—adventure, thoughtful information, help and inspiration are waiting—part of the beauty of lighthouses and libraries.

"Find the library at your place" during this National Library Week, April 19-25, 2020.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5 (NIV

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