The Japanese Have a Word For People Who Constantly Buy Books They Never Read

If you find yourself surrounded by books you’ve never read, and, by virtue of budget, are still planning to buy more, consider calling yourself a tsundoku master.

Knowing that at least one of them will be yours, the feeling of running those fingertips across the shelves of your favorite bookstore is pure bliss. Getting home to unwrap, open and smell them is another indulgence. However, despite your best efforts, reading them can be weirdly challenging.

This is tsundoku — the stockpiling of books without ever reading them. The Japanese term, which literally translates to “reading pile,” originated in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) as word play, Open Culture wrote. It initially combined the words tsunde (“to stack things”) and oku (“to leave for a while”), until the latter was replaced with doku (“to read”) around the turn of the century.

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As tsunde doku proved to be a mouthful, people mashed both words to arrive at the convenient tsundoku we know today.

But while tsundoku has no direct synonym in English, its meaning resonates with many people, who believe they may be “‘tsundokursed’ one way or the other,” as described in a post on the subreddit created for the subject. For instance, bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin stored books in poorly ventilated bathrooms and under the sink, Ozy noted. Elderkin recalled them as “places where books, frankly, do not want to be.”

It is also quite common to find folks who seek help, convinced that their condition warrants serious rehabilitation. However, it must be noted that there is no known medical diagnosis specific for tsundoku. Still, the term apparently falls under the umbrella of addictive behaviors.

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At Goodreads, suffering bibliophiles gather to discuss their situations in a group called “Book Buying Addicts Anonymous.” Some wrote:

“Each time I buy a book I feel guilty. Because I literally have over 100 I haven’t read.”

“My biggest problem is that I keep getting too many! It is so hard for me to pass up a free book or a book for a dollar. If it looks interesting I can’t resist not getting it.”

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“I feel guilty that I buy way more books than I can read. They pile up and I keep buying more and more when I could be spending the money more responsibly until I have read the books on my shelf.”

In any case, tsundoku proves to trigger emotions of love and hate among its cult-like following. To beat it, Apartment Therapy suggested three steps: (1) Purge and Conquer, which involves donating of those unread books, (2) Organize, which recommends sorting them in a new shelf and (3) Go Digital, which basically retains the hoarding habit — only that you’re saving physical space and saving trees in the process.

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