Tsundoku is a Japanese word defined as “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it. Typically piling it up together with other such unread books”.
It is both pleasing and reassuring that the word Tsundoku exists because it just goes to show that I’m not alone in the world. There are, in fact, people as far away as Japan who have been doing just as I have for so long that there’s an established Japanese word describing the act. If only we had such a gem in English.
Some, like in this LA times article, would say that Tsundoku is a bit of a problem and would liken it to hoarding. I, on the other hand, believe Tsundoku to be a fine art.
We’ve all done it. You go into the book shop for nothing in particular because, naturally, we are drawn to places filled with books. Browsing turns to buying and the new book gets added to the stack on the bedside table (also commonly referred to as the TBR pile). You don’t start reading it immediately because you’re in the middle of something and maybe you’ve already got something lined up next. So it waits for you to be ready. And there you have it – Tsundoku.
The art of it is in the choosing – skilled choosing – because you know your own interests and you will one day get to that book. You’ll inevitably have days when you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to read next or you’re not in the mood for what you’d planned on reading next and on these occasions I have gone to my shelves and found plenty of unread books some of which have turned out to be favourites. The art of Tsundoku is knowing your own tastes and knowing what you’ll enjoy reading at some point.
An added advantage is that if you’ve been reading a certain kind of book, going back over your Tsundoku books can help you get into something new and take you in a different direction.
Skillful practice of Tsundoku can actually be a wonderful gift to yourself. A fabulous surprise. A grand voyage of discovery. A certainty that you’ll always have something good to read. Fear not the ever increasing TBR pile, instead, embrace the art of Tsundoku.