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’s reassuring that the word Tsundoku exists because it just goes to show that I’m not alone in the world. There are people, as far away as Japan, who have been doing just as I have for so long that there’s an established 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 problem to be solved and not dissimilar to hoarding. I, on the other hand, believe Tsundoku to be a fine art.
We’ve all done it. We go into the bookshop for nothing in particular because, naturally, we’re drawn to places filled with books. Browsing turns to buying and, once home, the new book gets added to the stack on the bedside table (also commonly referred to as the TBR pile). Sometimes you don’t start reading it immediately because you’re in the middle of something else and you may already have something lined up next.
So, it waits for you to be ready. And, just like that, Tsundoku has happened.
The art of it is in the choosing. It is skilled choosing. Because you know your own interests and, as a result, you know you’ll get to that book eventually.
There’ll inevitably be 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 planned to read. In times like these, I’ve gone back to my shelves, where plenty of unread books reside, and found something unplanned and unexpected to read. I’ve found many favourite books this way.
The art of Tsundoku, then, is knowing your own tastes and knowing what you’ll enjoy reading at some point.
An added advantage to practising Tsundoku is if you’ve been reading a certain kind of book for a while, going back over your unread books can help you get into something new and take you in a different direction.
The 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.