Tsundoku – The art of buying books and not reading


Many have a pile of books at home that they don’t read. This is so common that the Japanese have a word for people who usually buy books and never read. That word is called tsundoku [積ん読] and there are many curiosities and interesting information that we will consider in this article. 

Tsundoku [積ん読] is derived from the ideogram [積] which means to stack and accumulate along with reading ideogra[読]m. It refers to people who accumulate books, or who end up having a stock or pile of gigantic books. 

This habit is quite common, I bought a pile of manga in Japan myself and to this day I never read it. Japan is a country that values reading a lot, so it is understandable that the word Tsundoku exists. What few know is the origin of it. 

The origin of the word Tsundoku

This word is believed to have existed since the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and can be used either to indicate a literal pile of books or to refer to a person who buys books but never reads. One of the oldest appearances of the word is in an 1879 text. 

Tsundoku - the art of buying books and not reading

If you take the word tsundoku literally, you may find that the expression says “read a pile” of books. And that is really the purpose of the word, to create a pun on the books we buy to read, but we don’t read. 

Tsundoku came from the verbs tsundoku [積んでおく] which means to stack or accumulate in a place, next to the word doku[読書]sho which means reading. Realize that tsundeoku and tsundoku are quite similar, so a pun. 

The verb tsundeoku [積んでおく] is the junction of the verb tsumu [積む] which means to stack and leave, together [置く] with oku which means to place. So the expression tsundoku like stacking books and not reading, makes perfect sense. 

Tsundoku – Stacking Books in Japan

Some may imagine that collecting books in Japan must be difficult due to the lack of space. In reality, Japan doesn’t even have as little space as some think, just in big cities and apartments. Still, having a library at home is not so easy. 

Tsundoku - the art of buying books and not reading

Japanese people like practicality and minimalism. They are not so used to accumulating books, some even throw away a weekly magazine and donate or sell their used books to a store. The used book and manga libraries are numerous and super cheap. 

Still, the accumulation of books is not uncommon, as there are Japanese people who are not organized and simply stack things in their home. Not to mention the Hikikomori who don’t usually leave the house and their room becomes a mess. 

In Japan this phenomenon of collecting books without reading is very common. People end up reading an entire manga in the weekly magazine, and simply buy the volumes separately to have them in a collection, without necessarily touching them. 

Tsundoku - the art of buying books and not reading

About 70% of the reading consumed in Japan is of Japanese origin. There are more than 100,000 new works every year, leaving Japan in fourth place in the ranking. Japan moves almost $ 20 billion from books every year, half of which are reviewed. 

Even when reading is impossible, the presence of acquired books produces such ecstasy that the purchase of more books than can be read is nothing less than the soul reaching the infinite… we enjoy books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort.

Edward Newton

The influence of the word Tsundoku in the World

Among readers around the world the word tsundoku became very popular. It turns out that people brought that word to other languages as they did with karaoke, tsunami and otaku.  

Some have even used that word for other things like ebooks, movies, DVDs, games, smarthphone apps and others. Accumulating things and never using them is very common in everyone. Our life is so busy that we end up buying things unnecessarily. 

Tsundoku - the art of buying books and not reading

I already had that feeling of buying something in desperation and then talking, I didn’t need it, nor am I using it. With books this is more difficult to happen, if a person has a pile of books or lacks time to read them or is lazy. 

Another word with a similar meaning is Bibliomania which refers to people who like to collect and accumulate books. The big difference is that tsundoku can also be used to refer simply to a pile of books or a room full of books. 

I hope this article has further explained the meaning of tsundoku, if you liked it share it and leave your comments. Finally, we will leave some recommended articles below:

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