There’s Actually A Term For People Who Collect Books And Never Read Them

Do you find yourself picking up a new book every time you pass a bookstore? Do you have trouble actually cracking any of them open? Do you pass between two stacks of unread books to get to the bathroom? Then you may be a tsundoku.

Tsundoku is a Japanese word that refers to someone who owns many unread books. It comprises the root words “tsumu,” which means “to pile up,” and “doku,” which means “reading.” Put together, they form a word which describes “the act of allowing books to accumulate.”

Andrew Gerstle, a professor of pre-modern Japanese texts at the University of London, traced the origins of the word back to a satirical novel from the 19th century:

The phrase ‘tsundoku sensei’ appears in text from 1879 according to the writer Mori Senzo, which is likely to be satirical, about a teacher who has lots of books but doesn’t read them.

Gerstle also pointed out that tsundoku isn’t an insult, but more of an endearing slang jab, like “dork,” or “pack-rat.”

Famed book collector A. Edward Newton once described the tsundoku minset perfectly:

Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity… We cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.

Many may confuse tsundoku with its close relative, “bibliomania,” a descriptor for “people who can’t stop collecting books.” The most notable difference between the two terms is that those with bibliomania intend to create a book collection, where those who practice tsundoku create a collection inadvertently, because they simply can’t help themselves.

Feel no shame, tsundoku masters of the world! There’s nothing wrong with owning a few too many books. Or a dozen. Or a hundred.

H/T – Business Insider, BBC News