Tsundoku: The practice of buying more books than you can read

The Japanese have a word for it. According to Melissa Breyer, “tsundoku” describes piling up books to save for later… even if you’ll never actually read them. Thank you, Betsy Miessner, for this link.

I don’t speak Japanese (despite a few weeks of lessons at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education), so I’ll take Breyer’s word for it. I like her quotation from A. Edward Newton:

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.

Since there’s no such thing as too many books, there are only two solutions: switch to electronic books instead of dead-tree versions, or use the library more. Both solutions have their virtues, but both are flawed. Electronic books are fine, and have the twin virtues of taking up no physical space and facilitating searching within a book, but they are not a substitute for the feel, the heft, even the smell of turning the pages of a real book. Using the library is great; I check books out (and read them!) all the time, but still it means that the presence of more and more books is merely ephemeral, and you don’t have that one book on hand when you need it in the moment. Sigh.

Categories: Books