- Some people can’t help buying books, even if they have loads at home they haven’t read yet.
- If you intentionally collect books, you might have “bibliomania.”
- But if you buy books with the intention of reading them, then they pile up, you could be engaging in something called “tsundoku.”
- It’s a Japanese term for people who have piles of literature they haven’t got round to reading.
More and more often I meet people who don’t hold onto their books when they’re finished reading them. Instead, they give them away. For some people, this idea is impossible to comprehend, because their houses are filled to the brim with books – many of which they probably haven’t read yet.
If you love book stores and can’t help picking up something new every time you visit, you’re either a really speedy reader or you have piles of literature at home you haven’t gotten around to reading.
If it’s the latter, you probably engaging in “tsundoku,” which is a Japanese term for a person who owns a lot of unread books.
Andrew Gerstle, a professor of pre-modern Japanese texts at the University of London, told the BBC the term might go back all the way to 1879.
“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,” he said.
The work “doku” in Japanese can be used to mean “reading,” while “tsumu” means “to pile up.” When fused together, you get a word that essentially means the act of allowing books to accumulate.
Gerstle said the word isn’t an insult in Japan, and is simply an endearing slang word.
After all, in the words of author and avid book collector 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… We cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”
Tsundoku is easily confused with “bibliomania,” which is a word that describes people who can’t stop collecting books.
The difference is that bibliomania describes the intention of creating a book collection, while with tsundoku, piles of books build up by accident.
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