Tsundoku, Collecting, Reading

Two disparate articles from OZY and The Simple Dollar have recently put me to task on my hobby of choice, reading. First, here’s a definition of tsundoku.

Tsundoku” (n.) is the condition of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. “Tsundoku” originated as Japanese slang (積ん読) “tsun-doku“. 「積ん読」 came from 「積んでおく」 “tsunde-oku” (to pile things up ready for later and leave) and 「読書」 “dokusho” (reading books).

And following that is this snippet about hobbies under the sub header Intentionally Move Your Hobby Time Away from Accumulating and Towards Doing Instead.

When you’re passionate about a particular hobby, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accumulating stuff related to that hobby rather than actually doing things within that hobby.

For example, if you’re an avid book lover, you can often find yourself building up a huge book collection rather than actually, say, reading books.

This is a reflexive trap that many people fall into as their lives become busy. They begin to get a sense that they don’t have time for hobbies that they once loved, so to fight off that perception, they buy items instead as a substitute for that hobby time.

Here’s a much better approach: schedule blocks of time to actually practice your hobbies. Put them in your calendar first, before other appointments, and actually keep that time sacred.

That way, when you’re tempted to make a purchase, instead you can look at that block of time and think about the activities you’re actually going to do instead of the things you’re just accumulating.

You’ll find that when you do this, your desire to accumulate stuff actually melts away. For example, that time you might have spent thinking about all of the books you wish you had time to read instead becomes time you spend thinking about that book you’re going to read this weekend.

The image above is my Boxing Day haul from 2011, which I featured in the post Reading To Enjoy, Not Complete. Taking a look at that pile of eighteen books from five years ago I recall reading nine of them, or 50%. So I bought them, housed them and in five years have read half. And that’s one shopping trip: I’ve made a lot more of those every year, with about the same outcome.

I like bargains, and as we live in a consumerist society where we define happiness by the amount of possessions we have so I’m doing just fine. At what point did shopping become a hobby?

Of course I’ve run out of space a few times in my home library and have had to sell off to make room, and in doing so cause myself stress at having to house this collection and lose money on the sell off books. Well, I haven’t been selling them: I trade them in at my local comic shop for credit so I can buy more books.

And that’s really the crux of the matter and the point of tsundoku; I’m just buying books as a hobby, not necessarily reading. I do read a lot: about one novel a week and two to three comic collections, usually over lunch. I’m scratching at the pile but not making headway.

But then the new Diamond Previews comes along and I preorder those “must have” books in advance with the faint hope of actually reading them all before the next ones show up, and the cycle continues. I’ve stopped myself from preordering a lot of books the past few years, but then I pick them up in clearance sales. Sure, I’m getting them at a significant discount, but it’s only making the waiting to read pile that much larger.

It will be a slow process of change, but isn’t that the best way to effect change. One book at a time, left on the retailer’s shelf, and one book taken down from my own library and read for the enjoyment of it.

Scott VanderPloeg
Scott VanderPloeg

Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.

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Dennis De Pues
7 years ago

Better to attempt something great and fail, than attempt nothing , and succeed!

Charlie Kim
7 years ago

Dennis, what Scott brings up is a much deeper topic than just personal fulfillment. There is a direct correlation to the weaknesses of capitalism and the overproduction of stuff we don’t need, not to mention the hoarding mentality, our changing values and the environmental consequences. Add loss of faith to the list ^_^

Problem is, we are dumbed down and treated like cattle by businesses, the media and even our own government. We are distracted and brainwashed to believe that we can buy our way to happiness… hey, Kim Kardashian is on TV! Gotta go…

Dave Mackay
Dave Mackay
7 years ago

Thank you Scott for giving a name to the sickness I too have had in the past !
Thank you Dennis for making a positive of it and curse you Charlie for making me think about it 🙂

Dennis De Pues
7 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Kim

Oh silly me…don’t forget climate change!

7 years ago

Great article, and I’m glad this supremely geeky website exists; the Artist’s Edition index and reviews in particular have been informative and entertaining. I also like the fact that the word ‘Tsundoku’ exists, even if it’s slightly pejorative, with a hint of matronly disapproval. I’ll never attach any kind of negative connotation to book collecting. I like having a bookshelf full of books, especially ones I HAVEN”T read. You keep your fridge, freezer and pantry full of food that you might not eat for weeks or months, and a lot of it comes with an expiry date. Books don’t spoil (with the exception of a few sh1tty TPB’s by DC that used a grainy recycled paper-stock with all those wonderful acids and enzymes that make the pulpiest, most disposable newsprint turn yellow and brittle), and I like having choices. With art monographs and comic books collected as deluxe over-sized hardcovers, they invite frequent re-reads and impulsive perusals… the more, the better. Prose novels and non-fiction usually involve a huge time commitment, and I don’t feel the same need to keep the dead tree format around… but I still like having choices, and they accumulate weightlessly as ones and zeroes.

I’ve currently got towering, precarious stacks of massive hardcovers on either side of my library reading chair that will either entertain the hell out of me, or suffer a structural collapse and kill me. I’ve turned Tsundoku into a death-hobby. Thank you, Japan, for once again naming a freakishly specific and obscure habit. One that has nothing to do with the f**king of seafood.