Do you buy books but never read them? There’s a Japanese word for that


By Gwen Ong

Do you buy books but never read them? There’s a Japanese word for that


You’ve heard of Sudoku, but what about ‘tsundoku’? Tsundoku is a word that has been around for more than a century and it is derived from the words tsumu (which means to pile up) and doku (to read). When put together, tsundoku means to buy reading materials and letting them piling up.


Are you guilty of buying books that you never get around to reading them? This Japanese term is associated with people who own a number of unread literatures. In English, you might be called a ‘hoarder’ but in Japan, tsundoku doesn’t quite carry the same negative insinuation. According to the BBC, a printed satire text from 1879 by writer Mori Senzo tells of a tsundoku sensei, who has a large collection of books but doesn’t read them.




The closest word in English that we have to tsundoku is ‘bibliomania’. In the 19th century the word ‘bibliomania’ appears as the title of a novel by Thomas Frognall Dibdin and it is said to explore the uncontrollable act of collecting literature, especially first editions and illustrated copies. Today, this term is no longer about obsession but passionate enthusiasm.


So, while bibliomania and tsundoku have similar meanings, there is one key difference. Bibliomania is about people with the intention to collect books just for the sake of having them, but tsundoku is about the intention to read the books bought but you know, it becomes an accidental collection instead.

Which best describes you then?

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