I have just added two more fresh-from-the-bookstore books to the wobbling pile of ‘to-read’ books on the shelf. This pile does not include the stack of Reading-In-Progress (RIP) books (my 3 summer reads too) sitting on the other end of the shelf. And, the latter has yet to account for my various kindle purchases sitting in the cloud.

Currently, there are no English terms that describe precisely the above phenomenon – accumulation of unread books, which were initially purchased with the intention of reading them. The phenomenon is not the same as bibliomania. Bibliomania which is defined as a person who is obsessed with amassing certain books such as first editions.

The Japanese has a word that cleverly captures the phenomenon – Tsundoku.

Origins Of Tsundoku

Tsundoku is a Japanese term with origins tracing back to as far as the Meiji era (1868-1912). The term is a product of combining two elements – ‘let something pile up’ and ‘to read’. Today it is widely defined as buying books with the intention to read, but for a thousand-and-one reasons, most of these books are unread and start to pile up.

Even though Tsundoku dates back to 150 years ago, it is only in the recent years that it has become a buzzword. A quick search on google shows that the earliest appearance on internet was in 2012.

Causes Of Tsundoku...SYNDROME

  • FOMO on good reads. The fear of missing out on the good reads nominated on different bestseller lists translates into ‘buy first, read later’.
  • Pick up a new language. For instance, my acquisition of French opens up the door to the world of Francophonic literature which was previously close to me. Now, I have more reading choices, and thus more books to buy.However, being new to a language also means that it takes me a longer time to read a French book than an English one. The backlog of ‘to-read’ and ‘started-but-not-finished’ continues to accumulate.
  • Move to a new country. One of the best ways to integrate into a new country is to understand their history and culture. For instance, I am reading the history of France. In addition, I am also reading about the world renown French cycling race, La Tour de France.
  • Fortuitous discoveries of good reads in a bookstore. A good read is hard to come by. Once you find it, do not let it go – buy it.
  • Infatuation with the touch of books, especially new ones. Are you like me who cannot resist the feel of crispy, pristine new pages? A book cover that beckons you to possess the book, even without reading the synopsis?
  • Access to a library, especially one that provide e-reads. Thanks to the OverDrive app provided by National Library Board of Singapore, I have access to thousands of books. Consequently, I am juggling between book loans and purchases, and thus my pile of ‘to-read’ and ‘started-but-not-finished’ would not decrease in the foreseeable future.
  • Encourage reading. The sight of a staggering pile of unread books will nag you into picking up a book and read at least a few pages, even at the end of an exhausting day. Or is that perverse logic ?


And you? Are you inflicted with Tsundoku? What are the causes of your infliction?

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