tsundoku definition

“It’s not hoarding if it’s books,” a popular Internet saying proclaims. I, for one, heartily agree — but maybe I’m biased. I was raised by book lovers; books have been part of my life (and my home) for as long as I can remember. In my childhood homes, they piled up every which where: packed into bookshelves like a papery game of Tetris, taking over nightstands, obscuring the living room accent table from view. There were always some on the floor somewhere. There was never hope of having enough shelves to contain the entirety of our collection, so there were free-standing stacks scattered throughout nearly every room of wherever we were living. Every horizontal surface was fair game. We used stacks of books as stands for more books. Books didn’t just cover the furniture — they were the furniture. When I visited my parents a couple of years ago to help them move out of their old apartment, we collectively realized once the bookshelves were taken down that we hadn’t seen the apartment’s walls in the twelve years that they’d lived there. Who needs wallpaper when you have shelves full of books?

(Following this realization, my parents did decide to dial it back just a bit when moving into their current house, but I suspect their ability to do this was aided by the simple fact that the house is bigger and therefore able to accommodate more books — and has shelves built into some of the walls.)

My parents really hold tsundoku in their hearts, and they passed it on to me. Some might call it a bad habit. My dad calls it a “sickness”. I think of it as a lifestyle. It may be more of a compulsion than a choice at times, often manifesting in the form of having uncontrollable urges to enter bookstores and leaving them encumbered with books you previously didn’t know existed, but there are certainly worse ways to live. Books are good. There are so many of them out there, each one with something different to offer; how can you not want to get your hands on as many as possible? Even the act of making space for more books can be enjoyable. To meet the constant demand for more shelves, my dad likes to build them from scratch, shaping each one precisely for the space it’s meant to inhabit. It does little to mitigate the floor-stacks, but we like to think that it helps. It definitely lends a certain amount of character to a home, character that wouldn’t exist if not for the affliction of tsundoku.

My parents still recklessly collect books; their house has more of them every time I visit. The stacks still grow taller; old stacks get replaced with new ones. During one of my visits within the past year, I brought two of my own books with me and somehow left with three. It’s just one of the risks of being my parents’ child. But I love it. I was raised on the philosophy that there is no such thing as too many books; I take the phrase “more books than one can read”, a supposed tenet of the tsundoku lifestyle, as a challenge.

There’s just something so comforting about having lots of books. I can’t even fathom the thought of having no more books left to read in my home; I live in a perpetual state of planning out what to read next, and after that and after that. And by the time I do get through all of the books I currently own, I know that I will have acquired just as many more, and the cycle will continue. It’s the best kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, I will happily continue to partake in the book lover’s ritual of tsundoku, hoping that I leave no book unread — but also that I never run out of books to read.


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