Tsundoku: The Art of Not Reading


There is a word for not reading. Or rather, there is a term for collecting books and never opening their covers. That word is tsundoku.

The Japanese word tsundoku stands for a state in which many readers find themselves. The term is actually a combination of several words. Alone, doku means “to read”, tsunde represents stacking things, and oku means “to leave something for a while”. With all of this in mind, a very literal translation of tsundoku is “to stack reading materials and leave them for a while.”

The term brings to mind people who buy books with every intention of reading them, but instead their books simple sit on bedside tables and accumulate over time. There is something elegant about the way that the word captures a practice that is familiar to many of us, and I am tempted to begin a campaign to popularize its use.

But I always was a word thief.

Since I have never studied Japanese, I can’t promise that my interpretation of the term is entirely accurate – though the wikipedia article on it makes a compelling argument – so if any of you know a bit of the language, feel free to provide input.

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Image Attribution: Hokusai, Egrets from Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing, 1823

17 thoughts on “Tsundoku: The Art of Not Reading

  1. Great acquisition for our vocabulary! 🙂 But when paper books are stacked, eventually they’ll all get read. When books accumulate in an e-reader, the stack just keeps growing and it stays unread, because the books are out of sight, out of mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. From what little I know of Japanese, tsundoku may very well be a word (like sudoku) that was originally a much longer phrase. Anyway, we get the idea.


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