I love learning new words, especially multisyllabic or lyrical ones. Or a word that perfectly defines what you’re trying to describe. Recently I learned (from Facebook, of all places) that Japanese has such a word. Tsundoku – (n.) buying books and not reading them, letting them pile up unread on shelves, nightstands, etc.

Though I just learned the word, I’ve had this compulsion for a long time. I LOVE books. I love the potential they hold, their ability to transport, to teach, to entertain. As a reader, writer, and packrat, I amass books. They’re my friends, and as such, I have a hard time letting them go.

That said, my love of books is tempered by my fear of becoming a hoarder. With a finite amount of space, I cannot keep every book I read. I’ve gotten much better about borrowing from the library or friends, and now if I want something new and popular, I use my kindle. So what’s the problem? Tsundoku! The last time I moved, I rearranged my bookshelves so all the unread books were on the top shelves. But they’ve since spilled over to my nightstand, coffee table, and desk (not the floor, though; that feels wrong to me). The collection continues to grow.

In planning this blog post, I decided it would be fun to photograph all my unread books. It took three trips up and down the stairs to carry them all, and I had to use my dresser as a staging area.


So many words…

What did I learn from the process? The following:

  • I have 57 unread books. Fifty-seven!
  • 13 – loaned to me
  • 8 – I’ve started before
  • 6 – about Ireland
  • 5 – bought for classes

Let’s go back to the eight I’ve started before. I need to remember what my dad – possibly the most voracious reader ever – said a long time ago: “If you don’t like it, don’t finish it. Maybe go back to it later, but if you still don’t like it, let it go. There are too many good books to read, so don’t torture yourself with ones you don’t enjoy.” So, sorry Bill Bryson, but if Mother Tongue doesn’t speak to me this time (no pun intended), it’s going away. Same for Innumeracy.

I read about 30 books a year. With 57 unread books, I won’t be able to read anything else for two years. Some of these books linger around because I feel like I should read smarter – more non-fiction or more literary works. Instead, like neglected friends, they hang around and make me feel guilty. Clearly, I need to have an expiration date on books not yet read.

Here’s the plan: I am going to return the loaners and re-borrow them later if I want them. Then I’m going to read these books between other books. If I don’t like them, I’m going to donate them. I need to make room on the shelves for new books that entice me.

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