Are you the type of person who loves to buy books, but doesn’t quite get around to reading them? In that case you may be engaging in what the Japanese call Tsundoku, a term that translates as “leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up with other unread books.”

Etymologically speaking, the word “tsun” originates from “tsumu,” meaning “to pile up.” The addition of “nami,” which means “wave,” makes up the word we all know as “tsunami” — the piling up of waves.

When “doku,” which means “to read,” is affixed to “tsumu,” it translates as the “piling up of books.” A tsunami of reading material overwhelming a space, so to speak.

If you think Tsundoku is a modern problem brought on by the ease of Amazon Prime, you’d be mistaken. The word can be found in print as early as 1879, meaning it was likely in use before that.

Though the word can sound a little snide, Prof. Andrew Gerstle, teacher of pre-modern Japanese text at the University of London, explains that the word does not carry any stigma in Japan.

Beyond books

Tsundoku does strictly translate to an accumulation of reading materials, but in recent times it has been used to refer to many other forms of collecting items and not using them.

We buy books with the sincere desire to read them, but life seems to get in the way.

Under a popular post on a Reddit thread for book lovers, readers discussed how this term could explain their relationship with films, television shows and even clothing. One commenter noted “I have this problem with board games,” while another mused “one of the reasons we collect unread books like that is because we long for the time to read them all.”

Perhaps that may be at the root of this. We buy books with the sincere desire to read them, but life seems to get in the way.

Are you suffering with Tsundoku? What is the one book you’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet? Let us know in the comments.

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