Over the weekend, the Japanese word “tsundoku” seized the zeitgeist.
Swirling around Twitter after being amplified by the New York Times, the word is defined as “a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read.” This gets at the idea of our homes being full of books but only a tiny fraction of said books have actually been read. It’s a funny concept that is as relatable as it is prevalent.
My question in this word’s modern spread is what do we do about the “problem” of tsundoku? When is it a problem and when is it a matter of book loving and owning? As someone who keeps swallowing books, I have a lot of thoughts on reading practices, most of which will help you handle your burgeoning – or raging – tsundoku.
First, make a reading list using books that you own. If you’re hoping to read more books for a season or simply try out some new lit items, make a list using books in your house. Dig around! Theme them out! Look at your books as objects you purchased as a means to expand or express yourself. By that logic, do you know what they have to say? You should. Thus, get on it. Get reading your books by shopping or borrowing books from your own internal hybrid library bookstore.
Next, consider making a process of book placement in your house. What if books on your shelf were only things that were read? What if books that were read go on one shelf while books that aren’t read go on another? What if you hid the books you haven’t read while boasting the ones you did read? This gives you some ownership because, if ever a guest points at a book and asks you about it, you should be able to sell them or steer them away from the book from personal knowledge. This is what it means to be a reader.
Stop – or start – stacking books too. This is a huge problem I have: if you look around my apartment, there are stacks of books around. This means that I have run out of room to take books in and am idly putting them in piles, of things that I want to read but haven’t gotten around to. While I am annoyed by these piles, they also help me prioritize: I have stacks of books I am planning to read in a month, books that I recently half-read, books that I read and loved, books that I read and hated. If certain piles go untouched for too long, I inch them closer to the door. By stacking and making piles of my books, I create a sort of flight plan for them to meet my eyes – or to get the fuck out of my place.
Try rearrange books too! A simple version of stacking, organize them by your wants. Don’t let books sit in the same place – or same shelves – in your apartment or they will become a form of wallpaper, always seen but never actually engaged with. Rearrange books, rearrange your life.
Try flipping through your books. Every few days, at least once a week, pick up a book you haven’t looked at in a while and see what’s going on between the covers. Do a check-in, like a book is an old friend you need to catch up with. Let this be a moment for you to get reacquainted, to “read” without sitting down to go cover to cover. I’m a big fan of skimming and this is what you should do almost all the time with your books.
Setting book time is a big help with this. During idle mornings, particularly pre and post breakfast time on the weekend, I spend time with books I own. This gets me reading more than taking a book with me on a trip or setting a book by the bedside. Everyone has their own bookish routine and I am a big advocate for directly or indirectly setting book time. If you don’t consciously set this time, your books will not get read, thus deepening your tsundoku problem.
Lastly, share your books with friends. Do an exchange! If a book isn’t getting read or is just taking up space, give it to someone who might enjoy it. No one says that you have to have said book or that you have to read said book: you put this on yourself and you can take this off yourself. Thus, give the book away. Give the gift of literary life which I’m sure is a sort of KonMari practice.
Still having trouble? Stop taking in books. Not forever, of course, but put limits on yourself. Books are made to be read! If you aren’t reading, you probably should reconsider why or how you acquire books. No person’s library should be a foster home: it should an active place, a revolving door of bookish ins and bookish outs.
That is how you simmer the tsundoku. Or, at least, that is how I have sidestepped this adorable little problem in my life.