The Art of Tsundoku: Piles of Unread Books

Tsundoku, a Japanese term combining “tsunde” (to pile up) and “oku” (to leave for a while) with “doku” (to read), describes the habit of acquiring books and letting them pile up unread. This phenomenon isn't just about hoarding or collecting dust on your shelves; it reflects curiosity, ambition, and the joy of imagining potential knowledge. Every book you buy promises new understanding, an adventure, or a fresh perspective waiting to be uncovered at the right moment.
April 2024

Why Should You Acquire Reading Materials and Not Read Them?

At first glance, buying books without the intention of immediate reading might seem irrational. However, tsundoku has a more profound, almost philosophical value.

  • Aspiration and Inspiration: Each book you purchase is a testament to your interests and aspirations at that moment. The act can remind you of your intellectual curiosities and lifelong learning goals.
  • Decorative and Symbolic: Books are not merely for reading. They decorate your living space, providing a comforting ambiance of scholarly presence. They are symbols of knowledge and can be conversation starters when you have guests.
  • Future Resources: Consider your bookshelves as a personal library. Just as public libraries don't expect every book to be checked out simultaneously, your collection is a reservoir of knowledge, ready when you are. In this digital age, where information is abundant and instantly accessible, maintaining a digital archive makes even more sense. E-books, online articles, and digital subscriptions can be a more practical and space-efficient version of tsundoku. They allow you to store vast amounts of information without the physical clutter, ready at your fingertips whenever needed.

What Happens If You Read?

Transitioning from collecting to reading can shift your relationship with your books dramatically. Reading the books you've accumulated can:

  • Expand Knowledge and Empathy: Each book offers new knowledge, emotional experiences, and cultural understanding, expanding your mental horizons.
  • Transform Aspirations into Achievements: Reading turns your aspirational book buying into tangible achievements. Each book read is a step toward fulfilling personal goals.
  • Clear Mental and Physical Space: Reading your collected books can declutter your mind and your shelves, making room for new ideas and books.


Reflecting on my journey with tsundoku, I've transitioned from someone who collected more than they read to someone who now consciously engages with their collection. Initially, acquiring books was driven by the thrill of what they could offer and their potential. Over time, however, I realized that the true joy and fulfillment come from owning and reading books.

I've committed to reducing my stacks through reading for the past three years. I've discovered that each book, whether it offers a new skill, story, or philosophy, changes me a little. It's about making a difference in my own life through the words and wisdom of others. The piles of unread books have transformed from a silent rebuke to a source of pride and joy. Despite this, I still succumb to tsundoku, especially with cookbooks. I own far more than I have ever used in my cooking adventures. Yet, they serve as a source of inspiration, each one holding the promise of culinary creativity that might one day leap from page to plate.

Whether you're a collector or an avid reader, what matters most is how these books reflect and enhance your life. tsundoku isn't just a habit; it reflects who we are and aspire to become. Embrace your piles of unread books, but also find time to dive into them. The journey through their pages is as enriching as adding them to your collection.