Tsundoku and You

Education | 19 Oct 2021

Brighten Youth Education Centre

If it were any other item, it might be necessary to admit that you have a problem.

Someone with 1,200 pairs of shoes, or coffee cups, or neckties, might be expected to volunteer for some kind of therapy but 1,200 books? That would be a fairly modest collection.

There's the old adage that the continuous buying of books isn't "hording," it's building a library.

Perhaps we enable such behaviour to some extent. In homes, book collections are often displayed in prominent places.

They draw admiring glances and say a great deal about how we perceive ourselves.

This week, we think about the impulsive collection of books, its meaning and what the process says about the acquisition of knowledge.

The Japanese even have a word for this process - Tsundoko - meaning the acquisition of reading materials, which we allow to pile up in our homes, but with the intention of reading that material.

The term may have originated as slang, but it comes from the Meiji era (the phrase can be found in a print dated 1879).

The idea carries no stigma in Japan, although the same can't really be said of English equivalents.

There is no equivalent term in any other language, prompting calls for the term to be included in several English language dictionaries.

The idea of "bibliomania" or "book madness" comes from a 19th-century novel by Thomas Frognall Dibden.

The characters in the novel are obsessed with unique volumes like illustrated copies or first editions.

In the English phrase, the book becomes the focus and the acquisition of the object the aim.

Tsundoko refers to a desire to read - the acquisition of the book is tangential.

In The Year of Reading Dangerously (2014), writer Andy Miller realises he has lost the beloved habit of reading.

He then decides to embark on a very specific list of books - those he claims to have read and never managed.

Initially, the list contained classics like Anna Karenina and Of Human Bondage.

Years later, Miller is still going, and those who follow him on social media can watch him pile up the stacks each month.

He claims his prolific output comes from forming a habit of reading at least fifty pages a day.

One of the things that set Miller on his track, was the realisation that his house was filled with books he had never read.

New additions were regularly amassed, yet no progress was made.

He had replaced reading with shopping.

Most bibliophiles will argue that - as in Japan - their habit is aspirational.

One day they will work their way through their collection; they probably already are.

While it might seem like just another form of hoarding, what bibliophiles often hope to acquire is time, freedom and knowledge - however long it may take.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us: enquiry@brightentestprep.edu.hk



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