Skip to main content

Tsundoku - an unread counter for books

·429 words·3 mins

Discworld books.
Some paperbacks from the Discworld series.

Probably in the late 90s, when I had catched up with the then current instalment in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and was compulsively checking into the bookstore patiently waiting for the next release, was the last time my unread books pile had a height of zero. In general, I am struggling with leaving a bookstore without a purchase. There is always a new release by a favorite author, an interesting staff recommendation, a book catching my eye that I believe I always wanted to read, or one that simply looks gorgeous, begging to be shown off on a bookshelf1. And so there will always be some residual reading material, waiting to be picked up.

A pile of unread books.
My current unread books counter is 21.

Only recently I learned about the word Tsundoku, of Japanese origin, which describes exactly that, a pile of books (or a stack on a shelf) yet to be read. My current unread pile comprises 21 books2 (spread over different places, not as the wobbly stack pictured here). I will check in with that pile over the course of the year, seeing what kind of progress I make. What I read depends on the circumstances, often an ebook at night or while commuting, and a physical book from the pile when I find the quiet time to read during the day.

When I learned about the word Tsundoku, I wondered if it would also apply to music. I used to have (and from time to time still have, but more rarely since the pervasiveness of streaming) a pile of unlistened records. However, these piles were of a slightly different nature. They were not caused by bying music faster than I could listen. Instead, back in the days of mailorder, we would order in bulk to share shipping cost, or to have the unconvenient experience of collecting from customs and paying tax or duty just once in a while.

  1. At the same time I have to admit that the digital conveniency of purchasing and consuming ebooks on an ereader, especially at night when your partner is already sleeping, has relegated at least commodity paperbacks back to bits and bytes. I love physical books, but the next crime novel or thriller for light entertainment, which does not even try to make a lasting impression with an appealing layout or quality print is easily replaced by its digital counterpart. ↩︎

  2. It’s kind of sick, but I also have a (smaller) Tsundoku on my kindle, 7 downloads from Project Gutenberg and 7 books purchased but not yet read. ↩︎