Tsundoku (Habit: Owning Too Many Books)

Years ago, I wrote a book (never published) about all of the habits of mine that my wife finds annoying. I contend that these are typical male habits. My wife says that they are specific to me. Love to hear your thoughts. I’m now posting these habits weekly on my blog. Please let me know if you agree with me or my wife.

The habit below is from the section House Rules.

Tsundoku is a word that many Japanese women, my wife among them, use to describe a certain habit of the men in their lives . . . having lots of books piled up everywhere that they never read. When my wife first told me about this word, she said it meant “worthless pile.” The word is so prevalent now that it has entered the English language. On a recent birthday, my wife gave me a coffee cup and t-shirt with the word on it to celebrate.

My wife is right. I have a lot of books. I took books with me when I moved to Japan, bought more there, and amassed a small library. While living in the Osaka area, I used to do children’s sermons at the church I attended. One day, I brought in a backpack, opened it, took out over 60 books, and posed the following question:

“Can anybody tell me what these books have in common?”

One kid raised his hand. “They’re all books.”

I laughed and asked for another volunteer. Seeing none, I filled the kids in: “The thing these books have in common is I haven’t read them yet.”

The point of my sermon was that having a Bible does you no good unless you read it. No one asked me why I might have that many unread books lying around. Nor, I guess, did anyone fathom that it was just a small part of my collection. When I left Japan, it took twelve boxes to ship my books home.

My collection of books continues to grow, vexing my wife. There are evenings when I say things like, “Honey, where’s the book I bought yesterday? I left the bag on the table.”

“I took it upstairs and put it away.”


“In the walk-in closet. I added it to that pile of books you plan to read soon.”

I understand her frustration and now have a rule for myself. I will not buy a book unless it will be one of the next five books I read. Of course, given that I rarely read more than two books before buying a new one, I almost never get to books not in my top two. I’ve tried culling my collection, donating books to the library or taking them to used bookstores to exchange for credits on new books. I’ve even donated books that I’ve yet to read, realizing I wouldn’t get to them any time soon. Yet, the pile continues to grow.

I read a lot of e-books these days, so there is hope that the pile will become manageable. For now, though, I have filled the bookcase that was built into the house, the bookcase in my office, the antique bookcase that my wife fell in love with, the makeshift bookcase in the walk-in closet, the bookcase in our upstairs loft, the bookcase in . . .

Oh well, maybe my wife is wife is right about this.

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