On tsundoku

I recently discovered tsundoku, a Japanese term for the practice of buying books with the intention of reading them, but then letting them pile up.

I love terms like these that don't have equivalents as elegant in English. The closest English word, coined by Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan, is antilibrary, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. That said, Taleb makes an interesting assertion that the size of your antilibrary is a sign of how much you know. “The more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.” So perhaps you shouldn’t feel too guilty if your bookshelf is falling apart or your Amazon wishlist is longer than you can ever hope to get through.

The strict definition of tsundoku applies only to physical books, but it's 2023 and we should broaden it to include e-books and audiobooks. During my sabbatical, I'm hoping to make a dent in my digital tsundoku collection.

I started with Transcend by Scott Barry Kaufman. He takes Abraham Maslow's classic work on human needs and revamps the hierarchy of needs from a pyramid to a more suitable and interesting metaphor grounded in the latest psychological research.

Here are some of the books I plan to read next:

  • The Beginning of Infinity - David Deutsch
  • The Story of Us - Tim Urban
  • The Book of Dead Philosophers - Simon Critchley
  • The Master and his Emissary - Iain McGilchrist
  • Exhalation - Ted Chiang
  • Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
  • The Power of Meaning - Emily Smith
  • Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Republic - Plato

What’s in your tsundoku pile?

Source: Lost in Translation - Ella Frances Sanders