The Art and Science of Tsundoku: Why You Hoard Books

It's not just a book. It's a nugget of your identity, a slice of your story, and a part of your life's journey.

An untold story waiting to be discovered.

The romance of the dusty, worn pages.

The thrill of a crisp, untouched spine.

The joy of a rare find.

All encapsulate the love affair many of us have with books.

But this love affair sometimes goes beyond reading. It extends to collecting, hoarding, and sometimes not even reading the books we acquire.

This phenomenon is known as "Tsundoku". A term derived from Japanese culture.

Tsundoku isn't just a random habit. But a fusion of complex cultural, psychological, and personal elements that we aim to explore in this article.

What Is Tsundoku?

The term Tsundoku (積ん読) combines the words "tsunde" meaning to stack things, "oku" which means to leave for a while, and "doku" which translates to reading.

So, Tsundoku is basically when you get books and just let them stack up without actually reading them.

But what prompts this behavior?

The History and Origin of Tsundoku

To grasp the deep-seated roots of Tsundoku, we need to travel back in time to the Meiji Era (1868-1912) in Japan. During this time, the country underwent rapid Westernization. Including the propagation of printed materials.

People began buying books faster than they could read. Resulting in stacks of unread literature. And thus, the birth of Tsundoku.

As Japan embraced Western literature and knowledge, the desire to possess books became a symbol of status and intellectual curiosity. It wasn't unusual for people to collect books as a form of cultural capital. Even if they didn't have the time or interest to read them right away.

The act of collecting books became a way to showcase one's intellectual pursuits and aspirations.

However: Tsundoku shouldn't be mistaken as a practice limited to Japan.

Many cultures worldwide (especially those with a great literary tradition) have this phenomenon to some degree. From bookworms in Europe during the Renaissance to book lovers in ancient China, the irresistible temptation to collect books and never get around to reading them knows no bounds, spanning across time and borders.

Tsundoku in Modern Society

In today's society, Tsundoku shows up on a bigger scale.

Online shopping has made it so easy to get discount books in all kinds of genres and sub-genres. As a result, many homes now have towering book stacks. It's just too tempting to add more books with a simple click. That's how the Tsundoku phenomenon keeps growing.

Plus, Tsundoku has gone beyond just physical books.

Thanks to e-readers and digital libraries, you can have a virtual collection of unread books without cluttering your physical space.

Having a vast library at your fingertips...

Filled with untapped knowledge and endless stories...

It's a temptation that's hard to resist.


In today's society, the act of Tsundoku is actually not seen in a negative light.

On the flip side, it's even seen as a symbol of someone's love for knowledge and literature. Even if you never read them. Collecting books is like a reflection of your curiosity and thirst for personal growth.

Moreover, Tsundoku embodies the idea of the "bookworm" in all of us. Offering a treasure trove of untapped knowledge and stories. Ready to be explored whenever we please.

Having unread books in your collection is a constant reminder of all the amazing possibilities just waiting to be explored.

Every unread book has the power to take you to new worlds, challenge your views, and broaden your understanding of the human experience.

So, Tsundoku in today's society is seen more as a personal expression rather than a compulsive behavior. It's a way to celebrate our love for books, showing our thirst for knowledge and the diverse range of our interests and passions.

The Psychology Behind Hoarding Books

While Tsundoku is seen in a positive light, it's important to grasp the psychology behind it.

Various emotional connections and fears play a significant role in this quirky habit of collecting more books than we can actually read.

The Emotional Connection to Books

Books are more than objects. They're worlds filled with characters and ideas that can profoundly affect a reader.

And it's not just about reading. It's about forming a sentimental bond with the books themselves. Making us want to collect and keep them close.

The smell of books.

The touch of books.

The unique feeling books give.

All of this contributes to a sensory and emotional connection. It's often why we can't help but hoard them.

The Fear of Letting Go: Why You Keep Books You Don’t Read

Sometimes, getting books is like a safety net for uncertain times. The fear of not having a book you might want to read someday – no matter how unlikely – is what fuels Tsundoku.

Some people also keep books for their future selves. Or for their kids and grandkids. Kind of like a legacy.

We're also often hesitant to part with books because they remind us of different phases in our lives.

Also, owning books gives off a certain level of prestige. Our bookshelves showcase our intellectual journeys. Giving a glimpse into our preferences, interests, and intellectual capacity.

The Art of Tsundoku: Aesthetics and Personal Expression

Although Tsundoku has some deep psychological implications, it's also an art form that adds to personal aesthetics and reflects individualism.

The Beauty of a Personal Library

Having a personal library, even if it's a bit messy, is all about personal taste and the importance of knowledge. Just having books around can bring a sense of comfort, peace, and intellectual stimulation.

Plus, organizing and reorganizing books, whether by theme, aesthetics, or chronology, can be a creative process in its own right. It gives a nice personal touch and keeps our living spaces intellectually engaging.

Books as Decor: The Aesthetic Appeal of Tsundoku

Books are not only loved for what's inside. But also for their physical form. A well-designed book cover can also be like a piece of art. And add some personality to a room.

Just looking at a pile of books, with their colorful spines and different sizes, creates a certain aesthetic appeal that goes beyond their practical purpose.

The Science of Tsundoku: Neurological and Behavioral Aspects

Besides emotional and artistic reasons, is there a scientific explanation for Tsundoku?

Let's see.

The Dopamine Rush: Buying Books and the Brain

Buying a new book often stimulates the release of dopamine – the feel-good hormone – just like with any other shopping experience. The anticipation of knowledge or the joy of a narrative drives the purchase.

The joy of getting a new book doesn't always mean we have to read it right away. That's why many books end up on our shelves, waiting to be read.

The Habit Loop: How Tsundoku Becomes a Behavior Pattern

Behavioral science gives another explanation:

Getting books can turn into a habit loop. Which is a cycle of cues, actions, and rewards. When you see a book or a bookstore, that's the cue. Buying the book is the action. And the fleeting joy you get from the purchase is the reward.

Repeating this loop over and over can strengthen neuro-associations. Turning Tsundoku into a habit over time.

The Impact of Tsundoku

Tsundoku (or the habit of hoarding books) is a complex fusion of culture, psychology, art, science, and personal preference.

So, next time you stack up another book on your bookshelf, remember that it's not just a book – it's a nugget of your identity, a slice of your story, and a part of your life's journey.