There’s a special Japanese word for people who are addicted to buying books

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Kayleigh Dray
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Woman reading book

Commit this to memory, bibliophiles…

If you’re anything like us, your home is probably littered with literature: think stacks of books quivering precariously on tables, tomes squeezed into over-stuffed shelves, battered paperbacks scattered across bedrooms, and (of course) a handful of well-read novels tucked beside the toilet.

Our lust for books is insatiable – and, despite the fact there’s definitely no more room, we still find ourselves perusing book shops with frightening regularity. “Maybe just a few more,” we whisper to ourselves, hauling our new stash to the cashier for scanning.

We promise ourselves that it’s the last time, that we’ll sort through our collection and drop some off at the local charity shop… but then we walk past a Waterstones on our way home from work. And, just like that, our personal library has grown even larger.

Are you a book buying addict?

Are you a book-buying addict?

It’s an addiction, we suppose – albeit a harmless one (if you ignore the possibility that a stack of books could topple over on top of you one day while you’re dusting the shelves). But, unlike most addictions, there’s no specific word to describe us.

Well, we thought that was the case.

‘Tsundoku’ is a beautiful Japanese word which literally means ‘to buy more books than one can read’.

According to Quartz, Sahoko Ichikawa, a senior lecturer in Japanese at Cornell University, says ‘tsunde’ means ‘to stack things’ and ‘oku’ means ‘to leave for a while.’

The word dates back to the very beginning of modern Japan, the Meija era (1868-1912) – but it’s still every bit as relevant, if more so, today.

A 12-year-old has illustrated the concept of tsundoku

A 12-year-old has illustrated the concept of tsundoku

The illustration above came about when Reddit user Wemedge asked his 12-year-old daughter to illustrate the word tsundoku.

“She didn’t disappoint,” he captioned the image.

If you, like us, are guilty of tsundoku, then you may want to hop on over to the Book Buying Addicts Anonymous discussion thread on Goodreads.

One online bibliophile confessed: “I live with my brother, his wife, and three kids and I have to sneak my books in. How sad is that? I mostly do that because I don’t want to hear – ‘You bought more books? Where are you going to keep them?’”

Another added: “The main time I feel guilty is when I’ve put aside a little money in Paypal, intending it to be savings … and I blow it on a book auction on eBay.”

However others defended their book-buying habits, with one sage bookworm writing: “They’re a good thing to buy. They make your brain work and you can learn new things from them. So there’s no need to feel guilty because you’re improving your mind.”

“It’s the thrill of the hunt!” insisted another. “You never know what you’re going to find second-hand. And when it’s two or three paperbacks for a dollar, you can pick up books you would never buy full price. You might never read them … or you might, and love ‘em!”

We recommend that everyone take a leaf out of philosopher Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus’ book (we didn’t say buy it): “When I get a little money, I buy books, if there’s anything left I buy food and clothes.”

Well, what could be more important than feeding your mind?

Images: Getty/Reddit/iStock

This article was originally published in April 2017.


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.