The Financial Express

Tsundoku: Your neglected books

Tsundoku: Your neglected books

A collection of fancy silverware, stuck inside the cabinet because mother decides to use only one set for the rest of her life, while the poor plates and saucers live a purposeless existence. The youngsters of the house might rebel to bring some life to the teacups or throw some harmless jokes at every mother's universal habit.

Then comes a day when this habit runs through the genes and the young ones start piling books on shelves without reading them. One might wonder if the saucers and the books look helpless, or secretly, they feel like a grandiose art sitting on a throne? 

In Japanese, to pile things up and leave them for later is pronounced as tsunde-oku. Adding the Japanese for reading books, dokusho, makes a new word-tsundoku, to pile up books for later. Some might believe that to make tsundoku is to commit a grave sin of ignorance. Especially, Bengali parents might throw a frenzy of Satan reading the books instead, god forbid! 

Misba Sultana, a 28-year-old aspirant writer from Dhaka, is ready to accept those who commit this specific sin. She understands the agony of buying a stack of books only to be smacked by the reality of ‘too many books, too little time.’ She mentions a basic calculation to justify why it is okay to not read every book one encounter,

"For an average reader, it'd take more or less 2-3 days to finish an average-sized book. Even if someone reads a hundred books per year, a person can read 4-5 thousand books in their lifetime, among millions that already exist, and are yet to be published."

She thinks it is okay to not spend time on books that do not suit one’s taste just because it is already bought. "It’s not only philosophical but pretty practical too to say you can't judge a book by its cover. Sometimes I buy books because the cover, or the hype, or the synopsis pulls me. But the content's hooking standard might vary on personal preferences. But time is more precious than a few bucks." 

She also mentions how the sin of creating tsundoku can encourage the authors to pen more of their thoughts. "If nothing, the authors at least receive more appreciation. There's nothing wrong with buying a book that attracts you, but not reading it later,” says Misba.

According to her, not everything is supposed to be served as a product. “Forcefully shoving the content on someone to make them feel worthy over customised standards of intelligence does not sound convincing to me," she remarks. 

She thinks there is little to worry about a generation growing as ignorant, insubstantial, and pretentious readers because of the culture to show-off on social media. "I think many people read books without buying them. They should naturally neutralise the ones who buy but don't read."

Being a student of English at Jahangirnagar University, Jannatul Ferdous Anan is tied to reading books. She says a few books, sometimes, lie unread. But the earthy smell of paper lightens her distress of not hitting the bull’s eye;especially when she starts a book only to feel disconnected from it. Rather than weighing the wisdom on her synapses, she decides to seek another source. "I think most of those who build up tsundoku are in fact, avid readers. They buy books with the intention of reading but only get distracted." 

Anan mentions how the word, tsundoku, does not mean any disgrace in Japan, “As far as I know, tsundoku might sound demeaning to people who don’t speak Japanese. Kind of like an insult for those who might seem like they read less and show more, and therefore, empty-headed and artificial. But it does not carry any social stigma in Japan.”

Just as she believes tsundoku to have harmless margins, she also mentions how sometimes it might not only be a sin of ignorance, but also an insult to the writer. "An author writes a book to spread his thoughts. To buy their books with the intention of leaving them forever on the racks after clicking a couple of photos is such a shame and a waste of precious words," remarks Anan. 

Anan, however, brings an important point mentioning how the habit of collecting books is slightly different from tsundoku and is called bibliomania. “Bibliomania means to buy books only for the sake of collection, such as collecting first editions or alternate cover editions. But tsundoku is unintentional on the piling part.” She reminds again that neither tsundoku, nor bibliomania is to be stigmatised as everyone has individual forms of hobby and habits.

Tanjim Tasnim is a student of Viqarunnisa Noon College. Bored in lockdown, she sorted all of her books to make a 'mini Nilkhet' corner at her home. Her mundane days have renewed the habit of diving into new worlds every day. Her opinions on tsundoku merge with Anan's. She thinks it is okay to have a habit of collecting books if one has enough financial stability to buy them. "I buy stacks of books at once but sometimes they take years for me to finish."

She mentions how tsundoku can erupt a sense of guilt and pressure for some. Especially those who have a liking for collecting books on a limited budget, like her, might feel invisible eyes watching them constantly. Fortunately, she does not face such internal problems as her mother makes use of those untouched books.

She reasonsshowing offtsundoku on social media is similar to proudly announce skipping school's classes and thinking it is impressive. "Anything out of the rule box is adventurous and amusing to some people. While being adventurous is fine, I fear if everyone starts to find showing off tsundoku to be something trendy, then we might lose quality readers someday," fears Tasnim. 

According to the BBC, in an 1879 satire text by Mori Senzo, appears a certain ‘tsundoku-sensei’ who is a teacher but does not read any of the mountains of books he owns. Whether tsundoku- sensei should be beheaded for his sins of leaving the books unread, or to investigate first if he reads other books, is a judgment left to the wise readers and non-readers. After all, reading books is not the only origin of wisdom, knowledge, and sound substance.


Mehenaz Sultana Tisha is a student of English at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.
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