The value of tsundoku, the value of book hoarding

29 August 2022

Tsundoku is the word of the day. It is a Japanese portmanteau from the nineteenth century, describing the accumulation of books that will never be read. Great stacks of books lying around the house, waiting to be read. Already the thought grates against my minimalist sensibilities.

As American journalist and writer Clive Thompson explains though, all these books — gathering dust as they may be — are a great way to remind ourselves of the stockpile of knowledge in the world. Maybe there are days when it’s easy to believe we know all there is to know. Those same books, sitting there still unread, still gathering dust, which Thompson refers to as an antilibrary, serve to inform us we cannot know it all.

The other part of an antilibrary, though, is that it makes you constantly aware that you could explore more things. By having all those books lying around unread, they trigger curiosity.

All I can think of is trying to move house with a half a library worth of books. I once helped someone in that situation, and all I can say is: never again. I might keep to wandering among the shelves of my local library, when it comes to appreciating how much there is to know in the world.