Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Tsundoku: a word English needs

All those books you’ve bought but haven’t yet read? There’s a word for that.

English is full to the brim with loan words. Let’s steal this one next. 

I don’t really like Taleb’s term “antilibrary.” A library is a collection of books, many of which remain unread for long periods of time. I don’t see how that differs from an antilibrary. A better term for what he’s talking about might be tsundoku, a Japanese word for a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read. My personal library is about one-tenth books I have read and nine-tenths tsundoku….

The linked article is not really about renaming the TBR pile, though that would be fine with me because “tsundoku” is an attractive, evocative sort of word. Unlike the author of the article — Kevin Mims, writing in the NYT — I don’t have much of a “third category” of “partially read books” in my personal library. Very few. Poetry, mainly. Compilations of Shakespeare’s plays.

Mostly what I have are books I’ve read, plus a smaller number of books I haven’t read. I’d guess maybe 3000 books I’ve read and I know it’s around 400 or 500 books I haven’t read. Let’s say about a 7:1 ratio. Sounds like the author has his ratio the other way around, so he has a proportionally much bigger tsundoku than I do.

Mims ends his article:

The sight of a book you’ve read can remind you of the many things you’ve already learned. The sight of a book you haven’t read can remind you that there are many things you’ve yet to learn. And the sight of a partially read book can remind you that reading is an activity that you hope never to come to the end of.

Perhaps the Japanese have a word for that.

If there’s no word for that in Japanese, I bet there is in some other language. You remember this fun list of words with no English equivalent.

My favorite here is:

Greng-jai (Thai)
That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them.

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3 Comments Tsundoku: a word English needs

  1. Pete Mack

    Your post about Heinlein’s juveniles reminded me of Nagata’s Sky Object 3270a, which I have now reread. It really is a classic juveniles: teenagers age 14-16 go off and disobey their elders with good effect. Bravery and altruism are victorious over the caution of elders.

    Also: add Linda Nagata to the list of undeservedly forgotten authors, though she is certainly still writing fine books.

  2. Rachel

    Fine, you persuaded me: I just picked up Skye Object 3270a. It’ll be the first thing I’ve read by Linda Nagata, so I hope I really like it. I certainly always appreciate finding a new-to-me author I love.

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