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Escaping tsundoku: How to stop book hoarding for good

High school was the peak of my nerdiness. I got scolded for reading pocket books during morning prayer. At lunchtime, I always traded the canteen for the library. I loved Stephen King before all of my peers did. And within my circle of friends, we endangered our friendships, as we fought over our scarce copies of the Hunger Games trilogy.

I was such a huge bookworm growing up. But eventually, I stopped out of nowhere. There’s no tragic backstory behind why I stopped reading the printed word. Although, my inability to get back to a reading routine felt like a tragedy.

[Tsundoku] is as ancient as writer’s or creative’s block. Similar to these cases, we can’t solve tsundoku by simply getting back to the grind.

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Tsundoku is the Japanese’s term for the tragedy that is my stagnant reading routine. According to The New York Times, the word means “a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read.”

As this term dates back to 1879, it’s clear tsundoku is not a new phenomenon. It’s as ancient as writer’s or creative’s block. Similar to these, we can’t solve tsundoku by simply getting back to the grind. Overcoming it means going through a step-by-step process.

Unsure how to exorcise your tsundoku demon? Here are some helpful tips on getting rid of it once and for all.

“Your reading slump is just a temporary situation and not an underlying condition that will continue to affect you.”

Say tsundoku three times to a mirror

Tsundoku is far from bibliomania. In a way, bibliomania is healthier. You still read the books you purchased. But with tsundoku—your freshly printed paperbacks remain unopened. This doesn’t stop you from doing some retail therapy inside a book store.

So to get rid of it, you have to acknowledge your problem. You have tsundoku. It’s an old phenomenon that all avid readers go through. And like what blogger/journalist tsundoku girl remind us, tsundoku is temporary.

“Your reading slump is just a temporary situation and not an underlying condition that will continue to affect you. Think of a slump as a common cold – annoying, but you know you’ll shake it pretty soon,” she writes on her blog.

Exorcize that bookshelf

Let’s face it—your bookshelf is a TLC’s Hoarders special. It’s messy, unorganized, and is simply too much. Now that you know you’re in a reading slump, get yourself back out there. Start with purging your bookshelf piece by piece.

“Oprah famously recommended putting a book down after 50 pages if it’s not enjoyable. I’d caveat that recommendation with ‘if it’s not enjoyable or useful,’” Forbes recommends. Pulling a Marie Kondo might be what your bookshelf needs. If Tolstoy or Leav doesn’t spark joy, get rid of them.

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Light read and chill?

Big changes start with baby steps. Unfortunately, diving into that book series will not end your tsundoku. Let’s admit we’re not the speed readers we used to be. So yes, having a light read can refreshen the neurons.

When we took a pause on reading, so did our speed on word comprehension. Finishing a 500-page novel in just one sitting used to be a breeze. But now, a thick hardbound can be intimidating. Instead of finishing the last leg of Lord of the Rings, maybe we can start smaller by picking up a digestible Y.A. novel, or any book with 200-pages or less.

“Start small–try some novellas, or perhaps a book of poetry or comment. It’s a great way to learn back-stories for characters in books you like or to envelope yourself in the world around a character,” tsundoku girl suggests.

Big changes start with baby steps. Unfortunately, diving into that book series will not end your tsundoku.

Stop, download, and listen

Time is the real culprit on why we have tsundoku. It’s a convenient excuse on why we don’t finish these novellas we bought. Who has the time to open a book with our busy schedules? The solution is simple: audiobooks.

Purists of the printed word will shun audiobooks. But if technology can get you out of the reading slump, why not give it a shot? “You can listen to them while commuting to work, on the train or working out. After you’re comfortable with the format, increase the playback speed to one-and-a-half or even two times normal playback speed,” Forbes advises.

Don’t know where to get audiobooks? Try Audible, Amazon’s Whispersync, and Openculture. They can get you started on some available titles.

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Tsundokus anonymous

Book clubs sound like a #TitasofManila type of rendezvous, but let’s try it. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can help you get out of your rut.

Keep in mind: It doesn’t have to be a club you need to physically attend. Forums, group pages, and everything in between exist online. r/TsundokuBookClub on Reddit is one example. It’s a subreddit encouraging members to beat their tsundoku together. As their motto goes: “Read slow, post often, re-read & repeat.”

Whatever your quirky reason is, remember the times when reading sparks joy, not misery.

Remember who you are

“These days, I also get to visit interesting places, meet with scientists, and watch a lot of lectures online. But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding,” Forbes quotes Bill Gates. This is why Microsoft’s All-Father reads. But how about you? Why do you love reading in the first place?

Remind yourself what makes reading enjoyable. Did it make escapism convenient? Maybe it made you feel like Margot Tenenbaum or Suzy Bishop. Whatever your quirky reason is, hold on to the joys it gives you, not the misery.

“You have to read for you. Reading should be fun, not an obligation, a competition or a race […] That’s what reading’s about,” tsundoku girl writes. People tend to forget why we do the things we love. Although we neglect our passion or hobbies, there’s always a way to get back to it. No matter how long it has been since we stopped. 

Still from Moonrise Kingdom


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