How Does Your Tsundoku Stack Up? - Atlas Obscura
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How Does Your Tsundoku Stack Up?

Atlas Obscura readers share their personal piles of unread books.

How do you tsundoku?
How do you tsundoku? Tosh Fujita/Used with Permission

Tsundoku, the Japanese word defined as the habit of collecting stacks of books that you haven’t read and might never get to, feels like it’s everywhere right now. It’s getting talked about in The New York Times, on the BBC, and in plenty of other corners of the internet that may well remain, well, unread. Last week we asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us about their own tsundoku habits, and the results were as varied, wonderful, and above all, relatable, as tsundoku itself.

You shared some amazing details about your book-collecting habits. Some of you have split your “to read” piles into multiple stacks. Others are constantly moving the books around, as if the very act of placing your hands on them carries meaning. And a number of you (only somewhat) jokingly mentioned that your growing piles of unread books are a source of shame. But there’s no shame in tsundoku! Only more books to explore.

Check out a collection of some of our favorite submissions below. We hope seeing these unread book piles help you better appreciate your own.

Simon Litton/Used with Permission

Simon Litton, Brussels, Belgium

How big is your unread collection?

“If you mean my ‘to read’ pile, hundreds.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“New purchases go on the shelf, but the ‘to read’ pile evolves depending on a variety of factors including: is a movie or TV version coming out soon? Is it related to my upcoming travels (I like to read books about or from my holiday destinations)? I like to alternate fiction and non-fiction, fun and serious. Apart from that it’s an organic, flexible process.”

John Maher/Used with Permission

John Maher, Brooklyn, New York

How big is your unread collection?

“Upwards of 300, between my apartment and my parents’ attic.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“Love them. Fear them. Occasionally leave them a small sacrifice to ensure their favor in the coming months.”

Ed Rorie/Used with Permission

Ed Rorie, Washington, D.C.

How big is your unread collection?

“17.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“I reshuffle them from time to time to put something on top that is a change from what I am reading now.” — Ed Rorie, Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Paliga/Used with Permission

Elizabeth Paliga, Boston, Massachusetts

How big is your unread collection?

“130, and that’s just the ones at school. I have at least that many on a bookcase at home in Lakewood, Colorado.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“My tsundoku is an aesthetic addition to my room. I find that organizing the books in a mosaic of stacks as a centerpiece creates the opportunity for a more animated dialogue between myself and my books, rather than shelving them. During the day I will glance at them and rediscover a title I had forgotten I had, so the marvelous feeling of a potential adventure is always at my fingertips.”

Angela Consani/Used with Permission

Angela Consani, Basehor, Kansas

How big is your unread collection?

“101.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“They have their own shelves. They cannot be touching the other books that I have finished. Though one shelf shares space with some notebooks and they are allowed to touch those. And I am out of room so I have started to stack them on top of the others.”

Heather Hoffart/Used with Permission

Heather Hoffart, Phoenix, Arizona

How big is your unread collection?

“80.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“Having them stacked about stressed me so I made room for them on a couple of bookshelves in different rooms (I gathered them in one spot for the photo and it was time for a dusting). They’re divided into cerebral and, um, less cerebral shelves. We don’t interact very often, but I’m always inspired, overwhelmed, guilty, excited when we do. Then the feelings ebb away until the next time.”

Elizabeth Vander Esch/Used with Permission

Elizabeth Vander Esch, Poulsbo, Washington

How big is your unread collection?

“Eight in this pile. There are many piles.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“I stack and pull and then rearrange and often just gaze wistfully at the titles I so earnestly thought I would get to. Often I walk by ashamed.”

Keith Olsen/Used with Permission

Keith Olson, Corvallis, Oregon

How big is your unread collection?

“> 100.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

My unread shelf sits at the end of the bed making me feel guilty to be sleeping and not reading a book.”

Colleen Lacy/Used with Permission

Colleen Lacy, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

How big is your unread collection?

“272.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“My tsundoku has been refined over more than a decade of slow accumulation. Short stacks grew taller and taller, morphed into a long shelf wrapping around the room, and was eventually sculpted into a small, bespoke library categorized around my personal interests: philosophy, anthropology, sci-fi, horror, mycology, geology, mythology, painting, photography, graphic novels, antique books, cinema, theatre production, and textile design. It has lived through three houses and I even moved across the country from Arizona to Florida with this substantial collection. I will usually only purchase a book if I want to keep it in my permanent collection. I don’t usually keep books that I’ve read unless they’re excellent or rare, so I think I’ve only read about 7% of what I have right now. The rest is pure tsundoku! It serves as a room divider and slowly gets funneled into the mini-stack of books to read on my nightstand.”

Luke Phillips/Used with Permission

Luke Phillips, Northern Virginia

How big is your unread collection?

“165+ gallons’ worth (the last time I ‘counted’ was when I stuffed my personal library into seven, 23.5-gallon tubs for safekeeping while I was away for a summer.) I haven’t actually done a headcount since then, but I’d estimate somewhere between 120 and 150 books.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“I keep them all on some shelves across from my bed so they can haunt me while I sleep. They are organized thematically: American history, American literature, modern political theory, classical political theory, world history, American biography, world biography, religious texts, glorified self-help books, etc… Generally while I’m working at my desk, if something interesting pops up in my head, I’ll pull one of my relevant books off the shelf and read passages from it. Sometimes I’ll pull multiple books off and stack them on my desk, intending to read the passages immediately. Inevitably I’ll get distracted or busy, and not get to the passages, so I’ll have new mini-tsudokus pile up, ever reminding me of my intellectual inadequacies.”

Tristan Janeiro/Used with Permission

Tristan Janeiro, Oakland, California

How big is your unread collection?

“16.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“I just keep stashing them on my bedside table. I dust them occasionally, and shuffle them in order I would like to read, but then they don’t stack neatly and I can’t handle it, so I shuffle then back into two piles, organized by size.”

Cheryl DeFranceschi/Used with Permission

Cheryl DeFranceschi, Chicago, Illinois

How big is your unread collection?

“Uncountable!”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“I stack the stacks until they teeter, totter, and threaten to collapse. I have four different areas where the unread await their destiny. When starting a new book, I’ll cruise through one of the areas and pull a half dozen books. I’ll then read the first 5-10 pages and choose the one I’ve engaged with most. There are also the hundreds of ebooks languishing on my e-reader. Le sigh!”

Misa Nakamura/Used with Permission

Misa Nakamura, Seattle, Washington

How big is your unread collection?

“5-7.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“I organize my bookshelf by color so I add my unread gems to each shelf and just watch it grow. When I can’t fit any more into the space above my books, I know I have a serious problem and start to buckle down.”

Lynn Fiorentino/Used with Permission

Lynn Fiorentino, Ann Arbor, Michigan

How big is your unread collection?

“27 (that I remember).”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“Well… first I promise myself that I’m not going to buy any more books until I’ve read the ones I have, and then I just ‘pop in’ to my local bookstore and I come out with three more books. I keep a book in active reading status in each room, and when the new books come home, sometimes I start them and push the other ones aside ‘just for now.’ I also tell myself to check books out from the library instead, but the book shops are closer to home and sometimes they have shop dogs, as well, so how could I not indulge? Next year I only want to read fiction, so I have to finish reading most of the books in my piles in like the next ten weeks.”

Michael LaMattina/Used with Permission

Michael LaMattina, Lindenhurst, Illinois

How big is your unread collection?

“At any given time my tsundoku stack consists of about 10 books.”

Tell us about your tsundoku.

“Organization is loose, if at all. Like introducing a new rescue animal into the established fold of household pets, I’ll often just let it loose in the pack and see what comes. I enjoy finding interesting relationships later on between books resting haphazardly in the piles.”

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.