Chapter 6 – Rationalizing Tsundoku


Since I’m half Japanese on my mother’s side, I grew up hearing the language just as much as English. As I got older, I realized certain Japanese words and concepts didn’t exactly translate — they had no English equivalents:

  • ishin denshin (I think of you and you think of me at the same time)
  • hazukashii (a combination of shy, embarrassed, and ashamed)
  • moshi moshi (hello, but only said on the phone)

Today — Day #9 — I learned a new one that relates to my year of no frivolous shopping: tsundoku.

It’s basically book hoarding — buying books you don’t end up reading.


I’m a freelance writer who teaches writing to adults at two locations: a writing center located at the downtown YMCA in my hometown, and a writing studio in an artists’ warehouse. The studio — Always Wanted To Write — evolved because I often referenced books while teaching that I hadn’t brought with me to class. And it certainly didn’t hurt that renting a 400 square foot space meant I could declutter my home of books and excess furniture. Which I did, but I’ll be honest — it also meant I could purchase more stuff to fill it.

So while I can argue that books are a business expense and that I need them to teach and as reference for my writing students, I probably don’t need 180 linear feet of books. But that’s what I have: a ten-foot-tall custom made bookshelf that’s 18 feet across, designed and built by my husband, a structural engineer (I pick ’em good, don’t I?) and it’s almost full.


Visitors — like my friend Debbie, a bookseller herself — question my choices, “Why do you need two copies of this?” she asked, shelving a volume of Empire Falls by Richard Russo right next to the same book.

Hell, two copies is nothing. I keep four or more copies of:

  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
  • Lucky by Alice Sebold
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

When I teach I try not to photocopy materials; I don’t need to add to the waste stream. Buying inexpensive used copies means every student gets to hold a physical book in their hands as we read passages by contemporary authors and learn from their style and technique. It’s a tactile experience that adds to the pleasure of taking a class.


But truthfully, I have far more books than I have time to read. Craft books on writing, fiction, nonfiction, essays, short story collections, ‘Best Of’ annuals.

My Japanese mother, if she were still alive, would say, “You kichigai!” — pronounced KEY – CHEE – GUY — inferring that I am probably mad, insane, lunatic for holding on to so many books. I’ll own that one.

So yes, tsundoku is a problem. See Rule #2. I’ve allowed myself a $20 budget to buy books, because though I may be mad, I’m realistic: I would never stick to no shopping if books were part of the deal. But in addition to staying within budget, for every one that comes in, three books have to go out.


And it doesn’t help that I volunteer weekly at my local library where a sign above a cart full of donated books and library discards announces “Book Sale!” Hardcovers $2, paperbacks and ex-library books $1. Fill a bag and it’s just $5.

Though my ‘fill a bag’ days are behind me, today I dipped into the budget to purchase three books for $3. Only one is a novel for actual reading; the other two are DIY craft books on beaded jewelry and wire wrapping. Which means I have to get rid of nine books to justify this purchase.


Since I’d already gotten rid of 40 cookbooks just before I began this blog, I’m not exactly going to weasel out of my pledge — but I will take a couple of days to carefully prune my home library (twice as large as my studio library) and find ones I can bear to let go of. Which, ironically, will go to the library and end up on that same book sale cart.

And if you’re about to ask whether or not I’ve accidentally picked up books I’ve previously discarded, yep, I have. Still searching for the Japanese word for buying the same books over and over again — and not realizing it.

Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Chapter 6 – Rationalizing Tsundoku

  1. linda

    As always, Marion Boddy-Evans, you have the perfect link to just what I need. So very true. Every unread book is an invitation to change and growth.


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