The Unread Shelf, or My Tsundoku

Are you a practitioner of tsundoku?

After reading a blog post on tsundoku and learning what it was, I wanted to create a more prominent reminder of my tendency to buy books that I want to read…and then never actually read. I own books that I bought as far back as early college, nearly ten years ago, that still sit unread on my bookshelf.

I discovered I needed a space for my habit of tsundoku.

tsundoku, 積ん読 (Japanese)

(n.) the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books

I love that the Japanese have one word that captures both an actual state of objects and a state of mind. Because if you love reading, you probably also feel comforted by having a few stacks of books in your house. For some reason, I have a subconscious fear that I’ll never have enough to read, so it’s almost impossible for me to enter a bookstore without exiting as the proud owner of at least one new book. And I derive a lot of satisfaction from my overflowing bookshelves.

Inspired by this idea of tsundoku, I created a more organized space for this habit, both to appease my neat freak streak and to have easy access to books I need to read, rather than mixing them in with the rest of my book collection.


Most of these are books I bought, but some are books that were given to me. For instance, I’ve read enough Salman Rushdie to know I love him, and a few people have gifted me his books. However, I haven’t yet finished any of the four currently on my shelf by him. Many are secondhand copies that I’ve found for so cheap I couldn’t resist.

In fact, that shelf doesn’t really comprise all of them. And oh, let’s not talk about the “need to read” folder on my Kindle. Or the list I keep on Goodreads of what I want to read (it’s 250+ books). That’s another blog post in and of itself.

Anyway, not long after I decided I would designate a shelf for my unread books, we made a trip to our favorite used bookstore, where they buy and sell books. My husband teases me when we go, because it’s almost a guarantee that for any books I take with us to sell, I’ll replace them with new books. And of course, that happened again. Here’s the new unread pile. (Although I did happen to buy a few books I’d already read, but not many.)


It’s hopeless.

I remember when I was growing up, we had a bookcase with glass doors. Taped to one of the doors was a quote about how books were a more essential part of a home than furniture. It said something to the effect of ‘books are necessary, furniture’s optional.’ I guess I’ve always believed that. At least I never have to worry about having something to read. My tsundoku signifies my neverending love of words.

Do you have unread books all over the place? I’d love to see your tsundoku. If you decide to document yours, comment with a link to the post! And if you liked this post, you might also like my “Read” board on Pinterest.

4 thoughts on “The Unread Shelf, or My Tsundoku

  1. This is brilliant! I need to make a list and stick it to the inside of my Kindle, honestly – I have so many books on there that I forget about. Thanks for sharing this.


    1. I’ve heard some people say for every new book they buy, they read an old one sitting unread on their shelf (or on the proverbial Kindle “shelf”). And for Kindle, I keep a folder called “Need to Read” just for books I’ve bought but haven’t touched yet, as a reminder to myself whenever I’m tempted to buy more books. However, my general rule is if the book looks good and it’s under $3, I get it. I can’t resist good book deals. Even if the tsundoku keeps growing. 🙂


  2. I have two shelves in my rather large bookcase that are unread, and after I read them if I think I’ll read them again then they get shuffled into my bookcase (somehow), or I’ll make a stack to let my sister read it (if I enjoyed it), and another stack to donate or go to the local used book store to exchange for yet more books.
    I hate kindle, prefer my old paper books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s another good reason to keep a special area for unreads, sometimes they don’t make it into the official collection and need to be donated or sold.

      And Kindle was something I fought for a long time until I finally broke down last year. I still prefer and read paper books, and I use my Kindle mostly for indie titles that aren’t yet being sold in paper. But I understand completely! Nothing like a real book.

      Liked by 1 person

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