What is Tsundoku, nicknamed “reading stack syndrome”?

This Sunday ends the Paris Book Festival. The opportunity to talk about the authors but also about the readers, especially one type in particular: those who have the “reading pile syndrome”. A phenomenon that leads to accumulate books, sometimes by dozens, without ever reading them.

Illustrative photograph of a stack of books stacked on a carpet. ©Getty

In front of the history section of the Le Comptoir des Mots bookstore, in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, Fabrice still doesn’t know how many books he will leave with. “In my living room alone, I have a dozen stacks to read, sometimes with a score of books inside… It’s kind of a drug, but it’s true that I never read them!”, laughs this IT project manager. He bought some of these books several months ago, but never opened them. This regular customer assumes that he has “Tsundoku”, a Japanese term that mixes “Tsunde-Oku”, which means to accumulate things for later use, and “Doku-sho”, which means “book”. Japanese term born in the 19th century today translated into French as “reading stack syndrome”.

“They have a soft side”

Between the ones he reads for work and the ones he buys for personal pleasure, Maxime, the manager of the space dedicated to comics, estimates that he has around fifty books to read. They pile up like this”in all rooms of the house, except the bathroom.” While waiting to read them, he found another use for them: “We stack them, and on top we put a board, which gives a table and on top we can put things.”

Sitting on his sofa and looking at his hundreds of books, Fabrice is delighted: “They have a soft side. I’d rather have them on hand and make sure I can read them when I feel like it, rather than not being able to find them in stores anymore.”he argument.

When it comes to paying, Julie doesn’t really care about her budget. Passionate about feminist essays and comics, the young Ella feels good between book and book. “I am glad to know that there is still much to see and learn. I tell myself that one day I will have time to read them.“, she reassures herself.

Reading, “a solitary exercise that can generate anxiety and emptiness”

Many regular customers of this bookstore consider themselves victims of this mania: “I think it’s a syndrome that we have in many readers because we have a cultural bulimia”, analyzes the head of the comics section. But according to psychologist Ruben Rabinovitch, it is mainly because individuals prefer to spend time in a group that they do not read the books they buy. “Reading is a moment in which we are disconnected from others, it is a solitary exercise that can generate anxiety and emptiness. On the contrary, when we watch a series, for example, we can talk about it with others, comment on it and it’s reassuring. “, he says. Reading is, however, a solitary exercise that allows you to rest, continues the psychologist. According to the National Book Center, in 2021 the French read an average of 18 books.

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