“Tsundoku” syndrome: seriously not reading the books you buy?

“Tsundoku”: behind this Japanese term hides a universal practice, the mania of accumulating books at home… without reading them. Should we feel guilty about having a library full of unopened books? Answers with La Bruyère and Umberto Eco!

La Bruyère against bibliomania…

The tendency to hoard books without necessarily reading them is not new: The “bibliomania”since it has not been named for a long time, will develop in particular XVIIe century and provoked strong condemnation. The Heatherin particular, paints an acerbic picture of the book collector in his Staff (1688):

“I will find this man, who received me in a house where from the stairs I fall in weakness from the smell of black morocco in which his books are all covered. In vain he shouts in my ears , to revive me, that they are gilded on the side, decorated with gold fillets, and of the correct edition, named me the best successive, says that his gallery is filled in several places , painted in such a way take them for the real books arranged on the shelves, and the eye mistakes them there, add that he does not read, that he does not set foot in this gallery, that he goes there to please me; I thank him for his kindness, and I do not want, more than he, to see his tannery, which he calls a library. »

The book collector is stricken with mental illness. If he loves his library, if he is attached to it, it is not for what is really important in the book, especially its content. What matters is the existence of the book as an object – whether its content has any value or not. L’Encyclopedia also pointed out: “The bibliomaniac is not […] not a man who takes books to teach himself: he is far from such a mind, he who does not merely read them. He had books to have them, to delight his eyes; all his science was limited to knowing whether they were from the right edition, whether they were well bound: as to the things they contained, it was a mystery which he did not claim to have initiated; it is good for those who have time to waste. »

The book, under these conditions, has no other purpose than to satisfy a hollow desire for accumulation. – and possibly to feed a collector’s vanity. If the collector of La Bruyère has the honesty to admit that he does not read the books in his library, many pretend to have read the entire contents of their shelves. A large library allows you to appear cultured without actually being so.

Umberto Eco for the bibliophile

These harsh criticisms may be considered excessive. The very pathologizing term “bibliomania” was gradually abandoned, and largely replaced by another, more positive one, without unhealthy connotations: “bibliophilia”. Some authors will actively defend the virtues of this tendency that leads us to accumulate an increasing number of books even if we have not finished reading everything in our possession. This is particularly the case ofUmberto Eco. “We all have dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands (if our library is impressive) of books in our homes that we haven’t read”he said to Don’t expect to shed pounds (2009). Nothing to worry about, on the contrary: “Why should I keep them” if I read them, the Italian essayist replied to the visitor who asked him “Have you read them all? “. The library of unread books, made up of reading desires, is perhaps, in some respects, less meaningless than the library of read books, a true reflection of the culture of the owner this.

More importantly, Eco added, these books that have not been read yet are not destined to remain so. Rather, they are readings to come – and not just the display of a lavish taste for book matter. “ Sooner or later, we will get these books in our own hands” And you “ achieve[ez] that we already know them” ! Not reading a book but having it in your library in any case allows you to develop a certain familiarity with its content, its theses, its ideas, etc. What does that mean? For Eco, “It’s not true that you never opened this book, you moved it many times, maybe even took a leave of it, but you don’t remember it”. Having a book in the library opens up regimes of dispersed, fragmented reading, anticipating the “canonical” moment of integral reading, from one end to the other.

Moreover, Eco added, “In these years you have read many books that quote this book, which has become familiar to you”. This is often the reason why you bought it: someone else told you about it, gave you a certain idea about it and the desire to dive into it. We rarely approach new books with empty eyes. Books take place in a universe, in a network of connections. The library shows this great network: its familiar spaces (the books being read) and the other obscure regions where you have a vague idea, but whose existence you may, perhaps, forget without a reminder that support is building. book material. Each reading opens to a rather gloomy majority of other books, the purchase of which, sometimes compulsively, is in the opposite way. Nothing to worry about!

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