Why reading while traveling is the best way to get rid of your Tsundoku.
“Tsundoku” (n.) is the condition of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.
It’s a word that is brilliantly evocative and impossible to directly translate to the English language. The word has its origins in a pun dating back to the beginning of the era of modern Japan, the Meiji era, circa 1868. Tsunde Oku literally means allowing something to pile up and is written. Some Smart Alec around the turn of the century swapped out the Oku in Tsunde Oku with Doku — meaning to read. The word then became Tsunde Doku, which is evidently a bit of a tongue-twister, so over a period of time it became a portmanteau and turned into Tsundoku as we know it today.
I’m sure we all know someone who is guilty of this sometimes slightly expensive, yet quite harmless addiction. Look around you — look at your bookshelf, your bedside table perhaps. Can you relate? My apartment is perpetually in a state of Tsundoku. I’m not complaining, it isn’t the worst problem one can have.
There are however, a few pitfalls of being a book-hoarder. For instance, when you become a book-hoarder and you run out of space on your book shelves, it isn’t long until books are piled on chairs, desks, the floor or on the refrigerator — basically any usable flat surface. Sometimes, even the corridors are piled with books. And books = highly flammable. So, if my house were to hypothetically ever catch fire, I probably wouldn’t get very far. Also, as the book piles begin to get taller and the laws of physics combined with my not very flattering height come into play, there’s a good possibility that they’d turn into a ginormous pile of dominoes with my head probably at the end of it all. Tsundoku may also lead to occasional financial instability.
But, on the bright side, I’m always ready for a zombie apocalypse. Think about it, while zombies are out there creating mayhem and destroying the world, I can build a little fortress out of books, read a few while I’m at it and eat a few of them if things get really desperate. I am digressing now, I don’t really want to discuss the pros and cons of Tsundoku.
Let’s face it — you can’t really read a book while you’re at work or while you’re working out or while you’re asleep or while you’re having sex (if you’ve tried this and succeeded, you must have the genes of a Russian gymnast, Shakuntala Devi and William Shakespeare, so give me a heads up, I’d love to meet you and congratulate you). So that pretty much leaves you with the limited options of reading before going to bed or reading when you’re travelling. Back in the day, in the 1700s, it is said that young men and women embarking on grand voyages across the seas were known to travel with trunks of books to aid in their quest for knowledge, culture and enlightenment. With the progress in time and the increasing availability of fancy stereos, in-flight entertainment and of course nifty things like iPads and the new Netflix offline, there is seldom any need to read while travelling. So if you’re into Tsundoku, reading while travelling might actually be a good idea to shed some of that guilt and get done with reading a book or two.
If you’re like me and you travel alone often, you can quite easily picture this — You’re travelling alone, the Air Conditioner is set to a temperature that is meant to make you believe that you’re touring the Arctic circle without any cold weather gear, you’re smiling awkwardly at your co-passengers, there’s a baby wailing somewhere in the background, you try and look outside the windows and you get bored after a while, you try and make small-talk with your co-passengers and fail miserably at it, you pick up a book and you start to read. You lose yourself, you fall in love with the protagonist, you live in the plot, time flies by and you reluctantly put down the book to remind yourself to eat. You finish eating, you start reading again only to find the lights being put out. As the lights go out, you feel your head spin lightly, you’re reeling from being deeply immersed in the plot. You smile when you realise that you haven’t read for this long at a stretch in a while. And that is why you read while travelling.
And of course, if life were to be a cheesy Rom-Com, reading while travelling will make you look intellectual and then you strike up an intelligent conversation with a good looking stranger who will eventually turn out to be “the one”. But, who am I kidding? That’s not going to happen, is it?
I’m at the airport as I write this piece, and I can’t wait to get started with the cure for my Tsundoku — “Swimmer Among the Stars” written by the young Kanishk Tharoor, a man who has supposedly inherited the gift of the gab from his father, the indomitable — Shashi Tharoor. So, see you folks who are actually reading this on the other side of this temporary cure for my Tsundoku.
Food for thought: I also happen to own a Kindle that is currently gathering dust and has a bunch of unread eBooks languishing on it. I wonder if there’s a word for unread eBooks. eTsundoku? TsundoKindle?
PS: Publishing a Medium post from an airport while waiting for my flight. That’s yet another item off the bucket list.
PPS: I do not know Japanese, but sometimes I like to read Murakami and then feel pretentious about it.
Now for some airport humour:
“We upgrading for inconvenience. Your better service is regretted.” The boffins at Chennai Airport couldn’t have put it better.