September 19th, 2013 / 11:00 am

Buying Books and Never Reading Them

You buy a lot of books. That’s okay. Admit it. I have. It’s a good thing until you realize that you have over half of the books you buy end up on a bookshelf unread. Still, it’s okay, really. It is far better to buy books than overly expensive videogames, random Home Depot impulse binges, and, umm, stuff like Hummel figurines. Plenty of people spend their money buying and collecting all sorts of consumer products. We should be proud that our impulse buy item is a well-designed and intriguing new book. That new book smell… oh man.

Indeed, it might be a problem but thankfully we are not alone. In Japan, it’s gotten to a point where a term as been defined to embrace the phenomenon. Tsundoku, as in the act of buying and letting books pile up in various areas of your domicile where they become more a means of decoration. Maybe that’s not what we really intend on doing when we buy a handful of books at a local bookstore, buy another handful at a used bookstore, and finish it off with a few Amazon purchases, but we are certainly working towards a decorative sculpture of unread literature.

Having a name for the book-buying impulse definitely helps but there are also plenty of other reasons to continue indulging in the act of buying books with no immediate intention of reading them. I have composed a list of ego-stabilizing reasons to continue tapping into that inner bibliophile despite the fact that, oh, I don’t know, maybe half or more of your bookshelves consist of books that you’ve barely begun to read. Consider these coping strategies.



*You support the book.

This is the age of technology seeping into an industry normally oblivious to all those 1s and 0s. By buying the book, you are buying the book. It is full of pages, has a spine, and a cover that resonates that beauty. Holding it in your hands feels a whole lot like a book whereas an eReader feels a whole lot like holding a screen made to imitate. You buy the physical book, you own the best version.

*You are buying art.

How many books have you wanted to buy just because that book cover looked beautiful? Well, if you buy a book for its cover, you are essentially buying into a piece of art. Don’t discount the words between the covers but the cover is often a pivotal part of the book and, more often than not, the cover is given little to no notice despite its effective draw for consumers.

*You are buying upwards of 60,000 words or more per novel.

That’s a lot of words. Imagine how many clicks of the keyboard it would translate to and plenty more effort if the author maintains use of a typewriter. The author laid out so many sentences that you could easily assume that each sentence led to a different avenue of thought. So many words don’t just end up on the page without the effort of each press of the key. To press the key, think about what gave the author motivation. It is different for every single writer but it’s enough to give solace in the fact that you bought their latest book. You bought their book. A “thank you” might be in order.

*You are starting a chain of ownership.

With the purchase of a book, you are knowingly taking part in the daisy-chain lifecycle of a book. After the book outlasts its time with its initial owner, it will be sold to a used book store or Goodwill to be recovered by another bibliophile. The book is owned for a period of time only to end up with another dealer and, subsequently, another owner. By buying a book brand new from its publisher and/or bookstore, you are engaging this ongoing lifecycle.

*You support the press.

Much like the author, buying a brand new book supports the efforts of the author’s publisher. There is a lot of work that goes into making that book look so very nice to eyes and to the touch. The publisher goes out of its way to make the book meet those expectations while also making sure that the book treats its author well with positive sales. You bought the book. You are doing your part.

*You can always give books away as gifts.

That book you bought a couple months ago looked and felt great and you loved flipping through it before placing it on your shelf. Well, the book that seemed to win you over might just gain its first true life, a real read, with a friend’s birthday. You are giving a friend a really good book for their birthday. That means something. Beyond all the trendy gifts, your book will end up on their bedside and in their thoughts as they pick away at it, chapter by chapter.

*You might meet the author someday.

A fickle but true one – if you end up finding out that the author is in town and you already own the book, you can jump right to the line and get that sucker signed. If you really care for having a signed book. Either way, owning the book beforehand means you instantly gain your chance to meet the author and in more ways than one that’s worth the initial purchase.

*You might find inspiration.

You own so many books and yet you can’t help but stop at a random bookshelf, pick up a book, and flip through its pages. If you let it, you’ll get stuck on one of those pages and you’ll begin to read. If you give it a few pages, you just might gain some inspiration to move forward with your own creative projects. A single sequence of words can do so much; give it a page or two and you just might remember why you bought the book in the first place.

*You support the author.

What might be so very obvious but consistently understated: You bought the author’s book. You purchased the authors book. That still means a lot. Especially today, when every sale dictates whether or not the author will get another chance to publish a book with a press; you are supporting the author’s writing. It would be great if you read what the author wrote but maybe, just maybe, your heart is in the right place and you wanted to read what you bought. Either way, the purchasing of a book at retail is a big enough deal to warrant you your spastic tsundoku qualities.


Buy to your heart’s content. Just know that with every book exists an author’s hard-earned effort to be heard. Let those books live on in some way and our bibliophile ways isn’t that big of a problem. We buy books. We buy more books than we could ever read. And that might be okay as long as we let those books live their lives.


Michael J Seidlinger is the author of MY PET SERIAL KILLER and THE LAUGHTER OF STRANGERS, forthcoming from Lazy Fascist Press in November 2013. He owns and operates the small press Civil Coping Mechanisms.

Tags: ,


  1. Jeremy Hopkins

      I’d say only about 10% of my paper books are totally unread.
      And about 95% of my public domain e-books are totally unread.

  2. Michael J Seidlinger

      You’re doing a lot better than I am! I envy that man.

      And yeah, it’s almost too easy to overlook/abandon an eBook.

  3. Here’s Something You’ll Probably Never Read | THE FEATURE S P A C E _

      […] Clickety click for the full article. […]

  4. Grant Maierhofer

      this is one of those things i need to read every four months or so. really well done, thanks Michael!

  5. Michael J Seidlinger

      Thanks man. I remember writing it due to feeling a lot of guilt for the insane to-read pile I’ve amassed. I found out about “tsundoku” and the rest became a rationalization for continuing to buy more books despite the size of the to-read pile.

  6. Rich Dailey

      Another reason: It makes us feel as if we’re buying the time to read them.

  7. Guilt-free Book Buying | Atlanta Booklover's Blog

      […] at HTML Giant, novelist and small press publisher Michael Seidlinger provides ten reasons for not feeling badly about buying books without then actually reading the dang […]

  8. Blanco nocturno | Atonement

      […] Comprar libros y no leerlos nunca. […]

  9. Più James Franco in copertina!

      […] Accumulate libri? Siete compulsivi, ligi o ottimisti? L'atto di comprare i libri senza poi leggerli, in Giappone ha un nome specifico, Tsundoku. Dare un nome al proprio problema aiuta a prendere coscienza ma quello che aiuta ancor di più è una lista di giustificazioni per continuare ad accumulare e non leggere, senza sentirsi in colpa. (via htmlgiant) […]

  10. On HTMLGiant on ‘Buying Books and Never Reading Them’ | Charles Curnow

      […] HTMLGiant, guest contributor Michael J. Seidlinger wrote a popular post titled “Buying Books and Never Reading Them“ which basically argues that we should embrace the growing tendency to buy books and let […]

  11. 10 buone ragioni per comprare libri che non leggeremo

      […] che non leggerete nei prossimi vent’anni perché ne avete ancora 7000 da smaltire, qui ne trovate addirittura dieci (riportate nella mia libera […]

  12. In Defense of Buying Books

      […] bit here, about buying books and never reading […]

  13. Fabio

      I keep buying books because I feel if I don’t buy them right at that moment I’m going to forget about them and never get to read them, and that makes me really sad.

      At least if they’re in my shelf, staring at me everyday, there’s a good chance, or not, that I might read them.

  14. Top Five Reasons Reading Books Still Matters | Polis

      […] that you’ve been staring at for months and haven’t found the time to dive into it (*check out this new way of dealing with that problem  from […]

  15. Revista Biblioo | Cultura Informacional

      […] O texto é uma tradução adaptada de “Buying books and never reading them”. […]

  16. REBOUND, a new kind of book | Some Odd Pages, Book Arts & Bookbinding

      […] distinguishes our most beloved books? Why do we covet certain books which we never actually read? Does the way traditional paper books feel determine our experience and ideas of reading? Do you […]

  17. #HeEstadoLeyendo en agosto | nurcosta

      […] Carry Us | Death Of The Author | Inside Amazon | Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2015 | Buying Books and Never Reading Them | Write What You Know | Writer’s […]

  18. #BeenReading in August | nurcosta

      […] Carry Us | Death Of The Author | Inside Amazon | Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2015 | Buying Books and Never Reading Them | Write What You Know | Writer’s […]

  19. My Library/ Myself | Readers Unbound

      […] I finally decided on these criteria for which books to keep: those that are important to own, even if I never read them (sound familiar?), such as Ulysses and Midnight’s Children; those that I have loved, still love […]

  20. Accumulare libri che non leggeremo mai : 10 buone ragioni – trailer libri e videogiochi

      […] ( original  buying book) […]