Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2022 Issue

Tsundoku – A New (but Old) Trend in Book Collecting


The book world has been overcome by a condition (and a newly discovered term) known as tsundoku. The term has been around since the 19th century but has only recently come into vogue. Not surprisingly for a word that sounds so much like sudoku, it comes from Japan. It has some similarities to bibliomania, but not quite the same. There are some subtleties. Its meaning has also evolved beyond just the original definition.


“Bibliomania” was the term collector Thomas Frognall Dibdin gave to his obsession in 1809 in Bibliomania; or Book-Madness; containing some account of the History, Symptoms, and Cure of this Fatal Disease. It applies to a collecting desire that overwhelms one's other interests, including financial ones, along with their common sense. Of course, there is no cure, though Dibdin became disenchanted with the market a few decades later when prices crashed, writing a book called Bibliophobia. Still, he wanted more books.


Then, there was the case of William Beckford who built a garish castle, Fonthill Abbey, in the 1820s to house his enormous collection of books. He could afford neither and was forced to sell them both. But the greatest Bibliomaniac of all was Thomas Phillipps. He set about obtaining a copy of every book and scrap of paper ever created. He ended up with 40,000 books and 60,000 manuscripts, which was probably close to his goal since he lived in the 19th century when far fewer books had been published. Every room in his house was filled with books, barely leaving enough space for alleyways to get around between the piles. It took over a century before the final auction of his collection was completed.


But, tsundoku is not quite the same as bibliomania. Bibliomaniacs are true collectors. Tsundoku is more of an accidental collector, motivated by different sentiments. It is often the person who buys books with the intention of reading them. They end up buying more books than they can ever read, yet become so enthralled in the process of finding and buying them that they cannot stop. They pile up on the shelves to be read, though they never will.


Or, they may be the product of the Zoom phenomenon. This force has always been there, but never was as pronounced until Covid came along. It's the desire to show off your books. People have always done this in their homes, but with people being interviewed from their homes during the pandemic, they needed a background to display their identity. For many, they wanted to appear as people who read books, perhaps love them. That might be a real identity or a false one. If a false identity, it may be to appear to be more learned and intellectual than they are, or it may reflect an honest respect and appreciation for books without the discipline to read them.


For others, it may simply be a case of decorative arts. A shelf lined with books looks nice. It's what leads people to buy “books by the foot,” or in certain colors because it looks pretty. Trendsetter Ashley Tisdale recently found herself in hot water when she told her husband to go out and buy 400 books for a backdrop when Architectural Digest came to interview her, and then admitted as much.


Tsundoku may be caused by various motivations. The common thread is that it applies to those who obtain lots of books but with no serious intention of ever reading them.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Scott Joplin, <i>Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts,</i> New York, 1911. Sold March 24 — $40,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Louisa May Alcott, autograph letter signed, 1868. Sold June 2 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Anne Bradstreet, <i>Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, full of Delight,</i> Boston, 1758. Sold June 2 — $21,250.
    <b>Swann:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The Second Impression,</i> London, 1632. Sold May 5 — $161,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Bronte, <i>Jane Eyre,</i> first edition, London, 1847. Sold June 16 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Elihu Vedder, <i>Simple Simon, His Book,</i> 1913. Sold June 9 — $12,350.
    <b>Swann:</b> Frederick Catherwood, <i>Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,</i> London, 1844. Sold April 7 — $37,500.
  • <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> George Washington ADS, One of the Earliest in His Hand, A Survey from 1752, the Same Year He Inherited Mount Vernon.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Rare JFK Signed Check & Transmittal Letter During Campaign for 1956 VP Nomination, Both BAS Slabbed; Possibly A Unique Combo!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Daniel Boone Signed Receipt as VA Delegate; During His 1st of 3 Terms, Boone Was Kidnapped by British Forces Gunning for Gov. T. Jefferson & Other Legislators.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Benjamin Franklin Signed Receipt for “Pennsylvania Gazette,” Important & Beautifully Displayed
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lincoln & His Civil War Cabinet: 8 Signatures, Beautifully Presented!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> G.A. Custer ALS from Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory to Capt. Yates, Who Also Died at Little Bighorn, Re: Acquiring “good horses” from Kentucky for 7th Cavalry.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Jefferson Davis ALS: “the negroes are humble and generally inclined to cling to their masters…neither crop or stock could be protected from their thieving” – Incredible!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lee Harvey Oswald Signed Letter: “if we finally get back to the states…maybe we’ll…settle in Texas,” Warren Commission Exhibit.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Babe Ruth First Edition Biography Signed Just Months Before His Death, Excellent Signature!
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> “B Arnold” ANS on Pre-Revolutionary War Promissory Note Dating From His Days as a New Haven Merchant
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Bob Dylan Signed LP “Blonde on Blonde” with Jeff Rosen COA.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio Signed Checks, Handsomely Displayed.

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