Tsundoku: All The Books Team R29 Bought & Didn't Read

Jazmin Kopotsha

To all the books we bought before, we’re sorry.

Somewhere in your home lies the literary graveyard. Be it the unventured corner behind the sofa, a shelf you've not so much as looked at since moving in, or stacked beneath the TV, RIP to the books we bought in earnest and still have not read.

There is a word for this collection of neglected books. Allow us to introduce you to tsundoku, the Japanese definition for that precise pile of books you brought home but haven't actually bothered to read yet.

Don't worry, you're not alone in your hoarding. The team here at Refinery29 know the art of unintentional book collection (and abandonment) all too well. We know the well-intentioned purchase – each and every time you hand over cash in exchange for another slice of literary history, you feel certain that this, this, is a book that'll be read. You mentally allocate time on your commute, your holiday, your quiet weekend to revel in that new book smell. You anticipate the intelligent discussion you'll have with friends who share your exceptional taste in literature. Oh, the fun you'll have, losing yourself in a world cleverly crafted by a critically acclaimed author, you think. Cultural brownie points for you, my friend.

But that conviction wavers the moment you get home and pop your latest conquest on top of your existing pile of unread books, your tsundoku. A couple of weeks pass and still, the book has not been read. You don't return the book, that'd be silly. No, you keep it there in the pile under the unconvincing assurance that you'll get to it, eventually. You don't, and to be honest, you probably won't, and that's okay. In the spirit of literary amnesty, we're going to share with you some of the books in our tsundoku. Be comforted, too, by the fact that many of our selections are those famous novels you're just meant to have read (but obviously didn't).

Name: Jazmin Kopotsha, Entertainment Editor

Book: The Life Of Pi by Yann Martel

Why did you buy it? It was 2012, the film was on the way, people were super excited about it and I didn’t want to be left out, obvs. At first glance, I really didn’t understand the concept (errm, a kid and a tiger on a boat for weeks?) nor the hype around the movie adaptation. But I do remember having a conversation with some friends who were going on about how important it is to read books before watching the film, and how doing so made them intellectually superior or something. Naturally, this made me feel like a subpar, uncultured, sorry excuse for a human, so I downloaded it on my Kindle with the intention of swotting up in preparation for the inevitable post-cinema chat about all the things the director left out.

Why haven’t you read it? Our cinema trip got cancelled so I popped it on the back burner for lack of urgency. I’ll admit I was a bit naive (read: cynically shortsighted) about what turned out to be a huge literary and cinematic success, but the moment’s passed and I’m no longer friends with the "book before film" people so it’s still pretty low on my reading list.

Name: Jess Commons, Health & Living Editor

Book: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Why did you buy it? I’ve not just bought this book once, I’ve bought it multiple times over a period of about 15 years. At least once as a physical book, once as an audiobook, once I nicked a copy off my parents which I never gave back.

Catch-22 looks right up my street; the satire, the time period it was written in, the style of writing… It should be my favourite book! Plus, you know, it looks better in my hands on the Tube than the latest Gone Girl knockoff (spoiler: the murderer is definitely the guy that’s been gaslighting her and no, she’s not crazy).

Why haven’t you read it? I’ve tried. I’ve bloody well tried. But for some reason, around page three, I will black out and when I come to, I’m halfway through another book with no memory of how I got there. I can’t ever remember making the active decision to put down Catch-22, it just kind of happens? For whatever reason, the universe does not want me to finish this book. I suspect a conspiracy that goes all the way to the highest levels.

Name: Katy Thompsett, Sub Editor

Book: The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Why did you buy it? I was going through this (ill informed and frankly quite morbid) phase of buying Books You Must Read Before You Die and had this vague idea that The Grapes Of Wrath was one of them. I can’t tell you where I got that idea from – maybe I saw Rory reading it in Gilmore Girls – but nevertheless it stuck and I found myself in Waterstones, bypassing all the cool, exciting women writers I could and should have been reading for a book about the Depression, written by some white American dude in the 1930s.

Why haven’t you read it? It’s. So. Boring.

Name: Katy Harrington, Managing Editor

Book: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Why did you buy it? The same reason I bought a Nutribullet, a spiralizer and a vape; I suppose I thought it was something I should have but not necessarily something I would enjoy.

Why haven’t you read it? The same reason I haven’t used the Nutribullet, spiralizer or vape. Even the cover of The Blind Assassin scares me off, the contents more so. It seems too knotted, too dense, too esoteric for me and for that reason I’ve never gotten further than (I’ll probably get fired for this) the first two pages. It’s not that I’m a total dum dum, I’m all for spiralling, complex, non linear narratives, quixotic dystopian imaginings and plots that make as much sense as that text you tried to send your mum the first time you dropped acid, but I feel deep down, in my waters, that Atwood (excellent as she most certainly is) is one of those popular things that is just not for me (see also: gin, raisins). It’s not just The Blind Assassin, I can’t be dealing with her poetry either, and (take a breath) I’m not sure how I feel about the universally adored Handmaid's Tale. Saying all that, I loved Alias Grace on Netflix. Yours, Katy "The Philistine" Harrington.

Name: Natalie Gil, Senior News Writer

Book: The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown

Why did you buy it? Winter 2017 was a strange time for me – I was living alone for the first time in a freezing old flat and looking for ways to entertain myself that didn’t involve sitting in front of an electric heater or eating chocolate (how I was spending 80% of the time). So, naturally, I cultivated a minor obsession with the royal family. Netflix served me well – I watched the whole of The Crown and all its royal documentaries (a subsection of which centres on Princess Diana), which are genuinely fascinating. The next step was going to be branching out into books – so I went on an Amazon spree and this one by Tina Brown caught my eye.

Why haven’t you read it? I snapped out of my weird frenzy and got a life.

Name: Kara Kia, Editorial Intern

Book: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb

Why did you buy it? The year it was published I was taking a course at uni called "Islam and Modernity" which touched on topics of women’s rights and the LGBTQ+ community in the Muslim world, particularly Pakistan. I was learning so much about their political system and the Bhutto family, it was fascinating. That whole world was so distant and complex to me. I still, to some, have controversial views on women’s autonomy in Muslim-majority countries but I thought that reading the story of a young girl who stood up to the Taliban would give me a more balanced view.

Why haven’t you read it? It was super trendy in the moment, but I found it kind of boring and never followed through. Plus, my friends are constantly giving me books or suggestions which I align a lot more with.

Name: Sadhbh O'Sullivan, Social Media Assistant

Book: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Why did you buy it? I studied English. I’m a feminist who actively reads more female writers. I went to a school where houses were NAMED after female authors (private school for ya) and while I have read Austen and Brontë I have not read any Eliot. Despite being in her house. I feel bad about this, I do! So I cart the book around with me, displayed semi-prominently, to berate my own laziness while pretending I have read it. But every time I pick it up it’s like Chris Martin once soulfully and badly crooned: When you try your best but you don’t succeed…

Why haven't you read it? Who knows if I ever will.

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