Japanese word tsundoku refers to people who own a lot of unread books. Image Credit: Stock image

In this article, we explore:

  • Why people buy books from a store but don’t read them, experts explain.
  • Do UAE youngsters prioritise books they want to read?
  • Do UAE youngsters know English classics?
  • Do people read books that win literary awards?

Dubai: For a booklover, a bestseller list acts as a guide to buying the next book. But do you have a habit of buying literature that you never end up reading? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone.

Bibliomania

There’s an actual term to describe such people — tsundoku, a Japanese word that refers to those who own a lot of unread books. But, why does one do this?

“Bibliomania,” says Christina Burmeister, a Dubai-based clinical counsellor. She is referring to a passion for collecting and possessing books.

She told Gulf News: “There could be many reasons. But, to begin with, it could be an obsession, expression of hoarding or even an addiction. They cannot walk past a bestseller section without buying a book. They feel a need to have them. For example, people who love buying jewellery, but never actually wear it. It is an unchecked self-concept, or an obsessive compulsive disorder.”

"...it could be an obsession, expression of hoarding or even an addiction... For example, people who love buying jewellery, but never actually wear it. It is an unchecked self-concept, or an obsessive compulsive disorder.”

- Christina Burmeister, a Dubai-based clinical counsellor

Another possible reason, Burmeister explains, is a person’s need to show off. There is a joy in the possession of those books, whether they read it or not. And finally, it could perhaps be just that people are being idealistic. They would love to read the bestsellers when they buy them, but in the end, there isn’t enough time in a day for them to read.

She said: “For people who like to read, the bestseller list could be like an authority on what books to read. It is the best option to choose from. It is a substitution for a teacher, who tells students what they may or may not like. To a certain extent, people are going with the crowd. The bookstores are large, going through the whole thing would be harder. Bestseller lists are the easier route.”

Matleena Vanhanen, a Dubai-based counsellor psychologist, agrees. She points out that the bestseller lists are a guide that many use when looking for specific reading material.

"We may also genuinely believe we’ll get around to reading these books someday, but our ideal book-reading self seldom matches the reality of our lives.”

- Matleena Vanhanen, a Dubai-based counsellor psychologist

She said: “We live in an era of information overload, in which we can’t research every new book published, so we rely on the ‘bestseller’ and ‘recommended’ lists to inspire us or to help us decide. We may also genuinely believe we’ll get around to reading these books someday, but our ideal book-reading self seldom matches the reality of our lives.”

But, doesn’t it bother people when so many books are lying in their homes unread?

It doesn’t seem like it.

Karen Anne Hope Andrews, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist explains that people are attracted to the knowledge contained within books, and a collection of unread books is more exciting than a collection that has been read.

The act of buying books gives us the satisfaction of acquisition, just like buying anything. However, there is a peculiar satisfaction particular to buying a book to add to our pile of unread literature...

- Karen Anne Hope Andrews, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist

She said: “Our collection of unread books is a world waiting to be explored. The act of buying books gives us the satisfaction of acquisition, just like buying anything. However, there is a peculiar satisfaction particular to buying a book to add to our pile of unread literature, because having a ready-made library of unread books on hand when and if you do decide to read something, gives us a lot of pleasure.”

Several international studies point out that children who read and who grow up in houses with books, demonstrate multiple benefits, including a more vivid imagination, empathy, better verbal skills and concentration, and even a higher level of academic proficiency. But, perhaps, as they progress into their adult lives, their busy schedules may not allow them to read as much and while they are still passionate about buying books, their hectic lifestyles could quickly outpace their ability to read them.

Do UAE youngsters prioritise their list of must-read books?

Gulf News spoke to some youngsters living in the UAE about whether they prioritise their list of must-read books and they cited a number of reasons as to why they don’t necessarily do that.

Do youngsters in UAE prioritise books they want to read? Image Credit: Stock image

Nouf Asad is an 18-year-old student based in Dubai. She is keen on getting through a list of books she believes she must read but blames the internet for being her biggest distraction.

Whenever I try to read, a notification pops up and my concentration is broken, after that it’s difficult to get back into the groove of reading.

- Nouf Asad, student in Dubai

The pressure of studies is another reason why Asad does not get much time to read for leisure. “Studying takes so much time, whatever time I get, I try to spend it with my friends and family,” the Jordanian national said.

Aisha Ansari is a student based in Ajman, who also said that the development of technology is a reason for further moving away from books. However, in recent times, she has made it a point to take some time out for the hobby.

Ansari said: “Our world is getting increasingly fast paced; you often think ‘why read when you can watch a video summary on it?’”

However, the Pakistani national believes some classics need to be read and no video can take the place of a good read.

Our world is getting increasingly fast paced; you often think ‘why read when you can watch a video summary on it?

- Aisha Ansari, student in Ajman

“There are books I was always told to read because they are literary classics. Growing up, I was encouraged to take some time out for the activity so I am used to it,” she said.

Although largely, youngsters agreed that reading literary classics is important, some highlighted how some books that are older might be too difficult to understand and relate to for the youth of today.

Adithiyan Rajan, a 16-year-old student believes that the complexity of the language and even how heavy or bulky the books are, can make them unappealing to youngsters.

There are also obstacles such as the complexity of language used and their larger size relative to new ones.

- Adithyan Rajan, student in Dubai

Another reason why people don’t actually read each book they have constantly heard praise for, is because of the mere popularity of the storyline. The Indian national said that the tome is promoted so often, a lot of the content is public information, therefore making it easy for youngster to skip the read.

“We already know crucial twists and details about the plot since these books are famous, thereby losing our interest in them,” Rajan added.

Are youngsters aware of English classics?

Several international newspapers and websites have come out with lists of classics and novels that are deemed to be must-reads for any generation. Despite these lists, not many people are aware of the books that changed the history of their time.

Are youngsters even aware of classic literature? Image Credit: Shreya Bhatia

While Ernest Hemmingway, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and many other authors are synonymous with English literature, does the millennial generation know of the classics, or does their knowledge of literature come from the movie adaptations only?

Movies and books

Graphic designer, Toulin Khalil told Gulf News: “I never knew that the film, The Great Gatsby, was based on a novel. I saw the movie and found out it was an adaptation.”

Khalil admits that her knowledge of English classics is partially derived from movies. The 22-year-old said: “After watching a movie based on a book, I don’t feel like reading it because I know what’s going to happen. But having said that, it depends on what I find first. I come across the book, I’ll read it before finding a film adaptation of the same.”

After watching a movie based on a book, I don’t feel like reading it because I know what’s going to happen. But having said that, it depends on what I find first.

- Toulin Khalil, 22, graphic designer in Dubai

Egyptian national Abdul Rehman Ezzeldin Al Kallawy, credits his knowledge of English classics to movies and school. He said: “I am aware of certain book titles, I just don’t know if they are considered to be classics. I’ve read a few because we had to study them in school.”

Unlike Khalil, Al Kallawy said that films based on movies intrigue him and he would go back to read a book, to see if the movie did justice to the novel. “I watched the Harry Potter movies, and I was intrigued. I might give the books a chance.”

I am aware of certain book titles, I just don’t know if they are considered to be classics. I’ve read a few because we had to study them in school.

- Abdul Rehman Ezzeldin Al Kallawy, journalist in Dubai
Many youngsters prefer movie adaptations over books Image Credit: Stock image

Dubai resident, 16-year-old Ananya Krishna has heard about The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, but her knowledge about English classics are mostly because of movie adaptations. Krishna said: “If I watch a movie and know its based on a book, I don’t feel like reading it. I have already lived the experience so reading the book won’t help. I also don’t have the time, maybe after my exams.”

No comparison

Dubai-based analyst Sudeep Devpura credits his knowledge of English classics to school and has read many over the years. The 23-year-old said that Historical Fiction is not something he enjoys, so if he watched a movie of the same genre and it is based on a book, he probably won’t read it.

A lot of times, the classics come with so much weight and expectation, starting one becomes hard. It’s easier to watch the movie. But for most, I read the book and then see if the movie meets expectations.

- Sudeep Devpura, analyst based in Dubai

According to a report by online publication Quartzy, millennials are changing the way people look at classics. This is because of the pace at which books are being published today.

Canadian national Dana Jaber considers film adaptations to be a boon. “I think many people from this generation didn’t know that Les Miserables was a book till the movie was released. It is thanks to the movies that people are aware.”

When was asked if she knew about great English classics because of movies, she said: “Absolutely not! I have read many classics, before they have been adapted into film.”

The Ajman resident has read works by William Shakespeare, George Orwell and Virginia Wolf, to name a few. Jaber admires these time-honoured novels because “classics are the basis of what literature is today”, but is aware that the reading habits of the current generation is changing.

Do people read books that win literary awards?

We may assume that books that win prestigious literary awards like the Man Booker Prize or the Pulitzer Prize automatically make their way to people’s reading lists. But, is this true?

Is there a surge in interest for books after they win a literary prize? Image Credit: Stock image

We spoke to some book stores to find if they see a surge in interest after literary prize announcements.

According to Siju Ravi Division Manager at Jashanamal books: “After a book wins a literary award, book sales do go up, but, not too much. And sometimes it’s not even those specific titles that people come to buy, somehow customers come in to buy related books.

Once a prize is declared, we get few inquiry calls from regular customers. For example, when Milkman, a novel written by Anna Burns won the Booker Prize in 2018, we got many inquiries from customers but not many bought it.

- Siju Ravi Division Manager at Jashanamal books

So, how do people decide which book to read?

Ravi said: “I think, most of our customers are depending on reviews nowadays, they also base a purchase on the popularity of the author. I have noticed that people come to our stores to pick up specific books that mostly they have read or heard good reviews about.”

People decide which book to buy depending on good reviews Image Credit: Stock image

Madhvi Vachani, head of marketing at Borders, has observed that in Dubai, movies seem to be influencing people to read books: “I have seen that there are more inquiries and purchase when the movie adaptation of a classic or a bestseller book, releases in cinemas. Not only do sales for the book go up, but if it is a series, people are very curious to find out what happens next, and they buy the next book in the series. One recent example was when the movie Crazy Rich Asians released in August last year. We saw sales go up for its sequel [China Rich Girlfriend], and subsequently the third book in the trilogy [Rich People Problems].”

One recent example was when the movie Crazy Rich Asians released in August last year. We saw sales go up for its sequel [China Rich Girlfriend], and subsequently the third book in the trilogy [Rich People Problems].

- Madhvi Vachani, head of marketing at Borders

Reading trends

Ravi added that the reading trends in the country are different and keep changing. He said: “Nowadays teenage books are moving well which is a good sign. Looks like parents are encouraging children to read more books.”