In English, stockpiling books without ever reading them might be called being a literary pack rat. People in Japan have a much nicer term for the habit: tsundoku.
According to the BBC, the term tsundoku derives from the words tsumu ("to pile up") and doku ("to read"), and it has been around for more than a century. One of its earliest known print appearances dates back to 1879, when a Japanese satirical text playfully referred to a professor with a large collection of unread books as tsundoku sensei.
While accusing someone of caring more about owning books than reading them may sound insulting, in Japan, the word tsundoku doesn't carry any negative connotations. Tsundoku isn't the same as hoarding books obsessively. People who engage in tsundoku at least intend to read the books they buy, in contrast to people with bibliomania, who collect books just for the sake of having them.
There are many reasons someone might feel compelled to purchase a physical book. Though e-books are convenient, many people still prefer hard copies. Physical books can be easier on the eyes and less distracting than e-readers, and people who read from ink-and-paper texts have an easier time remembering a story's timeline than people who read digital books. Of course, the only way to enjoy those benefits is by pulling a book off your shelf and actually reading it—something people practicing tsundoku never get around to.
In the ‘90s, it felt like every teenager had their nose buried in a Christopher Pike novel. That might not have been far from reality: In his three-decade career, the author has sold millions of books, with plots ranging from teens framing friends for their deaths to teens traveling through time to teens who were actually ... dinosaur people?! Read on to find out behind-the-scenes stories about, and the inspirations for, some of Pike’s most popular books. (The author doesn't do many interviews, so many of these revelations come directly from writings on his official Facebook page.)
1. PIKE GOT “TONS OF REJECTION LETTERS” BEFORE SELLING SLUMBER PARTY.
Before he was a YA horror author, Pike—who had wanted to be a writer since high school—was painting houses and doing computer programming. He tried his hand at sci-fi and mystery without much luck. Initially, he tried to sell a book called The Starlight Crystal (unrelated to his later novel) that he claimed “was a mess,” recalling that he’d sometimes glue pages of his manuscript together to see whether anyone actually looked at it and would have the book returned in the same state. Then he tried selling a book called Seasons of Passage with similar results.
“I got tons of rejection [letters] for six years before I got an offer on one of my books, Slumber Party,” the author wrote on his Facebook page. “That was an exciting day.” Slumber Party was published in 1985; Pike’s second book, Weekend, came out the next year.
2. THE BOOKS ARE WRITTEN UNDER A PSEUDONYM.
Pike’s real name is Kevin Christopher McFadden; he took his pseudonym from a Star Trek character. “When Slumber Party was about to be published, they asked if I wanted to use a pen name. I blurted out Christopher Pike on the spur of the moment,” the author recalled. “I liked having a short last name—easy to remember for future fans. I had no idea that Star Trek would still be around years later and that the character of Christopher Pike would be brought back” in J.J. Abrams's 2009 and 2013 films.
3. THE FIRST PERSON TO PUBLISH PIKE’S BOOKS WAS ALSO BEHIND THE BABY-SITTER’S CLUB.
Pike's road to publishing his first book was convoluted. On Facebook, he recalled going to a writer’s conference where he met an agent named Ashley Grayson. "He was just starting out as an agent; he was willing to read The Starlight Crystal," Pike wrote. "Ashley felt Starlight was a mess but he thought I had talent." Eventually, Grayson called Pike with an interesting opportunity: Write two chapters for a “line of teen books that dealt with the supernatural.” The chapters were ultimately rejected; "the editor in charge of the series thought my book was too good for his series," Pike wrote. Grayson then sold the chapters to Jean Feiwel at Avon, who soon left for Scholastic to head up the publisher's preteen and YA divisions. Avon lost interest in the book, but Grayson, undeterred, took it to Feiwel at her new job. She commissioned a whole novel, which she named Slumber Party.
Around the same time, Feiwel noticed that the book Ginny’s Babysitting Job was a top seller for Scholastic, and hired Ann M. Martin to write “a series about a babysitters club.”
4. SLUMBER PARTY ORIGINALLY HAD A SUPERNATURAL ELEMENT.
“At first I was trying to write [a] story that could sell to a new YA supernatural series. So at first the story had a supernatural aspect,” Pike wrote on his Facebook page. The plot was initially much more complex: “The burning of the two girls was originally caused by pyrokinesis—the ability to start fires with the mind,” he said. “The young girl ... was the one with the ability and it would occasionally flare up when she got upset. But she didn’t know she had the power, not consciously, although her older sister did. Of course her older sister had long ago been a victim of the power, although it had been my hero’s fault the young girl had accidentally used it.”
Feiwel asked to see the book without the supernatural elements, and Pike had to do “a ton of fresh plotting. Yet I think it turned out well.” In the published book, a group of teenagers on a ski weekend discover that one of them might be responsible for a fire that, years earlier, had disfigured one of the girls and killed her sister. “Slumber Party is short and simple but I think it works,” Pike said. “I wrote it in my parents’ house. In my old bedroom.”
5. ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IN WEEKEND WAS INSPIRED BY AN OLD FRIEND.
For his second book—which he originally called Sweet Hemlock and was also written in his parents’ house—Pike found inspiration in a high school friend named Candice who was blind and on dialysis. “I can’t recall what triggered her condition but we became better friends 10 years after high school, and it was she who inspired me to use the idea of having a main character with failed kidneys,” he wrote. “Like the character in Weekend, Candice was hoping for a transplant but sadly she died before she could get one.”
6. HE WROTE THE SEQUEL TO CHAIN LETTER IN LESS THAN A MONTH.
In Chain Letter, a group of teens who committed a crime begin receiving letters from a mysterious person called the Caretaker who is determined to make them pay for what they did. Pike wrote that “I learned how to isolate people psychologically” in the book. “The gang is surrounded by their family and friends but no one outside their small circle can help them because they can’t reveal their secret. ... What made the book work is how the chain letter forced the characters to do things that embarrassed them. To be humiliated, as a teenager, can be the worst thing in the world.”
When it came time to pen the sequel—which Pike wrote because he was “offered a lot of money, and I wanted to keep my publisher happy”—the author knew he couldn’t do the same thing as the first book, so he added a supernatural element to the game. “But because of my situation at the time, I was forced to write the book in less than a month,” he said. “I regret I didn’t spend more time on it. I would have made it longer—I had many more scenes with the demon girl and our two heroes in my head.”
7. FALL INTO DARKNESS WAS BASICALLY A DO-OVER OF ONE OF HIS PREVIOUS BOOKS ...
There was a lot that Pike didn’t like about 1988’s Gimme A Kiss. The ending, in particular, he felt “was too rushed. Also, I was never sure if the main idea worked—that the villain could be so stupid as to think … Well, I won’t say it. But if you’ve read it you know what I’m talking about,” he wrote. “Fall Into Darkness was in many ways a rewrite of Gimme A Kiss. If you study the plots you can see how they overlap. Also, I had the lawyer in Fall Into Darkness mention Gimme A Kiss in court—indirectly. I think I was trying to send you guys a message.” Pike noted that “I took time on Fall Into Darkness and crafted it carefully. Looking back, I would have made the court scenes more realistic but otherwise I’m happy with the book.”
8. … AND IT WAS MADE INTO A MOVIE.
In Fall Into Darkness, Sharon is on trial for killing her friend Ann. But as it turns out, Ann faked her death and framed Sharon. Kelly Faircloth at Jezebel sums up the plot:
“[A]s we learn in whiplash-inducing flashbacks interspersed between courtroom scenes, Ann deliberately faked her own death on a mountaintop campout, to punish Sharon for supposedly driving her beloved younger brother Jerry to suicide. But! As Ann learns when her scheme goes horribly awry and she's left stumbling around a national park in the dark, it wasn't really her idea at all. In fact she's been manipulated by her gardener/classmate/childhood friend/total sociopath Chad into the plan. Chad killed Jerry, it turns out! Because Chad knows he and Ann are meant to be—if only she hadn't gotten engaged to Chad's brother, Paul. And then, when she tries to escape, Chad kills Ann! And THEN he tries to kill Sharon, after she escapes the murder charges, finds Ann's body and realizes what he's done.
“It's a glorious sh*t show and I cannot believe kids were reading these books.”
Fall Into Darkness was adapted into a TV movie starring Tatyana Ali and Jonathan Brandis in 1996, and Pike was not a fan. “I hated it,” he wrote. “It was my first introduction to Hollywood. What a learning experience! The production company ... swore to me when I sold them the rights they would stick to the plot. When I saw an early draft, I flew into a rage. There were no court scenes! A third of the book takes place in court. That’s what made the story work—the switching back and forth from the night of the murder to the day of the trial. Foolish me, I immediately stormed down to LA with my lawyer to scream at them. They promised to rework the script and swore I’d get to go over it with them when they had another draft. Two months later I heard they were shooting the film. They never called until after the film was on TV and was a hit. They wanted to option Chain Letter. You can imagine what I told them.”
9. THE MIDNIGHT CLUB WAS INSPIRED BY A FAN.
“Midnight Club was written because a young woman who was dying in a hospital in the Midwest told me about a club they had at the hospital called The Midnight Club,” Pike explained. “They would meet at midnight to discuss my books. She asked me to write about them. I said I would but I couldn’t have them discussing my books. The idea grew from there. Unfortunately, none of them were alive when I finished the book.”
10. SOMETHING SPOOKY HAPPENED WHEN HE FINISHED REMEMBER ME.
“For me, Remember Me was a gigantic leap,” Pike wrote. “I knew when I was writing it that it was special and when I finished it—I was high as a kite for weeks. I knew I had finally written something beyond me—a book that would last forever.” The author said that it didn’t even feel like he wrote it; it was his first time writing in the first person, and he also had no idea what was going to happen next, “when in all my other books I knew where I was headed.”
Pike recalled that when he penned the book’s final words, “I want people to remember me,” things got spooky: “Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Goodbye, we’ll meet some day.’ This absolutely happened. I jumped so high I almost hit my head on the ceiling.” He felt that “it was like a person was done telling me their story and they were moving on. Like they were saying goodbye and thanks.”
The book resonated. Pike recalled that his editor at the time, who had just lost her mother, was so moved by the book that she cried. She wasn’t the only one: “Over the years thousands, tens of thousands, of people have written to tell me how much it meant to them.”
11. SEE YOU LATER WAS INSPIRED BY A CRUSH.
Scavenger Hunt (you know, the book where the kids are actually dinosaur people) was inspired by two high school students on a scavenger hunt who came into the record store where Becky, his crush, worked. “I had such a ridiculous crush on Becky, and damn if she didn’t have a boyfriend. I remember how pathetic I acted around her the moment I met her,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Hi, my name’s Kevin, Christopher Pike. I’m a famous writer.’ She never let me live down that remark.” Becky inspired Pike’s next book, See You Later, which the author said he wrote “to impress her so she would go out with me.” (Eventually, after she’d broken up with her boyfriend, they did date, but their relationship didn’t last.) “See You Later is obviously about soulmates,” Pike wrote. “Whether we believe in them or not I think we’re all looking for that perfect person we’re supposed to be with … See You Later does not work as a tight well plotted book. The plot line is rather weak in places ... But the book still has magic. It works because it creates a profound feeling. I felt for the main character. I wanted him to find love, I wanted him to be happy. Maybe I identified with him too much, I don’t know. The ending of the action is weak. But I feel the last few pages were beautiful. That’s mostly what I remember about the book, and the line, ‘It began with a smile …’”
12. THE TITLE OF ONE BOOK WAS INSPIRED BY A HISTORICAL FIGURE.
“[Attila] The Hun was supposed to have said, ‘Bury me deep,’ when he was struck down. I thought it was a cool title for a ghost story,” Pike wrote. “I think it’s obvious from reading the book that I have scuba dived off Maui. I love Maui, I love all the Hawaiian islands, and I wanted to see if it was possible to tell a ghost story in a sunny modern hotel rather than in a dark and stormy castle. Bury Me Deep was another big seller. It got on the New York Times list. But I was never happy with the book. Once again, I felt the ending was weak. To me the book had no mood, no deeper power. It’s a quick read, sure, but I don’t think it touched anyone.”
13. HE STARTED ON A FOURTH BOOK IN THE FINAL FRIENDS SERIES—BUT DISASTER STRUCK.
The sequel would have taken place at the characters’ 10 year high school reunion. “It was going well. But the file was accidentally destroyed when I was out of the country,” Pike wrote. “Oh well, maybe one day we can revisit Michael and Jessica. But I can tell you this much—they were already married and divorced when the sequel started. But still very much in love… [It] could make for an interesting story.”
14. MANY OF THE ICONIC COVERS WERE CREATED BY BRIAN KOTZKY.
He also drew the Apartment 3-G comic for a while—the strip was initially drawn by his father—and more than 100 covers of The Hardy Boys Casefiles.
15. YOU MIGHT NOTICE THE NAME ANN IN A LOT OF PIKE’S BOOKS.
It’s probably because his little sister is named Ann. “She is very dear to me,” he wrote on Facebook.
16. A COLUMNIST CALLED THE FINAL FRIEND TRILOGY “SORT OF A HOMICIDAL VERSION OF BEVERLY HILLS 90210.”
The piece, titled “Nameless Fear Stalks the Middle-Class Teen-Ager: Perhaps It Is the Fear of Boredom” and published in The New York Times in 1993, wasn’t kind. Writer Ken Tucker wrote that Fear Street series author R.L. Stine and Pike were “the Beavis and Butt-head of horror, reducing the fright fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley to a succession of helpless girls, vulgar pranks and sniggering scares. ... Most of these books seem to be textbook examples of how not to tell a story.”
Tucker wasn’t enamored with the authors’ writing style, either: “Indeed, maybe the grisliest horror in these books is their prose,” he wrote. “As a stylist, Mr. Pike makes Stephen King read like Vladimir Nabokov. The Immortal features one character with ‘balding gray hair.’ Another ‘seemed to be scholarly in a way with alert green eyes and messy brown hair that the sun was swiftly turning the color of the sand.’”
Tucker’s thoughts didn’t seem to matter to readers, however: Pike’s books were frequently bestsellers. He continues to publish in a number of genres today. “I’m working on WAY too many books,” he wrote on his Facebook page in May. “I have so many stories half formed on my computer—I wish I had a few bodies to write with.”
For book lovers, there’s no more magical place than the local bookstore. Endless shelves of stories and characters, all at your eager fingertips. And while most of us have probably spent a significant amount of time wandering the aisles, few of us know what goes on behind the scenes. Here are some insights into the life of a bookstore, gleaned from the people who keep the shelves stocked.
1. EMPLOYEES WANT YOU TO ASK THEM FOR RECOMMENDATIONS.
“A person will say, ‘I have a really strange question, I’m sorry, but can you recommend a book?’” says Phyllis Cohen, owner of Berkeley Books in Paris. “That is the most normal question. It is my favorite question in the world! Give me some clues. I’ll ask them some pointed questions and then I make a pile for them. When they discover it they’re over the moon—it’s like they have a personal shopper in the bookshop.”
2. BUT BOOKSELLERS ARE NOT MIND-READERS.
They want to help you find your book, but they can’t if you don’t know the book’s name, author, or what it was about. This happens all the time, and it drives them crazy. “Customers will say ‘I don’t remember the name or what it was about but it has a blue cover. I think it had this word in the title,’” explains Katie Orphan, manager at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Sometimes the questions are so vague that no amount of Googling will help, and then the customer leaves unhappy.
Even a botched title is better than no hints at all. “One funny thing that happens with customers is they get the titles totally wrong,” says Marissa Rodriguez, who has worked in a bookstore for two years. “High school kids will say ‘I’m looking for ‘How To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Angry Grapes.’”
3. THEY CAN SPOT THE BOOKWORMS FROM A MILE AWAY.
Just browsing? Bookstore workers can tell. “Cookbooks is one of the sections where that happens the most,” Orphan says. “Art books and cookbooks. The people who are going to buy books, I can tell by the way they look at them, touch them, start carrying them around in a stack. I can always tell when people come up who is going to buy a book and who isn’t.”
4. THEY KNOW WHEN YOU’RE “SHOWROOMING.”
In recent years, many brick-and-mortar stores have fallen victim to online outlets like Amazon, which often offer the same books for a lower price. Some customers will browse for books they like, only to buy them later online, and they’re not very sly about it. “They’ll come in and use their phone to take a picture of the cover and barcode and just use the bookstore as the Amazon showroom,” says Keith Edmunds, a former bookstore owner. “It was awful. Seeing people do that was the height of ignorance.”
5. AND WHEN YOU’RE PLAYING THE SYSTEM.
“Some regulars would buy books one or two at a time and then within the two-week return window bring them back and be like, ‘I bought the wrong book,’” said Kat Chin, who worked at The World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto for five years. “You’d know they read them because you could see the book was a little bit worn or the spine was cracked.”
6. THE GOAL IS TO GET BOOKS IN YOUR HANDS.
One trick to get customers to commit to a book is to physically put the book in their hands and have them flip through it. “You can direct them to a part of the store, but that’s only half of selling a book,” Rodriguez says. “It's important to get merchandise in people's hands so they feel there’s already some ownership happening. They say ‘I like the way it looks and feels in my hands and I like the way it smells.’”
7. YOU HAVE TO HUNT FOR THE COFFEE SHOP.
Many bookstores, particularly the bigger ones like Barnes & Noble, have incorporated cafes into their layout. Alex Lifschutz, a London-based architect, told The Economist that putting the coffee shop at the back of the store or, if there are multiple stories, on the top floor, “draws shoppers upwards floor-by-floor, which is bound to encourage people to linger longer and spend more.”
8. THE KIDS SECTION IS STRATEGICALLY LOCATED.
According to Edmunds, the kids books are almost always located at the back of a store. “If the parents want to get a book for the kid they have to go through the whole store,” he says. “They’re hoping the parent will see something they want.”
9. SOMEONE PAID FOR THAT PRIME SHELF REAL ESTATE.
In many big-box stores, publishers pay for good placement on “front tables, end caps and window space, in the same way General Mills and Procter and Gamble buy space for their breakfast cereals and dish detergents in the supermarkets,” Andy Ross, a literary agent, told The Book Deal.
10. AUTHORS, BEWARE THE “SOCIOLOGY” SECTION.
No author wants their book tucked away in the “sociology” section, claims veteran publishing insider Alan Rinzler. It’s “a catchall section for ambiguous titles, and the kiss of death for book sales,” he says.
11. BOOK THIEVES LOVE THE BIBLE.
At The World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, “the Bible was the number one stolen book of all time,” Chin says.
Other frequently stolen books? Japanese comics (a.k.a. manga), expensive medical books, and Kurt Vonnegut’s work. Chin also says Haruki Murakami books were so frequently stolen that her bookstore had to take them off the shelves, only bringing them out when they were specifically requested.
12. EMPLOYEES HATE WHEN YOU LEAVE BOOKS WHERE THEY DON’T BELONG ...
“Neatening up a bookstore is a daunting process,” says Demi Marshall, a bookseller in Austin, Texas. The next time you pluck a book from its designated shelf slot, put it back when you’re done. Otherwise, “it’s like if you go to a clothing store and unfold all the clothes and then put them back on the shelf but don’t fold them,” Chin says.
13. ... AND WHEN YOU TREAT THE STORE LIKE YOUR LIBRARY.
“It’s nice to be able to go in and read maybe a chapter to see if you’re gonna like the book,” Chin says. “But then when you sit and read the whole book and put it back on the shelf, it gets grubby.” You’ll know a bookstore is trying to nudge you out the door if multiple employees drop by to ask if you need any help. “We would quietly pester people,” says Caleb Saenz, who used to work at Barnes & Noble. “I was at my peak passive aggressive phase when I was working at a bookstore.”
14. THE INTERNET HAS ACTUALLY BEEN A GOOD THING.
Before the internet became ubiquitous, the process of looking up a book for a customer was daunting. “We had to look it up in 'Books In Print,’ which is a multi-volume, 4-inch thick, hardcover book,” says Liz Prouty, who owns Second Looks Books in Maryland with her husband, Richard Due. “It was a slow and cumbersome process and if anything was indexed wrong or a customer had the first word of a title wrong, you were out of luck.”
15. IT’S ALSO MADE US LOVE BOOKS MORE.
Some thought the e-book would surely spell the death of the bookstore. But many independent sellers say digitization has actually made people crave physical books more. “I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, so many people come in waxing rhapsodic about the smell of books, the feel of books,” Prouty says. “And they say it more now because the alternatives exist. People are deeply attached to the old-fashioned books.”
16. SOME BOOKSELLERS CAN IDENTIFY BOOKS BY THEIR SMELL.
Especially used booksellers. “These Penguins have their own particular odor,” Cohen says. That odor? Vanilla. Others might smell like almond or coffee.
17. BOOKSELLERS AREN’T IN IT FOR THE MONEY.
In fact, most of them have second jobs or need monetary support from family members. “It is definitely a work of passion for everyone that I know,” Marshall says. “We don’t do it for the money, we don’t do it because we have any power or prestige. It’s genuinely just that we love books and we love getting them into people's hands.”