The Antilibrary

Have you heard the term “tsundoku?” It’s a Japanese term “describing the habit of acquiring books but letting them pile up without reading them.”

This can also be called an “antilibrary,” as Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in The Black Swan about Umberto Eco and his books:

“A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I have a personal library that includes several full bookshelves as well as stacks of books on the floor and on any flat surface. Some books I’ve read and others not yet, still others I’ve read more than once. It got really bad when I started reviewing books and also when I discovered our local used bookstore. It’s a great bookstore with lots of must-read titles, and good turnover so you can always find something new to pique your interest.

I’ve read 50% of these books. Library books on the right.

This means I have an extensive antilibrary – books I promise to read…after I get through the pile from the library…and the books I want to review. Taleb is right when he says “the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly.” I feel their menace, their need to be read. Sometimes I expect them to snap at me as I run my fingers along their spines, looking for my next good read.

As Anne-Laure Le Cunff writes,

“Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.”

I have no shortage of exploration ahead of me – how about you?

Note the featured image is by missmarettaphotography (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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