More books!

I posted recently about Professor Stanley Fish getting rid of almost all of his books, and how I couldn’t imagine doing it. As I said,

Surrounding yourself with books is representative of a continued pursuit of something.

Shane at Farnam Street agrees, at points to Taleb in The Black Swan:

Only a person who doesn’t understand knowledge walks into someone’s library and asks, “have you read all these?”

In fact, a good library is filled with mostly unread books. That’s the point.

In The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb writes:

The writer Umberro Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means … allow 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.

This is the exact sentiment I have in mind when I order more books, even as dozens sit unread all around me. The quest to continuously learn begins with understanding the boundaries of your own knowledge. Once you do that, surrounding yourself with unread books seems natural. An unread book is a potential source of inspiration. And you never know whether inspiration to read that book will come next week or next year. But if it isn’t in your library, you are much less likely to read it.

In this way, the antilibrary has become, for me, representative of a continued quest for new perspectives, new inspiration, and new knowledge. It keeps me reading. I refuse to diminish the reading process to a checklist with empty boxes to be X’d out; the antilibrary embodies my ever-expanding desire to learn.

Plus, what’s better than discovering a new book from right under your nose?


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