Thursday, March 8, 2018

Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You'll Ever Have Time to Read

Just the other day I came across this link, via this blog.   From the link:

Why you need an "antilibrary"

That's the argument author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes in his bestseller The Black Swan. Perpetually fascinating blog Brain Pickings dug up and highlighted the section in a particularly lovely post. Taleb kicks off his musings with an anecdote about the legendary library of Italian writer Umberto Eco, which contained a jaw-dropping 30,000 volumes.
Did Eco actually read all those books? Of course not, but that wasn't the point of surrounding himself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things he didn't know, Eco's library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever growing collection of books you haven't yet read can do the same for you, Taleb writes:
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.
An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations - the vast quantity of things you don't know, half know, or will one day realize you're wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.
"People don't walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it's the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did," Taleb claims.
Why? Perhaps because it is a well known psychological fact that is the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt. (Really, it's called the Dunning-Kruger effect). It's equally well established that the more readily admit you don't know things, the faster you learn.
So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven't read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you're way ahead of the vast majority of other people.

I just had to comment, being that this is very true of me. I have so many books on my shelves, yet I still keep borrowing ones from the library, no doubt since they are free and most of the book challenges I have joined require reading books I don't actually have at home. I rarely ever buy audiobooks, even used ones, as I rarely seem to find used ones for sale. Picture books and graphic novels are rare buys also. Actually, I don't think I have ever bought either one. For picture books, I mostly just read them either at the library or even at the store, since they are always so short anyway.

But even as I keep borrowing from the library, I keep telling myself I need to read some of the books I have at home, since they're already there. I know they won't go bad, and there is no time limit on these. But as they year began, I did get around to reading some of the ones I have at home. I hope to get some done his month as well, despite the stack of books I currently have out from the library.

But it isn't just the library where I borrow books from. The center where I work and attend has a selection of books that clients are allowed to borrow, with no time limits. I currently have two of these books out. Many of these books have been borrowed by clients who rarely show up and the books in question have been out for some time now. It's unlikely these books will ever come back. But I will make my best effort to read those I have out right now.  One good thing about being able to borrow them without a time limit.

Also, the county library has introduced Zip Books, allowing library patrons to request books not already t the library. I just tried this for the first time and received the book I requested yesterday. Books requested by Zip Books must be returned it the library within three weeks of receiving them by mail. There are several other books I now want to request this way.This is another good way to get books free. 


  1. An excellent way to make me feel better about my evergrowing book towers.
    And I will freely admit to ignorance about rather a lot of things. And hope to fill in some at least of the gaping holes in my knowledge.

  2. I just wrote recently about the overflowing bookshelves and TBR books I have - and I keep adding to the piles of books.Great post.

  3. Have a great weekend and read one of those extra books:)
    It's what I plan to do. Grin.