Readers' Corner

Too many unread books in your shelf? Don’t worry and keep reading

You have bookshelf full of unread books which you’ve planned to read once but couldn’t read? Then this article is just for you.

Your bookshelf, whether it is over-stuffed or arranged properly, says a lot good things about your mind. Reading will teach you a lot of things which will help you be happier, earn more, and stay healthier. So many smartest people in the world, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk, from Shah Rukh Khan to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, insist that the best way to get smarter is to read.

After listening to your ideal people, you might have run to the library or bookstores; and have purchased many books from what they’ve suggested. But life is busy, and intentions are one thing and action is another. You’ve purchased a lot of books, but could read only a few and other find their place in bookshelf; waiting for their turn. Soon your shelves will be overflowing with the titles you intend to read one day; or the abandoned books which you tried to read once but couldn’t finish. Books are very helpful in writing various academic papers and before you want to buy narrative essay, you can try it yourself and see the usefulness of books.

You think it is a disaster for your aim to become a smarter or wiser person. If you never actually read any book from your shelf, then yes, it’s a disaster. You should begin to read as soon as you realize it. But if pile of unread books is just because of your reading pace is not matching with your ‘book-buying’ pace; then you don’t need to worry about the pile of unread books. Your overstuffed library is not a sign of failure or ignorance; but it’s a badge of honor. I think you always need an anti-library to remind you constantly that you’re surrounded with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge.

Anti-library is a term coined by the Lebanese–American author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The idea is that a (private) library is normally a collection of books that the owner has read. And that there is little value in retaining these books unless one is going to refer them from time to time. A better idea is a collection of books one owns but hasn’t yet read – these represent a corpus of potential learning. The name given for this was an Anti-library.

So the question is, why you need an ‘anti-library’? The answer of this question was discussed by the author Nassim Taleb in his bestseller ‘The Black Swan’. Taleb kicks off his thinking with an anecdote about the legendary library of Italian writer Umberto Eco; which contained a jaw-dropping 30,000 books. Of course he didn’t read all those books, but that wasn’t the point of surrounding himself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. Eco’s library kept him intellectually hungry and curious by constantly reminding him of all the things he didn’t know yet. An ever-growing pile of books you haven’t read yet can do the same for you.

Taleb writes in his book, “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 anti-library.”

An anti-library 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 toward the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

Taleb further claims, “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.” 

Perhaps because it is a well-known psychological fact that it’s the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt.  So the more readily you admit you don’t know things, the faster you learn.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a huge pile of unread books which you could never get through in this life. All those books in your shelf you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people, if you know how ignorant you are.

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