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A better understanding of my LIBRARY

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LevV

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A better understanding of my LIBRARY

I finally understand my library and my relationship to it. After fifty-five years, I get it - more or less.

This intro and the short, but full article that follows, is from the fs blog site.

“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.”

The Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are The Most Important
How can we navigate the unknown — the vast chasm between what we know and what we don’t know, and come to grips with what is unknowable?
This week, I caught myself feeling guilty as I walked into my office and looked at the ever-growing number of unread books. My bookshelf, which seems to reproduce on its own, is a constant source of ribbing from my friends.
“You’ll never read all of those,” they say. And they’re right. I won’t. That’s not really the point.

It is our knowledge — the things we are sure of — that makes the world go wrong and keeps us from seeing and learning.
— Lincoln SteFFENS

Some questions are only asked by people with a fundamental misunderstanding. The friends who walk into my office and ask, “have you read all of these” miss the point of books.
In his book, The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes our relationship between books and knowledge using the legendary Italian writer Umberto Eco (1932-2016).

The writer Umberto 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.

Taleb adds:
We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. 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. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.

A good library is filled with mostly unread books. That’s the point. Our relationship with the unknown causes the very problem Taleb is famous for contextualizing: the black swan. Because we underestimate the value of what we don’t know and overvalue what we do know, we fundamentally misunderstand the likelihood of surprises.

The antidote to this overconfidence boils down to our relationship with knowledge. The anti-scholar, as Taleb refers to it, is “someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.”
My library serves as a visual reminder of what I don’t know.
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

LevV wrote: Mon Jun 06, 2022 5:53 am
My library serves as a visual reminder of what I don’t know.
I love this post and especially this line. I have always tended to buy more books than I could ever possibly read, and now I don't feel so guilty about it!

We have moved a few times in the last five years and most of my books are still in storage. We hope to add on a den at some point and I will use two of its walls for bookshelves. I can't wait.
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LevV

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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

geo wrote: Mon Jun 06, 2022 8:57 am
LevV wrote: Mon Jun 06, 2022 5:53 am
My library serves as a visual reminder of what I don’t know.
I love this post and especially this line. I have always tended to buy more books than I could ever possibly read, and now I don't feel so guilty about it!
We are clearly not alone in our propensity for buying more books than we can read. I just hadn't realized that it was such a common habit - and especially, according to this writer, that it increases in proportion to the size of one's library.
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

Well this makes me feel better too. About 10 years ago I loaded up bins filled with hundreds and hundreds of books. I donated them to libraries and assisted living facilities and Goodwill. Most of the books I had already read and would probably never read again, or they were books I decided I would never actually read. The point being I didn't need them.

Now my shelves are filled with hundreds of books that I have not yet read but aspire to. So they do indeed contain all the information I don't yet know. Will I ever actually get to all of them? Highly unlikely.

I even own a collection of leather-bound books called the Easton Press "100 Greatest Books Ever Written." They are more collectors items than books to be read. My gosh they're beautiful. Whenever I want to read a book from that collection I get a copy in paperback and don't touch the gorgeous leather bound edition.
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

Chris OConnor wrote: Mon Jun 06, 2022 10:43 pm Well this makes me feel better too. About 10 years ago I loaded up bins filled with hundreds and hundreds of books. I donated them to libraries and assisted living facilities and Goodwill. Most of the books I had already read and would probably never read again, or they were books I decided I would never actually read. The point being I didn't need them.

Now my shelves are filled with hundreds of books that I have not yet read but aspire to. So they do indeed contain all the information I don't yet know. Will I ever actually get to all of them? Highly unlikely.
Apparently, according to the article, even if you did manage to read all those unread books, by then you would have another, perhaps larger, collection of unread books :yes:
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

Chris OConnor wrote: Mon Jun 06, 2022 10:43 pm
I even own a collection of leather-bound books called the Easton Press "100 Greatest Books Ever Written."
Hey, me too! I have a story about how I acquired them.

When I was living in Florida (about 12 years ago), I heard about a guy who was selling his Easton Press collection. There were about 100 volumes and they were all still shrink-wrapped. The guy lived in a trailer and was a heavy smoker, and his caretaker was a heavy smoker too. I could barely stand being in his house (actually a trailer). But since the books were still shrink-wrapped, I took a chance. I bought the whole collection for $1000, which is $10/book.

I cleaned the books with soapy water and let them sit for a while, and the smoke smell eventually went away. I then proceeded to sell most of the volumes on eBay, typically getting $35-$40 per book. (They don't go for nearly that much any more.) So I made my money back and then some.

I kept about ten of these books and still have them on my shelf.
-Geo
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

$1,000 was an amazing price! I still have a few books I need to acquire to complete my collection. Animal Farm comes to mind. But I won't be welling these any time soon as they have sentimental value. I'd like to pass them along to my son. First I need to get him a bit more into reading. Baby steps I suppose. He's 11 -years old so reading takes a backseat to baseball, Roblox and Minecraft.
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

I have 3 shelves worth of books on advanced mathematics, classical and modern physics, and computer (programming, networking, etc.). My collection is smaller after selling a lot on eBay a decade ago. Some of them are text books I used in college, most are books I aspire to understand.

I stopped "reading" books 20 or more years ago: as in fiction and non-fiction. I strive to spend most of my time studying math, science and computer books. I hope to have time eventually to concentrate on them. (Some I have acquired in digital format).

If it weren't for the Internet, I could have "read" a lot more. I haven't been a TV watcher since I was young. I'm hoping in my retirement to be able to concentrate on reading them and taking related classes for fun and knowledge.
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

Chris OConnor wrote: Mon Jun 06, 2022 10:43 pmI even own a collection of leather-bound books called the Easton Press "100 Greatest Books Ever Written." They are more collectors items than books to be read. My gosh they're beautiful. Whenever I want to read a book from that collection I get a copy in paperback and don't touch the gorgeous leather bound edition.
Harvard Classic books. They have blue binding. Library near me has them. I've sat down many times and browsed their pages. It's where I learned about classic fiction. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_Classics
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

Brooks127, I have two sets of Harvard Classics too. The first set is green cloth, not leather. And the second is brown leather. Great book collection for sure. My father left them for me when he died years ago. I do believe a few books are missing from both collections.
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

Jim Watters wrote: Wed Jun 15, 2022 11:53 pm I stopped "reading" books 20 or more years ago: as in fiction and non-fiction. I strive to spend most of my time studying math, science and computer books. I hope to have time eventually to concentrate on them. (Some I have acquired in digital format).
I know how much passion you have for both math and science, but I bet you'd find it extremely rewarding to dive into some quality fiction. You've just drifted away from fiction for so long that you forget the reason people enjoy it. At least that's my guess. I'd set a goal to give a popular fiction book a shot to see if it rekindles an interest.
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

It's heartwarming in a way I can't define to read about the relationship you all have to your books. I don't think I could feel that way about any other item that people like to collect.

About 25 years ago, my wife persuaded me that rabbits would be good indoor pets for our two young girls. Sue had had such a pet growing up, and it worked out great (right!). Well, those bunnies had quite a penchant for book bindings. Soon they found themselves moved to a basement cage, then to a cage outdoors, where to this day I'm convinced bunnies belong.

I think of myself as a minimalist, though don't worry, I actually have plenty of stuff. The item I could be said to have a lot of is books, many of which reproach me for leaving them unread. But due to having given away lots of them, as well as at least one basement flood, the number isn't huge--maybe 250 right now? Do you know that John Milton quote, "Good books though few"? I think it would be neat to have just a core set of books that you knew almost by heart. But in general we tend to want to gobble up more books than we have time for, spreading ourselves thin.

Thinking randomly, recently we saw the remake of " Fahrenheit 451," starring Michael B. Jordan. He's always likeable, but the film I thought was a dud. Not much was made of the "book people," those who had become their book by memorizing every word. In the original, which we watched again after, the plot culminates when Montag reaches the safety of that unique literary colony and begins to become "The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe."
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

DWill wrote: Wed Jun 22, 2022 12:27 am It's heartwarming in a way I can't define to read about the relationship you all have to your books. I don't think I could feel that way about any other item that people like to collect.
When I Googled “non-fiction books about books” I was impressed by the large number I found. I thought this one to be particularly interesting and wondered if BTers might find it to be a good choice for the next discussion:

PACKING MY LIBRARY: AN ELEGY AND TEN DIGRESSIONS BY ALBERTO MANGUEL
From one of the most prolific writers on books of our age, this is Manguel’s short and subtle memoir about packing up his library. While he moves with it across continents and oceans, it holds much more than it seems.

Full of deep self-observations as well as cultural commentary, Manguel outlines how the books we collect during our lifetimes not only shape us as readers but define our paths as members of society. With wonderfully insightful observations and quotes, full of luscious descriptions of a reader’s formative experiences, Manguel takes you on a journey that intimately traces his own life and that of his books. In combining the two, he makes profoundly moving observations on the role of literature in modern society.

And this comment from a reader:
This is a small book of 144 pages, but it is filled with learning, history, literature, and wisdom that one can read it about once a week for the rest of one’s life. Manguel packs ten digressions into his short tale, but every digression is a lovely detour into a different, yet familiar, literary terrain. In his digressions, Manguel discusses man’s desire for identity and affirmation, justice, the purpose of the novel, the dictionary, and dreams – among many other lively reflections of things that affect our literary mind. This is what he says of reading: 'The discovery of the art of reading is intimate, obscure, secret, almost impossible to explain, akin to falling in love, if you will forgive the maudlin comparison.'

BRARY%3A+AN+ELEGY+AND+TEN+DIGRESSIONS+BY+ALBERTO+MANGUEL&qid=1655898808&sprefix=packing+my+library+an+elegy+and+ten+digressions+by+alberto+manguel%2Caps%2C99&sr=8-1&asin=0300219334&revisionId=&format=4&depth=1
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Re: A better understanding of my LIBRARY

Reminds me of why I keep old encyclopedias around. I don't always look at them, but I have a set in my writing room I turn to when I want a better understanding of a subject. As a reference, they're outdated by decades, but as a means to familiarization they work great. I turn to a subject, learn some early basics, and advance my knowledge by looking at up-to-date material.
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