Having more unread books on your shelf is better for you


Photo by Safina Husein

As reading week comes to an end, I’m left with a pile of books that I had initially intended on spending the past week reading.
   However, I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that I was far less productive than I had wanted.

Reading a novel from my collection of books outside of school has become a common after-thought for me. Despite having little time for reading — and in spite of my best efforts to make the time — I’m still inclined to buy new books whenever and wherever I can.

As a result, I’ll admit that my ever-growing personal library contains far more unread books than those I have actually finished.

I recently read an article which afforded me a fresh perspective on why accumulating more books than I have the time to read is actually a good thing.

The article discussed the idea that unread books are more valuable to us than the books we have already read. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, coined the concept of having a personal library containing these valued, unread books as an antilibrary.

“Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know,” Taleb wrote. “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.”

Taleb also said that, often, we as humans value what we already know far too much. Thus, we tend to underestimate the true value of everything we don’t yet know.Maybe the true source of wisdom comes from acknowledging how little we know and accepting the true grandiosity of all that we could know from reading.

In this way, thinking about all of the unread books that currently sit on my bookshelves means I have a whole world of knowledge right at my fingertips. The concept of the “antilibrary” as Taleb describes it presents a source of comfort in knowing that we have access to more — more characters, more ideas, more learning.

Books open us up to new ideas, thoughts and possibilities. In a lot of ways, books ultimately provide us the understanding of knowledge we need to go on and generate new ideas and creations.

For me, reading books reminds me of why I love writing so much. Looking at all of the unread books that currently sit on my bookshelf allows me to think about all I might be prompted to write in the future.

Sometimes, books simply allow us to further understand ourselves, the people around us and the people we have not yet met.

For some, accessing all of the potential knowledge that books have to offer us can provide a sense of belonging.

In the wise words of my favourite author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, “[t]hat is part of the beauty of all literature … you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

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