>Too many books, not enough books


I started a bookshelf-reorganization project in December–it seemed like something to do over the holidays–but didn’t quite finish. Just yesterday I managed to finally get through all of the fiction books, but in the process I displaced some miscellaneous non-fiction and, more significantly, my substantial collection of Asian fiction (which I don’t shelve with the regular fiction because . . . because I don’t). As I’ve been going through the thousands of books, touching every one, I’ve managed to find some that I can get rid of: the occasional embarrassing duplicate copy; a classic that I can now get for free on my Kindle; a mystery or thriller I know I’ll never, ever need again. Not as many as I’d hoped, though, and so I am still short of bookshelf space. The project needs to move into other genres if I’m going to weed out some more: lots of non-fiction I can live without, I think, and I’ve got way more literary journals than I need. And somehow I have to start getting rid of the discards . . .

For a long time I’ve been embarrassed by the large number of books I own that I haven’t read. I read a lot, but buy more than I read because I love books. I’m currently reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and I was very happy to find this passage in the introduction to Part 1:

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 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.

So, it turns out that I have a sizable antilibrary. Yay.

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  1. >Oh, I'm relieved. An antilibrary — an official-sounding justification for my piles, whose ratio is lately tipping strongly toward the tantalizingly unread. Despite a purge two years ago, I'm seriously out of shelf space, and worry about that less and less, thank the bibliogods. My latest boxload from a particularly good trove at Goodwill has me reading fairy tales, popular science and spiritual esoterica simultaneously. So enough said, "Alice's Adventures" are waiting — and thanks for relieving me of the last shred of library-anxiety.

  2. >I share your dilemma. In fact, this was so close to what I could have written, I'm starting to think you might be my antilibrary doppelganger.

  3. >The antilibrary… at last, a name for it. But what happens when you get a book out of the regular library to temporarily add to the antilibrary — does it cancel itself out? Form some kind of book wormhole in space? Or doesn't it really count because it has an automatic half-life before you need to return it?

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