Saturday, March 16, 2019

Off the (Antilibrary) Shelf:
The Black Swan

...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 allow you to put there.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan,
explaining the significance of 
writer Umberto Eco's immense personal library

A few days ago, one of our local genealogical society's favorite speakers—Gena Philibert-Ortega—posted an article on her Facebook page. Under her comment—"So true. READ and buy books, people!"—she included a link to an article posted at "The value of owning more books than you can read."

Besides being one of our society's favorite speakers, Gena is an insightful researcher, so when Gena shares something she considers valuable, I pretty much make sure to check it out. Besides, diving in and reading the entry—which began with a photo of bookcases strangely similar to those in my own living room—how could I not fall in love with such an article?

As you've probably already noticed about me, I have a weakness for books. In fact, my book-buying habit far outpaces my book-reading ability. I'm always owing myself a good read on a lazy afternoon—or another cross-continental flight to catch up on the stuff I've always wanted to read. With Gena's reading recommendation, I was reminded of two things: a book for which I owe myself some serious reading time, and a concept which gives me a name for my book-loving dilemma.

Right away, the Big Think article referred to a book which I happen to have on my own shelf: the twelve year old best-seller by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan. The article drew from Taleb's discussion of the immense library of Italian writer and professor Umberto Eco, a mind-staggering collection of thirty thousand volumes, in which was pointed out the difference between a library in which the owner has already read the publications in his collection, and one in which the intent was to someday learn that material.

Taleb's clarification of such a collection, from his book, The Black Swan, includes a warning for those so inclined, as well as offering a label to affix to the affliction.
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, that's what I should call that expanse of shelves stacked double-thick with hardcover books. And only by reading those neglected pages can I convert them from volumes in my antilibrary to entries in my library. 

I had, obviously, already attempted that conversion process with Taleb's book, for I had made it far enough into the text to recall, once I saw that Big Think article, having covered it in its original form. However, as that was on page one of Part I of the Black Swan book, it's fairly obvious this item was a stubborn resister, insistent upon remaining in my antilibrary. However, with such a concept which one like myself can't help but fall in love with, I owe it to myself to resume the struggle: conquer the book and graduate it to my library. 

With another long-distance flight looming in my near future, I might just have the inspiration to overcome, this time. 


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