Monday, 3 December 2012

Reading and the anti library

Zen Pundit has done a couple of posts on the concept of the anti library, I think a concept which a lot of heavy readers recognise, but struggle to articulate. Here's the simplest explanation:

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 vistors 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 others – a very small minority- who get the point that 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. You wil accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growig 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 the collection of unread books an antilibrary
Ironically this quote comes from the book The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which sits firmly in my anti library. Here are a few more, of a much larger selection:

Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War - William Smallwood

I bought this book due to the relatively high level of involvement John Boyd had in it's creation. The development of the plane was a critical point in his intellectual development. I bought this to try and explore the experience of the aircraft if and when my mind circles back to it.

Walden - Henry David Thoreau

I go through phases of being fascinated by science, particularly it's implication in cutting edge technology. This book was bought at the peak of one of those phases, due to a recognition that there's a need to reject it. I've read small snippets of this from time to time, but the book as a whole has never captured me.

How to make Money in Stocks - William O'Neil

I got this on a whim after reading a number of shorter texts on the theory of stocks. I don't care about making money through it, but there is something in the way that stock markets work which speaks to the theory of decision making. Ultimately this book never really proved to be of any use, and I shifted back to shorter punchier texts.

 In recent months, inspired in part by my experience at Boyd and Beyond I've been returning to "hard" non fiction. As far as an objective to this goes, it's to start to take myself out of my comfort zone again, to shift from "training" to "learning", in the sense that training is preparation for things which have occurred before and learning is an attempt to prepare for things which have not happened.

The value of the anti library is, to a large extent, to provide an opportunity to create an environment in which learning can happen. It's a personal belief that having an anti library available is something which synthesists (as opposed to analysts) instinctively value. It allows for the mind to make subconscious connections between disparate topics, right or wrong, it's better to have the book and never need it than to not have the book and the knowledge it contains.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, two of your anit-library books have roots right in my home state. The next time you're around, we can go visit the home of the A-10's or see Walden pond :)