The Virtue of Owning a Book You Haven’t Read: Why Umberto Eco Keeps the “Antilibrary”
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The Virtue of Owning a Book You Haven’t Read: Why Umberto Eco Keeps the “Antilibrary”

When considering whether to buy another book, you may be asking yourself when you will ever get around to reading it. But there may be other, more important considerations, such as the intellectual value of a book in its unread state. In our personal libraries we all keep at least a few favorites, the volumes we play over and over again. But what is the use of a book collection consisting entirely of the books we have read? These are questions we are asked by reading (or at least eliciting) the life of a man of letters no less than Umberto Eco, seen in the video above walking through his personal library of 30,000 books – some of which, we can safely assume, he it never works.

As Nassim Taleb recounts, Eco separates its visitors into two categories: “those who react with ‘Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, the library you have. How many of these books have you read’ and others – a very small minority – understand that personal libraries are not ego-boosting appendages, but research tools.

Therefore, one’s library must contain not only what one knows, but much more of what one does not know. “Indeed, the more you know, the bigger the row of unread books. Let’s call this collection of unread books the antilibrary.” This passage is from Taleb’s black swana book about the human tendency — opposed by Eco — to overestimate what is known and underestimate what is unknown.

“The anti-library value comes from how it challenges our self-judgment by providing constant and disturbing reminders of everything we don’t know,” wrote Kevin Dickinson of Big Think. “The titles lining my own home remind me that I don’t know much about cryptography, the evolution of feathers, Italian folklore, drug use in the Third Reich, and whatever entomophagy is.” It New York Time‘ Kevin Mims relates Taleb’s antilibrary concept to the Japanese concept tsundoku, previously featured on Open Culture, which captures how books tend to pile up and go unread in our homes. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we’ve amassed that pile of valuable knowledge — and more than we can use.

through Big Think

Related content:

“Tsundoku,” the Japanese for New Books Piling Up on Our Shelves, Must Be In English

Watch Umberto Eco Walk Through His Amazing Private Library: It Goes On, and On, and On!

Umberto Eco’s 36 Rules for Writing Well (in English or Italian)

Umberto Eco Explains The Poetic Power Of Charles Schulz Nuts

Jorge Luis Borges Picks 74 Books for Your Personal Library

How to Read More Books in a Year: Watch a Short Documentary Featuring Some of the Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World

“Tsundoku,” the Japanese for New Books Piling Up on Our Shelves, Must Be In English

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastst about the city, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter book about cities, book The City Without a State: A Journey through 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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