Are unread books more important than the books you've read?
Made me think of TikTok bookshelves, they show off without having read any of the books for likes and views. Although, I'd like to think they might read them at some point...
I have some books (presents and duds) I will never read/finish for reasons. They won't fill a whole shelf, though, more like a corner. The unread ones are piled on my desk, so they can scream at me, READ ME.
Oh Mark, this is SUCH a brilliant, thought-provoking piece. I never heard of anti-library (although I have heard the word tsundoku and think of it often in the context of the twenty-deep to be read pile next to my bed. I have been asked that question too, how much of my shelves I’ve read. I think the answer is between 70-90%. The remaining pile is a mix of want to read when the time is right (Babel, Braiding Sweetgrass and Say Nothing spring to mind), to dip into (reference only) or to be read because they represent something I feel I should read but don’t necessarily prioritise or foresee enjoying (Bleak House, Dostoyevsky). My read books are a physical repository of my notes - turned down pages mark passages or quotes I liked so I can flick back to them easily. Joel despairs at my massacre of the pages in this way but it’s the best system I’ve found for keeping track of ideas without stopping the reading flow... brilliant piece. Saving it to read again, so much to think about. Thank you.
Before the digital bookshelf, I always had several "safety" books, much like a security blanket, so I would never be without something to read. I still have them. I still haven't read them.
Mark, I’m doing my best to read all of my unread books but even I must admit it is a Herculean task.
never heard of this concept.
most of my library is an anti-library, but I recently culled a lot b/c
1. I'm moving
2. I faced the true fact:
My own public library is the anti-library, so are all the booksellers online or physical
I can turn to them and only focus on the books I immediately want to read
‘Until books’. 🙌
Another terrific read, Mark - fascinating! 😊
What a brilliant article. You made me realise that I have many "reference books ", there to be used when and as needed, like a dictionary.
Thanks for sharing this. It's also the first time I've encountered the anti-library concept. Makes me feel better about my TBR pile
The antilibrary concept is pretty trendy among people I follow, but like you, it just doesn't land for me. I can absolutely see the potential worth of having your own reference library, and I think it's important to both remind yourself that you don't know it all while also being curious enough to try to undo that.
There was tremendous value in accumulating knowledge—or the potential of knowledge—in unread books, but most of that value was based on the historical scarcity of quality information. Things have changed wildly in the last 25 years, and you can now have access to whatever book you haven't yet read on your kindle about as fast as you can walk across the room to take it off your own shelf. Essentially, nearly everyone has an antilibrary—their smartphone—these days.
But again, just having access to an antilibrary isn't the same as actually *using* it. I think that's where Ted Gioia's recent post on a Lifetime Reading Plan makes a lot of sense. I think that *accomplishes* what an antilibrary is supposed to provide.
Similarly, a better concept is participating in what I've called an "Antilibrary Book Club" (https://www.ideasnotebook.com/More+Ideas/Open+Antilibrary+Book+Club). Instead of reading the same book and discussing it together, participants read a different book that interests them and shares what they learned and taken from the book with the group—sort of a cross between a book report, TED Talk, and Philosophers Cafe.
I can honestly say that I have never considered the concept of an "antilibrary." As a minimalist, I find the idea of collecting unread books to be deeply unsettling and distressing. But this discussion conjures up questions of abundance. As books have gotten cheaper and more abundant, especially in digital form, is it not likely that anti-libraries are growing faster than the libraries themselves?
As I discussed here, the cost of books keeps falling: https://www.lianeon.org/p/the-cost-of-books-keeps-falling, but if those books are just stuffing anti-libraries an unread, is that really the outcome that we desire?
I had a blast reading this article! After I was finished I was flooded with so many different tiny emotions. It took me a full five minutes to figure out where I landed within this discussion.
I think I hate myself for this, but I love the antilibrary. In fact my antilibrary is even worse than a shelf of unread books. Mine grows legs and walks with me on my travels. I rarely if ever show up to an airport with less than three or six books between my carryon and my checked luggage....and you know what? I love it.
It is something wonderful to start a book as a plane takes off, start to dose off 20 pages in and then switch to a totally different genre. It also makes for a great conversation starter with your fellow passenger.
Now, I know what your thinking, “Bob you can’t switch to the three books under the plane in your checked luggage!”
I know...and yet, I love those books just the same.
I think the word antilibrary makes me feel cranky too. The unread books are the very opposite of anti. They are question marks and invitations. As if half my books don’t fall into the category of both read and unread! 😅 When I look at someone’s shelves, I think, ah, this is what you are curious about, or: this is who you’d like to be. Now I’m in a froth! Anti-library: phooey! 🤜 😖😱
We're having a yard sale in a week and a half so I've been going through my antilibrary (new term to me) and forcing myself to be brutal in my culling because I definitely amass books more quickly than I can read them. In trying to cull, of course I'll choose to get rid of books I've read, but some books I can't bear to part with because they've meant something to me. I want to see them on my shelf. I'm also getting rid of some books I *haven't* yet read, and it's possible I'm making regrettable decisions---I'll probably never know. I'm the type that has mountains of books on the bedside table and dresser at all times, so something has to be done. Sadly, we had a yard sale last year where I tried to get rid of books, and hardly any sold! There were some really good books there! Our neighbours are philistines I guess.
My idea of a good time is to spend an afternoon at the library book sale which means I have a lot of books in my collection that I haven’t yet read. But I know I’ll get to them eventually. I tend to prune this part of my library regularly.
Occasionally, at the book sales, a book will have a gorgeous cover or the book itself is beautiful and I’ll buy it, knowing I’m never going to read it, but for the pleasure of looking at it again and again. I have some old Penguin poetry books with the most gorgeous covers that fall into this category- they appeal to the photographer in me! These are not merely decorative objects- they are doubly precious because they’re books and they evoke joy even without the reading. Ha, I didn’t know I had so many opinions! Thanks, Mark, this was so interesting!
Just for another angle to consider: "potential" and "value" aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. An unknown with potential upside that dwarfs the book you just read is something I'd consider more valuable, not less, if it was above a certain expectation threshold.
All that said, I used to treasure books I'd read. I still can't bring myself to get rid of any of them, even though it's super easy to get all the information elsewhere nowadays.
This is a term I have actually never heard of. My private library was once over four thousand volumes, now down to one thousand more select ones, but I still buy anything I can afford that I know I will - or might - use in the future. I love books of course, even some of my own, and the many others still unread await their advent in my very much incomplete mind. But I have to disagree about Eco though; his non-fiction is pedantic and his fiction sentimental. The trick to good writing is not to get too bogged down in what others have done, which I am guessing was his issue given the massive library he owned. You need to have a healthy bit of Beethovenian deafness about you to be innovative with writing, and presumably with other things as well.