What Does A Bookshelf Filled with Unread Books Say About You?

Around our family dinner table on Sunday afternoon, I posed that question. Quick takes included prodigality in purchasing and inconstancy in implementation. But I persevered, and asked if there could be any good reasons for this — ahem — familiar phenomenon. The troops rallied, and came close to the two answers I had at the ready, thanks to two excellent sources.

First, it says something about your humility (remember, education is repentance!) according to this article at Brain Pickings which quotes author Nassim Nicolas Taleb writing about Umberto Eco’s massive unread library:

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 allows 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 . . . An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations – the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about.

Second, it speaks to your aspirations. From author Jess Walter, via Dr. George Grant’s Facebook page this week:

The books we buy are almost as important as those we read. If the books we read reflect the person we are, the books we hope to read might just be who we aspire to be. There is something profound in that.

There. I’ve given you two more good reasons to go out and buy books — or at least put them on your Christmas list. You are welcome.

Baroness Burdett-Coutts, Unknown Artist, c 1840



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