My Anti Antilibrary

I used to believe that it was the Germans who had a name for everything, but it may actually be the Japanese.

Tsundoku is the Japanese term for accumulating books, whilst not actually reading them.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb described a similar phenomenon in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, calling this an antilibrary.  It is suggested that an antilibrary is a pertinent reminder of everything that we don’t know and, as such, has a salutary humbling effect.  I am not so sure.  I am not convinced that an antilibrary is anything very different from the internet: a vast potential resource of knowledge, but one that may by its very existence only serve to inhibit the acquisition of personal knowledge.

I am a great believer in the statement that “we don’t know how much we know before we know how much we don’t know”, but I do not think that an antilibrary is a physical representation of this assertion.  Owning an unplayed piano does not necessarily make me speculate on the vastness of my musical ignorance.

I have a lot of books in my house that I have never read, but I am not sure that they form either an antilibrary, or are the result of tsundoku.   Mine is more a sentimental library; books I have acquired to which I have then consciously attributed supra-literary properties, above and beyond the information contained within them.  Where my own collection of books differs from an antilibrary is that an antilibrary still assumes that the books’ principal raison d’être are as works of reference.  I recognise that many of my own books have long since abdicated this reason for their existence.

Some are purely decorative, merely aesthetic objects; others function as short-cut statements of my own identity––intellectual; historical; cultural; social––some are investments, pure and simple; whilst others are bridges to the past; stepping stones and memory joggers to past experiences and emotions.

And, amidst all this biblio-abundance, one or two I have actually read.

© Fergus Longfellow

But, Hey! What does Fergus Longfellow know?

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