Embracing My Antilibrary or Tsundoku Status

A Getty image.

There are so many books. Do you ever think about that? If you’re a reader, I know you do because you dread the thought, like me, of not getting to read all the books you want to read!

It’s that time of the year — let’s not dwell on the fact for too long that it is somehow December 2021 already — where a lot of big media outlets are putting out there year-end, best-of lists and that includes best books of the year.

The other day for Cyber Monday, I was looking at Amazon’s book deals and their “editors” or whomever, had a top 100 list. That’s 100 hundred apparently notable books just in the year 2021 alone.

I don’t know about you, but I’m unfortunately lucky to read 20 books a year. I suck at math, but do the math on that ratio there and tell me how many books I’ll be behind by the time I’m 80-years-old, should I be lucky enough to be around at that age. Of course, not every book on that list is likely to be one I’d want to read anyway, but let’s even say I’d love to read a fourth of the list and the ratio still doesn’t look good, folks! (Presumably, though, once I retire, I can increase my yearly book reading beyond 20, I would think!)

Now add in prior years’ most notable books and obviously, all of the classic books before there were even notable books lists and it’s a whopper of a list of books! And I know people on Writing Twitter somewhat rightly get frustrated that those notable book lists often do not include books published by independent presses and small presses, so add in all of those as well.

Whew. And of course, often, you can see a list of 100 notable books of the year that’s just fiction or just nonfiction. As someone who likes to dabble in both, that only adds to the list! Add in poetry collections and that also adds to the list!

Are you seeing the problem?!

And never mind the fact that I have well over 1,000 books sitting in my upstairs library room, I still continue to buy new books because I can’t help it. Heck, I should be getting a new book delivery tonight. Seriously!

I am 100 percent that meme of a person who continues to buy books, only further establishing the ratio of unread books to read books. Gah. GAH, I say.

Other people have written about this phenomenon of course and I only jest when I say it’s a matter of dread, as others have pointed out that it’s actually a “badge of honor.” According to Jessica Stillman, it says good things about my mind that I’ll never get to read all of those surely lovely books. She quotes the author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb about it:

“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 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.”

The antilibrary. I dig it! Both sides of that concept are intriguing: Ensuring you stay insatiably curious and a lifelong learner and reminding you of the vastness of what do not know and how humbly beautiful that realization is (rather than a nihilistic or dreadful matter).

There’s another word on offer from our friends, the Japanese: tsundoku, meaning a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read.

Whichever word you want to embrace, I personally love still having a bunch of physical books (and hardcover, if I can!), even if I know it’s unlikely my short time on this Earth will enable me to read all of them.

As I like to say, there’s beauty in the struggle and in this case, there’s beauty in the struggle to read more books.

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