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Why Unread Books Are More Valuable To Us Than Read Ones


You can read books to gain knowledge, for pleasure, or just to kill some time. Yet, whatever the reason, you can’t remain indifferent to them.

They bring the world closer to you. They make you see life from a different perspective. They’re your best companion. They nourish your brain. They offer you knowledge and wisdom.

Even experts agree that lifelong learning helps you be happier, healthier, and earn more. Additionally, many of the prominent names in the world of business, such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, emphasize that the best way to become smarter is to read.

Knowing all this, what most of us do is search for some interesting titles, go out, and buy them.

Yet, the hectic pace of our lives doesn’t allow us to have enough free time. We’re busy working and fulfilling our daily responsibilities. And this makes it very difficult for us to make time for reading books.

So, what you end up with is having shelves overstuffed with plenty of books that you have an intention to read one day or books that you just quickly skimmed through.

But, if one of your life goals is to become a knowledgeable and wiser person but you rarely read, then I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s very likely you won’t achieve it. If you really want to gain knowledge, develop your skills, improve your career, and climb the social ladder, you need to make time for books because they are worth it.

However, if you’re one of those people who buy a lot of books but can’t make time to read them, don’t despair because there is a good thing about it, and here it is: your overstuffed library isn’t an indicator of lack of knowledge or failure – it’s a mark of honor.

What  “antilibrary” is and why you need it.

This is what the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb explores in his bestseller The Black Swan. He supports this idea with an anecdote about the prominent Italian writer Umberto Eco and his relationship with his personal library which contained 30,000 books.

In reference to this, Taleb notes:

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.”

So, of course, Eco didn’t read all his books and in fact, the reason why he surrounded himself with so many books was not to read all of them. Instead, his large library. i.e. antilibrary, served as a constant reminder of the things he didn’t know, and it kept him hungry for gaining more knowledge.

So, the good thing about having a bunch of unread books is that they remind you of the things you don’t know or things that you might find out one day  you were wrong about. 

By being daily reminded of your limitations, you’re more likely to move towards intellectual humility – the ability to be conscious of the limits of your knowledge and willing to accept that you might be wrong.

In reference to this, Taleb notes: “People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did.” 

And why is this so? Well, it’s not a secret that those who are incompetent are the most confident about their abilities, whereas those who have a lot of doubts are actually the most intelligent.

So, if you have a pile of unread books standing on the shelves of your home library and still continue to buy them, know that you’re on the right track. Although this maybe be a sign of your ignorance, the fact that you’re aware of it makes you be way ahead of those who fail to realize the limits of their knowledge and think they’re the know-it-alls.

Why Unread Books Are More Valuable To Us Than Read Ones