Adjusting the goal

According to my Goodreads account, I have completed 60 of my 75 books for my annual goal.  I went and counted and I have read 15 children’s books so far this year.  I wasn’t expecting to read that many when I set the goal.  Adding the 15 to my originally planned 75 books would make the count 90, so I’ll be changing the goal to 100.  It shows that I am 24 books ahead, so I’ll be ok, I think.

Changing the goal to 100 makes me only 12 books ahead of schedule.  Still well above where I thought I’d be.

Prepping for the swim

I am currently charging my swimming mp3 player. My towels and swimsuit are drying. I sync’d my Garmin watch to the app, so it’s empty. I have most of my change of clothes packed. Once I put the clothes, towels and music into the swimming bag, I’ll be all set. Except, I forgot soap in my shower bag. One day, I’ll get to the gym with everything I need. Today wasn’t that day. Maybe it’ll be tomorrow?

More Than Halfway Through

This morning, I finished book 38 of my annual goal of 75 books.  I am 7 books ahead of schedule.  It gives me a little wiggle room to fall behind a bit, but I think I am doing ok.  Between my own challenges, ARC reading for authors, and bookclubs, I am staying on track with most of my deadlines.  I may have to change my goal if I get close to finishing before anticipated.

At the gym… Fitbit and other challenges

Today’s goal was to hit the gym.  I wanted to swim, but I was just too blah when I got there.  I had to change the billing card on the membership, so I had to go.  I ended up on the treadmill for a short while, trying to catch up on my fitbit steps.  I stayed on the treadmill until my foot started to hurt.  I didn’t even make it a half a mile on the darn thing, but I met my goal.  I went to the gym.  Baby steps.  I also got some of my audiobook, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, done.  I have about 4 hours left in it, and it’s due back on Wednesday.  Hopefully, I’ll make it.  The bookclub for that one isn’t until mid-July, so I can afford a little time on the waiting list, again.

My other goal was to find my shower bag for the gym, so I can actually swim before work.  Found it!

I was supposed to go to the pharmacy and to the post office, too.  I only made it to the post office.  I forgot about the pharmacy.  Hopefully, I’ll make it tomorrow, or one of my kids will.

My swim bag is packed for tomorrow, except for socks.  Best laid plans…

The garbage, recycling, and compost are out.  We only had one minor incident there, involving a man walking by and ogling my daughter.  The dogs took offense, and the man went off screaming.  They are just noisy dogs.  The guy didn’t know they are big chickens and their barks are worse than their bites.  At least the dogs keep it interesting around here.

 

There are benefits to an Antilibrary

(Antilibrary)

I loved this article.  The original is linked above.  I have more than my share of an Antilibrary.  It’s to remind me of what there still is to be learned, I believe.  I don’t usually buy or borrow books that are of topics I am not interested in, so there are more books in my antilibrary than I can fit on my Book stack.

 

The value of owning more books than you can read

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love my tsundoku.

  • Many readers buy books with every intention of reading them only to let them linger on the shelf.
  • Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives as they remind us of all we don’t know.
  • The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits.

I love books. If I go to the bookstore to check a price, I walk out with three books I probably didn’t know existed beforehand. I buy second-hand books by the bagful at the Friends of the Library sale, while explaining to my wife that it’s for a good cause. Even the smell of books grips me, that faint aroma of earthy vanilla that wafts up at you when you flip a page.

The problem is that my book-buying habit outpaces my ability to read them. This leads to FOMO and occasional pangs of guilt over the unread volumes spilling across my shelves. Sound familiar?

But it’s possible this guilt is entirely misplaced. According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, these unread volumes represent what he calls an “antilibrary,” and he believes our antilibraries aren’t signs of intellectual failings. Quite the opposite.

Living with an antilibrary

(Photo from Wikimedia)

Umberto Eco signs a book. You can see a portion of the author’s vast antilibrary in the background.

Taleb laid out the concept of the antilibrary in his best-selling book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. He starts with a discussion of the prolific author and scholar Umberto Eco, whose personal library housed a staggering 30,000 books.

When Eco hosted visitors, many would marvel at the size of his library and assumed it represented the host’s knowledge — which, make no mistake, was expansive. But a few savvy visitors realized the truth: Eco’s library wasn’t voluminous because he had read so much; it was voluminous because he desired to read so much more.

Eco stated as much. Doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation, he found he could only read about 25,200 books if he read one book a day, every day, between the ages of ten and eighty. A “trifle,” he laments, compared to the million books available at any good library.

Drawing from Eco’s example, Taleb deduces:

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. [Your] 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. [Emphasis original]

Maria Popova, whose post at Brain Pickings summarizes Taleb’s argument beautifully, notes that our tendency is to overestimate the value of what we know, while underestimating the value of what we don’t know. Taleb’s antilibrary flips this tendency on its head.

The antilibrary’s value stems from how it challenges our self-estimation by providing a constant, niggling reminder of all we don’t know. The titles lining my own home remind me that I know little to nothing about cryptography, the evolution of feathers, Italian folklore, illicit drug use in the Third Reich, and whatever entomophagy is. (Don’t spoil it; I want to be surprised.)

“We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended,” Taleb writes. “It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations.”

These selves of unexplored ideas propel us to continue reading, continue learning, and never be comfortable that we know enough. Jessica Stillman calls this realization intellectual humility.

People who lack this intellectual humility — those without a yearning to acquire new books or visit their local library — may enjoy a sense of pride at having conquered their personal collection, but such a library provides all the use of a wall-mounted trophy. It becomes an “ego-booting appendage” for decoration alone. Not a living, growing resource we can learn from until we are 80 — and, if we are lucky, a few years beyond.

Tsundoku

(Photo from Flickr)

Book swap attendees will no doubt find their antilibrary/tsundoku grow.

I love Taleb’s concept, but I must admit I find the label “antilibrary” a bit lacking. For me, it sounds like a plot device in a knockoff Dan Brown novel — “Quick! We have to stop the Illuminati before they use the antilibrary to erase all the books in existence.”

Writing for the New York Times, Kevin Mims also doesn’t care for Taleb’s label. Thankfully, his objection is a bit more practical: “I don’t really like Taleb’s term ‘antilibrary.’ A library is a collection of books, many of which remain unread for long periods of time. I don’t see how that differs from an antilibrary.”

His preferred label is a loanword from Japan: tsundokuTsundoku is the Japanese word for the stack(s) of books you’ve purchased but haven’t read. Its morphology combines tsunde-oku (letting things pile up) and dukosho (reading books).

The word originated in the late 19th century as a satirical jab at teachers who owned books but didn’t read them. While that is opposite of Taleb’s point, today the word carries no stigma in Japanese culture. It’s also differs from bibliomania, which is the obsessive collecting of books for the sake of the collection, not their eventual reading.

The value of tsundoku

Granted, I’m sure there is some braggadocious bibliomaniac out there who owns a collection comparable to a small national library, yet rarely cracks a cover. Even so, studies have shown that book ownership and reading typically go hand in hand to great effect.

One such study found that children who grew up in homes with between 80 and 350 books showed improved literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology skills as adults. Exposure to books, the researchers suggested, boosts these cognitive abilities by making reading a part of life’s routines and practices.

Many other studies have shown reading habits relay a bevy of benefits. They suggest reading can reduce stress, satisfy social connection needs, bolster social skills and empathy, and boost certain cognitive skills. And that’s just fiction! Reading nonfiction is correlated with success and high achievement, helps us better understand ourselves and the world, and gives you the edge come trivia night.

In her article, Jessica Stillman ponders whether the antilibrary acts as a counter to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias that leads ignorant people to assume their knowledge or abilities are more proficient than they truly are. Since people are not prone to enjoying reminders of their ignorance, their unread books push them toward, if not mastery, then at least a ever-expanding understanding of competence.

“All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people,” Stillman writes.

Whether you prefer the term antilibrary, tsundoku, or something else entirely, the value of an unread book is its power to get you to read it.

…goes to the gym

The class that I take on Mondays and Wednesdays is a PE class. I started taking the class because I needed to get back on my foot after my foot surgery. Then I decided that I needed to have accountability to someone to get myself to exercise.

I was making progress toward getting back to where I was before the foot injury. Every time I was feeling good, I would catch a cold and an everlasting cough.

Today, I managed to get most of the way through the ab workout. Then squats and planks. I skipped pushups because my chest still hurts from all the coughing.

I managed a mile on the treadmill. Without my foot hurting. While finishing a book. Major accomplishments all around.