Another article on the antilibrary

(Why you need an antilibrary)

Above is a link to another article to go with my previous post, There are benefits to an Antilibrary

Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read

An overstuffed bookcase (or e-reader) says good things about your mind.

CREDIT: Getty Images

Lifelong learning will help you be happier, earn more, and even stay healthier, experts say. Plus, plenty of the smartest names in business, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk, insist that the best way to get smarter is to read. So what do you do? You go out and buy books, lots of them.

But life is busy, and intentions are one thing, actions another. Soon you find your shelves (or e-reader) overflowing with titles you intend to read one day, or books you flipped through once but then abandoned. Is this a disaster for your project to become a smarter, wiser person?

If you never actually get around to reading any books, then yes. You might want to read up on tricks to squeeze more reading into your hectic life and why it pays to commit a few hours every week to learning. But if it’s simply that your book reading in no way keeps pace with your book buying, I have good news for you (and for me; I definitely fall into this category): Your overstuffed library isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance, it’s a badge of honor.

Why you need an “antilibrary”

That’s the argument author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes in his bestseller The Black Swan. Perpetually fascinating blog Brain Pickings dug up and highlighted the section in a particularly lovely post. Taleb kicks off his musings with an anecdote about the legendary library of Italian writer Umberto Eco, which contained a jaw-dropping 30,000 volumes.

Did Eco actually read all those books? Of course not, but that wasn’t the point of surrounding himself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things he didn’t know, Eco’s library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever-growing collection of books you haven’t yet read can do the same for you, Taleb writes:

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.

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. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself toward the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

“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,” Taleb claims.

Why? Perhaps because it is a well-known psychological fact that it’s the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt. (Really. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.) It’s equally well established that the more readily you admit you don’t know things, the faster you learn.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. 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.

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.

Reading is good for your brain

(The original article)

We all know that reading is good for us, but this is an interesting article.  It also includes an article on reading every day (here)

Reading isn’t just filling your head—it’s nourishing it. This is the latest science on the magic of books.

Reading is good for your brainMatthew Cohen/rd.com, Apple by Aguiardesign

You can take fish oil supplements or eat lots of turmeric. You can invest in a language class, puzzle books, or a few hours of exercise every week. There are countless methods to (allegedly) improve your memory and cognitive functioning—the brain-training and -assessment industry is expected to reach $8 billion by 2022, according to a major market research report. But the cheapest, easiest, and most time-tested way to sharpen your brain is right in front of your face. It’s called reading.

The fact that reading is good for your brain isn’t surprising—there’s a reason moms are always on their kids’ cases to turn off the TV and pick up a good book. But there’s something astounding about how such an ordinary activity can improve your brain in so many ways.

The most basic impact occurs in the area associated with language reception, the left temporal cortex. Processing written material—from the letters to the words to the sentences to the stories themselves—snaps the neurons to attention as they start the work of transmitting all that information. That happens when we process spoken language, too, but the very nature of reading encourages the brain to work harder and better. “Typically, when you read, you have more time to think,” says Maryanne Wolf, EdD, director of the UCLA Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice. “Reading gives you a unique pause button for comprehension and insight. By and large, with oral ­language—when you watch a film or listen to a tape—you don’t press pause.”

And the benefits of reading continue long after you’ve put down that great book. A small study at Emory University found that some of those benefits persisted for five days. “We call that a shadow activity, almost like a muscle memory,” says Gregory Berns, PhD, director of the Center for Neuro­policy at Emory. In fact, this is how reading in a certain font can improve your memory.

The benefits continue long after you've put down that book.

OK, you say, it’s hardly surprising that the language part of the brain would get a workout from reading. But reading also energizes the region responsible for motor activity, the central sulcus. That’s because the brain is a very exuberant play actor. When it is reading about a physical activity, the neurons that control that activity get busy as well. You may not actually be riding a horse when you’re reading Seabiscuit, but your brain acts as if it is. And the more parts of your brain that get a workout, the better it is for your overall cognitive performance.

That said, not all reading is created equal. Preliminary results from a study conducted at Stanford University indicate that close literary reading in particular gives your brain a major workout. MRI scans of people who are deep into a Jane Austen novel showed an increase in blood flowing to areas of the brain that control both cognitive and executive function, as opposed to the more limited effects that come from more leisurely reading.

What if you are (or someone you know is) a poor, or even a dyslexic, reader who feels as if you’ll never be able to read enough to reap these benefits? A book can fix that problem too! Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University studied children ages eight to ten who were below-average readers. One hundred hours of remedial reading classes significantly improved the quality of their brains’ white matter—the tissue that carries signals between areas of gray matter, where information is 
processed. The researchers’ conclusion: The brains of these children had begun to rewire themselves in ways that could benefit the entire brain, not only the reading-centric temporal cortex. Learn more about why your brain needs to read every single day.

Reading is good for your brainMatthew Cohen/rd.com, Apple by Aguiardesign

The ability to read closely is something that needs to be nurtured. In her new book, Reader, Come Home, Wolf notes that even she, as someone who reads for a living, has found her ability to concentrate on the written word fading as more of what we read is on a screen. “Unfortunately, this form of reading is rarely continuous, sustained, or concentrated,” she writes. That sets up a vicious cycle: Without the sustained exercise of our reading “muscles,” the brain loses its ability to control the intricate processes that allow us to read deeply.

Of course, there’s an easy solution: Turn off your phone and your computer, set aside a good hour or two—and just read. Not sure where to start? Pick up one of these 100 books everyone should read before they die.