“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that 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 don’t 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 menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an anti-library.”
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility
My anti-library Kindle list
Taleb’s book is part of my anti-library, ironically enough.
Taleb’s quote above fascinated me, and I bought the book to read, but with the editing business going strong and the fact-checking side of the house prepping for the next issue of Genome Magazine, it’s on my TBR pile. The good news is, now that school has resumed, perhaps the TBR pile can be dug into, perhaps at the beach?
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Theory of Colours
I have done some research on color theory and psychology, and my colors around the world blog post utilizing this as a reference. One of Goethe’s most radical points was a refutation of Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.
Light and darkness, brightness and obscurity, or if a more general expression is preferred, light and its absence, are necessary to the production of color… Color itself is a degree of darkness.
Leon Leyson’s The Boy on the Wooden Box
The Boy on the Wooden Box is on my Kindle since my son Jason went to hear Leon Leyson’s widow, Lis, speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Fullerton Public Library. Leon Leyson was the youngest person ever saved by Oskar Schindler. He was #289 on Schindler’s List. Be sure to read Jason’s take on Lis Leyson’s speech.
As a history major in my undergrad days, this time period has always had a deep impact on me. I am sure it will be eye-opening and emotional.
I’m reminded of Marlon Brando’s famous Playboy interview with Lawrence Grobel, in which he says that he used to read all the time, but finally stopped because information was of no use to him. Grobel interviewed him on his island in Tahiti; Brando told him that he no longer read anything except Shakespeare. Everything that was worth knowing was contained in Shakespeare. Brando said:
I used to read an awful lot. Then I found that I had a lot of information and very little knowledge. I couldn’t learn from reading. I was doing something else by reading, just filling up this hopper full of information, but it was undigested information. I used to think the more intelligence you had, the more knowledge you had, but it’s not true. Look at Bill Buckley; he uses his intelligence to further his own prejudices. Why one reads is important. If it’s just for escape, that’s all right, it’s like taking junk, it’s meaningless. It’s kind of an insult to yourself. Like modern conversation–it’s used to keep people away from one another, because people don’t feel assaulted by conversation so much as silence. People have to make conversation in order to fill up this void. Void is terrifying to most people. We can’t have a direct confrontation with somebody in silence–because what you’re really having is a full and more meaningful confrontation.
Epictetus’ The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle:
Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
Epictetus‘ (c. AD 55 – 135) influential school of Stoic philosophy, stresses that human beings cannot control life, only their responses to it, keeping the focus on progress over perfection, on accomplishing what can be accomplished and abandoning unproductive worry over what cannot.
What’s on your Anti-Library List?
Let me know either by commenting here, or on twitter @bookdoctordara.
For Further Reading:
Brando Playboy interview with Lawrence Grobel (via Corey Parker)
Marginalia, the anti-library, and other ways to master the lost art of reading