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All Those Books You’ve Bought but Haven’t Read? There’s a Word for That

I own far more books than I could possibly read over the course of my remaining life, yet every month I add a few dozen more to my shelves. For years I felt guilty about this situation, until I read an article by Jessica Stillman on the website of the magazine Inc. titled “Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read.” Stillman argued that a personal library too big to get through in a lifetime “isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance,” but rather “a badge of honor.” Her argument was a variation on a theme put forth by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 best seller “The Black Swan,” a book about the outsize impact on our lives of large, unpredictable events. In essence, Taleb claims that although people tend to place a higher value on the things they know than on the things they don’t know, it is the things we don’t know, and therefore can’t see coming, that tend to shape our world most dramatically.

A person’s library is often a symbolic representation of his or her mind. A man who has quit expanding his personal library may have reached the point where he thinks he knows all he needs to and that what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him. He has no desire to keep growing intellectually. The man with an ever-expanding library understands the importance of remaining curious, open to new ideas and voices.

Taleb argues that a personal library “should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allow 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.”

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. A better term for what he’s talking about might be tsundoku, a Japanese word for a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read. My personal library is about one-tenth books I have read and nine-tenths tsundoku. I probably own about 3,000 books. But many of those books are anthologies or compilations that contain multiple books within them. I own a lot of Library of America volumes, a series that publishes the complete novels of authors like Dashiell Hammett and Nathanael West as a single book. Thus, my 3,000-book library probably holds more than 6,000 works. Once I have read a book, I often give it away or trade it in at a used-book store. As a result, my tsundoku is ever expanding while the number of books in my house that I have read remains fairly constant at a few hundred.

In truth, however, the tsundoku fails to describe much of my library. I own a lot of story collections, poetry anthologies and books of essays, which I bought knowing I would probably not read every entry. People like Taleb, Stillman and whoever coined the word tsundoku seem to recognize only two categories of book: the read and the unread. But every book lover knows there is a third category that falls somewhere between the other two: the partially read book. Just about every title on a book lover’s reference shelves, for instance, falls into this category. No one reads the American Heritage Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus from cover to cover. One of my favorite books is John Sutherland’s “The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction.” It’s a fascinating, witty and very opinionated survey of Victorian England’s novels and novelists, from the famous (Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray) to the justifiably forgotten (Sutherland describes the novels of Tom Gallon as “sub-Dickensian fiction of sentiment and lowlife in London, typically written in an elliptical, rather graceless style”). I’ve owned the book for 20 years and derived great enjoyment from it, but I doubt I’ll ever manage to read every word of it or of dozens of other reference books on my shelves.

by Anonymousreply 5810/13/2018

I worked in publishing for many years so had thousands of books. Once I'd moved on to reading books on my kindle or iPad I got rid of all my books as they were just taking up space.

I've heard people say things like "I could never get rid of all my favourite books - what if I wanted to read them again one day?". Well that might happen with a handful of the books I've read in my lifetime and if I want them I can get them in seconds in ebook format. I don't need walls and walls of shelving for that.

Best thing I ever did.

by Anonymousreply 110/09/2018

Interesting concept but should be titled: All those words they wrote but you didn’t read because TL:DR.

by Anonymousreply 210/09/2018

Having lots of books is enriching. Much better than having lots of shoes, ties, handbags, etc. If you're going to have lots of something you could do a lot worse than books, unless you're some kind of maniac who has thousands of them and no where to put them.

by Anonymousreply 310/09/2018

Vaguely related, is there a Japanese word for unwatched pr0n downloads?

by Anonymousreply 410/09/2018

I regularly sell my physical books to a used bookstore whenever I have enough. I never have more than 40 in my house ever, and they are all my absolute favorites. Also I have a kindle

by Anonymousreply 510/09/2018

I have about 15 or 20 books that are my lifelong, desert-island favorites, and for everything else I want to read, I use the public library or the local university library. I visit the library about twice a week, and have done so for years. I still only read on paper.

by Anonymousreply 610/09/2018


by Anonymousreply 710/09/2018

Yes laziness

by Anonymousreply 810/09/2018

An embarrassingly high percentage

by Anonymousreply 910/09/2018

I got a lot of CDs I have no time to listen.

by Anonymousreply 1010/09/2018

so many books so many films.

by Anonymousreply 1110/09/2018

I keep books that look good in my bookcase. Hardcover, nicely bound and accessorized with little sculptures. But all new books are on kindle.

by Anonymousreply 1210/09/2018

I hoard books, and I will happily admit it. But I don't buy books just for the sake of acquiring more -- I am deliberate in my choices, and I usually go in spurts. I'll get interested in the eighteenth century, or Chinese poetry, or medieval German epics, or the American Civil war, and buy a lot of books on those topics. I like owning the "great works" of literature -- even if I haven't read them all yet, there is a comfort in knowing they sit on my shelf, that an arm's length away rests Geoffrey's The History of the Kings of Britain, Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Camões' Lusiads, Homer's Iliad, and a collection Tang and Song poetry.

Perhaps it's because I grew up with physical books, but being surrounded by paper, print, and cardboard makes me calm and brings an equilibrium similar to being in nature.

by Anonymousreply 1310/09/2018

I recently gave away half my books and I still have hundreds left. Anytime anyone shows any interest in any of my books, I gladly give them to them. I do love the books, though. I’ve actually read all mine and they are like old friends. It’s comforting to have them around me.

by Anonymousreply 1410/09/2018

[quote]The man with an ever-expanding library understands the importance of remaining curious, open to new ideas and voices.

I wonder what a woman with an ever-expanding library understands? Really, why do people still write in such a sexist way when it is so easy to write without being a sexist?

"A person with an ever-expanding library..."

It's not that fucking difficult.

by Anonymousreply 1510/09/2018

What are some of your desert island favorites, r6?

I actually like the term “antilibrary.” I used to feel embarrassed about having so many books when I have only read a small fraction but now it’s something I accept and like about myself. I wish more ppl had a big home library.

I, too, have many MANY varied interests and can go through brief but intense phases of seeking out books and info on relatively obscure subjects, but then move on to other interests before I’ve delved too deeply in the books I’ve acquired. It’s nice to have them in case I get back in the mood.

I also frequently choose titles that are out of print and were/are not available in e-book format. But I also vastly prefer a physical artifact that has its own weight and smell and in which I can dog ear or highlight or doodle or scribble little notes in the margins.

I think a home library is the perfect way for potential friends or romantic interests to be able to peruse & get a sense of your character. If the titles resonate with them you’ll bond that much quicker because of it. Some ppl feel that way about record or blu-ray collections.

I like a room in a house to have at least one big wall of books. I visited my neighbors’ house recently and saw they have virtually no books at all, and many empty built-in shelves that instead have cheap knickknacks and framed family photos. The books they do have are silly; new agey self-help, Hallmark channel type religious Jesus loves you titles, and the kind you’d find in a grocery store (summer beach reading). They’re friendly, social folks but their disinterest in literature is apparent in their conversations: not much depth, introspection or philosophy. It made me a little sad.

by Anonymousreply 1610/09/2018

What's even worse, R16, is people with kids who have no books anywhere. Not only are they vapid and shallow but they're making sure the next generation is exactly like them.

by Anonymousreply 1710/09/2018

I like the feel of real books. It's more satisfying to flip through pages and hold a real book instead of an ebook. Although ebooks are great for saving space.

I wonder if bricks and mortar book stores threw in the towel too quickly. Maybe they should have combined selling books with selling vinyl records because local book stores are now selling turntables and record albums and I never thought those would ever come back.

by Anonymousreply 1810/09/2018

I have a LibraryThing category for "unread." They are almost all DL recommendations from the "What Are You Reading?"/"What's on Your Nightstand" threads. Some of you bitches can sell it!

by Anonymousreply 1910/09/2018

It’s still a point of pride that our apartment is loaded with piles of books. We have three kids and they all have kindles, but they still prefer real books.

I found a copy of “You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again” at Goodwill but it had pretty bad water damage so I left it. Leafing through, it didn’t grab me the way I thought it would. I’m still debating whether to see if it’s still there.

What say you?

by Anonymousreply 2010/09/2018

There are scientific studies that show that holding and reading a real three dimensional book makes your brain work better and you can retain what you've read at a much higher level.

by Anonymousreply 2110/09/2018

The word for that is HOARDING.

by Anonymousreply 2210/09/2018

The word for what, R22?

by Anonymousreply 2310/09/2018

R21, there's nothing in that clickbait that presents any scientific studies that show reading a physical book is better for your brain than reading an ebook, or whatever the point you were trying to make was.

by Anonymousreply 2410/09/2018

Don't worry about hoarding if it makes you happy. I've known people (anti-hoarders) who live in apartments that are so clean and without stuff that they look like model apartments. They were all miserable people with no joy or spark in their lives. No attachments. No desire to read. Only cared about gossiping about other people and every conversation was ultimately them praising themselves. Boring and undesirable.

by Anonymousreply 2510/09/2018


by Anonymousreply 2610/09/2018

R6, what are a few? Any Dickens?

by Anonymousreply 2710/09/2018

R23 Did you catch the headline?

"All Those Books You’ve Bought but Haven’t Read? There's a Word for That"

R25 All the hoarders are happy until a pile of rubbish tips over and suffocates them. You can see their happiness on about five different tv shows!

by Anonymousreply 2810/10/2018

There are hoarders who collect innocuous items such as books, and then there are hoarders who collect items such as dead cats, plastic bags of human feces, and containers of yogurt that expired in 2001.

Let's not paint them with the same broad brush.

by Anonymousreply 2910/10/2018

r5, you only have 40 actual books in your house? I can only imagine what they are.

by Anonymousreply 3010/10/2018

I live in an apartment. My books and bookshelves act as a sound barrier, so I don't have to hear my neighbors.

by Anonymousreply 3110/10/2018

R30 About half are history. Nonfiction on Greece, Rome, Egypt, Midieval England, or American Revolution. I prefer physical copies of nonfiction because I like to reread sections spontaneously and like to flip through them quickly when reading.

The other half are long historical epics. Shogun, Aztec, Pillars of the Earth. A few of My favorite Stephen King and Haruki Murakami novels. And 2 of my favorite children's books. The fifth Harry Potter book and the the first Artemis Fowl book.

by Anonymousreply 3210/10/2018

R13 Whats a good German historical epic?

by Anonymousreply 3310/10/2018

For r33:

by Anonymousreply 3410/10/2018

Too many books, too many contradictory opinions next to each other. This leads to anarchy.

by Anonymousreply 3510/10/2018

Why would I keep the shit I've read? I'm one person who can barely afford 300Sqft on a fourth floor. Ohh, but the statuary! The Books!

Ten years of moving college stats, finance, and accounting books taught me to look up anything when it's needed. The management books went first - De Paul creamed all over Enron and Motorola.

As far as brain food, my fiction favorites are pulp and the random history book I come across is usually cycled back through Goodwill.

by Anonymousreply 3610/10/2018

And this R33

by Anonymousreply 3710/10/2018

Only book lovers can understand. It’s not hoarding. My grandmother was a hoarder, but never of books.

I love perusing books in other people’s houses. It’s like entering another dimension. I love fantasy. Adventure. Philosophy. Romance. Jungian essays. Even politics and histories ...sigh.

I love it all.

Right now I am drowning in parenting books because my children are so damn challenging. I’ve not finished most of them because you get the jist of the author’s intent in the first 1-3 chapters, so I understand about not reading cover to cover.

Can’t wait to have time to read poetry again.

by Anonymousreply 3810/10/2018

r33 The Nibelungenlied is the great German medieval epic

by Anonymousreply 3910/10/2018

it’s easier to remember the spelling if you break it into three smaller words


my 9th grade English teacher taught us that one. he had the best classroom in the school, with several large rows of bookshelves full of great old books, and he also had cool objects and some newspaper clippings, posters etc hung on the walls or even affixed from the ceiling. he had a coffee pot in the back of the room and a turntable and would brew a fresh pot every morning which made the room smell like Dunkin Donuts coffee mingled with that old book smell. when he didn’t have class in session he’d usually be playing old jazz records on the turntable. his favorite was Chet Baker.

there aren’t many ppl like that but I wish I knew more who were and if I myself ever get to the point where my living space has the cozy, inviting feel of a magical old bookstore I’ll be pretty proud of that fact.

by Anonymousreply 4010/10/2018

Books make a house feel warmer and more homey.

Aside: watched a British home show on Netflix recently and thought it was funny that they say 'homely' instead of 'homey' since in America 'homely' means ugly. They kept saying how this or that made it so much more homely.)

by Anonymousreply 4110/10/2018

I have whole bookshelves...*shame*

by Anonymousreply 4210/11/2018

I am adept at the art of tsundoku, and I'm very happy to know that there's a word for it.

by Anonymousreply 4310/11/2018

Well, apparently just having lots of books around the house when you’re growing up makes you smarter.

by Anonymousreply 4410/11/2018

[quote]The word for that is HOARDING.

So is a saving and refrigerating, so if you're trying to make some argument based on the leitmotif of a bad reality-TV show, you have some intellectual-development time to yet put into your musings.

by Anonymousreply 4510/12/2018

[quote]So is a saving and refrigerating


by Anonymousreply 4610/12/2018

Having a lot of books is not hoarding. Books--even too many to read--are a good thing. I'm sure most people on Datalounge wouldn't understand that.

by Anonymousreply 4710/12/2018

The greatest part of my library is art monographs and history, then American Civil War history, and then old detective and hard-boiled mysteries.

by Anonymousreply 4810/12/2018

This thread has inspired me to recatalogue my library: Art (the biggest challenge is oversized art books), fiction from world classics of literature to contemporary, nonfiction (essays, criticism, biographies and autobiographies, letters, poetry, theatre, film, coffee table books). I have books by everyone from Homer to Jim Thompson to Jennifer Egan. I don't have shit books like books on Damien Hirst or practically anything on the Times or Amazon bestseller lists. That us the true waste of wall space. Books are a world to go into and escape, like really worthy theatre or music or movies.

by Anonymousreply 4910/12/2018

This article is all about me. I have been collecting books all my life. It's funny I will spend $100 dollars on a book but I would never buy an object like lamp or sofa with such abandon. I love to read. I often hate finishing a good book because I want to stay within the story for a longer time. I have been that way since I was a child, even though as a child I had trouble reading. I am a very slow reader. I read every word and think over lines and passages for days. But reading is the only thing, next to music and films, that has held my attention. I have known people all my life who like cars, fishing, gambling and sports. But I have known fewer people, especially other men, who like to read. Reading is like a drug: it calms me down, it makes me more alert, it balances my emotions, and it oddly gives me more confidence and courage. I love the smell of the book as well. When I was a little boy my mother would leave me in the mall bookstore while she went shopping. I could stay in there for hours. Oddly, I have never liked libraries. I like my books new, unspoiled, and buy-able. My friends say if you want to find me I will be at the bar reading a book with a bourbon neat. I say all this because I love my home library and tending to it and making it grow. Whenever I have a date or a stranger in my house I can always tell a keeper if they look over my books. My aunt use to say when you go to a person's house look for their library, and if they don't have one leave.

by Anonymousreply 5010/12/2018

For R33, a doorstop of a novel, and worth the effort. For all the jokes about German wordiness, it's shorter than A Dance to The Music of Time, the English equivalent

by Anonymousreply 5110/12/2018

I found this rather interesting, though it doesn't sound like my kind of bookstore.

by Anonymousreply 5210/12/2018

r52 Wasn't the original Shakespeare & Co. on W. 8th St. in the Village?

by Anonymousreply 5310/12/2018

Spending money on books you haven't read is just stupid. You can get books from the library. Even if you live in some remote outpost, the interlibrary loan service can get books for you. Paper books and ebooks. I get almost all of my books from the library. Rare exceptions are new releases that have a waiting list at the library. Amazon lets you read a preview for free so you can see if you like it before you commit to it. which I always do before purchasing a book. To those of you who are hoarding thousands of books: make plans for their disposal when you die. No one wants them and whoever has to clean out your dusty library is going to curse you to hell.

by Anonymousreply 5410/12/2018

You sound rather insufferable, r54

by Anonymousreply 5510/12/2018

"Spending money on books you haven't read is just stupid."

Speaking of stupid, r54, that is one of the stupider sentences I've read in a while, and on Datalounge that's saying something. You can't teach someone what a love for books means, and you've proven yourself unteachable. I can think of just about anything else that's worse to spend your money on. And once you're dead, why would you care about the feelings of those who have to dispose of your books?

by Anonymousreply 5610/13/2018

R54 also saves money buying energy drinks and Gatorade by the caseload, then struggles to consume it all before its "best before" date.

by Anonymousreply 5710/13/2018

r57 made me LOL after a long day

by Anonymousreply 5810/13/2018
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