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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 8110/24/2018

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

Is there a word for when you start a book, put it down for some reason and from then on the book is completely spoiled for you?

(You can't easily restart reading it from page one, because everything will seem vaguely familiar—old news. You've probably forgotten where you left off, but anyway if you do skip ahead, you'll probably have forgotten some important earlier detail.)

I have a whole library like this!

by Anonymousreply 5910/23/2018

I discovered a neglected, historical book in a library. It is a 1937 catalog of the gravestones in a very old New England burying ground. The burying ground was resurveyed and recataloged about 1990 without reference to the 1937 catalog, because it was forgotten, and is not online. It was professionally resurveyed and recataloged again recently, using the 1990 catalog as a reference.

The reason the 1937 survey/catalog was so valuable is that it was completed before acid rain washed away many of the inscriptions, and it identified the placement of markers before they were stolen or destroyed. For example, it is the only resource that identifies where my cousin, 4 times removed from c. 1800, was buried, as his marker was destroyed before 1970 and his burying place forgotten. He’s a hometown painter of some repute, and should be part of the purpose of the survey in the first place. It also identified where one of the town founding fathers was buried. It identified a footstone labeled “U. C.” as the man’s initials. Without the reference book, it would not have been clear who those initials stood for.

I was very proud to have found the book and dissected it on my own. (I didn’t initially know there was a professional archivist working on the project at the same time.) I practically had to force the book on the professional archivist. I think she was embarrassed to have missed it.

They spent millions of dollars on the project, so ask them “who cares”, not me.

by Anonymousreply 6010/23/2018

Excellent find, R60. There is so much undiscovered material in old print, it was a tragedy when libraries started throwing away thousands of bound periodicals for execrable microfilm which lost so much detail in the images.

by Anonymousreply 6110/23/2018

Thanks, R61!

I actually found the “U. C.” footstone myself, in the graveyard.

I wrote the archivist team three times and called to get them interested in the book. Finally one old guy asked me about it. I was glad because they had one ancestor of mine, “Lindsey”, listed as “Misty” due to a worn tombstone. That’s a dog’s name!

It’s just a hobby, but this one book kept me busy for over a year.

by Anonymousreply 6210/23/2018

I thin through my books from time to time. I like how filled bookshelves make a room look, though.

I prefer to curl up with an actual book than a kindle edition, even though that would be easier to dust.

by Anonymousreply 6310/23/2018

My Mom forbade us from ever throwing a book away. She didn’t graduate from high school, but had a lot of respect for book-learnin’. Anyway, the NAZIs burned books, and threw them away, and that made an impression on her, which was passed to me. To this day, if I want to get rid of a book, I bring it to a library or goodwill.

by Anonymousreply 6410/23/2018

If you're Catholic and ever want to get rid of a Bible,you should bring it to a church. You don’t just throw it in the trash. The Church has a whole ritual for disposing of old Bibles.

by Anonymousreply 6510/23/2018

“Can You Sometimes Burn Books?”

by Anonymousreply 6610/23/2018

I had a lot of books. I gave them away. Many of the gay books went to people in prison. That's what they wanted: gay, james patterson, and cookbooks. I didn't have any james patterson, I still want my cookbooks, but I had a lot of gay fiction. I can't imagine being in jail and not having something to read.

I also gave a lot of books away in my old apartment building, years ago, before a big move. And numerous library donations.

I've never actually thrown any away.

by Anonymousreply 6710/24/2018

I only thrown away few books the books with the worst translations I've read

by Anonymousreply 6810/24/2018

I wouldn't phrase it like R54 But I agree with him on the substance. Why take up space and money for something you haven't read or won't read? I love reading, I try to do it at least an hour every day, but between the library and ebooks you really don't need to own that many physical books beyond your favorites. Whenever I accumulate a bunch of physical books I sell them to the used bookstore or donate them to a charity.

by Anonymousreply 6910/24/2018

Back in the early 1990s I found an original 1800s copy of a book written by a defender of Edgar Allan Poe's, a rebuttal of Griswold's fictitious slander of Poe. I can't remember the author (a woman) or the name, but was astonished to find the book in our uni library stacks along with everything else. Thinking it was misplaced, I reported it to the rare books dept who published a nasty reply to me in the school paper about how "not every old book is an important one."

The next time I saw it, it was ripped and highlighted and basically ruined.

I don't understand how people can be so thoughtless about books.

by Anonymousreply 7010/24/2018

We've all sold it at one time or another, R19.

by Anonymousreply 7110/24/2018

I just finished moving - downsizing my living quarters - and as much I have loved books, DVDs and Blu-rays over the last several decades, I wouldn't advise people to start buying them. You can easily accumulate so much of them, it's crazy. I had to clean out my storage space this week which was mostly those items.

That said, I tend to like more obscure films so if I don't buy a Blu-ray of it, I'll likely never see it again. with caution.

And, of course, I went on Amazon last night and bought a book!

by Anonymousreply 7210/24/2018

This thread inspired me to list a few books on Amazon and donate a few more. I love books but can't hold on to everything.

by Anonymousreply 7310/24/2018

Goodreads is a "social cataloging" website that allows individuals to freely search its database of books, annotations, and reviews. Users can sign up and register books to generate library catalogs and reading lists. They can also create their own groups of book suggestions, surveys, polls, blogs, and discussions.

by Anonymousreply 7410/24/2018

I LOATHE good reads, the reviews are totally unreliable and it keeps pushing books like Hunger games on me despite me never reading anything remotely in that genre

by Anonymousreply 7510/24/2018

Good Reads, by and large, is bad reads.

by Anonymousreply 7610/24/2018

r69, I am not the person r54 was excoriating, but I always liked to read, so by the time I was ready to get my first apartment, books and bookshelves made up most of my "decorating." It was always that way. I loved it when I met someone who read as much as I did, and even now, I'm much more interested in looking at interiors that include books, records, and CDs.

That said, I'm older now, and have divested myself of most books and all of my records over the years. I now have to consolidate the contents of two bookcases (less than what I started with 40+ years ago) into one.

As for the library, I was a library patron since whatever age it was I was allowed to have a library card, and continued using the library until college, when buying books became the norm. I lived in DC most of my adult life, though, and using the library just wasn't a thing there. Now I'm in Pittsburgh, and I get 99% of my books through the Carnegie Library's kindle system.

Anyway, nothing to judge. Why does your way (or anyone's way) have to be the only way?

by Anonymousreply 7710/24/2018

I Love my books. I finally have a home library set up in my extra room. I like non-fiction and have ordered some pretty obscure things including old textbooks. Its interesting to read books from the early part of the last Century. You discover nothing is really new under the sun.

by Anonymousreply 7810/24/2018

I use Goodreads I follow 11 persons with similar taste in books I'm interested in finding books through people with similar tastes, for me that's the whole point of Goodreads!

the shelves are useful you can add the books you are currently reading the books you have read and the books you want to read

you can add bookshelves too. for reading something different to the books I usually read I made a shelf for the books recommended by people who I admire their work

I also have a shelf for the books I own but haven't read yet ‎and one for DNFed books.

Goodreads' Reading Challenge is also very helpful I read more with the reading challenge

by Anonymousreply 7910/24/2018

I read em and then pass them on, either to friends or I leave them in those little street side book boxes we have in some Chicago neighborhoods.

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