07 October 2007

Apologeticus Now

Tadhg had an interesting post a few days ago about a comparative list of unread books that he had in common with other users of LibraryThing, along the lines of which are the most unread or unfinished books that everyone seems to own.

I'm reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan", incidentally one of the best anti-business books I have read, and it starts by referring to Umberto Eco's library. Taeleb writes:
"He (Eco) 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"
Talib argues that you should take every opportunity you have to add to your collection, not only so that you have material available on hand as reference at a later stage, but to remind you in an ever more menacingly way as you grow older and your collection grows larger, of how much you do not know. He calls this an "anti-library", and I am reminded of Tertullian's line "hominem te esse memento" in Apologeticus, often attributed to the slave riding behind Caesar, whispering in his ear as the crowds acclaim him, "remember you are but a man".

My library is full of books that I have yet to start, or have not yet finished, and they loom at me mockingly every day reminding me of all the things that I want to know, but do not. My anti-library is one of my most treasured possessions, and I hope it continues to grow.

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