Reading List

Unpacking My Antilibrary

I love books (I have thousands of ’em).

But I don’t read all of them.

In fact, I rarely read a book cover to cover. Some of the books included here are exceptions to that (maybe I’ve even read them a few times). Others I’ve just dabbled in, but I think are worthy of sharing. Worthy of excitedly proclaiming about.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of the antilibrary, it comes from Nassim Nicolas Taleb, who built the concept off the back of Umberto Eco’s massive library:

“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 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.” – Taleb, The Black Swan

In unpacking my antilibrary here, online, incrementally, I will be giving you a diverse, and at times eccentric, reading list.

It won’t menace you in the way that my books menace me.

It will be a tiny, digital fragment of a collection:

“To renew the old world–that is the collector’s deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things, and that is why a collector of older books is closer to the wellsprings of collecting than the acquirer of luxury editions.” – Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library”

My collection is mainly built from chance encounters in used bookstores.

I rarely buy new editions of books. I rarely buy fancy books. Perhaps I am interested in forgotten and subjugated knowledge? Not entirely. I think I’m just interested in different kinds of friends:

  • I cherish books that seem out of place today. These are like interesting new friends from cities and towns you’ve never heard of. They are good conversationalists about obscure topics.
  • I also really like the classics too–the popular ones and the “lost” ones. There is a good reason these books have stuck around for so long. They are like good, old friends.
  • Sometimes I go to the uber-pragmatic, new book. The kind that promises you everything and nothing. Less like friends, they are more like consultants, advisers or executives. I go to them when I need answers.

I hope that my digital fragment will help you stumble upon some new friendships, and rediscover old ones too. I also hope that it will give you a list of consultants and advisers to have in your back pocket when you need it most.

Norman O. Brown
Norman O. Brown

Love’s Body (1966) by Norman O. Brown. “I did feel when writing Love’s Body some kind of obligation to undo what I had done in Life Against Death. I wanted to release any followers I had acquired or at least to confuse them. […] I felt under some existential stress to write Love’s Body in order to torpedo Life Against Death, to destroy it as a position.” – Keen, Sam; Brown, Norman O. (1974). Voices and Visions.

A very interesting read. Hard to find a used copy through chance encounter, but readily available online. Aphoristic. It gets right to the essence. Read this if you want to make some interesting connections between the classics.