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Today's quote:

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

My library serves as a visual reminder of what I don’t know

At my house at Komin Kochin Avenue # 7 in Rangoon in 1975


I've been a reader all my life but I've only had my very own libary since I settled down here at "Riverbend" about thirty years ago; in fact, the mere existence of my library has kept me settled down.

Sometimes I feel guilty as I walk into my library and look at the ever-growing number of unread books. Those bookshelves, which seem to reproduce on their own, are a constant source of ribbing from friends.

"You’ll never read all of those", they say. And they’re right. I won’t. That’s not really the point. A good library is filled with mostly unread books. That’s the point. In his book "The Black Swan", Nassim Taleb describes our relationship with books using the legendary Italian writer Umberto Eco:

"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 appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means ... 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."

There are some words out there that are brilliantly evocative and at the same time almost impossible to fully translate. Take the German word Schadenfreude, for example, or Backpfeifengesicht. And then there’s the Japanese word tsundoku, which perfectly describes the state of my library. It means buying books and letting them pile up unread.

As I write this, the post office emails me to say that Padma, who's in town, has collected another book parcel from my favourite online bookseller, booktopia. More tsundoku!


As with Japanese words like karaoke and tsunami, I think it’s high time that tsundoku enters the English language. It already has at "Riverbend"!

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