I have hoarding guilt about books…especially used books, because I can fill my shelves without going broke. There are little stashes of books all over my house from musty classics and crime novels to giant pictorials of places I’ve been or want to visit.
There are books on tracing your roots, organic gardening, numerology, dealing with difficult people and downsizing at my house. No less than a dozen books about the Tudors are sharing bookcases with collected works of all the authors I should have read in high school and college (guilt pangs) and multiple books my mom told me to read (multiple guilt pangs). Yet I haven’t read even a tenth of them.
Family members encourage me to have a clear out. Why? Does it look too pretentious? Since the ones I’ve read feel like merit badges, I try to weed out the ones I will probably never read. But I can’t. What’s wrong with that?
Libraries have been status symbols since Plato. But Italian writer Umberto Eco thinks that personal libraries filled with books that are already read have little value (except to boost the status of the owner).
Essayist Nassim Taleb agrees, and suggests building an ‘anti-library.’ Fill your wall with books you haven’t read. The anti-library represents what we don’t know yet—knowledge we aspire to. It keeps us humble and open to ideas beyond our current thinking. The greater your humility, the faster you learn.
The more you think you know, the more confident you are. But ironically, it’s doubt that separates the most intelligent from the most incompetent. Stephen Hawking said it best. “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
Admittedly, I have an anti-library. You may have one too. But I feel better already, don’t you? Let’s all get over our book guilt together.