The Anti-Library

Unread books are where the action is.

The trader turned smart thinker Nassim Taleb approvingly calls such a collection an “ANTILIBRARY”; one’s shelves, he argues, should contain “as much of what you do not know” as finances allow. And he says don’t expect the proportion of unread books to fall, either.

The more you read, the more the perimeter of your knowledge increases, and the more you’ll realise what you don’t know.

Back in India when I was living in a capacious apartment all by myself I used to stock my shelves with books both read and unread, the former over time out numbering the latter.  I naively thought that was a good thing. Now in the limited confines of London where real estate (even post Brexit) is not exactly ‘cheap and abundant’, the numbers have switched. Limited space also honed my underdeveloped skill at ditching mediocre books right after reading them into the local charity shop bin. Now only a few books stay. So now the books lining my limited shelf space are either great books I retain and will re-read at some future date or mostly ‘pending to read’ books, all coming together into making the gestalt that is now my antilibrary. Morgan Housel, a great blogger, nailed my sentiment when he recently tweeted ‘90% of books should be half the length they are‘. My reviews of a books are here and here and here.

The Japanese have a cool word for all this : Tsundoku. It is the condition of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf. An avid american book collector once said something wise on the subject that resonated with me : “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes Comfort, their ready access Reassurance.

Since I was 10 I have always been a dietary and reading omnivore. I will read anything on any subject as long as the book and the subject sound interesting. My wife will vouch that this is my exact approach to food too. Over the last year, using the fabulous algorithm of the  Keepa.com website I have purchased books covering wide and varied subjects and themes that I plan to delve into over 2017-18, in the hope of improving what Taleb aptly labels ‘the perimeter of one’s knowledge‘.

Recently I decided to summarize all the physical books I have on my shelf under conspicuous themes and motifs,  for two reasons, one selfish and one altruistic. Writing about it forces me to rationalize the actual purchases and also altruistically serves as a starter for ten for readers like you looking for some book suggestions  for the upcoming summer.

Welcome to my Tsundoku…

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Well written autobiographies of 5 worthy people. The book ‘TITAN’ I would rank as one of the best 5 books I have read in the last few years, the apotheosis of what a good book ought to be. The middle book (Snowball) I am reading midway and I think it is going to rank up there with the best of them. The bottom two are pending. I would put all 5 in the curriculum if I were the dean of a decent undergrad college.

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As someone who migrated from one country to another (India to UK) I am keen to fill the gap in my knowledge of my adopted country and these 8 books are an attempt at that. 3 of them I finished reading and ALL of the 3 I heartily endorse.

  1. Tudors – cracking good tale
  2. The Angry Island – The best caustic prose I have encountered in the last few years. His asperity towards the unemotive island people is penetratingly hilarious
  3. Longitude – a book so gripping I started at 9 PM and stayed up till 5 AM to finish it

The other 5 are pending a read.

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If someone was looking to move to India and asked me for books to understand the country, I can confidently say the Naipaul Trilogy would get the job done. It is about India as it IS, not as it is ineffectually and prosaically penned about in most books and articles about the country. It was after reading these three books that I understood Naipaul for the genius he is and the real history of my country that is never written about even today. The other 2 are pending a read.

 

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I am a complete sucker for sea faring survival takes and anything old navy related. And these 5 scratch that itch. Two of them (Endurance and In The Hear of the Sea) I read one after another and was blown away by both. Set about 100 years apart, they suck you in and don’t let you go until the end. Last thursday I recommended the book ENDURANCE to my team at work as not just a survival take but also one of the best books on Leadership and Teamwork out there. The other 3 are pending a read.

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These are assorted books on the subject of Metacognition, Heuristics, Forecasting, Thinking and Decision Making,  an effort to polish my own ingenuous executive functions & skills.

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These two books are my attempt to understand Investing from someone OTHER THAN Warren Buffet for a change. The left one I suspect is going to be refreshingly discursive and not stick tightly to dry finance.

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I would rank the decrepit looking The Best and The Brightest as one of my best books from the last decade. Halbertstam is a great writer and the book is just so good wading through the dense fastidious prose it feels akin to reading a John Grisham novel. A great primer on the pitfalls of Groupthink and Pink Flamingoes.

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This grandiloquent tome by Chomsky on the right was an eye opener in the real sense the word is meant. Depressing but oh-so-needed in these times. This too would go on the curriculum of my imaginary college reading list.  The left one is pending.

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Both books I have heard good press about. right one to understand Cancer, something that will kill the majority of us if heart related issues don’t do the morbid job first. And the left book (GENOME) is to understand the new upcoming CRISPR related developments.

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I am a sucker for crisp essays and I am promised by wise people that these two authors are worth the investment.

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These 4 books are an attempt to better understand the events that shaped the superpowers in the first half of the 20th century. Definitely sombre reads I suspect.

 

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These three to understand better the places I hope to visit someday and spend time without just being a tourist in the pejorative term. Africa, America and Europe. All covered here. The Bryson book, while dated, is hilarious and after a visit to a European destination mentioned in it, I always read the chapter on it to get at HIS funny and smart take on the place.

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4 books to better fit into and understand the workplace. Prince and Effective Executive are almost mandatory reading at this juncture. The Peter Principle is wry but sharp. Inside Drucker’s Brain I am still to tackle.

Hope this wets your reading appetite and gets you onto a few of them. I can vouch that most have made it to the shelf only after some solid research and good reviews so the odds are decent that most are worth your precious time. Find a decent perch to park and dive into a few. I recommend outdoors now that summer is here.

Happy Reading!

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