The Black Swan: read vs. unread books

Should your library consist mostly of read books, or of unread books?  The avid and loyal MR reader will already know we are adjusting for "number of books read" in posing this query.

If you own mostly read books, you use your library for reference and remembrance.  Your collection is like Proust’s madeleine.  If you own mostly unread books, your library yields exciting discovery but also lots of clunkers.  Each step to the shelf offers a chance to redefine your life and your loves in unexpected ways, or perhaps crashing disappointment.

My (small) personal library is virtually 100 percent already read books, plus Gone With the Wind and Shantaram, both of which I am saving up for long plane trips to distant climes.  But I think of my real library as the local public library, which is still mostly unread books.

If you are one of those Austrian economists who believes in the all-importance of unquantifiable Knightian uncertainty, I hope your shelves are full of unread books (we now, by the way, have the means to make this otherwise murky concept operational).  Otherwise you are livin’ a dirty, stinkin’ lie.  Karmic retribution will be swift and, yes, certain.

For further musings on this topic, see Nassim Taleb’s new The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, a stimulating look at surprise.



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