I am the proud owner of an antilibrary. I don’t own any books that I have read. That’s not to say that I haven’t read any books. Quite to the contrary, I have read a mountain of them, but as soon as I get to the end of the last page, I either mail them to friends or simply throw them out. I believe that only unread books have value.
Look at the book shelves of most any person and you will see all the books they have read. People buy a book, read it, and put it on the shelf like an ornament. People keep their books because it makes them feel intelligent to look at everything they have read. It’s as if they believe that for every 10 books they finish and put on the shelf, they gain one IQ point.
This approach never made any sense to me. Once I read a book, I’m done with it. What am I going to do, read the same book twice? Logically, I know that I get much more value out of reading two different books than out of reading one book twice. If I happen to read something that really hits me, I take notes by putting it into an electronic knowledge depository on my computer. Once it’s there, keeping track of these gems of insight becomes much easier than looking for highlighted pages inside of a physical book. Now you may think that the process of taking notes requires a lot of time, but you would be wrong. The average book I read has no more than three things that make it into my electronic knowledge depository. The most influential book I read last year resulted in less than one page of notes.
If you read one book on a subject you know nothing about, such as the mating habits of the endangered African penguins, every page of that one book will contain new information for you. Take notes, and you’ll end up rewriting most of the book. An interesting thing happens, however, if you read 20 books on that subject. By the time you read number 20, you have actually encountered the same information over and over again. At this point, repetition has burned the relevant information into your memory, but the other reason you remember the information so well is that different authors have presented the information in different ways, from different perspectives.
If you learn Kung Fu from one master, you have learned some of what that one master knows about Kung Fu. If in that process you take notes at nauseam, you will retain a greater percentage of what that one teacher showed you. However, if you learn Kung Fu from three masters, Muay Thai from three different masters, and Ju Jitsu from three more different masters, the result will be a true understand of martial arts, with no notes needed.
In Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do, he tells you to throw his book out as soon as you finish reading it. His intent is to open your awareness. He wants you to find things that are relevant and true for you through the process of seeing his ideas. He warns that memorizing what he says at the expense of gathering other information and inserting your own reflections will only cripple your true learning.
The first time I read the word antilibrary, I was reading about a man named Umberto Eco. He has over 30,000 books in his antilibrary. This is a man who understands that if you focus on what you have read, you will believe yourself to be knowledgeable, and be wrong. If you focus on what you have not read, you will believe yourself to be ignorant, and be wrong. Given the two options, I would like to believe myself to be ignorant.
Umberto Eco is a philosopher who has written many books of his own. Do you ever wonder how philosophers come up with so much to write about? They do lots of reading. That was the number one secret I learned as I became a writer myself. Consider this: if you read one book on a new subject and then wrote a book on that subject, your book would be very similar to the one you just read. If, however, you read 100 books on a new subject, without taking any notes, and then wrote a book of your own, you would be pleasantly surprised by the results. Not only would it be free of plagiarism, but it would also reflect your personality. This is what Bruce Lee’s advice was in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Take what works for you and make it yours. Focus more on what you don’t know rather than what you can’t remember.
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