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100 books from the IdeaMatt Anti-Library

(A light post this week as I'm finishing up my first little ebook, "You did WHAT? 91 Tiny experiments for having fun and living a happier and healthier life")

In response to my post On Keeping An Umberto Eco-like Anti-Library, Patrick Rhone asks in this comment about some of the books in my anti-library, the key choices and why. I'll cheat and just list 100 of the titles. Shoot me an email if you want details.

BTW I found a meme tag for this, originating with What is in your Antilibrary?
I'd like to pose a question to those who read this blog entry: What are three to five books on your shelf that lay unread and what knowledge do you hope to retrieve from them?
There are some great titles in the comments. Check it out.

(Side note: Googling meme tag gets some specific tags, but there's no wikipedia entry for it. Surprising. Interestingly, in an example of synchronicity I found a 1998 MIT paper Meme Tags and Community Mirrors: Moving from Conferences to Collaboration. It apparently involves wearing a gadget around the neck while interacting at conferences. Bonus: Schmooze rates, and pictures!)

I'm really curious

  • What's you your anti-library?
  • Any titles you recommend for me?

Some of Matt's Anti-library

Plus a fun bunch of cards like The Creative Whack Pack!

Reader Comments (10)

Thanks for having me on your list — I'm the creator of the Creative Whack Pack card deck. FYI, I've turned the Creative Whack Pack into an iPhone app. People seem to like it a lot.

Here's the CWP's link to iTunes: http://bit.ly/cwpack

Good luck to you and your readers!

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoger von Oech

I'm glad you liked the meme and thanks for the nod.

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJay@Soob

I bought the app a while back - nice work.

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I really appreciate your taking the time to follow up on this. Some interesting items in that list. As someone who recently built a home library (See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrickrhone/3434395977/in/set-72157616581026573/) I am especially intrigued by this idea and plan on making some room for an anti-library myself.

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Rhone


A few years ago, I realized that I can, at best, read a book a week. (I'm talking about reading, not "reading" in the Scott Ginsburg sense.) I'm 44 now, and will live -- if all goes well -- until I'm 94. That's 50 years, and at 50 books a year, that means I've got 2500 books ahead of me. That's it: 2500. Thinking about my time in this way changes the way I think about the books I might like to read.

It would take me two years to read these 100 books. Do I want to spend two years reading THESE 100 books? Even if I apply the "reading" hacks out there in blogland, and get it down to a book a day, that's still 3 months. Some of these certainly deserve to be read in their entirety, which will take longer than a day. And you're taking notes on them, then entering those notes in your text file, which adds time back in. Wow.

I recently moved, and made a decision to sell nearly all of my books. (Or, to put it another way, I decided to outsource the storage of my books to the public library.) I discovered that books are essentially without any cash value: I could at best get $1 a piece for them on Amazon or at a local used book store, and I could buy nearly all of them back for less than $5 each. Considering the cash value of my time, selling them one copy at a time amounted to paying someone to take them off my hands. These were my choices: throw them out, give them away, sell them, or keep them. And if I keep them, I can either store them in boxes somewhere, stare at them on the shelves or read them.

They're in storage now. It's an experiment in getting used to not having them around. They are a reminder of an idea I have about myself and my life that I'm not sure is serving me very well anymore, and I want to feel more free to change my mind. I've learned over the years that when I feel ambivalence, it pays for me to pay very, very close attention to what's going on.

For what it's worth: The E-Myth was a very important book for me -- I think about its concepts daily and it directly influences my day-to-day work; Byron Katie's book is great; I've always found The 7 Habits to be incomprehensible; The Artist's Way should be read in tandem with Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 Hours" chapter in Outliers; Fiore has the most sophisticated understanding of procrastination I've read.

Please tell me you have another 100 books of fiction, poetry, history, biography, and art in your Anti-Library.

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreenman

Your comment made me think, Greenman, and that's something valuable - thank you. My first reaction was to try to justify my list, and why it isn't filled with deep, thoughtful tomes that would stand the test of time. Then I realized - hey, it's just some books! I buy them when I feel like it, with no long-range plan for creating anything like a presidential library. Many don't contribute big ideas, but a few do, and they're gold. Like a book's cover, looking at the list isn't the only dimension to focus on. Besides, Umberto Eco's library was mostly vintage Italian porn.

Thanks again for the comment!

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Is that true, about Eco's anti-library? I love it.

It's a filtering problem, isn't it? How do you know what's useful and what isn't? Sometimes the only way is to wade into all the inputs and take a close look at them.

When I was learning to be a carpenter, I read constantly about it. I sought out every source, so matter how obscure, and treated all sources as though they were of equal value. I tried out a lot of ideas. Eventually, though, I stopped reading about it -- I had learned enough to be skeptical of many sources, to find most of it repetitive and not applicable to the everyday situations I encountered, and to have definitively answered nearly all the questions I started out with. Now I research specific questions, usually online. This strikes me as a healthy interest curve. It took me about seven or eight years to reach that point.

These days, I filter. If you, or one or two other bloggers whose opinion I value recommend a book, I check into it. (I'm relying on you guys to churn through a lot of dross to turn up the gold.) And I read very, very broadly -- after all, I only have 2500 books left, I have to get the most out of them. There's no way I'd read 100 books on the same subject. (And, for reasons that have little to do with any objective measure of "quality," I try not to own them.) Everything I read has an opportunity cost, and I try to be mindful of this.

You have a much more practical and sensible approach to the opportunity cost problem. In my more limited way of thinking, I only have two choices: read less, or make more time to read. You've made a third option by finding ways to read more in the time you have. That increases the value of your anti-library, whereas my approach decreases its value.

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreenman

Hey Greenman,

> Is that true, about Eco's anti-library? I love it.

Heh heh heh.

> Sometimes the only way is to wade into all the inputs and take a close look at them... When I was learning to be a carpenter...

OK, that's a great summary of "How to become an expert" - The Deep Dive, as you've put it before. It's what I did for time management (and lots of those books sit on my shelves, unread as yet), what I'm doing in my consulting marketing (harder for me, in many respects) and my Think, Try, Learn philosophy (both easier and harder still). I suspect this is a template for mastering lots of things, with a lot of experience thrown in. I bet you learned a lot during those initial carpenter projects. Questions:

o In what cases does this generalize?
o "" not generalize?
o What do we call the point when you've mastered something, but are no longer learning so much? "Journeyman?" How do we decided when it's time to change. Some folks love that intense period of learning (you and me, I think), and others in the steady compenency phase.

> You've made a third option by finding ways to read more in the time you have.

Thanks! Giving myself permission to not read all of a book was a big shift for me.

Loving your comments...

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

After all, in a formal guild system, Journeyman is what you become after Apprentice and before Master. You practice with the tools and knowledge you acquire from the teacher.

In Academia, this is what postgraduate work is all about, right? Prior to entering penury and starting your own lab only to become preoccupied with raising money instead of doing science ....

Malcolm Gladwell's Blink was an important book for me, because it takes on the question of what it means to be an expert, and the degree to which expertise transcends facts and specific skill sets. Basic skills become deeply internalized to the point that problem-solving takes on an almost intuitive quality. I always say that the reading I did as a carpenter taught me a way to think about construction problems to a much greater degree than it provided me with actual answers to those problems; it provided me with a basic set of thinking tools upon which to build. Everything else was practice. Everything. 10,000 hours (at least) in the first five years.

The main lesson of my Journeyman phase was that the valuable skills and knowledge have little to do with tips and tricks and instead have to do with relationships, organization, decision-making skills, and communication. Blink is all about decision-making under conditions of uncertainty: that's my world. When I was younger, I often wondered why, say, a CEO with no experience running a car company would be hired at great expense to run a car company (perhaps this is a bad sector to use as an analogy right now): as a building contractor, I know that most of what you need to know to do the job well has nothing to do with knowing how to drive a nail properly, and in fact you and your customer may be better off if you don't come from that kind of background. Was GM ultimately better off for having a lifetime "car expert" at the helm?

I know there are analogies to workflow management and productivity.

I'll note here that Think, Try, Learn is extremely entrepreneurial, and as such presents a much broader set of challenges and requires a much broader skill set than taking a bite of market share in a well-established field like productivity consulting (or building construction). You're both inventing a product and to a great degree creating a market for it. (Do you think there was a huge pre-existing market for people sending 140 character messages to each other over their cell phones?) That's very challenging and very exciting. You're going to keep us posted, right?

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreenman

Hi Greenman,

> instead have to do with relationships, organization, decision-making skills, and communication... I know there are analogies to workflow management and productivity.

Definitely. What I teach is an improved way to look at self-management. In other words, how people work.

> Think, Try, Learn .. extremely entrepreneurial .. much broader set of challenges and requires a much broader skill set than taking a bite of market share in a well-established field like productivity consulting

Absolutely - thank you for putting this to words.

> You're both inventing a product and to a great degree creating a market for it. You're going to keep us posted, right?

Will do. I'm preparing a reader survey, and getting feedback on the interest in TTL is a priority.

April 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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