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Books to keep around

haksayngSep 17, 2018, 2:50:21 AM

One thing that makes somewhere home for me is being near things I like. In this post, I will discuss the the sorts of books I like to be near [1]. 

Reference books

Excellent craftsman demand excellent tools. People that do work that involves shuffling around symbols (e.g. writing, programming, translating) need reference materials. Nobody remembers everything. We externalize our memory to places like paper manuals and online resources.

Sometimes, books are still better than online resources. For example, the way a book is typeset might make it easier to look up something on paper versus online. A trusted reference book is guaranteed quality; not everything you read on the internet will be true/rigorous/etc.

For dealing with difficult things in life like Chinese characters, musical notation, and other non-ASCII madness, paper is often easier to deal with than some app or text-based search.

Reminder books

Some books are useful to keep nearby to remind. (Hay readers, feel free to remind this post, wink wink nudge nudge 😏).

For instance, on my desk, I have a copy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Bed of Procrustes. This book has many useful aphorisms. Here is one:

Asking science to explain life and vital matters is equivalent to asking a grammarian to explain poetry. (p. 23)

Ouch! As a linguist by training, this is a hard to swallow, but useful truth. No wonder people don't want to listen to me sometimes, lol.  🙃

Keeping books (or objects, generally) around that remind you of important lessons is not only cool to do (having books that you've actually read nearby feels good), it is all-in-all a good idea to keep reminders around to encourage yourself to not be stupid and repeat mistakes you've made in the past.

Inspirational books

My girlfriend bought me a translation of Confucius' Analects into a language which I don't read. I don't read Classical Chinese either, ha. Neither of us have read Confucius seriously, nor are we proficient in the language this translation is written in.

Yet, I keep this strange volume on my desk. Why?

To me this volume serves as inspiration. You've heard the blah-blah-blah travel will open your mind stuff. The fact that my girlfriend would buy me a book in a language neither of us understand much of (at least in written form) makes me excited about life because I want to explore more and more every day.

What sort of wisdom nuggets are hidden in this translation of Confucius?

tbh i dunno. but having an intellectual "travel flier" on my desk makes me feel like I'm planning an exciting trip every time I sit down at my desk. 

The queue

Other books on or nearby my desk fall into "the queue". These are things I want to, or am being asked to read. Recently, I've slogged through lots of dull theoretical readings for school. Most of these volumes I'll never touch again and they'll soon be returned to the library.

I like to read popular science and other non-fiction books. I'm trying to read more fiction (might contain more truth than "non-fiction"; gets the noggin joggin). These books are often parked in my Kindle.

Yeah, I'm an e-book hombre

Things in "the queue" have the potential to enter the ranks of Reminder Books or Inspirational Books (or reference books, if I RTFM).

Books must be read at least once, or just be inherently interesting/inspirational to jump the queue and be kept around for the foreseeable future.

Is this textbook worth buying?

The student looks at the syllabus. Prof. XYZ wants me to buy this book. Is it worth it?

Put that textbook on your queue. Will it be a useful reference work? Does its beautiful typesetting, subject matter, or something else about it inspire you? Do you foresee this book becoming a useful reminder?

Books to keep around are books that we'd want to look at again, for some reason or another. Here, I listed three main reasons: (1) usefulness (qua reference book), (2) sentimental value (qua reminder of lessons learned), or (3) inspiration.

Insofar as a book may serve you, then by all means, invest in that volume and let it help you make you a better person.

Notes and References:

[1] I purposely am not over-sentimental about specific objects, e.g. there is no one true houseplant that I will keep forever. However, there are specific sorts of things that I really enjoy being near. Certain people, are likewise non-replaceable, of course.