The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and non dull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with 'Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?' and the others - a very small minority - who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight read-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
Too often I read blog posts of people "complaining" about their "to be read piles" of books. So many moanings of "how will I ever finish all these books?" or "I don't think I could finish them if they were the only books I would read in a year!" Many pictures are taken of these books, as if having unread books is some sort of shame that must be admitted in public. Sometimes numbers are tossed about: 12, 50, 100, 250, 600! The books are reduced to numbers and not possibilities.
I do not know with any certainty how many unread books I own. I would guess maybe a hundred or two. I don't keep them in a separate area; several are shelved besides some nice edition, while others are scattered here and yon. I don't ever worry about "catching up," for that is not the purpose of acquiring books, at least not for me. I wrote a post several weeks ago about "book consumers" and what I left unstated (but implied) there is that reading/acquiring books is not a zero-sum game; there is no "winner" or "loser" in that. Rather, there are possibilities found in books to be read and in those read some time ago.
I suspect part of the issue involves the receiving of promotional materials. Like several others, I receive several dozen (if not a few hundred) books a year from publishers. I read maybe 10% of those books and review only another half or so. There is no shame in this; I receive books from a mailing list and not because (except in a very, very few cases) I directly solicit a work. I don't have to catch them all, right away; I can thumb through them at my leisure and cover the ones that seem to hold something of interest to me. Books are not ersatz monetary exchanges here; if there is something I find interesting, I'll read/review it. Otherwise, maybe another will enjoy it in the near future when I do my periodic cleansing of shelves full of perused books.
Beyond this, however, is the issue of purchases. I don't purchase books just to rush through and say "I finished it!" (Yes, I know I read very fast, but that's just a natural gift and not intrinsic to who I am as a reader). I purchase items to be browsed through over years; such as St. Thomas of Aquinas' Summa Theologica or St. Augustine's Confessions. Or I purchase them for another time and place; two unread volumes of Thomas Wolfe's work awaits me even now; I feel the time is fast approaching for further exploration of that magnificently flawed writer. I have decades of time left, I hope. No need to feel pressure just because I have a lot of unread books. Just only means there are future possibilities awaiting me.
And that, I think, lies at the heart of this concept of an "anti-library." My personal library is somewhat modest at around 2200 copies. I winnow out several hundred each year and replace them with several hundred more. I give dozens of books away to two friends of mine who live overseas, since it is very difficult for them to get some of the English-language books that I've enjoyed. A book is more than just a binding of words to be consumed; it is a codification of ideas that are best when shared and considered at various points in one's life. So instead of talking about acquisitions as some sort of double-edged sword (more unread books, gah!), why not just think of what you possess as possibilities that might be best considered as which ones are your literary one-night stands and which are going to be shacking up with you for a long time to come? After all, sometimes there are some surprises to be found in those until-now unread books...