Inventories, Unread Books and Generation Why

by Lorne Mitchell on 14/06/2012

Last week there were no Thursday Thoughts.  I was in Edinburgh and thinking far too much to write about it.  Today I had to go up to London and got writer’s block until a chance Skype conversation with Malcolm about random stuff.  It got my right brain going and I am now back in the flow.

In much of the work I do, I am drawn to creating order from chaos by documenting the present situation.  One very useful tool is to take an inventory of what is.  A version of the truth that is accurate enough to be good enough.  It is like the difference between German and British accounting: German accounting is always exactly wrong: British accounting is almost roughly right!

So it was I was chatting to Malcolm on Skype who was listening to Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time – a discussion on James Joyce’s UlyssesAt the start of the talk, Bragg points out that it is one of the most famous books of the last century – and one that few have read cover-to-cover – myself included.

It got me thinking about the fact that 95% of books are never read.  Mine included……

So I thought, what about an inventory of all the books I have – and then work out how many I have actually read?  More than 1,000 books – and less than 5% read?   I suppose that the types of books I collect are not novels.  They are more like factoid books, text books, “how to” books.  Bee books, personal development books.  I don’t read novels.  My father used to say “Life has enough drama in it that I don’t need to go to the theatre”.  I think the same about reading books.

So the inventory, used with the mirror, forces to look at yourself, your behaviour, your reality.  But the Skype conversation I was (and still am) having with Malcolm on this touched on another interesting thread.  The fact that I am of a generation where physical books represents learning, knowledge and intelligence.  But for my children, the world is very different.  An Amazon Kindle could contain the same number of books as on my bookshelves and many more besides.  For generation Y (which I call Generation Why – because they always seem to be asking the question Why?)  the value of owning physical books is almost diametrically opposite to mine.  To take an inventory of Apps on my MacBook (which I also collect) takes less than 5 seconds.  The software can be updated across the internet when new versions arrive.  Information is more transient.  More connected, near-free to produce.

So what?  Well it is time for me to start to clear the clutter of my bookshelves.  To stop ordering physical books on Amazon.  To change my behaviour.  One of the most difficult things to do.  But the inventory and the mirror are perhaps the most powerful tools to help change behaviour.  Question is whether I can  reduce my inventory without being distracted by workload, the bees, the dogs, the children – oh and that urge to go onto Amazon to buy another book on my Wish List!

Time for an inventory.  Time to put the mirror up!  It works with clients – but is so much harder to do to oneself!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Archie June 14, 2012 at 23:22

Actually, Lorne, I reckon that the current generation does not ask the question “Why?” often enough. There is a blind acceptance of things as they are that I never rmember when I was growing up. It worries me. More “what?” and “how?” than “why?” it seems. Incidentally I reckon that about 95% of my books have been read… at least between me and my wife!

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2 Anonymous June 14, 2012 at 23:40

You are probably right, Archie. Perhaps I have very inquisitive children and should be happy about that!

Oh – and I am always in awe of your book collection and I know you have both read 95% of your books – but you are not typical.

Perhaps it is the manic South that changes behaviour more than anything! Perhaps it is time to move back North! For perhaps it is only when you move house do you truly clear the clutter!

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3 Louise Lancaster June 14, 2012 at 23:36

Moved house recently. I sent boxes and boxes of books to charity shop. Now have three shelves only in living room. Husband thinks that’s three too many. He says a) I’m never going to read them and b) I could have them on my ipad and therefore they are anachronistic. Plus he thinks there is an element of showing off ( eg high brow novels or travel books to exotic destinations, though I have now disposed ofthe travel books). I still like books as furniture, but it is starting to be rather an eccentric habit. The top shelf isfull of ancient orange penguins that were my dad’s, plus some even more dusty jackets. Ridiculous to keep them but can’t bear to part with them.

They’re not all old or high brow. I inexplicably felt the need to hang on to Jilly Cooper’s “Polo”. I guess I’m keeping things the kids might want to or should read, which is insane because books will probably be extinct by the time they’re old enough to read “Polo”.

I used to buy old editions from antique or bric a brac shops. I love it when people have written on them in pre-war cursive script and the price is ŵritten in shillings and pence. I have a lovely 1930s version of Alice in Wonderland which my daughter loves reading, pkus some other obscure antiques. I even bought one quite recently that was printed in 1969 and is by Fidel Castro called “History Will Absolve Me”. I just thought it was cool and romantic in a Che Guevara kind of way, lots of black and white photos, hardback. No intention of reading it. I think I need to see a shrink.

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4 Sally Cross June 15, 2012 at 09:28

It sounds like your book habits are very similar to mine, except substitute books on horses or gardening for bees, and we’re just about there.

A friend of mine has a great theory related to your Myers-Briggs personality profile ….. check out the books you now have beside your bed for bed-time reading. Is it one book that you are reading cover to cover, or an increasingly large pile that you dip into fairly randomly, until the pile is just getting too large or ridiculous, and you put them back on the shelves and start again. Says much about you.

BTW – I really struggle with the idea of using kindle instead of physical books (nearly all non-fiction). Huge number of multi-coloured post-its, on books I recognise and find by size and colour etc – I just can’t see that translating well into electronics (feel free to call me a luddite!)

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