My Library

September 17, 2013 — 34 Comments

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I have a post on ThoughtCatalog today about how and why keeping a physical library is important. It was fun to write–most of it all it was fun to look at pictures of my what looks now to be a paltry collection from 2008 (right when I started at American Apparel) and my collection today.

I definitely don’t look at “having lots of books” at the accomplishment. That would be a rather pathetic thing to take pride in…because no matter how many books I will have, it will probably never exceed the amount of books in some crappy small town library. I’m proud of the time and energy I put into reading the majority of the books. I’m humbled by how indebted I am to the authors. I also feel fortunate to have been able to create two (going on three) of my own books from it.

To answer some questions about my methods:

-I don’t read ebooks unless there is no other way to get content (or if I am researching something and need it right now).
-I don’t do audiobooks for a couple reasons. 1) I don’t spend that much time in the car and when I work out, I prefer not to be working. 2) I don’t speed read but I am faster than most narrator. 3) There is absolutely no way to take notes or mark passages. 4) Honestly I think the only full audio book I’ve ever made it all the way through was the reading of TMIL and that’s because they paid me.
-These are not all the books I’ve ever owned. Like I said, I cull the herd fairly often–particularly when faced with having to physically transport them.
-I used to also keep a library at my office but I don’t have one anymore which is nice.
-Yes, it drives my girlfriend nuts because they make moving a nightmare (Thanks 1-800-Pack-Rat. You saved me)
-Yes, I understand I am in the minority here or at least part of a dying breed. Whatever. Of all the “old” traditions to stick to, a three or four thousand year old one strictly observed by basically every smart and accomplished person ever seems like a good one to go down with.
-Yes, I get that it involves more work–especially the commonplace book system. Things are not supposed to be easy, and this is especially true when it comes to valuable things. It’s worth it many times over.

Some more high res pics can be seen here, here, here, here, and here. If anyone wants to send in photos of their own, I’ll see if we can’t do a post about that too.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

34 responses to My Library

  1. Wow.

    Do you have a method for organizing them by topic/author/etc.? Do you keep a digital record of the books you own to avoid buying duplicates?

    Our library is minute by comparison, but we’ve bought enough accidental duplicates that I’m in the process of cataloging our book collection in a Mac app called Delicious Library (which is a really nice app).

  2. Thats freaking awesome. Mad respect.

  3. How do you arrange your shelves (if you do)? I pick a few very general subjects to divide by, then alphabetize.

  4. Agree completely. E-books do not measure up to physical copies, really can’t get into e-book reading at all.

    Was surprised at Seth Godin’s post in relation to the end of books (below), since he returned to printed books after saying he was only going to release e-books in future.
    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/08/an-end-of-books.html.

    Working on building my humble collection, will send pics of my “library” so far. Doesn’t include TMIL yet, waiting for paperback version to be released in UK/Ireland.

  5. Is that middle shelf [almost] totally dominated by copies of Trust Me, I’m Lying? Why?

  6. I love my bookshelf and am proud of it even though it is small.

    I only discovered the joy of reading 2 years ago and have been doing my best at reading as much as possible. But I have gone about 50/50, print /ebook. I travel a lot and unexpectedly for work by vehicle to remote places so there aren’t always stores or cell service so I keep a few on the Kindle.

    You have really made me rethink the whole Kindle thing. Although I do find that I go through my notes often and keep physical copies of them… But again only through about 100 books at this point.

  7. you’re a dying breed, ryan. and that’s a really beautiful home library! respect!

    i prefer physical books as well, mainly because i am not able to work with the text when it’s digital. i make a lot of sidenotes, different color and folding codes. i underline and use arrows. when i work through a book, it’s usually exploding with post-its , which i rearrange as i get further into the topic. and i always draw a mindmap on the copyrights page of the dominant things i want to take away after i’ve read the book. i can’t digest digital texts.

    the one great difference in my personal library though is, considering my work flow is basically the same like yours: after actively reading and working through a physical book and adding to my common place book out of it, i take the new notes of the common place book, scan them with a doxie one, which transforms them into pdf’s that have on screen recognition and put those pdf’s into my evernote. as a result i get a digital search function to my commonplace book. i have close to 9000 note cards and this saves me so much time, because analogue categorizing is limited. you have to go by themes and alphabetically, but if you search for specific words or references, you put on some notes, you have to go through a bunch of them manually and check for them. too time consuming for me.

    so bottom line: analogue books yes, analogue common place book no.

  8. That’s very nice, Ryan. Especially like the reading lounger. What’s the large collection in the center?

  9. I liked seeing the bookcases of books in front of the couch, vs television.

    Interesting idea about the commonplace book. I am one of those people that takes notes on loose 8.5 x 11 paper. I also like the Kindle highlighting feature, which saves it to a text files. In both cases, I’ve collected a bunch of sentences, but I haven’t made much use of either. I know you have a bias toward physical books and notes, but do you think a combination of ebooks, highlighting the notes on a kindle and then loading the notes into a spaced repitition learning will be more effective for learning?

  10. Are those the Twilight books I spy on your shelves?

  11. Hey Ryan,

    Just wonder if you’re so against ebooks (I would agree by the way), why put out Growth Hacker in only that format?

  12. Who makes those bookcases of yours? Tnx for the fun reader’s emails.

  13. I understand and agree with all your points, and I also prefer the actual feeling of holding a book, and the particular smell they often have.

    However, not having had a proper home for the past 6 years (never staying in one place for longer than a few months at a time), I love my Kindle. It bothers me that many books are more expensive in ebook form, but it’s worth it since I don’t have to throw them away 🙂

  14. Thank you for these two posts. I have a manly physical library of my own, but after a few weeks of considering downgrading it, your words slapped me back awake.

    Nice Billy Bookshelves.

    Have you read “The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang?

    Can’t wait for the third book.

  15. “I don’t read ebooks unless there is no other way to get content”
    Yeah and I don’t read Kindle books, so when’s Growth Hacker Marketing coming out in Paperback format, Ryan??

  16. Interesting take on physical vs. e-books (Not wrong, just interesting. It clearly works for you!). I find e-books have some huge advantages: easily searchable by notes and highlighted text, my library is in the palm of my hand at all times, and I can read a couple of pages anywhere (grocery line, waiting on conf. calls, etc.).

    I now read far more books since moving to the iPhone as my primary reading device. Again, no right or wrong answer here, just different perspectives.

  17. Why do you have 2 copies of 48 Laws of Power?

  18. You should do an update on your library Ryan. Would love to see the changes/growth to it since you wrote this article.

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