Book Buying Disease
Tamsin: This is the bad habit of buying go books and then not actually reading them. Who hasn't bought a book and then only skimmed it? Has anybody else wondered how some players in the West managed to get strong 30 or 40 years ago without access to the relative plethora of books available in Europe and the USA nowadays?
When I was an undergraduate one supervisor told me that it was better to learn a lot about a little than a little about a lot. I tried to apply this to studying chess, and maybe I improved somewhat, but when I mentioned the idea to a strong player, he scoffed that he was planning to learn a lot about a lot. Well, I have seen countless chess players buying countless chess books and never improving very much, and I'm sure that it happens in the go world too. Here in Japan you can buy lots of go books, but there are still plenty of weak players who have been playing for years, and who are crazy about the game, and who presumably make up the market for the bookshops.
I think the answer must lie in what you do with books once you buy them. I realise with shame that since 2003, when my improvement started to slow down (although I do have some unusually valid excuses for that), I have bought quite a few books and not actually done more than flipped through them. Ultimately, you have to apply time and patience to studying material properly. As a language teacher and language learner, I find that one can only handle one or two new ideas at a time. Buying fifteen dictionaries or grammar texts won't help you any more than buying two or three, if you don't read them and try to incorporate their ideas step-by-step.
So, I assume the reason some Western players were able to get pretty strong in spite of having few resources is that they had the dedication and imagination to make the most of these resources. Of course, I'm not saying that having many books available is a bad thing. Being able to read widely is the secret to knowing a lot about a lot, but now I believe that I understand that the only way to do that is to read deeply too.
Book-buying disease, then, is like grabbing lots of free samples in a food hall. It may be fun, but it's nowhere near as satisfying as enjoying a proper meal. And, to continue the conceit, it's no substitute for eating lots of proper meals in order to develop one's knowledge of haute cuisine.
FredK: Hi Tamsin, I think you're being a little too hard on yourself. You could think of go book buying as a satellite hobby to go; not reading the books you have is possible with few books as well as with many. As for "shame", that could depend on what you've been doing instead. You've told us you're a composer, and now a language teacher -- that doesn't sound like you've been frittering your time away.
As a graduate student I purchased many mathematics books that I never got around to reading and yet, decades later, I find that I know most of what's in them; who can prove that a little knowledge didn't osmose out of those books, apart from my having learnt it independently?
tchan001 I haven't read most my books but when I need to look up something, I probably could... as long as I figure where I place certain specific books ;) Right now I'm too low ranked to understand most the books anyways.
pwaldron: I have bought a fair number of books that I haven't read, but I have no regrets. I target my book buying to those books aimed at (ideally high) dan-level players. The Western book market is sufficiently small that it is important to show support for worthwhile books when they come along and give publishers some idea of what they should work on.
Anonymous: Interestingly, a study in chess revealed that the size of the chess library is a strong positive predictor of playing strength. This is an independent variable, another obvious variable being deliberate practice (aka "serious study"). Both variables together accounted for ca. 70% of explained variance in rating. So, maybe after all there is something to just stacking up on books ;)
The study was: Charness, Krampe, and Mayr (1996): The role of practice and coaching in entrepreneurial skill domains: An international comparison of life-span chess skill acquisition.