Many of us are reluctant to loan out the books which line our shelves like so many gems, resting in a jeweler’s pristine cases. When we do agree to share them, we’re afraid they may never find their way home. And, when they eventually return to our welcoming grasp, they sometimes bear the scars of their sojourn in the paws of others who do not esteem them as they ought to. Page corners may be scored. Coffee or tea stains may have “embellished” the text. Bindings may have been carelessly mistreated. And, unbelievably, the borrowers are likely to be unaware of how they have abused the tome’s dignity and disfigured its beauty.
Speaking honestly, my own bookshelves are in constant disarray, and too many of my books still remain unpacked after our move into our retirement home. But I am absolutely serious about how painful I find it to witness the mistreatment of books by those ignorant of their value.
C.S. Lewis loved books. He recognized their power. He embraced their wonder. And—most wonderfully for us—he penned a number of classics that will continue to inspire readers for generations.
Yet, as much as Lewis treasured books, he took his own creations for granted. This changed in December of 1954, when he received a precious package from his publisher. Among his Christmas gifts that year were specially bound copies of Surprised by Joy and Mere Christianity. Receipt of the thoughtful present opened his eyes to an interesting notion. On the twenty-second day of the month, he wrote:
I never had a handsomer present. . . . Perhaps these two charming volumes will teach me at last to have for the bodies of my own books the same reverence I have for the bodies of all other books. For it is a curious fact that I never can regard them as being really books; the boards and print, in however mint a condition, remain a mere pretense behind which one sees the scratchy, inky old manuscript.
I daresay that those writers among us can relate to Lewis’ mindset. Even with the pride that accompanies having books or articles in print, our work somehow seems “different” than the other published materials we invariably respect. This is due in large part, I believe, to their familiarity. Writers, better than most, understand what familiarity breeds. We know these works that flowed from our own consciousness and sweat . . . we know them intimately. And we are keenly aware that if given another opportunity, there are parts of them we would even now edit to be clearer, sharper, and more eloquent.
I never cease to be surprised by the humility of new writers who almost whisper their accomplishments to others. It’s as though they are embarrassed . . . that they assume their friends would consider them braggarts if they spoke with the pride they genuinely feel about their work. Some of us hold onto our rejection letters. (I do.) How much better though, to print out high quality copies of articles or devotions we’ve written and place them in a prominent binder or display located near our keyboard.
Who knows, I may actually follow my own advice and do something like that. Sadly, I don’t have a grateful publisher eager to prepare special editions for me. Nevertheless, I’m glad Lewis did. I learned from his insight that whenever we release our literary progeny to the world, they merit the same degree of respect and affection that we book-lovers bestow so generously on the works of others.
Postscript: The image above is an actual manuscript page from James Joyce’s Ulysses. (It makes me feel much more confident about my own initial scribblings.)