Sharing the Blessings of Books

Oh, the curse of being  a book lover. How can we thin the shelves of our libraries to make room for new additions we absolutely must add?

Digital copies have resolved the worst of that problem for many of us. Yes, holding a physical book in our hands is different altogether from reading off a screen, but when you compare the space requirements . . . or the accessibility when away from home or office . . . well, it is to me a worthwhile tradeoff.

I have always invested a significant (read “huge”) portion of my discretionary income in books. Like C.S. Lewis, I regard a good library as a treasure. While we both appreciate the extensive collections available in public and academic libraries, borrowing a text is not the same as owning it. Lewis alludes to this in a slightly off-handed manner in a 1952 letter to fellow Inkling, Roger Lancelyn Green.

I have re-read The Luck and liked it very much, as I had felt at the first reading . . . As luck would have it I met a lady who was looking for things to “read to the children” & The Luck is now on her list. I think she’s a buyer too, not a library addict.

The full title of the book to which Lewis refers is The Luck of the Lynns, and it was written by Green himself. This essay offers an excellent discussion of the book, and the author himself.

Books shaped Lewis’ life, particularly its beginning. In Surprised by Joy he describes visits to the home of Irish relatives. “In some ways Mountbracken was like our father’s house. There too we found the attics, the indoor silences, the endless bookshelves.”

Unpacking Book Boxes Twenty Years Later

Life has settled down to the point where I have been able to attack the forty to fifty boxes of books that were pulled out of storage when I retired and built our home. They weren’t actually removed from storage. It was more like a transfer—from a commercial storage unit to two-thirds of our three-car garage.

It’s been liberating to feel free to donate about 80% of the books to local charities. Some of those I’m retaining will join them in new libraries after I’ve had a chance to glean a few details from them. Coincidentally, this week one book box I unsealed included a few files, and among them was “Before the Book Sale,” from a 1995 issue of Christian Century.

The author, James M. Wall, was a Methodist pastor. His death this March, at the age of ninety-two, makes the article’s pull quote exceptionally poignant: “As I choose which books go and which stay, I confront my past and my mortality.”

Since the article is not available online, I will make it available as a one page pdf to anyone who requests a copy. The essay begins casually, but moves into a serious conversation that is well worth the read.

My town puts on a book sale every fall. Proceeds go to a worthy cause, and I am told the event is well attended. I never go because I already have too many books on my crowded shelves. But I do participate in the sale as a supplier.

It is for this reason that each summer as the time to turn books in approaches I am seized by an intense feeling of anxiety. I know I have to prune my shelves and I also know that there is no reason to hold onto all the books I have.

As I choose what goes and what stays, I confront my mortality—Who will want all these books when I am gone?—and my past. Each title evokes a memory of an earlier time of intense interest in a particular topic . . . and when I reject a book I once thought had to remain with me forever, I wonder in what ways I’ve changed.

The Final Disposition of One’s Books

In years past, it was not uncommon for exceptional personal libraries to be presented, in toto, to a university library. Today, the largest collection of books that originally graced the office and home of C.S. Lewis are housed at the Wade Center of Wheaton College.

A complete list of titles in the Lewis archive comes replete with indications whether a title includes a signature, underlining, and/or a handwritten annotation.

As for my own library, I hope my children and grandchildren will want to hold onto most of it. I have a feeling that ultimately the bulk of physical texts I still own will relate to the Inklings and related subjects. (I also have a substantial digital library in Logos, but that is primarily theological, and presently beyond the interests of those not headed to a seminary.)

Whatever the shape and size of your own library, the key is to actually use it. And it’s even more fun when you share it (with people who know how to respect books, of course).

Even if you have no funds available to purchase books, there are vast numbers of amazing volumes in the public domain that you can download for free.*

And finally, don’t hesitate to use your local library. Neither C.S. Lewis nor I would ever honestly desire to disparage a “library addict.” After all, he probably spent a hundredfold more hours reading library books than all the regular readers of Mere Inkling combined.

* Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg are my go to sites for public domain titles. Google Books is another option, for those already ensnared in the behemoth’s tentacles. (Just joking, Google. I know you’re watching…)

The cartoon above is used with the permission of its creator, Doug Savage. You can enjoy more of his comics at Savage Chickens.

15 thoughts on “Sharing the Blessings of Books

  1. I love the feeling of holding and flipping the pages of a real book but I also own a kindle. I find it convenient as I love to travel. But if I wanted to make a book swap on my destination, I definitely bring one of my books! <3

    1. I wonder if future generations will learn to enjoy physical books as we do.

      Digital books are okay for reading… but they are exceptionally convenient for researchers.

  2. Having passed through all the phases above, I make a special point of appreciating my smaller library AND reading (often re-reading with basic notes inside the back cover) and referring to the thicker volumes. The treasure one trades with other readers is invaluable, as you well know.

    Bless you Rob, and your reading, as we all bless others.

    1. Thank you for the blessing, Erroll, for I know you extended it in fact.

      I like the notion of appreciating a smaller library in a fresh way. I look forward to enjoying that as well.

  3. I could not agree w/ you more. I have always been a bookworm. Books are treasures — the stored knowledge and wisdom of the past. Discernment, of course, is a gift from God.

    1. Humankind would be in dire straits without a record of previous learning.

      Too bad, though, that books allow errors and untruths to be perpetuated.

      But then, thanks be to God, that’s where discernment comes in!

    1. It certainly is challenging. Oddly, I’ve found it easier as I’ve take a radical blade to my library. I’ll still end up with more books than I can possibly shelve… but I am confident there will be further gleanings in the future.

      1. Our kids have made it abundantly clear that they do not wish to inherit many “things” at all, including books. (And they are avid readers.)

        Their generation’s perspective is so different than the one of which my wife and I are a part.

        To respect their sentiments, we have been attempting to clear out many things we thought we should keep, in addition to the books.

      2. In the Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Vernes, the library in Greenland or Iceland had thousands of books in their library. But when the explorer went to check out a book there were very few books there. It was said by the librarian that they were being used in circulation, people had them and were reading. Isn’t that the purpose of a library?

  4. We too own many books, but do limit ourselves due to space constraints. If a book MUST live on a shelf, another must move out! We’ve donated many to Good Will where they’ll hopefully be discovered by other book lovers, given a good home, and enjoyed by new readers. There’s pleasure in that too.

  5. Pingback: Inklings, Libraries & Architecture « Mere Inkling Press

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