Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Lifetime of Books – Musings (1)

Next week I’ll get back to Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, and perhaps other lines of thought as well; sometimes life’s interruptions give us a break from rhythms which in turn provide new perspectives. While interruptions may be unwelcome, they need not be unprofitable.

In preparation for “retirement”, a word I find obnoxious because I hardly plan to retire from life, I have been agonizingly evaluating and downsizing my library. If you do not love books this may make no sense and you may classify me as a loony; but if you love books, if you love to read their titles, to ponder the journey you’ve taken through them; if you have come to call some of them “friends”; if, when you scan your bookshelves you relive decades of reading and life’s experiences…well then…you know what I am talking about. Just the way an old song may remind us of a season of life, a book may remind me of the season of life I was in when I read it.

I had a forlorn hope that my books may one day be in a library, a church library perhaps, a mission-school library, someplace where others could enjoy them and learn and make their own friends. Maybe when I leave this place for Narnia my reference books will find a home in such a place. I had also hoped that some of my more personal books, both from childhood and adulthood, would find homes with special people – maybe that will happen when I move to Narnia, one can only hope.

I asked my brother Jim about some books the other day, telling him that I would send them to him – I was especially asking about Sandburg’s multivolume biography of Lincoln (we both love history); alas his own books, he says, are mostly in boxes and he now uses Kindle. I use Kindle too, but I’ve never made a friend of a book on Kindle – I can’t hold it or smell it or finger its pages or underline it or make notes or write symbols in its margins (yes, yes, I know you can highlight and make footnotes in Kindle – but that is worse than kissing your cousin).

Some books I am throwing away. There are two reasons for this, one is that used books have, as a rule, no value and that they are not likely to interest anyone should I donate them – a particularly sad thought for a booklover; the other is that some of the books, in and of themselves, are not worth reading – I kept them for reference so that I could use them as teaching examples of poor thinking, heresy, and downright weird “spirituality”. I guess it is like the CDC keeping strains of germs that, should they escape, could sicken and kills thousands of people. Among the former are books that are simply not well-written, among the latter include a volume that was a New Age bestseller that came into my possession (I can’t recall if I purchased it or it was given to me) years ago so that I could try to help a friend who was caught up into its message. Also among the latter is a book that was, as I recall, at the top of the “Christian” bestseller list and whose author was touted on the front page of Christianity Today – that was the year that I canceled my subscription to CT; that front page article along with other editorial choices was just too much – I don’t care about what is popular, I care about what is true.

I have been struck by how much of what I have accumulated is ephemeral. This isn’t always a criticism; some books are written for certain times and places, but then some are simply faddish. Am I reading anything today that will be with me 10 or 20 years from now? If not, then perhaps I should broaden my diet.

Augustine wrote a lot, some of what he wrote has a long shelf-life, some is almost impossible to relate to because it was written for a certain time and place. It’s good to know the difference.

Any title that has the word “secret” in it is probably not worth keeping. Why do Christian publishers use that word? Why do Christians run after this secret and that secret? All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus Christ (see Colossians Chapter 2). Sometimes “Christian” publishers will take something written decades ago and repackage it with the word “secret” – they take something someone wrote who lived 100, 200, 500 years ago, something that was never meant to be presented as a “secret”, and put the word “secret” on it to get Christians to buy it. What is that all about? It’s about money…and about professing Christians not knowing that Jesus is all in all.

Some of my faded books are good books, but folks don’t read faded books. I guess that’s age discrimination.

I wonder if UPS delivers to Narnia? If so I might ship some of these volumes ahead so they will be there when I arrive. 

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