This quote is possibly the only thing columnist Anna Quindlen, and I would ever agree on, but on this one, we are definitely in sinc. Whenever we have looked for a new house, my eye has immediately moved to living room/family room flat wall space for bookshelves. Not enough bookshelf space is an immediate deal breaker.
My husband collects trumpets and trumpet bits, and I seem to collect books. I say “seem” because, for me, it’s a passive way of collecting. Every week that goes by, publishers send me books for possible shows, readers send me books, friends give me books, my mom loans me books and I bring books home from the library. Things can get wild and woolly really quickly in our house if there isn’t a periodic evaluation of what books go in the trash, (from publishers), which go on the children’s shelves, which go on my personal shelves, which go on my work shelf and which go on my “serious” bookshelf downstairs.
My college son has outgrown his bookshelf and is now going vertical on the top of his bedroom bookshelf. He has a stack 12 books high that he says he just has to get to soon. He, like his mother, inherited deep compassion for rejected books. A teacher at his college was throwing out a bunch of classic books and put up a “Take one, they’re free!” sign on a table. Well, guess who brought them home. “They looked so sad, mom, all by themselves. I’ll take care of them, really, mom…” Some people take in stray cats—we take in stray books.
My husband bought me a beautiful framed print of Carl Spitzweg’s painting above. It’s titled, “Der Buchworm”, (The Bookworm). Fortunately, he doesn’t give me a hard time about all the books. (And I don’t give him a hard time about all those C, B flat, G, and piccolo trumpets, along with the flugel horn, coronet, rotary…) Tom claims that the subject of the painting, an aged butler, enthralled with a book while dusting a vast bookcase, reminds him of me. I am not sure if I should take that as a good thing or not!
I tell my young college son regularly that he needs to do as much reading now as he can. Life tends to get in the way when you’re out of school. I sometimes get so disgusted with myself for not getting to some of the classics I’ve meant to read. The other night I decided to remedy things and took The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus up to bed. Never do that after a tiring day. After the gazillionth political assassination, suicide and beheading, (that would be about page 6) I threw it down in favor of Tales from a Village School, by Miss Read. It was an excellent antidote to all the intrigues of ancient Rome. After half an hour of light English wit, I was ready to sleep.
Being particularly sensitive, I have learned that some authors are best tackled with an eye to the season. Never read Turgenev, Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy in the dead of a Wisconsin January. It’s dark enough, believe me, without Imperial Russia. For me, it’s best to leave Russian authors for a blazing July afternoon in a lawn chair. When you tire of reading about starving Russian peasants and the vodka-swilling villains who persecute them, you can always look up and remember that it’s just a book, and that it’s July and the sun is shining.
My favorite books are the old devotional gems from Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, Horatius Bonar and a host of others. I have many old used copies, many of which contain notes and underlinings from long dead hands. One lady, named Elizabeth Farrell, owned my Andrew Murray book, Like Christ, back in 1891. In her beautiful script, she left notes regarding answered prayer with the names of those she had prayed would come to certain evangelistic meetings in London. The notes make the book even more special because it somehow connects me with another sister-in-Christ from so long ago, who is now with the Lord. She was another who wanted to be Like Christ.
A recent study revealed that a large number of Americans go a year without reading an entire book. The life of the mind has long been neglected in our hectic, pleasure-mad culture. The great ideas that built Western Civilization are being challenged as never before, but few today even understand what those ideas are. By filling our homes with good books on all kinds of interesting subjects, we stimulate intellectual curiosity in our children that will make them engaged learners all their lives. With the fear of the Lord at the forefront of their understanding, our children can learn to look at the fascinating world God made and see His Divine hand at work, in history, in science, in art, in music, and everywhere else.