Books

Bookshelves are great for testing camera lenses. 
This test of a Panasonic point 'n' shoot must have happened when 
Catherine was still at home.

Books. The world's most expensive wallpaper. A door opening into the world. A wall to keep it out.

Perfect insulation - physically, mentally, spiritually.

There are 70 metres of bookshelving in my study, which is quite a bit considering how small the room is, but it's never been enough. Books pile up, the ones I have bought and the ones that other people have bought and given to me because they think I need them. There are books which have changed the way I see the world and therefore changed both me and the world. There are books which have never changed anything except some poor tree somewhere.

I can trace my inner growth from the titles on my shelves. There is Biblical studies from the 70s and theology from the 80s. The books bought in the 90s are all about running churches - how to get people into your pews and how to get them to pay for the privilege; how to run small groups; how to make the church missional, purpose driven, contemporary, a fresh expression, or whatever this month's ecclesiastical cure all catch phrase is. From the new millennia there are books that I actually still want to read: on spirituality; science; consciousness; being; Being. From the last few years there is more and more and more poetry. There are whole shelves given over to things that once mattered a lot to me, but now, not so much: the Myer's Briggs Personality Inventory and the Enneagram and Neuro Linguistic Programming. There are earnest books whose prose I would call leaden except that it would be grossly and unfairly discriminatory to lead. There are some whose words drive me to paroxysms of envy at the author's linguistic skill, take a bow Annie Dillard. There are some which take up treasured space in my heart. There are lots which just take up space.

Yesterday, I ran my fingers over a book which is nearly 6 inches thick: The Anglican Missal. Hardbound in blue cloth, it's a spiritual resource given to me almost 40 years ago by an Anglo Catholic Priest who had once thought it a really good idea but now had no further use for it  and who thought I was a bit too Protestant for my own good.  On the shelf beside it was a theological introduction to the 39 articles, written in the 1920s. Why have I kept these? I took them from their places and placed them on the floor, and looked further, and an hour later my study floor was knee deep in paper and cardboard and cloth and leather. Five cartons full went to the Regent book sale, and still, as I look around at my partially depleted shelves, I can see the need for yet more pruning. Once I thought I was congenitally predisposed to never get rid of a book, but yesterday I felt again the liberating sense of wholeness which comes from breaking  self imposed boundaries.

Comments

Brian Kelly said…
Yes, I am learning to break those boundaries myself - but it is hard after a lifetime of bibliolatry. But if I have not looked at a book in 15 years, I doubt I will in the foreseeable future. I have tried to make a new rule: not to buy a new book unless I will genuinely read, study and use it. On the whole I am keeping to this; no point filling up more space with unread works. But one has to be disciplined and intentional in reading and study, and it helps to have a particular goal in mind: a sermon or a talk to give or an article to write. Or a self-directed goal in learning.
In addition, there is so much free stuff on the internet now that I have read some fine old classics (Boethius, Athanasius, Chesterton etc) for nothing - and without needing any more shelf space.
Kelvin Wright said…
I'm now making the distinction between books I want to read and books I want to have. The ones I want to read I get on Kindle. Those I want to have are nicely bound and/ or aesthetically pleasing and/ or interesting in some way as objects in their own right.

As far as reading material goes I subscribe to BookBub. At least weekly there will be a really good book for a dollar or two
I am impressed you've been able to part with a few chosen books. My own shelves were groaning last summer, so when the painter came to repaint them white, I let go of several books that had been sitting double-deep on my shelves. The ones I am keeping of late are favourites, essays, poetry and theological treasures (some my teachers wrote). Yes, there are a few of those.