Saturday, October 07, 2006

By Their Books You Will Know Them...

The following post appeared on Dr. Albert Mohler's blog and my heart resonated with the author as I read the article...with much joy! Here's someone who feels exactly the way I do about books! Read through and see what you think and then...please COMMENT!

Jay Parini, a poet and professor of English at Middlebury College, has written an elegant essay for The Chronicle of Higher Education, noting his penchant for looking at personal libraries of friends and acquaintances.

In "Other People's Books",Parini writes:

It's not only the physical aspects of books that attract me, of course. In fact, I rarely buy first or elegant editions, however much I like to glance at them; good reading copies, in hardback or a decent paperback, are just fine. But seeing some of the editions in my living room reminds me of that wonderful house in Surrey, which stirred my imagination as a young man and was part of the reason I became a writer myself.

What interests me about other people's books is the nature of their collection. A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements.

Parini, author of biographies on William Faulkner and John Steinbeck, writes of visiting libraries in the homes of authors such as Graham Greene and Anthony Powell.
Of Powell's library, he writes: He lived deep in the English countryside, in Somerset, in an old stone manor on many green acres. We had tea in his sitting room, which had floor-to-ceiling shelves on every wall. There were first editions by his good friend Evelyn Waugh, and countless volumes culled from his decades as a reviewer. "I can't give a book up, if it's a book that meant something to me," he said. "I always imagine I'll go back to it one day. I rarely do, but the intention is there, and I get a warm feeling among my books." I wished I could have spent days wandering in that house, as he had books in nearly every room.

Book lovers know exactly what Powell meant. We do get a warm feeling among our books. Furthermore, true bibliophiles understand the problem in the Powell house -- the books spread themselves to every room.

Finally, he notes:

Other people's books draw my attention, of course. They excite curiosity about their owners and the worlds they inhabit. But it's finally my own books that matter, as they tell me about where I've been, and where I hope to go.

When truly read, a book becomes a part of us. That is why we are afraid to part with even the physicality of it. The book becomes an aid to memory and a deposit of thought and reflection. Its very materiality testifies that we once held it in our hands as we passed the pages before our eyes.

Parini observes that libraries are mirrors into our minds and souls. The books we collect, display, and read tell the story about us.

This may be especially true of Christian ministers. Books are a staple of our lives and ministries. When the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to bring the books and the parchments, he was writing with the kind of urgency any preacher understands.

To a great extent, our personal libraries betray our true identities and interests. A minister's library, taken as a whole, will likely reveal a portrait of theological conviction and vision. Whose works have front place on the shelves, Martyn Lloyd-Jones or John Shelby Spong? Charles Spurgeon or Harry Emerson Fosdick? Karl Barth or Carl Henry? John MacArthur or Joel Osteen?

How serious a Bible scholar is this preacher? The books will likely tell. Are the books all old or all new? If so, the reader is probably too contemporary or too antiquarian in focus. Are the books read? If so, the marginalia of an eager and intelligent mind adds value to the book. It becomes more a part of us.

Is this person a Christian intellectual, feeding the mind and soul by reading? For too many pastors, the personal library announces, "I stopped reading when I graduated from seminary."

When I think of my closest friends, I realize that I am most at home with them in their libraries, and they are most at home with me in mine. Why? Because the books invite and represent the kind of conversation and sharing of heart, soul, and mind that drew us together in the first place.
By their books we shall know them. And by our books we shall be known.

The pilgrim's scribbling concerning this...

Presently I'm reading several biographies at the same time. I've picked up other biographies and autobiographies in the last week and perused them for some information. Based on the following books...WHO AM I?

A biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones written by a grandson
In Retrospect by F. F. Bruce
The Journals of Anthony Norris Groves
A biography of William Carey that I picked up in a used book store in the Milwaukee airport
The Journals of Jim Elliot by his widow Elisabeth Elliot
A biography of John Nelson Darby

Go ahead...tell me...who am I?
Note: I've posted the picture at the top of this article before. It's just one small corner of my library at my office in Peterborough. I have about 1,000 books there and about 2,000 plus in my library at home.
Another note: Don't even think about throwing out any old, unwanted Christian books. I'll pay the postage if you send them my way. Carol might kill me but then someone else could inherit my library.


  1. when we moved, i went through all my books ... i gave away many secular ones to the library ... my cherished ones, the ones i kept, are the ones that feed my soul ... sure they can entertain at times, or make one think ... but i ask myself - did this book leave me a better person? did it uplift me?

    to me, a book is the best gift in the world ...

  2. I love books, as does Andy, and during the past year and a bit we have definitely increased our library by going to yard sales and books sales. We've found so many great books!

    If you look at our library you will find a mix of new and old...not all old books are too antiquated for today, the same as not all new books are too modern. Some of our favourite authors are: John Osteen (haven't yet read his son's books), Oral Roberts, Merlin Carothers, Watchman Nee, H.A. Maxwell Whyte, John Bevere, Liberty Savard, and many, many others.

    My favourites? Oral Roberts and Merlin Carothers...we found their books last summer at a yard sale and since then have snapped up every copy we've seen since...if it's one we already have, we give it away because they talk about two of the most important things in a Christian and praising!

    Thanks David...I think you just gave me another idea for a blog!


  3. Dear David..Just in between meetings.The kids aren't coming to Sunday School today, so I thought I would drop you a line...all THREE of you!!
    Saija...Thanks for your prayers..
    Julie, I have a sunrise ordered for you..
    David, you stll haven't answered my question ..Do you have the "Believers Hymn Book" Author Bio's written by Mr. Harold Paisley?
    Got to run...from Terry

  4. Finally someone who understands! Ever since I was old enough to read I've read everything I could get my hands on!
    The biggest challenge for me is to decide what books will come to school with me and what books will stay behind. If I could I'd bring them all, but sadly there's not enough room in the van or in my small apartment. I'm known to continually switch around the books with me so I have a fresh set every time I come back from the holidays.
    Before I went to university I used to buy all my books because there's nothing worse than having to return an amazing book to the library and not be able to pick it up and re-read it whenever you want. Sadly now I'm basically stuck taking books out of the library. Once I graduate and find a job, my plan (once I get my first house) is to build myself my own library where I can keep every book I own!
    When I was younger the books that I remember loving were Corrie ten Boom's "The Hiding Place" and the "Love Comes Softly" series by Janette Oke. (I had to read Frankenstein in school once and completely fell in love with it, which I know is a totally random favourite book!). Of course, what little girl didn't grow up reading Anne of Green Gables? I used to love Diana because she had dark hair like me!
    I've read a lot of great books lately, but fewer and fewer Christian books. It's been getting harder to find Christian books that are directed at twenty-something girls. ( I don't limit myself to those books, but sometimes it's nice to read books about people going through similar things as you). Anyone have any suggestions?


  5. I enjoyed that article by Parini the other day, which in turn inspired my post on bibliophiles. (I also love great quotes!)

    So great to know you read great books! Some of my best treasures were found at a Goodwill book sale one year....classics by Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee, Jonathan Edwards--can you believe it? I grabbed them all!