Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Tyranny of Books

Last summer, my friend Stephanie emailed me an article entitled "The Tyranny of Books."  It was a fun article about a couple wrestling with their book collection. I sure could relate. Just for fun, I decided to make my own rendition of the quandary.

The living room is a disaster. Books are scattered on the floor, sliding off the couch, and stacked on the table. Why can't the children put away books when they are finished with them? Something must be done about this mess.

I gather an armload of books to place back on the shelf. The books are double stacked and squeezed so tightly that it takes two hands to push the books together to add another volume. No wonder the children have trouble returning the books to their shelves.

What should we get Mom for Mother's Day?” asked my husband in a conversation with our children that he related to me later.

Mom needs more bookshelves,” was our ten-year-olds quick reply.

It had begun innocently – a few books received as gifts. At each birthday in my childhood I received a hard-cover Little House book until the set was complete.

In my teens I discovered used book sales—a reader's paradise of tables lined with musty volumes. I dug through boxes and flipped open pages until a cover peered out with puppy-dog eyes. “Please pick me. Read me. Love me.” Exchanging a few dollars for a box of books, I walked away as wealthy as a queen.

I towed my books into marriage, meeting another book lover at the altar. For a few years there was enough unread books on our shelves to keep us both busy reading.

Then one day a pink-wrapped bundle entered our home. With her came a crib, stroller, high chair, and a flood of books. Now I stalked the children's section of the used book sales. I looked for old books in which girls still wore dresses and wholesome family values reigned. The children and I curled up on the couch with a stack of books and read until I was hoarse. I could quote Make Way for Ducklings in my sleep and wore out copies for Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, but I loved story time with my children. As years past, The Story of Ping and picture books changed to Treasures of the Snow and other chapter books. My children learned that I was a sucker for “just one more chapter.” We traveled around the world and through history blinking back tears and sharing laughter.

A few years later it exploded. Our choice to homeschool was the Big Bang which laid down layers of history, science, and art books. Biographies, historical fiction, textbooks, and nature guides emerged to trip anyone who dared walk to the bathroom at night without turning on the light.

Now I had help spotting treasures at used book sales and there were more birthdays where books were the perfect gift. Our living room sprouted bookshelves until it looked like a library. We added book shelves to the children's rooms. We hauled our least favorite books to the attic. And still there wasn't enough space.

I decided to get tough. Ruthless. A quick count found well over two thousand books on our shelves. Surely we couldn't be reading all those books. I would purge out the unneeded volumes and regain control of our collection.

I attacked a shelf of older books. A layer of dusk proved their lack of use. I flipped open the flyleaf and found my name—my maiden name. I had been married a dozen years; these books belonged to me even longer and were still unread. This would be easy. Find every unread book with my maiden name and discard it. If I hadn't read the book in a dozen years I probably wasn't going to read it ever.

Of course, I wasn't going to burn the books, just add them to our local used book sale and bless some other book lover. Or maybe trade it on Paperback Swap for - um - more books. 

Ed noticed my discard stack and I told him my plan. Ed pulled off the top book, E.M. Bounds' The Power of Prayer.

But this is a good book.” he said. “I might want to read it sometime.”

This was not going to be easy.

I moved on to the classic's shelf. Maybe I'd find some duplicate volumes. I did. But my daughter likes this Heidi with great illustrations but this other Heidi has nice old binding. I often stack it with an old copy of Little Woman on the fireplace mantle just for decoration.

How about the shelf of biographies? I pull out a volume and am swept back to the time. The selfless missionary life of John Paton on a South Seas island had stirred me to personal surrender. These books held the memory of a the stretching of a soul. Discarding them would be rejecting their message, ignoring my history, and betraying a friend.

And I thought this would be easy?

During my book sorting I put books aside to share. Some books were too good to keep to myself. I pushed them into hands.

You should try this Jamie Langston Turner novel.”

Have you read this book by Elisabeth Elliot?”

Do you like history? Read this one by David McCullough.”

What are you reading?” I asked most guests to our home. Maybe they would give me a new title to add to my to-read list. Or maybe they could carry away a few of my treasured friends. On loan, of course. Nothing permanent.

Sharing books became a new addiction. I began picking up extra books, books I already owned, just to share. Sharing a well-loved book was as good as enjoying it myself.

Books are companions. Books inspire. Books give counsel and information. Books can also be a tyrant when out of control. Or should I say, when in control. Should I admit that when caught in the grips of a book, I can sometimes forget everything else—even my duties? And who wants to be enslaved by wood fiber? 

Entangled in the tentacles of a book, I can ignore life. My mom could tell you how hard it was to get work out of me when I had a new book. And now my daughter is giving me the same experience from the mother's perspective.

With self discipline I choose (most days) to get my work done before sitting down to enjoy another chapter. With maturity I learned how to enjoy reading before bed with an eye on the clock to slam the book covers before the hour was too late. At my husband's request I occasionally even laid down my book while traveling to enjoy the scenery and conversation. Sometimes it irks me to waste such valuable reading time but he was right—I couldn't see many mountains if my eyes are on the page.

Books can point my thoughts toward God but even a good book can also steal time away from the truly important. Jesus said that only “one thing is needful”—time spent with Him. (Luke 10:42)

A wise man said that “of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) I need to make peace with the fact that I won't own or read every good book. It was Jesus of whom it was said that if all His deeds were written down “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25) But the Word I have in my hands records enough to keep me busy reading for the remainder of my days.

Some day God's record books will be opened and we will be “judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). I'm guessing that includes my choice of reading material.


I may somehow, some day find a way to whittle down my book collection—until then, I will attempt to put His Book on the top of the stack.

34 comments :

  1. LOL! This is so me! When my late husband and I were dating his first birthday day present to me was a handmade bookshelf 7ft high and 6ft long. Happy reading!

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    1. Now that is a man who knows how to speak a booklover's language! I would say that he is a keeper!
      Gina

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  2. Good Morning Gina....this affliction has entered our home too. When we moved to the new house 2 years ago, we brought 22 boxes of books. Of course there have been several additions since then and will continue to be. I hope you are having a warm and blessed day....Sheila

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  3. We too have about 1500 to 1800 books or so. Our whole family reads voraciously. In fact, I could have written this post. But.... we need pictures!! Every bibliophile loves to see pictures of beautiful, full bookcases!!

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    1. I never thought of photos! But I know what I do with photos of bookshelves...I blow up the photo as large as possible and tilt my head sideways trying to read the titles!
      Gina

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  4. Love this!! I keep on saying that our books are having babies. I can never get them all to fit on the shelf and it's a constant frustration!

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    1. Is that what is happening? I wondered how they were multiplying!
      Gina

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  5. Excellent! I saw myself way too clearly. -;)

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  6. I'm just like that too! I start organizing, going through my books, and then soon I've got my nose in one of them and and the last hour I've just been reading...

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    1. The reason my mom could never give me the job of dusting bookshelves!
      Gina

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  7. I've been making that my goal since my daughter (now 6 months) has begun sleeping more regularly (and I'm more caught up on rest as well) - use my time during her first nap of the day to sit down with God's word. It makes a world of difference and is worth every moment!

    I enjoyed reading this post very much. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Very good idea! For several years when my children were little, I enjoyed naptime for my Bible reading. I was most alert then (unlike early morning or bedtime) and I loved the refreshment. But sometimes it was difficult to ignore all the work that was staring at me! But always worth it!
      Gina

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  8. What a wonderful article Ms, Gina! I am with you all the way!! I had to laugh out loud about the homes-school bonanza! Now I have a new, modern challenge. Books are disappearing from the thrift store, and the ones that are left are sold in bulk bags. Oh my. I have to save humanity, who is doomed it seems, to go all-kindle and no 'real' paper books. Even the local library is filled with computers now! Reading has been a life-saver to me, and I always thank God (truly) for the gift of being able to read. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Yes!!! This is our family to a "T". And now our children are grown and gone and have their own collections. Our in-law children were amazed at how many books came with their new spouses. We have boxes of books being stored for our son who is living in Japan. He doesn't want us to get rid of any of them. I tried to weed through my husbands and my books about 3 months ago with the same experience you had. I think in the end I got rid of about 10 books out of hundreds and hundreds, possibly thousands.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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  10. I trade books with someone on freecycle.org. Most of the time I give many more than I receive, and that is all right with me. I have almost no room to store any personal possessions in my home. You might give away books on freecycle if it's convenient for you (as the name implies, it's free).

    I read about people who leave books in public adding notes which say something such as, "I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I have. When you're done, please leave it where another book lover will find it."
    Philippa

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    1. What a fun way to share books! I'll have to remember that idea!
      Gina

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  11. What a great post! I'm glad you wrote it. I grinned most of the way through, because I can so much identify. The only thing that prevents books from overtaking our house is the fact that my husband is not also a book lover. But like you, I have a daughter following in my book-loving steps. It's been so much fun introducing her to my childhood favorites.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Stephanie, to consider the craziness of living in a household full of books!

      May you husband be given grace as he becomes outnumbered as the booklovers in your household increase!
      Gina

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  12. Gina - clearly you struck a chord with many of your faithful readers! My family too loves books - all of us - and will sit around together sometimes on "reading dates." I manage the children's book section of a nonprofit book warehouse - so the temptation is always there for me! In fact, that's where I picked up some Jamie Langston Turner books after you recommended them (thank you!). My rule is that I have to bring a bag of books back there in order to bring another one home... : )
    Suz

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    1. You manage a book warehouse? That sounds like a dream job! Lucky you!
      Gina

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    2. I volunteer, and just do the kids section - there are many other categories too ! But you're right - I do enjoy it, and my family thinks it's a great use of time since I get "paid" in books for us all! It's a good cause too, since the Rotary (who runs it) use proceeds from the book sales to ship books overseas or wherever they're needed. Sometimes it feels like every kind of book passes through sooner or later - so if you have any odd books you're looking for (especially old) that you can't find elsewhere, let me know and I'll keep a look out! - Suz

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  13. Oh yes quite a nerve was touched! My bladder keeps me from reading all night mindlessly till morning anymore! I had three boys and they always wanted a bedtime story, I'll never forget when my cousin who had only girls found out that we were doing Jack London's 'Call of the Wild' for bedtime! The boys are all grown up now and they have libraries of their own! Wonderful post!

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    1. I was thinking recently about the difference of reading to boys versus girls. I lent a couple books to a friend who has only girls and she said that the books looked too scary - and her girls didn't want to read them. Meanwhile, at our house, my husband is reading Tom Sawyer and The Hatchet as bedtime stories! My girls get stuck listening to "boy" books and seem to enjoy them. I remember my brother getting me to read Sherlock Holmes and other books that I wouldn't have probably picked up on my own. Variety can be good!
      Gina

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    2. I was an avid reader as a child, and I"m sure I reas as many, if not more 'boy' books! I thought boys in books always had more adventure...but finally one day I asked my Dad why he always took my brothers fishing, and not me!!?? He said 'it never occured to me' and then planned a fishing trip, with me in mind! I guess girls are allowed to have fun after all. I had 3 brothers, and nothing I read in any ol' 'boy' book surprised me one bit. Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that's what little boys (and some adventurous girls) are made of!! Along with plenty of sugar and spice and everything nice, of course!

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    3. I'm smiling. I grew up with all brothers (I didn't get a sister until I was 15) and I know that I grew up with a different perspective than those in an all-girl home.
      Gina

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  14. I can so completely and utterly relate! Gideon and I have books EVERYWHERE! We're both bookworms, plus I've just finished a Creative Writing Master's, and we have far more books than bookcases (I was given some money at Christmas that I was planning to use to buy some bookshelves, but it ended up all being eaten by rent). If I have one addiction, it's books!

    (This is Katherine in England; I emailed you a few months ago).

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  15. I laughed at the reading when driving part :) Our daughter loves being stuck in a book (I'm told I was the same way ) and she always reads when we drive :) Sometimes I tell her to put the book down so she can pay attention to her little sis and see what's happening outside :)

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  16. You made me smile...as I imagined my husbands face as he looks at all the books in our house, modest collection of approx.1500, the children were bored one night before dinner so I had them count all the books....I keep thinking of donating them to our charity shop but keep thinking of when I received them or who gave me them...some I haven't read for over 10 years...but my mind tells me maybe one of the children will want to....(they are all grown up or late teens...)or maybe I won't be able to replace it...so many excuses...My oldest son has the bug too, and even asked for a extra bookcase for Christmas....so I totally understand your dilemma ...in our house though my husband is only just starting to read more books...so maybe he'll understand the trouble in passing on a few treasured books. At least he doesn't object to my books that challenge me and make me think or just take me away, and make me smile.
    blessings
    shelleyp
    from over the pond

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  17. Hi Gina! What a wonderful article you've written. I am just now occupied in my annual January book-cull project so I could relate-- and lol-- to much of your book history and feelings...
    I've had a method the past couple years that works for me (culling that is). I put all of my ladies' Christian non-fiction in a box to take to a women's ministry for their book room. All the other books I take to a used Christian bookstore to get trade credit for what they want. What they don't want I bring home and put on PBS. Eventually, what never leaves on PBS, I take to a local thrift store to donate.
    Like you, I enjoy finding excellent books that I already have and buying them specifically to give. Our Mardel's Christian Bookstore (same owners as Hobby Lobby) have several shelves of new (and current!) $1, $3, $5 books which enables me to buy wonderful gifts for others.
    Book buying/reading is my only real "addiction" but I consider it a means toward being a lifetime learner as I go about my homemaking profession. A home library is a beautiful thing and a blessing from God!

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  18. Hi, this is a loyal reader (and lurker here)! A neighbor collects books to donate to a women's shelter. They prefer uplifting and/or helpful books, which is perfect for Christians who have books to give. I think men's shelters would probably be glad to have books, too.

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    1. I never would have guessed that writing about books would have pulled out the lurkers - but I'm glad it did! And thanks for your suggestion!
      Gina

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  19. I stumbled across your blog when looking for how to cold rise bread. I absolutely love your tagline "if you think my hands are full you should see my heart". What a beautiful sentiment. As i listen to my first little girl cooing upstairs after her nap, and read your words about books, it made my heart just a little fuller. thanks for that. -sarah

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  20. We love books! We have them everywhere. I just recently handed down to my grandchildren the books their mother loved to read when she was young. Timeless treasures. Enjoy your day and God bless.

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  21. Donating some of my books to the VA Hospital in my home town.

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I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!

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