June 12 – Of the Tossing of Many Books

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.  – Ecclesiastes 12:12

The wisdom of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes has stood the test of time. I’m not sure I’ve always taken his advice, however, and as we prepare for our move, we are fully aware of the many books issue.  It seems of the tossing of many books there is no end.

With thanks to the Preacher for another phrase, there is a time to gather books into shelves and a time to cast away such books. We know what time it is. We might add that the tossing of many books has also been a time for weeping.

The issue is not really shelf space in the new house.  We’re moving most of our bookcases, and what is Ikea for, after all? The issue is that we don’t need all those books.  The keeping of too many books is a vanity, the Preacher might say. Striving after the wind.

So, we are tossing books.  It’s a heartless exercise, but necessary. So many books are like old friends, how do you decide who goes and who doesn’t?

The first cut is easy.  Some of those books never were friends.  Seminary textbooks.  Self-help books from the 80s that didn’t help much. Or books that could have been left on the plane or at the beach.

The second cut is a little harder, but sometimes you have to be tough-minded rather than soft-hearted. The truth is that our friendship with some of our books cooled over the years.  Sometimes their relevance and wisdom simply aged out.  I have a great collection of brilliant insights into the cultural issues of the 90s and the early 2000s. Nobody cares. If any of you plan on raising your children in the 1980s, Becky and I have just the books for you. And did we really believe that stuff back then?

By the end of the second cut both our home and my office bookcases are emptying out.  We could stop there.  We’re pretty much left with friends.  Some of them have been with us the entire time. From California to Oregon, Virginia to Michigan, Western PA to Eastern PA. But they are infirm; broken spines and brittle pages, they just can’t make another long trip.  Some will never be read again, though we remember well the pleasure of the first read, or the kind person who recommended or gave them to us.

So which of our still many books will join us in the new house in Auburn, Indiana? Some will make the cut because they are still useful.  The practical cut. Think all my Bible commentaries and those books the grandchildren will read or have read to them.  Some, I am ashamed to say, may make the trip because of their good looks.  Am I really going to read again all four volumes of Sandberg’s Lincoln?   Probably not, but they will look really classy on my study bookshelf.

And, yes, soft-heartedness plays its part. Do both Becky and I need our own collection of the seven volume, 95 cents apiece paperback editions of the Chronicles of Narnia?  Of course we do! My first serious study Bible? Without question!

Many books will make the trip to Auburn. It may be vanity, but there is no weariness in their companionship. We will be glad to share the new house with them. And there will be plenty of room for new books. After all, of the making of books there is no end.