On a Lighter Note: Reading, Books, Libraries, and Other Delights

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OK, with so many hardcore articles dealing with so many heavy-duty subjects on this site, it might be time to take a few steps back and write on something much less intense and serious. So why not go with something delightful, like books?

Sure, this will mean that most folks won’t bother with this piece, but for the handful of bibliophiles out there who get some joy out of such topics, I will keep going with this. And it will be a bit of a rambling, personalised piece, so just indulge me here a little bit if you would.

The immediate inspiration for this piece came from – not surprisingly – a book I picked up a few days ago. It came from what has become my fav second-hand Christian bookshop (more on that in a moment). And it has to do with one of my favorite authors.

I happen to have some 60 books by C. S. Lewis, and another few dozen about him. I already had one collection of his letters, edited by his brother Warnie, but for some reason I had not picked up this volume over the years. It is They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 1914-1963 (Macmillan, 1979).

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Lewis of course died in 1963, a week before his 65th birthday, so these letters cover his last half century of life. In 600 pages we have quite a few of his letters to peruse. Greeves was a lifelong friend of Lewis with many similar interests. It is great fun to read.

It seems that in every other letter Lewis is talking about what he is reading, or rereading, what new book he bought, what new author he discovered, what great price he got on a book purchase, what edition of a particular volume he discovered, etc. It is all about books and stories, and libraries and bookshops, and reading and more reading.

I loved going through his letters because I too, obviously, am a bookaholic. I first started buying books when I was maybe 13 or 14. By the time I was 18 I had a small library of perhaps 350 books. Most were on leftist politics or philosophy or social issues or eastern religions or economics.

But as I stated in my article about my life during this time, they all ended up being taken to the city incinerator for destruction, along with perhaps 300 record albums. Upon my conversion to Christianity, I felt I needed to make a clean break with all that. See more on this here.

In that 4-part story of how I came to Christ, I discuss how it began with my involvement in a cult. But once out of that, my interest in books returned, and I again started reading heaps: theology, Christian and missionary biographies, etc. Also, one gal introduced me to Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. I then bought and read everything I could find of theirs.

Now, 50 years on, I have a modest but quite solid library of over 6000 volumes. Probably 85 per cent of them are on theology, apologetics, ethics, church history, and the like, with over 600 biblical commentaries. The rest would be on politics, economics, history and the like.

Mind you, there are many bigger libraries. One Catholic social activist I worked with for a while had 30,000 volumes upon his death. One fav theologian, Carl F. H. Henry, while still far from his death, had donated his library of 72,000 volumes to Trinity Divinity School in Chicago.

So my library is just small change. But as my wife keeps reminding me – and warning me about – my book buying continues unabated. Just this afternoon I picked up nine more books. But they are for a major article I am in the middle of working on.

Indeed, that is my excuse: just as a carpenter needs his tools for his trade, so I need my books for mine. And my trade if you will happens to be teaching. That is one of my main giftings and callings, and my library is obviously an integral part of my ministry.

So just like Lewis, I have loved nothing better than scouring new and used bookshops, finding some long sought after volume, or scoring some real bargains. Of course now with the internet and online bookshops, things have changed quite a bit.

Twenty or thirty years ago my greatest joy was to spend hours in some enormous second-hand bookshop. America especially has many of these, some with hundreds of thousands of volumes. But now if I have a list of wanted books, a quick surf on the net can often locate them.

So some of the thrill of the chase is now gone for me. Secular bookshops with only new books never really appealed to me, for several reasons. Most do not have decent theology sections – or ANY theology sections – nor sections featuring conservative social and political thought. Plus the books there are usually too expensive anyway.

I can usually find books cheaper elsewhere. So second-hand bookshops, and new books from online shops, is where I get many of my conservative titles from. As to Christian books and theology, some of that I buy online as well. Here in Melbourne I have two main options. Koorong Books of course has gotten heaps of my money over the decades.

They really should issue me frequent flyer points for all my many years of faithful patronage! Many other Christian bookstores have gone out of business over the years. The same with second-hand Christian bookshops: there used to be 4 or 5 of them a few decades ago, but now I know of only one in all of Melbourne.

I refer to New Life Books at 44 Dublin Road, Ringwood East. It has a really quite good range of theological books shelved in a number of categories. It has separate spots for Packer books, Stott books, Lloyd-Jones books, etc. and it even has a separate section for Puritan and Reformed titles. I am impressed!

The prices are very low indeed, and all the money made goes to missions. That is terrific. So now when I head out the door and my wife asks, “You’re not going to get more books are you?,” I say, “Oh don’t be silly – why would I do that? I am heading out to give a bit of money to missions!”

OK, so maybe she is not fooled by that one, but hey, I get great books and missionaries get some much-needed support. So it is a win-win situation. That is where I got my nine volumes today. It does not have a website, but you can check out their FB page.

Anyway, that is enough rambling from me. Perhaps a few of you book lovers out there might have enjoyed this piece. But I better finish this article. I have a bunch of new books waiting for me to sink my teeth into! I leave you with a few of my fav books and reading quotes:

“What can be better than to get out a book on Saturday afternoon and thrust all mundane considerations away till next week?” C. S. Lewis

”I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” C. S. Lewis

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” Anna Quindlen

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Erasmus

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx

“One Book is enough, but a thousand books is not too many!” Martin Luther

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” G. K. Chesterton

“If one must read only the new or only the old, I would advise them to read the old. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow oneself another new one until you have read an old one in between.” C. S. Lewis

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C. S. Lewis

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Bill Muehlenberg
Bill Muehlenberg, who was born in America, lives in Melbourne, Australia. He runs a web-based ministry of pro-faith, pro-family activism called CultureWatch: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com. Bill is widely sought out by the media for comments on social issues, faith issues, and family issues, and has appeared on all the major television and radio news shows, current affairs shows, and debate programs. He is the author of In Defence of the Family; Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality, and several other books.

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