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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The 10 Commandments of Books

Dec 21, 2018

OK, my wife says I need a positive, uplifting article to offset my many rather gloomy articles. And it is nearly Christmas. So what better topic to cheer us all up tremendously than books? What else can so easily bring smiles on the faces of one and all? What better issue to discuss at this festive season than this?

So let me write about a topic which – as some of you might have noticed – is near and dear to my heart. Any excuse will do to write about books. However, bear in mind that there are absolutes in life, and I am no relativist! Even in the area of books we have some vital dos and don’ts that we must be aware of.

Indeed, I am not an antinomian, and there are some basics we must always keep in mind here. Thus I present to you some long-forgotten but still relevant rules we all must follow. We must always keep in mind the Ten Commandments of Books. In case you have forgotten them, I present them here as a public service.

First Commandment: Thou shalt not say ‘I don’t like reading’.

This is a matter of idolatry: preferring TV, video games, computers and the rest to books! Such idolatry can only be dealt with in one way: by repentance, followed by the immediate purchase of some new books. And evidence of genuine repentance entails not just buying new books, but reading them as well.

Second Commandment: Thou shalt not have any fake books before me.

Obviously electronic books, Kindle and the like are all fake books. These evil items must be repented of immediately as well. A real book can be held in your hands, with pages turned. A real book can be sniffed for its new ink smells. A real book can – if needed – be used for a paperweight. Yes, real books rock.

Third Commandment: Thou shalt always buy a good book when you have the opportunity to do so.

As with all these commandments, this one is for your own good. Better to grab that book when you see it than to live with deep regret for years on end. How many lives have been ruined by violating this commandment? How many have rued the day they let that precious book elude their grasp?

Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt not say ‘I have too many books’.

Baloney! One can never have too many books. That is simply a fact of life. You might as well claim that you have too many children. The basic rule of thumb concerning books is this: you can always have one more. There, problem solved.

Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not stop buying books due to lack of shelf space.

What an evil thought. One can always find more space to put up shelves or add more bookcases. It is really quite simple. Do you really need that bedroom? Is that kitchen so essential? What about that living room? All these rooms can easily be turned into nifty libraries. I mean really – where are your priorities?

Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not say ‘I can’t afford this book’.

Of course you can – this is also just a matter of priorities. One can always live without a meal or two. One can make do with that old fridge. One can simply hitchhike if the car dies. One can move into a tepee if the house payments cannot be met. But one must never stop buying books – ever.

Seventh Commandment: Thou shalt not destroy good paperback books by violating the 90-degree angle rule.

‘The what?’ I am glad you asked. Paperback books are rather fragile, and if you open them over 90 degrees, you risk breaking the binding, damaging the spine, and having the pages fall out. Thus the real book lover will always follow the 90-degree angle rule.

Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not ever think of giving away your books.

Imagine giving away your books – that is like saying you plan to give away your own children. How can anyone do that!? Sacrilege. Of course, even commandments can sometimes have an exception, and there is one here: If you plan to give your books away, but are going to give them to me, then that is OK. That is called loving your neighbour.

Ninth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal Bill’s books.

This should go without saying. This is a fundamental rule of life. But sadly I have had people “borrow” my books, only for them never to return these beloved volumes. This is known as theft. There might be another commandment about that somewhere as well. Lopping off the book-stealer’s hands would be a good start in dealing with such evil folks.

Tenth Commandment: Thou shalt not covet Bill’s books.

The commandments of course do not just deal with outward actions but inner attitudes. Sadly, there are many people in the world who lust after my books. They are covetous of my library, and they think constantly about getting their grubby paws on all my neat books. This is the epitome of sin, and must be repented of immediately.

In sum, to keep these commandments will result in a happy and fulfilled life, and living long in the land with peace and prosperity. These commandments are really not all that onerous and if faithfully kept, and will bring great joy and contentment.

Oh, and one final word: I realise that at this time of the year that many folks are wondering what they might get me as Christmas presents. I do not want to tell you what to do, but let me offer this small hint: it starts with ‘b’ and ends with ‘ooks’.

Merry Christmas

[950 words]

35 Responses to The 10 Commandments of Books

  • I have written and published 31 books, but I now find that the cost of paper copy printing is too expensive, so I offer my pdf copies free of charge. If somebody then wants to print them on their printer to have a copy in their hands, that is their choice.
    I believe it is more important to freely provide the teaching and the waste of paper.

  • Thank you Bill. Very droll – it resulted in many giggles and smiles on my part. Have a special time at Christmas, celebrating the King of kings!

  • Include sub-commandment 7.1: “Though shalt not dog-ear any page” and I’m in, lol.

  • Yes quite right Cheryl. That almost merits its own Commandment!

  • I am planning to buy big on books in the next two years. Yes, I want to go to Italy/Rome, Israel and to America to see New York. But for the price of those trips, I may be able to complete my dream library. So books come first.

    I think you need to add another commandment, You shall not fold corner of pages as bookmarks! I am not a great fan of underlining at all, although I have one Bible where I have underline passages.

  • Excellent commandments, Bill. They deserve to be tattooed on the backs of everyone’s eyelids.

    You obviously take after C.S. Lewis in your reverence towards books. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy (chapter 10), Lewis recalled how he and his brother always treated books with respect. “To have thumb-marked or dog’s-eared a book would have filled us with shame,” he recalled.

    Lewis greatly admired his tutor and mentor, William Kirkpatrick (nicknamed “The Great Knock”), whom he affectionately commemorated in the character of old Professor Kirke in his first Narnia chronicle, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Nonetheless Lewis detected an egregious flaw in the great man.

    “How often have I shuddered when he took a new classical text of mine in his gardener’s hands, bent back the boards till they creaked, and left his sign on every page,” Lewis wrote.

    “Yes, I remember,” said Lewis’s father (who had also studied under Kirkpatrick). “That was old Knock’s one fault.”

    “A bad one,” added his son.

    “An all but unforgivable one,” said his father.

  • Very well written. Made me laugh. Thanks Bill.
    Is breaking the Eighth Commandment so bad? – “Thou shalt not ever think of giving away your books”.
    Merry Christmas,
    Kyle

  • Thanks Kyle. Hey, I did say the eighth commandment does have one important exception!

  • Thanks Bill. Like a lot of people I needed some uplifting reading today after more bad news. Another “Christian” politician getting caught up in a sex scandal.

  • I gave you a run for your money this week. Three books, one new (LAST CALL FOR LIBERTY by Os Guinness, which I can’t put down) and two second-hand entered my house. I am guilty of breaking the ‘getting rid of books commandment’ (I have repented) and bought a bed. Merry Christmas, Bill and thanks for the excellent recommendations.

  • nice fun article.

  • I love your Ten Commandments for books but must say I have to disagree with you about number 8. In fact, a good book read can be a good book shared with another book lover or perhaps given to someone who is a book lover apprentice!
    Apologies to those who dislike ebooks, I must say that we quite like them at our house because of lower cost and especially because they can travel easily with us in the caravan and on the road around our lovely country. Happy, fruitful and stimulating book reading to everyone.

  • Well done Bill. While I agree that a Kindle is not a real book, there is something handy about being able to lie in bed and buy a book at 1:00 in the morning. A guilty little sin? Something about slothfulness comes to mind.
    Someone beat me to pointing out the sin of ‘dogearing’. That could just be the unforgivable book reading sin. There is no excuse. Put a piece of paper in to mark the spot, or look for some uplifting book markers at your
    favourite Christian bookstore.

    A blessed Christmas to you and your loved ones.

  • BTW, just what is your latest book count. Confession is good for the soul after all. A number to the nearest thousand would satisfy my curiosity.

  • Thanks David. It is actually a rather modest number. Assuming my list is more or less accurate – give or take a few dozen – the number stands at a mere 6565. But that figure could easily rise again by tomorrow!

  • Brilliant, Mr M, Well, I think the 5th commandment reads- Dad’s honour Your daughter and her needs, therefore, when she needs a book give freely and with a generous heart (your debit card) so she may buy books on- theology, marriage and children. She may even with a loving heart extend this to purchasing (with the aforementioned card) tops, dresses, skirts, beauty products, (yes daddy I know you think I am beautiful enough) and of course, shoes. following the above commandment daddy will bring forth fruits. The alternative is, you will never get rid of your daughter on another gullible man!

    Merry Christmas and thank God for the likes of Mr M.

  • Gift vouchers / cards from book stores are excellent too, because people don’t always know what books you already have, if you have lots. I am easy to buy for, gift cards from book stores and Spotlight for my other love sewing and textile art! Now I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I was watching a quiz show recently and there was a question about which paragraph is the most underlined in any book on Kindle. It was something in The Hunger Games. I thought Amazon knows not only what you read, but which parts you underline??? Now I have never had a Kindle so I asked my daughters about this, because they love Kindle and they confirmed that you can “underline” on them. Well, I don’t want Amazon to know what part of which book I am impressed by! So I am not getting one! Nor am I getting a Google home though Telstra keeps wanting to give us one or Amazon Alexa. Those things spy on you, now I do sound like a conspiracy theorist. I read a story recently about the US police wanting to get into a Amazon Alexa because it may have witnessed a murder!

  • Perhaps the most intelligent and pertinent written words since the last Apostle left us. You totally rule, Bill!

  • Wow! Bill there is indeed something spiritual about holding a real item of literature in your hand and being thrilled by the touch, the feel and the beautiful sound of pages being turned.
    Electronic copies are methods of communications but to call them books is a sacrilege.
    (This from a guy whose home has bookcases in every available corner)

  • Bill, as a somewhat unrepentant fellow bibliophile, I found today’s offering strangely warming to my poor heart!… I do confess to having more old books [in pdf format] on my hard drive than on my overloaded bookshelves. Sadly, I have yet to out-pace early Brethren scholar, William Kelly when it comes to having a massive personal library: At his death his personal library went to the impressive sum of over 15,000 books [See: https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/api/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man-scw:274408&datastreamId=FULL-TEXT.PDF p. 11]!

  • Just a warning for those who buy eBooks. My wife bought a very substantial number of eBooks, including ones for me to read, for her Ipad. After she died I used her Ipad for about a year but then a message came up that someone had done a “wheres my Ipad” on my device and I was locked out. I spoke to Apple and went to their store but they claimed they could do nothing about it. So not only did I lose all my wife’s eBooks, I lost many of her photos and other stuff as well. I am a firm believer that Apple are absolute scam artists and at least with real books, short of a fire or bad loans, you are unlikely to lose them – especially not all of them.

  • My poor son-in-law is almost despairing as I gradually transfer all our kids’ books to the grandchildren. As this involves two plane trips from Tassie, it’s a slow process. But it does leave more room for my books!
    As for dog ears, when the kids were little, the only quiet place I could read was on the loo, so loo paper makes a good book mark at a pinch!
    Thanks Bill, for your wonderful contribution to our knowledge and God’s glory for another year.
    Have a blessed and restful Christmas with your family and friends.

  • We are definitely on the same wave length here Bill. I felt so guilty about my constant library visits I thought I better write one to add. I am now on my 5th book. Writing can be addictive too. My favourite book quote is, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” (C S Lewis) I love the books that can be read over and over. One of my favourite adult authors is Lillian Beckwith. I bought the lot second hand and they are always on loan to friends. For children I love the Jungle Doctor books by Paul White.

  • Ah, yes Gail,
    Lillian Beckwith…….the Hills is lonely etc. I discovered her in late 60’s when I was nursing in the UK. Still an old favourite. Another favourite author is Theodore EPP, but a lot of his books are out of print.

  • Oh, and one final word: I realise that at this time of the year that many folks are wondering what they might get me as Christmas presents. I do not want to tell you what to do, but let me offer this small hint: it starts with ‘b’ and ends with ‘ooks’.

    OK how many bRooks shall I put you down for???

  • Why thank you Paul. I am happy to provide you what you ask for. I have long wanted copies of the following:

    -Smooth Stones Taken from Ancient Brooks by Thomas Brooks and Charles Spurgeon

    -The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks (6 Volume Set)

    You have several days left before Christmas. I look forward to my speedy delivery! So very thoughtful of you!

  • LOL!!!!!!!!

  • I think, like a British comedy I used to watch, the only advice I can give you to respond to your wife’s lack of compassion for your book obsession is to say, “Steady on, old thing…shall I bring you a sherry?” (Works every time, at least, on the BBC).

  • My oldest son & daughter-in-law (both of whom love reading) are expecting their first baby and the baby shower was held last weekend. My D-I-L requested books instead of cards, which I thought was a lovely idea. A book inscribed with the giver’s name that will be read and treasured for a long time to come. But I was also shocked to see one entitled ‘Go the F**k to Sleep’ by someone called Adam Mansbach. Endorsed by Mem Fox as ‘Hilarious’. I’ve had a pretty low opinion of Mem Fox due to some very ill-informed (perhaps I should just say ignorant) comments she made about the teaching of phonics some years ago. I haven’t had any conversation with my son & D-I-L but they’re not the sort of people to teach their coming bub that kind of language!
    On the reading side, great list of commandments Bill! To me, reading is like breathing – how can you not? Except I do toss some very old or no longer relevant ones from time to time. Especially old ones from our time in Pentecostal circles which I came to look at and wonder why we wasted money on these and why were we so dumb as to take it all in back then. Thankfully those days are long past.
    Best regards and a blessed Christmas to you and yours.

  • I like the photo of you holding tablets, Bill. The lighting makes you look a little like Charlton Heston!

  • Yes there is some resemblance there Terry!

  • All jokes aside, you need to write a few more positive articles. Nor am i saying we should be in denial sitting around a campfire singing ‘Kum ba yah either.

    Another book came today ‘The Pope and a President’ by Paul Kengor. Off the top of my head, I think there are another 5 or six books coming in the post. I looked at my table and the books I bought recently come up to eleven books! Not including others I bought secondhand in stores or online. I need to start reading them!

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