One can never have too many books; one can never read too much; and one can never write about such matters too often. With all this in mind, let me pen yet another piece on the wonderful world of books, libraries and reading. A few weeks ago I offered “8 Basic Book Buying and Reading Tips”. It had a modest reception: just 19 shares and 20 comments.
But some folks were interested in it. You can find it here. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/05/08/8-basic-book-buying-and-reading-tips/
So a few more tips might be worth passing on for those few of you who do indeed love books, libraries, reading and collecting. Here then are 6 more pointers which might be of use:
One. When it comes to storing books, there are some obvious no-nos. I keep hearing horror stories about how some folks store many or most of their books in boxes in garages or basements or attics or other less than ideal places – all for lack of space.
In my books (pun intended) this is terrible. That is like storing your children in a dark and dingy basement or a cobweb-infested attic. How could you?! Who could be so cruel?! It seems to me the number one rule in books is to treat them as you would your own children.
Besides, look at all the advantages: They won’t disobey you or disrespect you. They won’t grow old and leave you. They won’t eat you out of house and home (except maybe when you first buy them). They won’t demand the keys to the car. They won’t stay out late at night. They won’t leave you with their dirty laundry. Hmm, one might make a case that books are even better than children!
Two. General rules in taking care of books. Some basic tips need to be borne in mind to protect your books and make sure they have a good, long life. Some of these are just common-sense tips, but they are worth mentioning nonetheless. Simply having clean hands as you handle your books is a good start.
And avoid having your books in the direct sunlight – that will fade the books over time. Try to keep the library in the same temperature which you would also enjoy – that is, not too hot and not too cold. And of course humidity can also be a problem. I know of friends who lived in places like India and then came back home, only to find their books did not do very well in the high humidity.
Also, when removing a book from a shelf – mainly hardbacks – do not pull it from the top of the spine. That can wreck the book over time. Better to grab it in the middle of the spine. If this is difficult to do because they are too tightly packed together, you have violated another rule: keep the books a bit loosely shelved.
Three. Specific rules in taking care of books. In addition to what was mentioned just above, a few more pointers can be mentioned here. Consider the issue of covering books. In the past I have covered paperbacks in contact paper and hardcover dust jackets in plastic covers.
The former I no longer do. Even though the contact paper is not supposed to shrink or yellow, I have found that over the years it does seem to however. Not good. So I now avoid adhesive coverings for my paperbacks. As to hardbacks, I still cover many of the dust jackets with special plastic covers.
These can be gotten in various places, and are easy to put on. They can even help in the resale value of a book (What, sell a book? Heresy!). Indeed, I just got another hundred covers from one place while recently in Wisconsin. It sells cheapish rolls of a hundred covers (sold in various sizes). See here: https://generalbookcovers.com/
Protecting your expensive hardback commentaries and theological titles with these covers is well worth doing. If you are going to buy a book for $85 or so, you do want it to last as long as possible. Plus it looks better with a cover like this on anyway.
And a quick word about treating books and breaking in new books. As to paperbacks, always remember the 90-degree angle rule: never open a paperback beyond 90 degrees, as that can damage the spine and cause the pages to fall out. I wonder how many evil book monsters are out there, routinely violating this cardinal rule!
As to hardcover books, when you first get them, you want to break them in properly. Place it on its spine, open one cover flat, then the other, while keeping the pages upright. Then start opening a few pages in front, then a few pages in back, and so forth, until you get to the middle of the book and it is entirely opened.
Four. On finding lost books. Any book lover knows what a problem this can be. Even though you seek to carefully catalogue and shelve your books, sometimes a volume you are looking for just cannot be found. You can spend hours looking for one lousy book. So frustrating!
I mentioned in my previous piece on how one might catalogue and store books. We all have our own systems in place, but sometimes a book that should be in a certain place or section is just not there, and you can go crazy looking for it, as you need it at the moment!
I have spent hours doing this over the years. Sometimes I think I will pay my kids to help find it! It usually turns up after a big search however. Once I looked for a book for days. But as I walked into one of my son’s rooms to speak to him, I noticed a volume about the right size, with the spine to the wall. I walked over, picked it up, and sure enough – it was my missing book! While I was glad he was reading it, I wish he would have told me he took it in the first place!
Five. Beautiful libraries. I of course happen to think I have a pretty beautiful library. Sure, all book lovers and collectors might feel this way. But you always want your collection on display, and in an attractive manner. There are different ways you can do this.
As my own collection kept growing, one of the main rooms in our house had most of them. But there were bookcases, file cabinets and desks all over the place – one could hardly walk there. I very fortunately had a carpenter friend who some years ago supplemented my existing bookcases with more shelving – resulting in floor to ceiling bookcases around all four walls of the room (leaving some space for doors and windows!).
But that is not sufficient for a library approaching 7000 books, so I have shelves and cases all around the house. We even had book shelves made lining the hallways above the doors. One has to be creative here! Of course another neat trick is to encourage the kids to move out: drop some hints that it is probably time for them to go!
When they do, you can swiftly convert their bedrooms into libraries. They will never know! If they do return home for a visit however, you can always throw a mattress on the floor! They will get used to it. And remember this basic rule of thumb: a good home should be 95 per cent library, and 5 per cent kitchen and bathroom. Who’s with me on this!?
Having said all that, there are nonetheless some truly magnificent libraries in the world that are worth being aware of. One of the most beautiful and amazing libraries is one that I have often referred to. It is the Clementinum library in Prague, Czech Republic. See here for pics and more info on this: https://www.boredpanda.com/beautiful-library-prague-czech-clementinum/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic
Of course I have long suspected that the reason this library is so amazing and so spiffy is because they actually modelled it on my own library. I have yet to fully confirm that, but I still think it might be true! Here is a short video of some more beautiful libraries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfPiigncsWk
Six. Finally letting go of your library. This may be the toughest and saddest matter of all. While books may last a long time, sadly most of us will not. Our libraries will likely outlive us. So what do you do with your beloved books as you near the twilight years?
That is the million-dollar question. Sell them, give them away, bequeath the library to some worthy institution? When I was at Trinity College in Chicago, at the Seminary next door the theologian Carl F. H. Henry had donated his 72,000-volume library to them!
One Australian I worked for had 30,000 books, many of which his children and grandchildren grabbed after his passing. If I sold my books (and I have a very good theological library if I may say so) I could make a lot of money. Some people would kill to get their hands on my library!
One could donate the books to some overseas missionary school or Bible college. However, the thought of packing them up and shipping them out boggles my mind. But I hope I still have a few good years left in me, so I may not need to worry about all this just yet. One day I will however!
I often think of the great theologian J. I. Packer who is still alive in his early 90s, but has gone blind over the past few years. What a blow for a book lover! I feel for him. But we all must prepare for eternity. Besides, I imagine the heavenly library will be far superior to any human library!
Bonus tip. Speaking of twilight just above, let me refer you to an old Twilight Zone classic. This great American fantasy and science fiction television series which I grew up on while young was hosted by Rod Serling and aired from 1959 to 1964.
One episode from 1959 is called “Time Enough at Last”. I remember watching it as a youngster. Now that I am a serious bibliophile, the show gives me real horrors. It will send shivers down the spine of any true book aficionado. It centres on loner and book-lover Henry Bemis (played by Burgess Meredith), who thinks he finally has all the time in the world to read.
But like most episodes in this series, it ended with a wild twist. I won’t spoil it for you. I cannot find the exact original episode anymore (it must have been pulled), but this version is fine: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5smh3t
I again close with another 8 book and reading quotes:
“One Book is enough, but a thousand books is not too many!” Martin Luther
“Reading maketh a full man; speaking, a ready man; writing, an exact man.” Francis Bacon
“Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. You need to read.” Charles Spurgeon
“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” Henry Ward Beecher
“If you want to lead, you must read.” Theodore Roosevelt
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles William Eliot
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C. S. Lewis
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx