The importance of setting up a home library:
I like big libraries and I cannot lie. That should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with me and this website. I like books and I like reading. I have plenty of books and I have done heaps of reading. But there are very real benefits to this as well. Let me mention three items on this matter.
One, consider the benefits to you and your family. Several years ago an Australian business site had a piece on this which contained the following:
Reading books can obviously make you a better, smarter small-business owner. But reading does other wonderful things as well. Books can reduce stress; reading for just six minutes can reduce your stress levels by up to 68 percent. Books can slow cognitive aging; compared with nonreaders (people who read less than one book a year), readers experience a 32 percent lower rate of mental decline in their later years. Books can even change your brain, at least over the short term: For up to five days after, reading can heighten connectivity in areas of the brain responsible for language and sensation.
Smarter, less stressed, better brain functioning: What small-business owner can’t benefit from that trifecta? And then there’s this: A 2018 study of over 160,000 adults in 31 countries found that the more books that were present in participants’ childhood homes, the more proficient they now were as adults in three important areas: literacy, math, and using technology to both communicate and gather and analyze information. (If you’re wondering, 80 books resulted in “average” levels, with proficiency increasingly improving up to around 350 books, after which performance leveled off.) https://www.inc-aus.com/jeff-haden/new-research-reveals-power-of-a-large-home-library-even-if-you-dont-read-every-book.html
Two, a book store mentioned this in part: “Printed books are more important than ever, especially in light of current events. The web is changeable and heavily controlled. Ebooks can disappear. They can be changed. But real books, in your own house – those are yours to keep.”
And it featured a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.”
Three, a recent piece by Jonathon Van Maren titled “Why one must build a home library” is worth quoting from. He begins:
Never in human history has it been easier and cheaper to amass an enormous personal library of the greatest literature produced by our civilization (and others)—and never, perhaps, has it been more important to do so. In a Q and A after his last speech before he was fired from Fox News, Tucker Carlson was asked what the greatest cultural shift of the past few decades has been. His answer surprised me. He didn’t cite the internet itself, but rather the growing censorship of the digital realm and the likelihood, in his view, that dissident information would become increasingly difficult to obtain. His advice?
“Don’t throw away your hard copy books because they are the enduring repository of [Western civilization]. I’m dead serious. I’m not going to tell you to buy gold or ammo—although obviously you should think about it. But definitely don’t throw away your books because they can’t be disappeared—because they exist physically.”
He then looks at the numerous examples of modern-day book burning going on in the West. And this is often coming from governments. On this score, see my recent piece on new attempts by the Australian government to censor viewpoints they consider to be mis- or dis-information: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/06/28/our-very-own-ministry-of-truth/
See more on this here: https://canberradeclaration.org.au/misinformation-bill/
And Joe Biden has been pushing the same thing in the US: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/05/02/the-state-the-media-and-misinformation/
Getting back to Van Maren, he goes on to quote Rod Dreher on these matters:
This is another occasion for me to remind you to buy hard copies of the books you love the most… if there’s a book that means something to me, and I have read it on Kindle, I will buy a hard copy of it, to protect it from being removed from my electronic library, or subject to sensitivity editing, à la Dahl. You know, don’t you, that Amazon can go into your electronic library and edit what’s in it, right? It won’t be long before any and all books are subject to this soft-Stalinist rewrite. They’re making the Oompa-Loompas non-binary. It’s like a farce, but it’s really happening! This therapeutic totalitarianism is not going to end any time soon. Take measures to preserve cultural memory in its face: buy real books.
Van Maren looks at even more ominous moves under foot to censor what we read and view and then closes with these words:
In light of all that, Carlson and Dreher don’t seem alarmist. The good news is that it has never been easier and cheaper to create a home library if you’re willing to spend a little time doing it. The classics have been reprinted countless times, and you can find them for bargain prices in any thrift stores. Over multiple visits, you can easily build up a comprehensive collection without ever having to purchase a book new (or buying one of the awful abridged versions). As fewer and fewer young people read, thrift stores, second-hand shops, and used bookstores have become glutted with great literature at very affordable prices. My own home library contains thousands of books, the vast majority of which were purchased second-hand for less than a few dollars each.
Library book sales are a great place to start—books that are not regularly signed out are sold, which means that great books are usually for sale in large quantities. Websites like AbeBooks and Thriftbooks can connect you to thousands of sellers and help you avoid using Amazon and find what you’re looking for affordably. Never in human history has it been easier and cheaper to amass an enormous personal library of the greatest literature produced by our civilization (and others)—and never, perhaps, has it been more important to do so. Time will tell whether Carlson and others are being alarmist. We live in a weird historical moment in which the elites are actively condemning the classical canon that created our social imaginary. In the meantime—start building a home library filled with physical books. You won’t regret it.
On setting up a home library
I need to pen an entire piece on this topic, but I can say a few things now. First, my book interest has mainly been nonfiction. Those who prefer fiction would need a piece on this from my late wife. She could have given you lots of great advice straight away. Perhaps I will simply list some of her beloved volumes in HER library sometime. She had all the classics – and then some.
But as to nonfiction, it depends in part on what you are interested in. Sadly in some ways, my interests may have been far too broad and diverse. So I may be more of a jack of all trades and master of none. Thus I have heaps of books on history, politics, philosophy, economics, war and peace, ethics, theology, religion, and Christianity – to name some subjects.
Of my 8000 or so books, the majority may have to do with religion and theology. Nearly 900 of my books are biblical commentaries. And all this is the fruit of many decades of book buying. As I said in my Christian conversion piece, I may have had 400 books as a non-Christian, but I ended up getting rid of them all when I got saved at age 18. See Parts 1 & 3 of this article for more on that: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/
Soon after my 1971 conversion I was again buying books – mainly Christian ones this time. Making or buying more and more bookcases to hold them all soon became a recurring problem. And problems in finding room to store all the shelving and all the books kept compounding in complexity and urgency.
And keeping track of them all soon became urgent as well. So I first got a notebook and listed all the books I had, alphabetically by author. This eventually became a Word document of 124 pages in very small print. On the top of it I started jotting down milestones:
3000 books – August 2001
4000 – March 2007
5000 – November 2011
6000 – February 2017
7000 – July 2020
8000- October 2023?
But, you ask, how do I know where to begin in getting a library established? What are the best books on a given subject? Which authors should I run with? What publishers should I be aware of? Good questions all, and you have come to the right place. I think I have pretty good book sense, and I have written plenty of articles on these matters.
So I often will pen a piece listing recommended reading, be it about the trans revolution, the Great Reset, the Chinese Communists, dealing with suffering, social justice, abortion, various biblical or theological topics, the best commentaries on a particular book, and so on. And there are also over 700 book reviews on my site: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/book-reviews/
So for any of the topics I listed above, you can find plenty on my site to lead you in the right direction. Then all you need is some money, some bare walls, some book cases, and a lot of time to read a lot of books. Of course as I am getting older, I will at some point need to start thinking about closing down a home library – gasp! But that will have to be the stuff of another article.
So happy reading, and please start building your home library now.