When I was growing up with my Grandfather, Dr. William Knowles, I often found my self on the receiving end of his frequent readings. His small, but precious to him, library was kept in two places: his bedroom, and in a cabinet in the living room. He never read to me out of the bedroom texts – they were of relevance only to veterinarians. He often read to me from the living room collection.
Included in that collection were works by Rudyard Kipling, Roy Chapman Andrews and Thomas Carlyle. I have to admit that Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus was completely incomprehensible to me. I remember my grandfather explaining that Carlyle had written the whole multi-volume work by hand back in the 1830’s. It was an autobiographical work discussing creeds and systems of philosophy under the guise of a philosophy of clothes. Hardly appropriate materials for a five- or six-year old — but I loved Kipling, especially Kim.
Granddad instilled within me a passion for good books. From my early 20’s to the present, I have been building and drawing on a personal library. My first books were about art since that is what I was doing for a living. Later, when I found myself in the ministry, I began adding commentaries and theological books to the collection. Dean Blackwell, my boss when I was in Oklahoma, instilled in me the habit of haunting used books stores in search of “finds.” Dr. Herman Hoeh reinforced that pattern – in fact, I sometimes ran into him in the same bookstores.
In the years since, I have continued to acquire the categories of theology, Christian apologetics, art, herbalism, diet, natural health, gardening, economics, atheism/evolution, intelligent design, cookbooks, Hebrew roots studies, counseling and many others. As I have changed, my library has changed. Ken Westby gifted me with some excellent theological volumes belonging to Dr. Charles Dorothy’s library. Dr. Robert Kuhn also gave me my pick of many of his books.
I don’t view my library as “clutter” or something that “gets in the way” — although it sometimes does. I see it as knowledge. It’s precious to me. Every so often I purge it. Not all volumes are timeless classics. As I grow in understanding, I discard books that are no longer useful to me. I find myself reading three or four books at any given time. I love learning! It’s a joy to grow in comprehension. I wish I had known many of the things I now know when I was younger. I could have had a more successful ministry and career. And therein lies some of the sadness. The author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body,” (Ecclesiastes 12:12b). He also wrote, “…with much wisdom comes much sorrow the more knowledge, the more grief,” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Both statements are profoundly true. Study is work, as Paul acknowledged (II Timothy 2:15). It’s the kind of work all who teach or write should do. You can’t draw water out of a dry well.
I realize, to my sorrow, that the generation that is succeeding me tends not to read – or build personal libraries. If they can’t find it on the web, forget it. They don’t have time to read and learn from books. Often I have attempted to gift someone in my extended family with a book that I believed would help them in some specialized way. They made no time to read it. It lay in some obscure corner of the house, gathering dust. Eventually it was lost of discarded. No time to read. No time to think or reflect. Ready, fire, aim – that’s the way modern people live. Act now and think later – if at all.
Perhaps they’re right. The idea of curling up with a good book – especially a non-fiction one – may be obsolete. In fact, I’m probably obsolete too. I have at least one friend who still reads – Ken Westby; and one family member who’s 85. Perhaps the three of us have gone the way of the Packard and the Studebaker. Maybe we should allow the dust of obsolescence to form on us and our books.