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So Many Books....

I am a hopeless bibliophile married to another hopeless bibliophile and raising a whole passel of bibliophiles. Needless to say, bookshelves are the most important pieces of furniture in our home. Our family reading list ranges through popular fiction, literary classics, religious and spiritual works, and history. I know the economically prudent thing to do is to make use of the library cards that each of us has possessed since our toddler years. However, there is something distinctly unsatisfying about savoring a book that will not someday reside on my bookshelf. When the children were younger and were devouring picture books by the dozen, the library was perfect. The library is also a wonderful source for the junk food of literary endeavors that get us through an airplane trip or a day at the beach. But I covet ownership of any book that has nurtured my heart, mind, or soul.

For this reason, Fr. James V. Schall’s essay, Reading Without Learning, sang to me. Please read the entire essay but these words capture the essence of a bibliophile's soul:

Besides, something about a book irradiates its own mystique. I continue to maintain that what we mean by education, that strange word, still has mostly to do with books -- books we possess, keep. Recently, I was given yet another book; this time a friend of mine was in London, the same man that gave me Belloc's Places. He came across Maurice Baring's Lost Lectures. Somewhere he found a copy of this relatively rare book, a book published by Peter Davies in London, in 1932. The Preface to this book begins with the following sentence: "These Lost Lectures are for the most part talks delivered to imaginary audiences." What else does anyone need but this enticing invitation to make him hasten to join this "imaginary audience!"

John Paul I wrote a famous book called Illustrissimi. The book contained his never-delivered letters to famous people from Don Quixote to Chesterton. I rather like the idea of giving a talk to an imaginary audience or writing a letter to someone long dead to express my appreciation for what he wrote even if I came across it long after the author had died. A Jesuit companion also gave me the review from the New York Times (May 5), replete with photos of author and book cover, of Peter Kelly's The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of Great Books You'll Never Read. This title is not unlike a medical encyclopedia, with graphics, of diseases not yet known, but, as Herbert Ingram implied, still who can resist reading about such terrible diseases?

After a certain age, one begins to suspect that the world is full of books that he will never read. One of my definitions of a noble and well lived life is one in which, on the occasion of death, the man in question still has many books on his shelves not yet read. This is not to deny that we want to check also the ones that he did read. Tell me what you read, and I will tell you what you are. I believe the same principle would hold if we put it negatively, "Tell me what you don't read, and I will tell you what you are."

My teens have had great fun poking holes in the assertions of the Da Vinci Code. They loved the essay Screwtape on the ‘Da Vinci Code’ by Eric Metaxas. However, they were sorely disappointed when they tried to share this work with their friends. The number of high school students who had read or at least were familiar with C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters was few. Again the words of Fr. Schall:

To all of us, there must come, as Plato said in the seventh book of the Republic, that awakening of our minds -- minds we already have -- that turning around, that astonishment that something exists that we do not know about but want to know. If our schools or universities conspire, by their theories or their atmosphere, to prevent us from wondering about the highest things, we are on our own. We need not be defeated by a very expensive education that teaches us that relativism is true, or by a free education that teaches things that corrupt us. I suppose what I want to say to students, at the end of any academic year, especially to those whom Plato called the "potential philosophers," not to be defeated either by one's own vices or one's own ideology or one's own lethargy. But this reaction can only happen to us if we suddenly are alerted by something outside of ourselves, something that is true or beautiful, something that is.

May each of us find our minds awakened and our souls spurred to seek knowledge, beauty, and truth.

(H/T to American Papist for the link to Fr. Schall!)


TiaKay said…
One of my favorite quotes is "So many books, so little time!" Sigh. Soooooo true!!
Catholic Mom said…
When my children were toddlers I found sweatshirts that said,"If you love me, read me a story". Our family outings are often a trip to Barnes & Noble. A plentiful supply of both good books and good coffee is a little taste of heaven!

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