Passing Up Books

That’s one of the things you learn–at least it’s one of the things I learn. I live beside Half-Price Books and I can walk over there every day. One sees so many things one could go in for.

But in this season of amassing, of accumulating without restraining, one needs restraint. Civilization cannot exist without restraints. An ordered dwelling cannot exist without limits. And what good would it do me saving money by living where I do, if the wonderful location led me to squander it all?

Not that the purchasing of books, even extravagantly, can really be financial ruin. Still, it is a test, a test of the soul and an examination of ones own life to stand with a book in hand before those great long shelves.

You go into a bookstore and you see an interesting edition of St. Augustine On Christian Doctrine. You think to yourself it is a long time since you’ve read it. It is an important work, an interesting one too. It does not eliminate all hermeneutical excesses, but it does get to the heart of the matter: Scripture exists to reveal God to us. That’s easily forgotten: we want to know whether it was right or not for Abraham to have more than one wife, we think that we have to determine whether Saul was really a believer or not, we would like to know exactly how the Red Sea was parted, if there is life on other planets, if ghosts exist.

You go into a bookstore and find a novel by Czelaw Milosz and think it not so expensive. A view of life that promises to be poignant, afford insight. And something literary would be nice. Reading is a lot to do with variety. I at least find it is. I’m slogging through things right now I’m kind of trying to finish. And I think at the bookstore that I probably ought to slog a bit more and finish. The Kierkegaard from July, for instance. the Middlemarch I was meaning to get to more than a year ago.

The other thing that tempted me was a work of Russian Orthodox spirituality in the Mysticism section. A narrative with slices of life and conversations leading to better insight. Then I think of Richard Rolle of Hampole; I still haven’t exhausted him. He’s been a bit of an achievement, and I’ve been working on him for years now. How can I take up another such work without finishing that labor? And there’s still Donne to be done.

Not that I believe you have to read every book you own. But I think today I believe less in making sure I have enough to read next month. I have enough. I leave with empty hands, but not without having profited. When I go back those books will or will not be there. But whatever books are there, as many of them will call to me again.

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