Thursday, 5 August 2010

Of Books and Goods

I was asked to write a piece on books as ‘goods’ as part of a thanksgiving service for the LICC Library and librarians, which took place on 13 July 2010, following the downsizing and redistribution of the library.

Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.

That’s Arnold Lobel, noted for his style and wit, an author and illustrator – and a lover of books!

A little more prosaically, Mortimer J. Adler, author of How to Read a Book, said that ‘reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life’.

A good life. Indeed, books are what we might think of as ‘cultural goods’ in the very best sense of that term – not simply goods in terms of material assets, commodities that can be bought and exchanged, but goods in the sense of that which is good, having intrinsic value.

I confess that I can sometimes see books in a fairly pragmatic way, as tools to get a certain job done. Okay, maybe, they are never less than that. But they are much more than that.

They are our conversation partners, our old friends, our wise mentors, our strange uncles, sometimes our niggly provocateurs – offering, in different ways, their perspectives on the world and what it means to live in the world, engaging our imagination, opening the door of scholarship to us and allowing us to peep through, enlarging our horizons, encouraging us to take some action, perhaps even leading us to thanksgiving and worship.

No wonder they’re the first things to be destroyed when dictators rise to power.

Not always, of course, but often, books are the fruit of years of reflection and writing, editing and refinement. And, for the most part, they come to us as the result of the care and attention of many people – editors, designers, reviewers, printers, publicists, as well as the author.

Books necessarily involve us in relationships.

In a cultural environment which increasingly persuades us to flit about from this to that, books encourage us not to lose the ability to give time and attention to listen carefully to someone else.

And that, of course, is basic to our Christian faith.

A few years back, Alan Jacobs, a professor of English at Wheaton College, wrote a book called A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love. He takes his cue from Augustine who asked that our reading of Scripture be motivated by love – love of God and love of neighbour. But Jacobs encourages us to see that the law of love applies equally well to the reading of John Milton or Toni Morrison as it does to the Gospel of Matthew – that our proper relation to books, and the people who write the books we read, is one of mutuality and love without which we cannot thrive.

Books allow us the opportunity to recognise that we are not self-sufficient, but need others – including books (and those who write them and publish them) – to live life well and in a way which brings pleasure to God.

It’s no surprise, then, that the library was an integral part of the life and work of LICC from the start, nor that we have sought to be wise stewards in moving the books on to good homes.

In that spirit, then, today especially, we give thanks to God for the gift of books, and for those – like Eunice and Elizabeth – who devote themselves, for the sake of others, to facilitate the blessing they bring.

1 comment:

Max Weismann said...

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

http://www.thegreatideas.org/HowToReadABook.htm