Is there anything more beautiful than a well bound book? To bookworms it’s a no-brainer, to everyone else, it’s also a no-brainer.
Over the years I have done my best to cultivate a collection of books that fit my interests, ones that I can check for reference when writing or forming ideas. They also are what I hope to pass to my future children, giving them a collection of wisdom and guidance that I found useful over the years.
The books we collect reflect the people we are. Anytime I enter a person’s house I make a quick survey of the books on their shelves in an attempt to glean something more about them.
Famous men over the years have been known for their well-cultivated libraries. These became the foundation of many public libraries today. Benjamin Franklin was among the first founders to suggest the idea of a “lending library” that would allow people to learn more. Andrew Carnegie continued this idea in his day, endowing several cities with libraries for the common people to improve themselves.
Thomas Jefferson even donated much of his library to the country after the burning of the Capitol in the war of 1812. That library became the foundation of the modern Library of Congress.
The books we collect can form a legacy to whoever we give them, a reminder of who we were, or a collection of guidance we believe the individual or group should have. It can mean a great deal.
My grandfather was a Baptist minister, and as such possessed a large collection of theological literature. Though my father has never been much of a reader, he appreciated having his father’s library. Though rarely rarely reads any of the books, they remind him of his father preparing sermons, and he is glad to know that someday they will be mine too.
Much of what we do as a people is built on the work of our ancestors. America wouldn’t be where it is without the sacrifice and work of our ancestors. Isaac Newton once said that in science, we “stand on the shoulders of giants.” We do that in history too, building on the accomplishments of the past, working towards a better future. To do this, we require the lessons of the past, to help us avoid making the same mistakes. That is, ideally, where the usefulness of the writings of past generations comes in handy.
It is one of those reasons that the arrival of the digital age concerns me. Though there are incalculable benefits, we come close to losing the “real,” because of the the digital. E-books are great on kindles, but cannot replace the feel of a real book. They have obvious advantages in saving cost and space, but cannot be handed down as easily from one generation to the next.
Looking even farther than the impact of an e-book, what about the writings? In the early days we would write letters that were preserved by family, read by great-grandchildren eager to learn of their ancestors. What will the next generations have to learn of us? It is not a stretch to say that fewer people journal now than before.
This last week I helped my father build new shelves for my grandfather’s books. On these shelves will sit a large collection of the great sermons and theological texts of time, the works that have endured their test of time, and stand to teach us their lessons for tomorrow.