Found Between the Pages

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Librarians, booksellers, and those of us who frequent secondhand bookstores and book sales have probably all had the experience of finding “surprises” between the pages of books. I asked those on the Bob on Books Facebook page about the things they found between the pages. That made for some interesting reading and I thought I’d share some of it with you.

Some of the more commonly found items were:

  • pressed flowers or leaves.
  • stamps, envelopes, newspaper clippings.
  • boarding passes and various kinds of tickets, including a Gone With the Wind ticket from a vintage theater.
  • bookmarks–stands to reason.
  • tissues–mostly clean ones fortunately.
  • postcards, holy cards, business cards, and pictures.
  • receipts.
  • money!

This last was interesting. Several reported finding anywhere from $20 to $500 in a book. In the latter case, the $500 was from a father to a daughter who took five years to find a particular book and included $100 for each year. Another found $40 in a book that he remembered had been his emergency bank stash back in the 1970’s that he’d forgotten about. Another forgot about the $40 he put in a library book and received back from an honest librarian. One person found 10 $2 bills, and another currency from Texas in a book on Texas history.

One takeaway from one of the people on the page was to go through your relatives books before disposing of them. It appears that the habit of stashing away money in books and then forgetting it is a widespread one. If you don’t someone else may get a very nice surprise!

There were some more unusual finds:

  • Someone found a toothbrush (fortunately in its package).
  • Several people left ultrasounds in books. One even received a congratulatory card from the book’s new owner!
  • A bank ATM card.
  • Several notes with the same phone number and the message “CALL ME.” Wisely, the new owner of the book didn’t.
  • A guitar pick.
  • A wrapped condom.
  • A book signed by JFK.
  • A mother looking through a son’s book found a nude picture of his girlfriend. I responded “busted!” to which the poster replied, “Yes, she was.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting stories was of someone who bought a box of old books at an auction only to discover that the 1890 invitation to a New Orleans Mardi Gras ball was worth more than the lot of them.

Part of the serendipity of shopping for secondhand books is that you never know what you might find. Usually we are thinking of the books themselves, but sometimes it is the objects one finds between the pages rather than on them. Sometimes we gain a glimpse into the previous owner’s life. Sometimes it is a great old bookmark. And sometimes, what we find may more than pay for the book. It may not be why we shop for secondhand books, but it sure can make them fun!

Where Do Our Books Go When We Die?

Image by Achim Thiemermann from Pixabay 

One of the great “ultimate questions” is what happens to us when we die? It is an important question, and I personally think that we are not able to truly live meaningfully if we have not reckoned with that question. But I’m going to leave that for another time, another post.

A conversation with my son recently raised a question that matters to many book lovers. What will happen to our books when we die? I was telling my son of clearing out ten boxes of stored books and selling them at two of our local Half Price stores and remarked that what motivated me was thinking of him, and how he’d react if he had to clear out this stuff (which also included old notebooks filled with outdated training materials). He said (maybe half-jokingly) that he’d just get a dumpster and haul it away.

That’s probably realistic based on experiences with my own parents. Fortunately, before they passed, we were able to load up our station wagon with books and donate them to a local library’s book sale, and save a few of the most valuable. We certainly couldn’t take all her books–we had too many of our own!

That ten boxes (and others we’ve previously disposed of) still leave us with plenty of books. The other day, I was looking at hundred year old books that were my grandfather’s and then my mom’s. Cared for, they will outlive me, as will many of the books in our home. I think of the hours of enjoyment and the helpful information many have provided. I hate to think of them ending their lives in a dumpster. I would rather they end in the hands of others who would enjoy them.

Recently, I’ve been reading Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books. It’s a fascinating account of bibliophiles who legitimately, and sometimes illegitimately, accumulated huge collections of books, sometimes of great value. Some literally died surrounded by stacks of books. Others made plans to donate collections to libraries, sometimes treasure troves to researchers. Some even donated funds to maintain the collections.

What’s plain to me is that now is the time to accelerate my efforts to find good homes for my books if they are to avoid a dumpster destiny (unless that is what they truly deserve, which might be where mass market paperbacks that are on cheap paper and falling apart should go). Here’s some of the ways I’m approaching it.

  1. With any book I read, it has to be outstanding for me to keep it. If it is new, now is the time to re-sell it, when it will likely command the best price.
  2. I need to cull my shelves, where books are stacked atop of books, sometimes two or three deep. Step one would be to get rid of all the stacks. Step two would be no hidden books. Step three would be to eliminate the books stored in boxes or in other stacks in my office or by the bed.
  3. For my theological books, I’ve been able to pass some along to people building their libraries and to the seminary library where I was a student. If they can’t take them, there are some overseas libraries in developing countries that may take them. I do want to think about what will be useful, which includes thinking about the cultural bias in those books. [A comment for this post from James mentions the Theological Book Network in Grand Rapids, Michigan which has shipped over 2 million theological books to 90 countries.]
  4. I’m still working in collegiate ministry and some books relate to that work. When that work ends, my “higher ed” shelf, and other related books should go.
  5. At some time, it probably makes sense to identify the hundred or so books that are “best friends,” preferably before we may be in a situation where that’s all there may be room for, and start culling out everything else.

Of course, none of us never knows how life will unfold. But being in my sixties and still healthy, it seems that this is a good time to pass along my books where they can be useful for others. They deserve better than the dumpster.

Books and the United States Postal Service


Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

I should begin with a couple disclaimers. First of all, I’m writing about a situation in the United States and I know there are those reading from other countries. I hope your situation is better, and if it is, you are welcome to gloat! Second, I do not want to get into the politics around funding of the postal service with regard to the upcoming election. I’ve made my own decisions in this regard and written to my elected officials. You don’t need to hear my thoughts in that regard.

Nor do you need an analysis from me of why the USPS faces the financial woes they are facing. Certainly, in recent years, and especially in the pandemic, first class mail has declined precipitously, a major revenue stream. Some have even suggested we all go out and buy a sheet of stamps to help the post office’s cash flow. But I don’t have the accounting background or time to delve into postal service financials–an issue that is complicated and debated. One of the challenges is that the USPS, since 1971, is supposed to be, by law, self-sustaining without taxpayer funding.

The health of the postal service affects not only our elections but many sectors of commerce in our country from the delivery of prescription drugs, many Amazon packages and as the last leg of delivery of many items to homes and businesses. The access to these services throughout the country is especially significant in many rural locations, not always served by other shippers.

The book world is crucially reliant on the USPS. One of the particular benefits the USPS offers is Media Mail, and a closely related service for libraries, Library Mail. These programs allow the shipping of books, sound recordings, printed music, and other educational media to the public, and between libraries and educational institutions at reduced rates. Have you used inter-library loan to get a book, available to you at no cost? Your library likely used Library Mail.  Begun in 1936, the Media Mail program recognized the importance of the flow of educational information and the free flow of ideas.

During the pandemic, when most bookstores were (or are) closed, Media Mail has allowed for the shipping of books by independent booksellers, chains, and even Amazon, at lower costs, playing an important part in sustaining jobs and income, and providing books to so many of us under stay-at-home orders, or voluntarily self-isolating because of risk.

In addition, Media Mail is used for book giveaways, advanced review copies to reviewers, book boxes which have become increasingly popular, and various bookswapping sites. In a BookRiot article one bookstore selling a $27 book indicated that it would cost $24 to ship the book via UPS, $14 via Fed Ex, and $3 via Media Mail. It may be necessary to raise these costs, but it would likely come at the expense of many of the programs mentioned here, at the expense of book sales, and maybe some booksellers. “Just get it at Amazon?”  That is an option, but realize that for many, you pay $119 annually, the equivalent of the shipping cost for roughly 40 books, and depending on shipping arrangements, it still may be the USPS delivering that book to your mailbox.

It’s clear there are problems with the business model of the USPS that I personally think best resolved after the elections, while ensuring the timely delivery of absentee ballots to voters and their boards of elections. For those of us who love books, bookstores, libraries and other aspects of the book trade, how these problems are resolved are important, particularly while we are under pandemic conditions. Media Mail and Library Media provisions historically were made to facilitate the flow of educational materials and ideas and have helped small booksellers with their businesses. Those who value these provisions should watch whatever measures are taken.

Reading Quotes


I post a number of reading quotes on my Facebook page. Some of them verge on turning books and reading into a religion, which I sense it is for some, or serves that place in the lives of some. The ones I like the best are more modest. They speak to my own sense of the role books and reading play in my life–one of the cultural goods that enrich and enlarge my perception of the world and that point me to the greater goodness, truth, and beauty beyond the books. Here are some of my favorites:

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – C.S. Lewis (substitute coffee in my case)

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler

“Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.” – Ezra Pound

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.” – Austin Phelps (definitely me!)

“Reading brings us unknown friends” – Honoré de Balzac (Aslan, Gandalf, even Père Goriot)

“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw (a rule in our house)

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” – Rainer Maria Rilke (yes, one of the goods of reading are conversations with other readers)

“Never put off till tomorrow the book you can read today.” – Holbrook Jackson (a sentiment of all us dedicated readers!)

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.” – Saul Bellow (or bookstores…although I suspect Bellow may also be talking about the dangerous power of books to change the course of our lives)

“We read to know we are not alone.” C. S. Lewis (I could probably fill a page just with Lewis quotes!)

“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest (people) of the past centuries.” – Descartes (an idea many have suggested–sometimes they even talk to, or at least about each other)

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” – Italo Calvino

And finally, to round out this baker’s dozen of quotes:

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.” – Dr. Seuss

This hardly exhausts the good things that may be said about books and reading. What is striking to me is that so many of these quotes come from the very people who bring us great books. Is it that great writers have filled their lives with the ideas of other great writers? Or is it that writers more than any know the worth of a book?

What are your favorite book quotes?

Supporting Authors While Staying Home

Many people are hurting during the lockdowns and stay at home mandates most of us are living under. While I focus on things related to books (because that what this blog is about), I realize there are many others who are hurting, especially those who were living from paycheck to paycheck before this all started, and others on the edge.

I’ve written about the challenges facing bookstores. Another group struggling are authors. Imagine in particular that you had a book launching any time after about March 15 or in the next few months. No book tours. Amazon has de-emphasized books. Most bookstores are closed. When things open up again (which may not be for months) a new raft of books will be coming out. Authors with books launching now may face real losses.

How can the reading public help?

  1. Read reviews for books in the genres you like to find out about newly published works. Three review sites open without subscriptions that you might check are Publishers Weekly, NPR Book Reviews, and Kirkus. There are many others and you might have your favorites.
  2. Of course, if you have a favorite author, they may have a mailing list and you can learn about new books they have coming out. Often, they post personal updates that you will never see otherwise.
  3. Your favorite bookstore’s website also is a good source of news about new books. The advantage here is that if you find something you like, you can order them in a one stop shopping experience.
  4. Have you launched an online book group? You could host an author event! I’ve done this in another setting and even was able to arrange book discounts with the publisher.
  5. Once you get into the book, talk it up with your friends on social media so people not only hear about the book, but the reasons why you like it. I often buy books recommended by others. Word of mouth works.
  6. Are you on GoodReads? Add a short review to your rating. Or if you are like me, blog on books. Some creative people even do video blogs or video posts on social media.

Making efforts to support the authors we like is another way of preserving cultural goods during this crisis. I have loved Hilary Mandel’s historical fiction on Thomas Cromwell. So I ordered The Mirror and the Light from my favorite indie store. And the image above gives the book one more well deserved shoutout. Look for a review as well! Perhaps one of the ways of we live with hope is to look beyond this crisis, whether in our support of our favorite bookstores or favorite authors.

Power Tips for Traveling with Books

Do you like to read when you travel? For many people loading up some books on your e-reader (maybe from your local library) or audiobooks on your phone or tablet is the way to go. If that is you, you needn’t read further. But there are some of us who don’t want to abandon the feel of print books on a trip. Or you may not want to be dependent on being able to re-charge a device to read. So I turned to the power readers on the Bob on Books Facebook page to get their power tips for traveling with books.

First, a few don’ts:

  • Don’t take library books. If you lose them, it could cost big bucks.
  • For the same reason, don’t take that irreplaceable treasure.
  • Leave that fat hardback behind. You really don’t want to lug that thing around airports.
  • And don’t read and drive!

And now for the power tips:

  • The big consensus: take paperbacks–more compact and disposable
  • Take books you are willing to donate or pass along when you finish them. That way you don’t have to carry them home. Maybe you can even exchange them with someone else. A number suggested taking “throwaway” paperbacks. Then again, some of us think that’s a sacrilege!
  • One person suggested taking a fat paperback and slicing away the parts they’d read.
  • One way not to read and drive is be the passenger.
  • Some don’t start with books but pick them up along the way. It gives you a reason to detour into that interesting bookshop, or even a local thriftshop or library sale. You might even look up bookstores at your destination ahead of time.
  • Take slim books that fit into a handbag, or messenger bag.
  • On the other hand, there were those who aren’t concerned about space or weight. They said pack fewer clothes, pack a bag just for books, or take more than you think you will need. I guess that’s the value of roller bags.
  • Take sunglasses for reading outside.

I loved this reader’s ideas: “I have a small clip on LED light to read by in-flight thus avoiding using the overhead light which can still be annoying to other passengers. I use my book to store little reminders of my holiday within its pages like my used boarding pass, the receipt from a nice restaurant, a pretty leaf, a postcard. By the time I’m home it’s become a journal!”

My reading friends had some great ideas, don’t you think? Here’s a few I might add:

  • Think about what kind of trip this is. If there are quiet evenings in an Amish Inn, you could pack something that takes greater attention. On the other hand, if it is a work trip with intense meetings, or a beach vacation with family, something light or fast-paced makes sense.
  • I also leave the heavy hardback at home, even if I’m in the middle of it. I usually take two or three slim paperbacks and my e-reader. The e-reader is my fall back if I end up flight delayed and get through the print stuff.
  • I take less if I know there will be a conference selling books or I’ll be in a place known for its bookstores. I don’t have to explain.

There are times for other things than books when traveling: meetings, friends, scenery, recreation, good food for starters. But good trips have “down time” or even time to “introvert” for some of us and books are the perfect complement to those times. Then there are times in cars, trains, buses, and planes (or waiting in terminals) when a book is a good way to forget you are in this big impersonal place with thousands of people you don’t know. The book is your friend.


It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books

72592813_409115073084149_4895158919434862592_n“It’s not hoarding if it’s books.” This is a popular saying among bibliophiles with various versions like the above circulating as memes on social media. I’m not so sure if that’s always true. From comments I read, there are a number of us who are book hoarders. Notice that I include myself here. You know you are a book hoarder if:

  • You cannot leave a bookstore without a book, or ten, even if you have stacks at home to read.
  • You would have live at least fifty years longer than most mortals live (and retain your sight) to read all your books.
  • You almost feel a part of yourself is being amputated when you get rid of a book even if you know you will not read, or read again the book in question.
  • You have books everywhere, not just on your shelves–in stacks on the floor, on tables, on furniture, in every room, perhaps in closets.

Of course if this habit is compromising your safety by blocking exit doors, or your marriage, or your finances, or your children’s welfare, then it is a serious business and you really do need to get help. What once may have been a healthy love of books is no longer.

For most of us it is not nearly so bad. There are so many good things about reading. It cultivates emotional sensitivity and compassion. At its best, it holds forth virtues to which we aspire. It entertains. It enlarges our vision of the world. It helps form and guide our spiritual journeys. And sometimes, with a hot beverage and a well-made chair, it is one of the most comfortable moments of many of our days.

But why do we buy and keep more books than we can read? Here are a few musings that may reveal some of my own inner monologue in the bookstore:

  • Every book that is at least of remote interest symbolizes the delight we’ve found in many of the books we’ve read.
  • FOMO. We read a review of a book, or hear a friend rave about it and don’t want to be left out of those who have had the delightful experience of reading this book. Even when we have ten such books waiting to be read and are in the middle of one.
  • Enlightenment. What a baffling, puzzling world it is we live in. Books often have illuminated little corners of it, and made it a bit less puzzling. Maybe the book in my hand will do that as well.
  • Books offer a sense of safety and security. Sometimes it feels good to look at that shelf or that stack and think, “I don’t have to worry about running out of things to read” (even though there is a library down the street that dwarfs even my accumulation of books.
  • Sometimes it is the delight of the bargain. There is something about snagging a $50 book for $2, even if you know you won’t soon read it. You can’t let such a good thing go by. There is no “catch and release” when it comes to book bargains.

I could go on. We bibliophiles equally have a hoard of rationalizations! My point is not to heap a guilt trip on anyone. Perhaps it is more personal confession. But I would observe that we humans are collectors. It could be clothes, coins, stamps, dolls, cigar bands, beer cans, you name it! For Jay Leno, it is cars–he has a huge storage building full of them, a “garage” bigger than my house. Probably the one thing book hoarders need to remember is that someone is going to have to get rid of that hoard!

The fact that I have books in my house that are older than I am ought to warn me that apart from fire or mold, books are very durable objects, more durable than I. Since many of them will likely outlive me, perhaps the most loving thing I can do is not keep them, because there is a good chance they might end up in a dumpster if I try to. And while we can get carried away and inordinately love things, a book that represents both work and hours of enjoyment may deserve a good home. Perhaps one way we express love for both books and people is to pass them along to those who will love them while we are still able.

The Month in Reviews: September 2018

On Reading Well

There are a number of people who have followed Bob on Books either here on the blog or via the Bob on Books Facebook Page in the last month. Welcome to all of you and I hope you are enjoying what you find. One of the recurring features of this page is a monthly “The Month in Reviews” post. Each month, I provide capsule summaries of all my reviews in case you missed the review when first posted. It serves as a listing of all the reviews on this site if you select “The Month in Reviews” category on the menu. I also highlight my “best” book of the month (often a hard choice) and a quote I really liked. I also offer a preview of upcoming reviews. One thing you’ll notice–I enjoy reading widely, as well as more deeply in Christian-related books. There is some method to this–it is one way I make connection between my faith and the rest of life–I think it is all connected. So in this month’s list you have theological books on retreats, the nature of being human, and being like Christ as well as a murder mystery, a debut novel by an Ohio author, a presidential biography, a book on Klan influence in my home town, and the story of a Navy baseball team on which Ted Williams played in World War II. One other note: the hypertext link in the title is to the publisher’s website for the book. The hypertext link at the end of the summary labelled “Review” will take you to my full review. Enjoy

What is man

What is Man?Edgar Andrews. Nashville: Elm Hill, 2018. An exploration of the answers different worldviews come up with to the question of what it means to be human, making the case for a Christian view of humans descended from a historical Adam who was created in God’s image, through whom sin entered the human race in the fall, and for the redemption of all who believe through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Review.

answering why

Answering WhyMark C. Perna. Austin: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018. Argues that behind the skills gap between unfilled jobs and Why Generation job-seekers is an awareness gap about possible careers that fails to answer the “why” question. Review.

Invitation to Retreat

Invitation to RetreatRuth Haley Barton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2018. A guide to retreat as a spiritual practice exploring why retreat, preparing for retreat, helpful practices on retreat, and concluding our retreat and returning from (and to) retreat. Review.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American DreamDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1976. A biography of the 36th president exploring his ambitions, political skills, and vision, shaped by his family and upbringing, and marred by Vietnam, written from the unique perspective of a White House Fellowship and post-presidential interviews. Review.

evangelical sacramental pentecostal

Evangelical, Sacramental, and PentecostalGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An argument for why the church at its best ought to embrace an emphasis on scripture, on baptism and the Lord’s table, and on the empowering work of the Spirit. Review.

Steel Valley Klan

Steel Valley Klan, William D. Jenkins. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990. A study of Ku Klux Klan activity in the Mahoning Valley in the early 1920’s, its composition, and factors contributing to the rise and decline of its influence. Review.

12 Faithful Men

12 Faithful MenCollin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, editors. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Twelve thumbnail biographies focused on pastoral leaders who served faithfully through suffering. Review.

On Reading Well

On Reading WellKaren Swallow Prior. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2018. Makes a case that the reading of great literature may help us live well through cultivating the desire in us to live virtuously and to understand why we are doing so. Review.

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to PemberleyP. D. James. New York: Vintage Books, 2013 P.D. James writes a murder mystery as a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Review.

Conformed to the Image of His Son

Conformed to the Image of His SonHaley Goranson Jacob (Foreword by N. T. Wright). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. An in-depth exploration of the meaning of Romans 8:29b-30, arguing that conformity to the image of the His Son has to do with our participation in the Son’s rule over creation, which is our glorification. Review.


Ohio, Stephen Markley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. Four characters, acquainted with each other in high school return to their home town in Ohio ten years after graduation on the same night, unbeknownst to each other, driven by various longings reflecting lives that turned out differently than they’d hoped. Review.

Cloudbuster 9

The Cloudbuster Nine, Anne R. Keene. New York: Sports Publishing, 2018. The story of the 1943 Navy training school team on which Ted Williams, Johnny Sain, Johnny Pesky and others played, and the baseball hopes and disappointments of the team’s batboy, the author’s father. Review.

Disruptive Witness

Disruptive WitnessAlan Noble. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Drawing on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Noble explores our longing for fullness in a distracted, secular age of “buffered selves,” and the personal, communal and cultural practices Christians might pursue to disrupt our society’s secular mindset. Review.

Best of the Month: My best of the month is kind of a gateway book to cultivating the reading life. Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well not only whets our appetite for the reading of quality fiction, but also explores how great works may change us. Here is one pithy piece of advice to enrich our reading lives:

“Read books you enjoy, develop your ability to enjoy challenging reading, read deeply and slowly, and increase your enjoyment of a book by writing words of your own in it.”

Quote of the Month: Ruth Haley Barton has recently written a wonderful guide to retreats, Invitation to Retreat, that I’ve already used on a personal retreat and plan to return to often. Here is a taste:

“Retreat in the context of the spiritual life is an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention; it is, as Emilie Griffin puts it, “a generous commitment to our friendship with God.” The emphasis is on the words extended and generous. Truth is, we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have done well to incorporate regular times of solitude and silence into the rhythm of our ordinary lives, which means we’ve gotten pretty good at giving God twenty minutes here and half an hour there. And there’s no question we are better for it!

But many of us are longing for more—and we have a sense that there is more if we could create more space for quiet to give attention to God at the center of our beings. We sense that a kind of fullness and satisfaction is discovered more in the silence than in the words, more in solitude than in socializing, more in spaciousness than in busyness. “Times come,” Emilie Griffin goes on to say, “when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding, but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.”

Current reads: I’ve actually just finished three books that I will be reviewing this week. Timothy Jennings writes in The Aging Brain, giving practical advice as a doctor, on delaying or preventing dementia and keeping mentally sharp as we age. Elizabeth Warren is a new biography by Antonia Felix, which has impressed me as a striking example of an academic who acted on her research on bankruptcy to protect consumers. On the Brink of Everything is Parker Palmer’s reflections at the end of his eighth decade on aging, and facing the eventual end of his life. My current reads include Paul, a biography of the apostle by N.T. Wright, who has probably written more about Paul than any New Testament scholar. I’m very excited to dip into Jonathan Walton’s Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive, a book coming out early next year. Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature brings together a group of scholars discussing the interpretive challenges of books like Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. And I’ve tackled one of the books on my list of Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die –Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. I’ll be at this one for a while.

As the weather gets cooler, a comfy chair, a warm beverage, and a good book seem an ideal way to spend a quiet evening. Perhaps something on this list may strike your fancy. Or maybe not. I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading!

10 Rules For Lending Books


U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman J.T. Armstrong

I saw a post from Bustle yesterday on “15 Rules for Borrowing Books, So You Don’t Lose Your Friends in the Process.” The article didn’t say anything about lending, so I thought I might propose a few rules for lenders, with the basic idea that you don’t want to lose friends over books. I really don’t think I can come up with 15, but here goes…

1. Basically, say good-bye to a book when you lend it. Just let it go, because there is a high likelihood you will never see it again. Is it really worth more than your friend?

2. If a book has special meaning to you (family heirloom, heavily annotated, a part of a set, or a reference you use regularly and need), don’t lend it. Just be honest and say, “this book has special meaning for me, or has been in the family, or is something I use regularly.” True friends will understand.

3. A book plate (ex libris) with your name may help. Sometimes people honestly forget from whom a book is borrowed.

4. Don’t lend a book if you need it or plan to read it soon. Again, just explain that. Offer to lend it after you’ve read it.

5. View lending as an easy way to clear out excess books from our shelves. Most of us have more books than shelves. A quoted attributed to Joe Queenen says, “Lending books to other people is merely a shrewd form of housecleaning.”

6. If repeat borrowers who don’t return books bothers you, set a limit. Just let your friend know that you only lend two books (or whatever number seems right to you) at a time to someone, and would be glad to lend the book they want when they’ve finished the others they’ve borrowed and returned them. Of course you have to decide if keeping that close a track of what you’ve lent matters.

7. Consider what the book meant to you. If it was beneficial, do you want to keep that to yourself, letting the book collect dust on your shelves. Lending a book can open up conversations with friends such as “did you see what I saw in this book?”

8. Don’t lend books you’ve borrowed, unless the owner says it is OK, and who owns the book is clear so that it can get back to them.

9. On the other hand, if you really are not concerned about getting the book back, let the person know they are free to pass it along after they have finished reading it. If a book is really good, shouldn’t it pass through many hands?

10. Think of lending books as a way of stocking your library in heaven. I take comfort in these words by C. S. Lewis:

My friend said, “I don’t see why there shouldn’t be books in Heaven. But you will find that your library in Heaven contains only some of the books you had on earth.” “Which?” I asked. “The ones you gave away or lent.” “I hope the lent ones won’t still have all the borrowers’ dirty thumb marks,” said I. “Oh yes they will,” said he. “But just as the wounds of the martyrs will have turned into beauties, so you will find that the thumb-marks have turned into beautiful illuminated capitals or exquisite marginal woodcuts.*

*C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 216.

Overcrowded Shelves


Bookshelves in my home office

Over at my Bob on Books Facebook page, I have a “question of the day.” Recently I asked whether people had more shelves than books or books than shelves. It was unanimous: everyone who commented had more books than shelves.

I have not reached a books-to-shelves equilibrium but here are some of the strategies I’ve pursued to keep the overflow under a measure of control.

1. I freely lend. I’m almost disappointed when someone does the rare thing of returning a book. Often, people ask to borrow books I’ve reviewed.

2. I donate books related to my work to a book grab for new employees in my organization.

3. I always ask whether I will re-read or use as a reference every book I read. If I keep it, another book (or three) has to go.

4. Library book sales are a great place to donate your books to a good cause. You clear your shelves, you give your books a second life with someone else, and you provide funds for “extras” for the library you love.

5. A variation on this is that I’ve donated some books to the theological library of the seminary where I’m an alumnus. I know that doesn’t fit everyone, but I also know it fits some of you.

6. Some have donated books to seminaries or other educational institutions in other countries. Either donate classics or newer scholarship and text books.

7. I do sell some of my books at Half Price Books. Increasingly, we walk out with money in our pockets. Recent books generally bring the best prices, so read it, and if you know you won’t read it again, sell it quick.

8. I know some have set up their own online selling and you can make more on your books by doing this, if you are willing to devote the time to it and give good service and value.

9. I try to find at least one book a day that I put on my donate/sell piles.

10. Finally, books fitly chosen and shared with someone actually interested in the book gives you the joy of passing along a book to someone you know will appreciate it. I find it always helps to ask first if they would be interested in reading it–otherwise, it can feel like you are just dumping your books.

This is one advantage of e-readers–one book or a thousand take up the same physical space. I would be even deeper in books were it not for the ones on my Kindle. Still, I like reading, and especially reviewing, from physical books.

Of course, I suspect there are other creative ways to deal with the overflow. Here are a few I could come up with.

1. Build something with them. I’ve seen great examples of book igloos online.

2. Insulate with them. Anyone know the R-value of books?

3. Use them to support a table or counter top.

4. Some big books make great door stops.

5. Or just do what most of us do and stack them, box them, squirrel them away and live around them.

6. Build or find an annex for your books. We have heard of a few used bookstores getting their start this way.

Have you come up with other creative ways to deal with your book overflow? If you are a reader, you likely will need to sooner or later!