Downsizing book collection is difficult task
Monday, June 30, 2014 4:00 AM
The topic of keeping books has been in my head this week because I have been sorting through my collection of books. It is time to make the decision that at least some of them have to go. After all, by my informal count, I have more than 2,500 of them. It isn't likely the next place we live will have the wall space to accommodate them. So, something has to give.
Over the weekend I was paging through one of those many books, and I happened across this quote: "Today a reader, tomorrow a leader." Wow, I thought what a succinct and meaningful - and accurate - statement. I saved it for possible future use.
Then today, coincidently, a headline on the front page of the big city newspaper caught my eye: "Reading to baby now docs' order" (Star Tribune, June 25, 2014). It seems that pediatricians are now being told to "educate parents about the benefits of reading with their children in infancy."
It is not a new idea that reading to the young has a role in later successes. The quote above ("Today a reader, tomorrow a leader") was first published in 1926. Its originator, W. Fusselman, was a student at a vocational school in New Jersey. In a classroom exercise, the teacher asked the students to create slogans which would be "part of a campaign planned to arouse interest in the growth and use of a school library which some of the boys had created by generous donation of books." These slogans were submitted to a journal titled The Library and printed in 1926.
Fusselman's slogan was selected as the best and it has lasted; his simple but powerful statement generated many versions of it over the years, using some combination of reader and leader. One example would be that which was used by the Boy Scouts of America in 1987: "If you're going to be a leader, you've got to be a reader."
I have found other great quotes about books and reading, all of which just reinforced my difficulty in trying to decide which books will go and which will stay. My book collection is divided into two parts: the professional library related to my work and the fiction reading.
Over the years, I have only saved my most favorite fiction authors. I had, and still have, the good intentions of re-reading them someday. I found support for that desire from John Morley (1838-1923) who said, "Books worth reading are worth reading twice, and what is most important of all, the masterpieces of literature are worth reading a thousand times."
Another reason for keeping them is that I consider them my friends. I found I am not alone in feeling that way about the written word: Petrarch (1304-1374) said, "Books come at my call and return when I desire them; they are never out of humor and they answer all my questions with readiness." Paraphrased, he added, "Some tell me about the past, some reveal the secrets of nature. They teach me how to live and how to die. They cheer me up and amuse me. They prepare me for suffering, to desire nothing, and to become thoroughly acquainted with the self. In a word, they open the door to all the arts and sciences."
I have already experienced how important books are to me when I have been ill; kind visitors would bring me grocery bags full of books at least once a week when I was in the hospital. And I am looking forward to the same role for my books as I age.
Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) wrote, "The habit of reading...lasts when all other pleasures fade. It will be there to support you when all other resources are gone. It will be present to you when the energies of your body have fallen away from you. It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live."
Someone named Barrow, about whom I could not find any information, reinforced that: "He that loveth a book will never (be without) a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one can innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, in all weathers, in all fortunes."
A French poet and author, Fenelon (1651-1715) wrote, "If the crowns of all kingdoms of the empire were laid down at my feet in exchange for my books and my love of reading, I would spurn them all."
Well, I am not sure if I'd go that far. But I would trade some.
It seems odd to me that the connection between reading to small children and later success, such as in school, even needs to be pointed out. After all, a love of reading has certainly been praised for centuries, as demonstrated by the age of the great quotes I found.
However, none of those has helped me in deciding which books must go and which few can stay. It is the opposite: they have reinforced all the reasons why I have saved most of them in the first place!