Tuesday, April 18, 2017

On Choosing The Books You Actually Buy

Well friends, it's Spring and a beautiful one at that.

After a the brown shriveled nature of the drought we've had these past couple of years, seeing so much green popping up to blanket hill and flatland feels something like that cool evening breeze that closes out a desert day. So refreshing and rejuvenating. Even the sandbars of our wetlands have tangles of reed and sage for the sea birds to explore, which hasn't been a typical sight.

Even with the welcome changes, out family couldn't leave Winter behind without a solid snow trip, which we were able to sneak in a week or two ago. But I suppose most of you already know that so I won't blabber on about it other than to say it was a worthy way of closing out the season, especially for the Narnia-like feel (fitting, since it happens to be our bed time read at the moment). All that to say, I think we're fully embracing the longer days and warmer nights now.

The burst of warmth and color in the world seems to have affected my reading as well. Rather than automatically reaching for the next new title, I've been drawn to the shelves that house old favorites: Gene Stratton Porter, Elizabeth Goudge, Elizabeth Elliot, C.S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, and on and on I could go. Anybody else finding this true? Which, by the way, brings up a subject I've been thinking on and chatting about with dear ones here and there:

In an age where we tend to have pared down spaces yet infinite access to all the goodness of the literary realm, how in the world do we choose which books to actually give shelf space to?

There are some who heavily load their shelves with anything that catches their fancy, while others collect only a handful of absolute favorites. Aesthetic minds might purchase only the loveliest copies worth displaying, while black and white souls of practicality shelve only their current needs or interests then rotate those titles by selling or trading when moving on to new things. It's an interesting and sort of overwhelming variety of methods that we have to pick and choose from, but we can be encouraged that the beauty in the great spectrum of them is that even in such a small thing as book ownership, the creativity of God in our personalities is on full display. "The [bookshelves of us all] declare the glory of God," I suppose we could say. Of course that's something we can't break down into a sort of refer-all formula, but some tips to save us the hassle of figuring our way the hard way would sure be nice.

Thankfully, there do seem to be some key commonalities that dapple the whole unique spread. I know I didn't cover all of them, but here are a couple to keep handy when staring at your overloaded Amazon cart.

1) Buy what you love and put the library to use for the rest
Here's a handy mental exercise: Stand in front of your space for books, close your eyes, and let your mind's eye roam over the shelves. What's there? In walking by this space every day, what do you want to find there? How about others in your home? What special titles do you and they consider necessary or come back to again and again and again?

You see the direction I'm going? I guess we could say, that in the same way we choose what's displayed on our walls, we can choose what's displayed on our shelves. It's not a fool proof method, there will always be the dud buys, but it does help. What you and your family don't love or find useful, you probably don't need to own. And thankfully, for those titles we need but don't want or want to try but not buy, the library will probably have on hand for free.

2) Buy by author 
As far as I can remember, Carol Joy Seid was the first I'd heard to bluntly state that real readers read by author. And let's be real, the more you read, the more you find this true because you don't want to waste precious time reading something you don't even like (Please note that I'm talking about preference here, not necessity, so don't use this logic to toss your "classics that everyone should read" list or whatever). There's always time for exploring new authors and titles, but finding your favorite authors first really does shine a light on your preference and helps direct those explorations - another topic for another day.

Anyway, the logic in collecting your favorite authors pretty much lines up with collecting your favorites in general, it's just a more focused way of doing so.

3) Buy by edition (otherwise said, "we don't need all of them")
One benefit in reserving your shelves for favorites and necessities is that there's wiggle room to invest in some good editions. For most of us, that probably means the quality of the cover because most everyone loves a good book cover, right? Whether it's the foil stamped linen of vintage fame or unique beauties like the Puffin in bloom editions or the Juniper editions, there's so much to choose from and so many to love. But did you know editions can mean content too? Most of us know about abridged and unabridged, sure, but did you know that post 1950's reprints of more classic titles can have subtle (or not so subtle) cultural changes as well? Huckleberry Finn is probably the most noted, but Nancy Drew might be a better example.

Originally, the Nancy Drew series was published in the 1930's. In the 1950's, they were reprinted with a change to Nancy's personality and interest to fit the times. Yet again, the series was recreated in the late 80's and onward to fit yet another cultural shift. Now not everyone reads Nancy Drew, so for a more widely read example I'll point to Shakespeare, whose phrasing is "outdated and hard to understand" and has plenty of politically incorrect content to keep critics in seizures until the end of time. It's possible to now pick up a "contemporary" edition of the Bard, which isn't wholly bad (as long as you don't mind it being interpreted by modern academics who care more about political correctness than context). But I digress, so basically, if the possibility of content changes bother you, stick to editions with copyrights dated 1950 or before (this doesn't mean, by the way, to buy all used books. New editions of classics most often have old copyrights, just be sure to check if you care).

Whatever your method of decision on your keepers, embrace it; but I hope this helps clear a little space on your shelves for what your timeless titles are. Now that you have this rattling in your brain, I'm hugely interested in which titles those are, so do please share with me via instagram, facebook, or the contact page here on the site. If you're interested in ours, I made a list of some of them here

Happy reading, sweet friends.


  1. Excellent resource! I especially like your suggestion in #1. It gave me permission to donate what isn't a 'classic' to me and use the precious space left to fill up on what is.

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