“Have you read all these books?” That is inevitably the question that is asked when we have a group of people into our home. We have thousands of books scattered throughout our home — three sets of bookshelves full of commentaries in the upstairs game-room, three sets of bookshelves in the formal living room full of literature, art, and Christology books, two sets of bookshelves in the master bedroom with books on history and the history of ideas, two sets of bookshelves in the nursery with philosophy and apologetics, books lining the walls in the formal dining room and every nook and cranny of the house. We have lots of books.
“Have you read all these books?” the question was asked once again, this time by one of the students in the medieval history class I am teaching at the seminary this summer. We had the students into our home to hang out, play Wii, and review for their final exam.
I usually try to walk the inquirer through a list of reasons why I have certain books in my personal library. “I use this book as a reference.” “I have read this particular book dozens of times.” “This is a book I bought spontaneously on a recent bookstore visit.” “I read a little Kierkegaard every day.” etc. Probably more information than the inquirer really wanted to know. So, the most recent question gave me an opportunity to use a new response I adapted from a passage in James V. Schall’s A Students Guided to Liberal Learning;
“In this personal library of ours, as I have explained, we ought to have books that we have read, though there is nothing wrong with accumulating in advance books we might never read or read only years later. No serious book-lover will ever die having read every book he has managed to collect. This is not a sign of dilatoriness but of eagerness, anticipation.”
So, I explain, my personal library is not just an indication of where I have been, but of where I am going. Not just of who I am, but of who I want to be. Not just a catalog of my literary friends, but of great minds to whom I hope to be introduced.
Anticipation, eagerness, … Hope.