Lord! when you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book. ~Christopher Morley
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I got a queer email today. I was contacted by Amazon.com, inviting me to sell back the books I’d bought this year. Their marketing pitch was, “Get great prices for your used textbooks!”
First of all, let me be clear (I learned this expression from our president): I LOVE BOOKS! The abolitionist and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher said of books, “There is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.” The German novelist Franz Kafka described books as “an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.”
My poor son-aka-architect, a minimalist, sighs when I tell him that I need to build an entire bookcase wall in our living room, in order to provide a comfortable home for more leather and paper and ink. It will happen, though: Eventually, those cherished tomes now shelved in closets or in the garage office will find a place of honor where I can see them, touch them, and where they can remind me of their secrets and beckon me to some distant place or some higher good.
Secondly, THESE WERE NOT TEXTBOOKS! Textbooks are filled with facts and figures and dates, and with essays you wish you didn’t have to read.
The books which Amazon remembered—and which they wanted to resell for other eyes to see—were the legends of life, stories told from the heart by friends and heroes with loving hearts and robust minds. Like snapshots of vacations on sandy beaches, the books I’ve already enjoyed hold mystery and memory at arm’s length, and invite me back at a moment’s notice.
Since I’m thinking about them and feel a need to defend them from Amazon’s utilitarian grasp—and since you may be looking for some last-minute Christmas gift ideas—I thought I’d share a bit about the first four books Amazon wants me to relinquish, books which wormed their way into my heart earlier this year.
The Body of This: Stories by Andrew McNabb. This is a book of short stories, each of which delights, some of which shock, but all of which cry out with respect and love for the human person. Joseph Pearce described McNabb’s stories as “thought-jabbing vignettes which can be as radically transforming as viniculture, turning the water of everyday experience into the wine of life.” And that’s it! I remember one poignant story about an elderly man who suffers an unfortunate fall while in the bathroom. His wife, unable to lift him, must call 911; but seeing his embarrassment at having left the toilet unflushed and at being exposed, naked, she also strips so that when the emergency technician arrives, he is confronted by not one but two old, wrinkled bodies. The scenario is laughable, yet the love it reveals is profound. For giving up this and other treasures from Andrew’s book, Amazon would like to pay me—83 cents!
To Be a Mother: Adopting God’s Heart by Deanna Jones. Deanna’s story is so touching that I wrote about her a while back [Profile in Love, November 23]. I know my all-too-brief article didn’t do justice to this wonderful story of redemptive love. Deanna, you may recall, is a talented musician and vocalist, leader of her own band, and a best-selling author. After some serious mistakes in her teens and young adulthood, Deanna felt God’s call on her heart to adopt; and To Be A Mother is the account of her personal journey, and her quest to adopt children from around the world whose parents had died of HIV/AIDS. If you think you’re too busy, if you think you can’t find enough money/love/time/room for one more soul in your home, this book will give you much to think about in the coming year!
The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death and Atheism by Mary Eberstadt. You can catch more flies with honey; and Mary Eberstadt’s wry humor is the elixir that attracts the atheistic prey in The Loser Letters. This book was such a best-seller that Amazon will give me $3.35 if I’ll just give it back to them. More likely, though, I’ll continue to share it with friends, and to utilize snatches of her witty repartee at cocktail parties into the future. It remains a favorite in my collection.
Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI by Amy Welborn. Now here, I have to ‘fess up: I lost the book. I had intended to give it as a gift to my husband, but somehow never got around to wrapping it. How can you give away something by Amy Welborn, let alone something that transmits the wisdom and profundity of Pope Benedict? Nah, Amazon—eat your heart out. It’s at my house, and it’s staying there. Not even $3.23 in cold, hard cash will entice me to part with it!
Charles Lamb, in The Last Essays of Elia (1833), said it best: “A book reads better which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog’s ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins.”