Friday, September 29, 2006

How Libraries Speak

[Jay Parini has written a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of people's personal libraries in The Chronicle Review, from whence this quote comes.]

What interests me about other people's books is the nature of their collection. A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements.


Mark said...

Very interesting! This is exactly why Library Thing is so fascinating to me. I once despised it, but once I got a taste of peering into peoples souls (through their library) and indexing my own collection, I was hooked!

"A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul"

Does this mean that I could unveil my soul before your readers merely by entering a pasting a link and typing the blogger word verification? Yikes! :)

Now the age old question for the librarian: Are the particular books there because of what my soul is like, or is my soul what it is because of the books that are there?

Anonymous said...

Mark - my answer to your question, "Are the particular books there because of what my soul is like, or is my soul what it is because of the books that are there?" answer is..Yes. Both interact as a system of self-revelation. Upon meeting people for the first time, I frequently ask them what books they have recently read and what books they consider most influential on their souls. This generally tells me volumes about the individual and what is effecting their souls.

Tim said...

This discussion raises a very interesting question: "What books have you purchased recently, books that you either have read or are in the process of reading, not because they were required for some class you are taking but because you believed they were worth adding to your personal library?" I would be interested to know what others who frequent this blog are reading and why. If Doug wants to put this up as a poll, I will participate willingly!

Anonymous said...

Tim- I'm game...
Outside of the TNIV Bible, here is my top 10, in no particular order:

Women Caught in the Conflict
- Rebecca Groothuis

Truth Decay
- Doug Groothuis

No Place for Sovereignty
- Robert Wright

Being Human
- Ranald Macaulary & Jerram Barrs

A Passion for Christ
- Douglas Webster

Selling Jesus
- Douglas Webster

True Spirituality
- Francis Schaeffer

Religious Affections
- Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards, A Life
- George Marsden

The Pressure's Off
- Larry Crabb

Mark and Tim - what are on your top 10 list?

Douglas Groothuis said...


Soulcraft answered with a top ten list, which was not quite what you wanted (although I know he rereads these books). I read too many books at once. But here are some I just finished or am reading.

1. Michael Shermer, Why Darwin Matters. I will review this with Wells's The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and ID for a newspaper, Lord willing.

2. Christianity and the Postmodern Turn, ed. by Penner.

3. Inside the Mind of an Islamic Terrorist by Mark Gabriel (not good before you go to bed).

4. State of Emergency by Pat Buchanan.

5. The New Faces of God: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins.

6. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible.

7. TNIV Study Bible.

8. Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism by Paul Boghossian. (Tim should like this.)

9. AntiChrist: Islam's Awaited Messiah by Joel Richardson. A pseudonym for obvious reasons.

10. Islam and Terrorism by Mark Gabriel.

11. The Pursuit of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy by Louis Pojman.

That doesn't count the unfinished ones left in my library back in Denver!

Anonymous said...

Doug - you are absolutely correct, Tim was asking for something different than the answer I gave. The following is a short list of current books being read and my reasons for reading them:

God at Work, Your Christian Vocation in All of Life - by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
Reason - mentoring project with a PR graduate student & I am constently reminded how little I know on the topic.

The Five Languages of Apology - by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
Reason - a great dirth in my own life of understanding and practice of apologizing to those I've hurt.

Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time -by Marva Dawn
Reason - I need positive answers instead of just complaining about church dysfunction and sin.

Addictions, A Banquet in the Grave
by Edward T. Welch
Reason - I need well-informed answers for a close family member who is an alcoholic. This book is really excellent on the topic.

One Year Book of Christian History
by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten
Reason - I love church history and need a daily reminder of its importance.

Another Country, Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders
by Mary Pipher
Reason - an 88yr old mother-in-law and a 80yr old mother, both of which my eventually be living with us.

Callings, Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation
by William Placher (Editor)
Reason - I know virtually nothing about the church history of thought on the topic and because of the, earlier mentioned, mentoring project with a student.

TNIV (Study Bible)
Reason - I'm a sinner.

Pat (Soulcraft)

Tim said...

Doug and Pat,

Well, I can't very well stand back when you've stepped up and done it, so here are a few of mine:

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003)

Since this is widely regarded as the major contemporary defense of the historical argument for the truth of Christianity, I can't very well not read it.

Jordan Howard Sobel, Logic and Theism: Arguments for and against Beliefs in God (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Rob Koons, whose opinion I respect, has said that this book will replace Mackie's The Miracle of Theism as the major source for arguments against, and critiques of arguments for, the existence of God. Therefore, I must read it.

There is a huge section on the probabilistic reconstruction of Hume's argument against the credibility of miracle reports and a chapter critical of design arguments, complete with a critique of Richard Swinburne's method of formulating a cumulative case argument. (Don't hold your breath: Sobel gets it wrong.)

John Leland, A View of the Principal Deistical Writers (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2003)

This is a reprint, in two volumes, of a major source on the deist controversy by one of the defenders of orthodoxy against the deists. Leland's work originally appeared in 1755 and went through many subsequent editions. In it he canvasses a very wide range of deist writers and a generous cross-section of the responses.

Sobel's book, running to 672 pages, is the shortest of the three. It's good to know that I won't run out of reading any time soon!

I'll add more of my recent purchases (perhaps with a focus on used books) as time permits.

BJ the Tornado said...

Here's some of what I'm reading right now:

Just recently decided to re-read some old Steinbeck classics. Currently on Tortilla Flat. I forgot what a great (and fun) book this is.

Walzer -- Just and Unjust Wars (giving it the full read through it deserves as opposed to the piecemeal read I've given it before).

PVI just came out with a new monograph on the Problem of Evil (a NEW one, as in Summer 2006, not the collection that came out in 2004). Anyway, since I'm hoping to present a paper on this at the PR conference in Feb., I figured I better see if he says anything new in it that he hasn't said in his previous pieces.

Liars and Heaps -- JC Beall (great collection on recent contemporary logic papers on paradox).

Just finished Dostoevsky's The Gambler. Excellent, just as expected.

Hemingway's Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Short Stories. I had somehow never read it. All the stories found therein were clearly the work of a master craftsman.

Michael DePaul (ed.), Resurrecting Old-Fashioned Foundationalism. (Re-reading for research)

Jackson, Petit, and Smith. Mind, Morality, and Explanation. Great cutting edge stuff on metaethics issues (which is the focus for my read of it) although I rather pasionately disagree with their position.

Colin McGinn, Logical Properties: Identity, Existence, Predication, Necessity, Truth.

Trenton Merricks. Objects and Persons. A fun book and a really interesting try at a funky kind of elimitivism (but one that fails, to my mind).

Plantinga -- Warranted Christian Belief. I TRIED to read through WCB summer of 2003. I failed. I'm trying again. This time I'm appreciating it much more. What a brilliant mind.

Re-reading The Republic.

And a couple other forays into research-type reads.

Oh yeah, also I'm reading through the NT with a friend -- doing the New Living translation. Fun times.

BJ the Tornado said...

Here's another issue on the whole Library thing Dr. G.

How can we use it to peer into the souls of another if that other person doesn't really HAVE a library?

Many of our friends rather sadly only have a small scattering of books here and there throughout their houses. I've poked around and looked and, unless they are hiding them somewhere, many of our friends really only have, say, half a shelf or so of what could be called serious books.

How can I view their soul off of such a small (or non-existent) collection?

Becky Vartabedian said...


I've heard good things about your number 11. I'm hoping a copy will be coming in the mail sooner than later.