The Library

Reading Records, Fortunes, and Vintage Books

This past week I found this post about George Vanderbilt’s personal library in the Biltmore Mansion. Two points in it intrigued me:

First, the records he kept of ALL the books he’d read from age 12 to his death. And second, the fact that one third of the books he purchased were vintage–antiquarian–purchases.

I’ve been pondering written histories, legacies, and libraries a lot, and those two habits of his were not only a help and pleasure to himself, but a valuable contribution to his family.

The list would be of personal family value–for to know a man’s reading material is to know a man’s mind and interests. Some folks write biographies for their descendants, be it a multi volume set, a “Dr. Jones” type leather bound “grail diary,” or two handwritten pages. But wouldn’t it be a great strategy to leave a record of all the books you’ve read along with a biography (or in lieu of it for those who don’t keep personal histories)? And if that list has ratings or a few thoughts scribbled by each title, so much the better! I know I would pay a high price to have a list of books read by my parents, grandparents, and ancestors. Particularly some of them! 🙂 After all, who wouldn’t find it delightful to learn their Great-Grandmother’s favorite mystery novel when she was a young lady in the roaring 20’s?!

The popular website Goodreads does, in effect, fulfill a part of that for many of us in this generation. But it is not the same as a complete, tangible, and easily found REAL paper list you can place in someone’s hands and lock in the family secret chest…

I have kept a written record of the books I’ve read since I was 13. The first few pages are on “scrap” paper, but most of them are simply written out in pencil on notebook paper and filed away on the bottom shelf in my library.  Seeing the photos of Mr. Vanderbilt’s “books I’ve read” journals has made me seriously consider investing in a nice handmade leather-bound book (there are a lot of fine ones on Etsy). It would last longer than papers tucked in a book and would be far more handsome, classy, and durable. Not to mention it would age into a fine vintage book itself within a few generations.;)

The second habit of making one third of his book purchases of vintage books, shows fine business sense and aesthetic taste.  It is always wise to purchase things that appreciate in value. Any businessman knows that.  A library of vintage books will likely double in value over 20 years. And those who leave their libraries to their descendants will realize, that in merely a few generations, a sizeable fortune can be amassed from the increase in value of books they paid mere dollars for.

And aesthetically, the price can’t be measured in dollars!

Here’s to building libraries intentionally!

Do you record the books you read? In a book? On paper? Goodreads?  What percentage of your book purchases are vintage?

John Buchan on The Library

 

Most authors, one would assume, have a love of books. But there are a few authors who have such a love of books and fine libraries, that it appears in their works with great regularity. John Buchan is one such man. In reading through his Richard Hannay series this past year I was surprised how many times he made reference to books, or described in glowing terms the library of a main character. Even the antagonist in The Three Hostages gets his library detailed for the reader.

 

Now, I’ve always loved libraries. The authors who bring fine libraries to life in their novels, however, are rare. It happened a lot in film. Take Henry Higgins breathtaking library in My Fair Lady, the grand library where “X” appeared in The Last Crusade, or Sir Lindenbrook’s study in the 1959 Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Books figure as a large part of the atmosphere in movies. Those filmmakers made such a marvelous and beautiful background with those shelves of books. Why don’t more authors do the same in their medium? I don’t know. Maybe because many modern writing courses tell writers to avoid detailed description (it slows down the action). But for whatever reason, it is not common.

 

Maybe that’s why Buchan’s descriptions stand out. He wrote action-packed thrillers. Mysteries and adventures. His pace is not hampered by his fine descriptive prose. It adds a beauty that makes it a step above the typical “thriller” novel. Stunning descriptions that paint a scene across your mind’s eye with all the vividness of a sunrise. And he concentrated much of this prose on books and libraries. Much to my delight. Tucked skillfully between the kidnappings, manhunts, murders, romance, and fistfights are the loveliest portraits of a gentleman’s study, and rows upon rows of well worn books.

 

I’d like to quote many of the sections in the paragraph below, but I don’t want to rob the reader of discovering them in the context of the stories, so I’ll limit myself to a few short pieces from The Island Of Sheep.

“He opened a door and ushered me into an enormous room which must have occupied the whole space on that floor. It was oblong with deep bays at each end, and it was lined from floor to ceiling with books. Books, too, were piled on the tables, and sprawled on a big flat couch which was drawn up before the fire. It wasn’t an ordinary gentleman’s library, provided by the bookseller at so much a yard. It was a working collection of a scholar, and the books had that used look which makes them the finest tapestry for a room. The place was lit with lights on small tables, and on a big desk under a reading lamp were masses of papers and various volumes with paper slips in them. It was a workshop as well as a library.”

…the books had that well used look which make them the finest tapestry for a room.

I love that sentence. If I were ever to write a book on home décor I would put that in large, bold type where it couldn’t possibly be missed. 🙂

“…and above all a library. That library was the pleasantest room in the house, and it was clearly Haradsen’s favorite, for it had the air of a place cherished and lived in…It was lined everywhere with books, books which had the look of being used, and which consequently made that soft tapestry which no collection of august bindings can ever provide. ‘The treasures were my father’s,’ said Haraldsen. ‘Myself, I do not want posessions. Only my books.’ ”

“In the library after dinner I got my notion of Lombard further straightened out, for the room was a museum of the whole run of his interests. Sandy, who could never refrain from looking round any collection of books, bore me out. The walls on three sides were lined to the ceiling with books, which looked in the dim light like rich tapestry hangings…”

Have you read an author whose love of literature and libraries permeates his writing? Do you have a favorite Buchan quote on books?

Repost: “What Does Your Library Say About You?”

In reflecting back on the year that has just closed and paging through my old blog posts, I found one that was by far and away the favorite of my readers. I thought I’d share it with you all again, so here is a re-post of my most popular article: What Does Your Library Say About You?

Imagine that a complete stranger walked into your house when you were away. As they walked past your bookshelves and gazed at the choice books that you selected to occupy them, what conclusions would they draw about the kind of person your are? What is the message your books send?

Henry Van Till once said “Culture is religion externalized”. Your religion is proclaimed by the culture you create in your life and in your home, and one of the most bold revelations  of your worldview and what you deem important is your library (or the lack thereof).

All over America you can see shelves of books that amount to nothing more that fluff, indoctrinated history, cheap romances, mindless escapism, immoral “classics”, entertainment, poor art, and a bad writing style.  The message that those books whisper are “I’m here to relax”, “I need to escape from work and life”, I’m addicted to the thrill of mental romance affairs”, ” I have no higher goal in life than to entertain myself, fantasize, and dream”…..and so on.

Once upon a time that was not so.

The libraries of our founding fathers and mothers were nation changing libraries of individuals who had a distinct purpose in life, principled men and women with goals who amassed books filled with the knowledge and resources to carry out their plans and educate themselves.

As a Christian woman I want my library to be stocked with tools to help me carry out my missions and plans. And to be a worthy collection of high quality books that will stand the test of time and last for generations among my friends and descendants.  I want to fill my library with books that will delight a vigorous mind and well disciplined tastes; volumes on history, theology, culture, music, law, art, science, biographies, economics, warfare, education, etiquette, practical skills, and a well stocked stack of reference materials to assist in the art of writing, along with a choice selection of great, inspiring fiction and literature. The kind of library that would state “I have an exciting and grand purpose in life”, “The world will be different because of my life”, “I’m not here to dream and drift with the tides”, “Here there be dragons…and dragon slayers!”, “I’m changing culture”, “My time is too valuable to waste”, “I delight in work and dominion” etc.

In short, a library filled with the kind of books that leave our stranger with the impression that the house’s occupant surely must be away on important business or an outstanding adventure.

Your books do speak. They tell people:

Who you admire.

What you value.

What your tastes are.

What you believe.

What you aspire to in life.

One does not need to be a Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple to deduce those things.

 

What does your library say about you?



History, Etymology, and The Case For Unabridged Books


VintageBooks

In looking at a mail-order catalog one day, I came upon a page where the company was selling republished vintage books by a favorite children’s author of mine. Glancing down at the description I was very surprised that the company was recommending that before you let your children read the books you should go through them with a bottle of white-out and mark out all of the words that have changed meaning over the years, and are now misunderstood, or considered derogatory or offensive.

I am passionate about unabridged books, particularly children’s books of yesteryear. Here’s why. Or rather, here’s one reason why. This post only deals with the vocabulary aspect abridging books, it doesn’t even touch the other important issues of grammar, old English, or “tedious” passages.

Now, when folks change the vocabulary in a antique book, it is usually for one of three reasons:

  1. It has changed in definition (or a new definition has become the norm and the old had faded into antiquity).
  2. It has changed in connotation. Or gathered new connotations.
  3. It has virtually disappeared from the culture, and hardly anyone knows what it means, or even what it is anymore. No one uses it in writing or in speech.

Every one of those reasons looks like a valid reason on the surface. However, there is one major problem with all three of them. History.

It is important to understand history. In all areas. Economics. Novels. Battles. Culture. Film. Music. Worldviews. Fashion. Architecture. The list goes on. It has been often said that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, and that is true. Also, those who don’t know history don’t tend to make advances into the future with many sound foundations or longevity to their plans. Intentional people go places. Educated intentional people, with a sound grasp of history, go the places they set out to go, while typically strongly affecting or even changing the course of things. But enough of that.

My main point is that you need to understand history, and that “edited” vocabulary harms that in two distinct ways:

  1. It causes a misinterpretation of history. If people edit out all possibly “offensive” elements of the cultures that came before us, so that we never have to see them, and we never study etymology and understand the definitions of the past then we will make grave errors of interpretation when we look back at history. Then when we come across an unabridged work we are surprised by the words that people used and misjudge both the intent and character of the individual as well as acquire a skewed picture of the culture and therefore of the history of that era as a whole. That leads to modern day writers publishing books with slander about men in previous generations, as has happened in many biographies published recently. Many of the falsehoods in them spring directly from an ignorance of the etymology during that time, which changes the appearance of the man’s character and how he is perceived throughout history from now on. Truth is important, and the nation that has a false view of history will suffer. It may seem like little changes in what a word means is not so important, but as in the case of biographies, those little things change history. And the biographies are just one example of it’s many effects. Another example is the songs of the old American songwriters, which, unless viewed with a knowledge of how the meaning of words has changed, will give every person who hears them a false view of the times they came from, and what the culture was like.
  2. It fosters ignorance, and causes us to be unable to understand primary source documents or other things that have not been “fixed” for us. This leads to one of two things. Either we just never read things that haven’t been updated (which only fosters more ignorance in our lives and means that most primary source documents are never going to be read) or we fall into the trap of point #1, and, because of our reading only edited text previously, we will not understand the true meaning of what we have just read and will come away with a false view of reality and history. For example, anyone who attempts to read the classic economic work The Road To Surfdom by F. A. Hayek will come away with a false view of his economic teachings on account of the complete change in what the word “Liberal” means. It means almost the exact opposite of what it used to, and, without a proper knowledge of that, you will come away from his book confused and thinking the opposite ideas than he had intended. Now, here is where folks say “Well, if it was only published in edited an updated versions then you would have no confusion at all”. That fosters a ignorance of history, and the historical usage of words. It also leaves that individual completely unfit to pick up anything that has not been “pre-digested” for him. Then what happens when that individual finds an old journal in the attic…? Or your father’s grail diary? Or discovers an unknown and hidden letter from a founding father of our country?¹ Or an old letter in the pocket of a soldier’s uniform? Or between the crumbling pages of a book? He’s not equipped to accurately understand them…

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So what is the solution to the eradication of old vocabulary from books which is causing parents to hesitate when placing a vintage book in the hands of their children?

The solution is very simple, but does take some work–as do all skills worth gaining. Educate yourself. Almost everybody has access to a dictionary. And the internet is even faster (not to mention housing the old dictionaries that will give you the old definitions!). It has never been easier to find the history of a word, it’s connotations, or the changes it has gone through than it is right now in our current culture. Yes, there is false information out there, but with a few searches and ten minutes or less of studying you should be able to spot them.

As far as children are concerned, read a couple of vintage books aloud to them. Explain the words and the importance of getting your definitions right; then step back and let them at it.

One great thing that I have seen a few publishers do that entirely solves the problem, without altering the original history, is to put a handy little footnote with all the info about the modern meaning vs. the meaning of the word in the book. “Quite nice”, as Watson would say.

Now, go buy those lovely antiques, read them, enjoy them, and learn from them. Our culture will be the better for it. Then when you are reading a page written years ago, you will be perfectly equipped and able to tackle anything with a keen understanding, whether you’re on your next mission, are making an adventurous discovery, are tucked away on the grounds of your estate, or curled up by the fireplace.



¹And that does still happen in America. Just this year a family in the South discovered an authentic, never-before-seen letter by Thomas Jefferson–in their attic.

 

 

 

What Does Your Library Say About You?




Imagine that a complete stranger walked into your house when you were away. As they walked past your bookshelves and gazed at the choice books that you selected to occupy them what conclusions would they draw about the kind of person your are? What is the message your books send?

Henry Van Till once said “Culture is religion externalized”. Your religion is proclaimed by the culture you create in your life and in your home, and one of the most bold revelations  of your worldview and what you deem important is your library (or the lack thereof).

All over America you can see shelves of books that amount to nothing more that fluff, indoctrinated history, cheap romances, mindless escapism, immoral “classics”, entertainment, poor art, and a bad writing style.  The message that those books whisper are “I’m here to relax”, “I need to escape from work and life”, I’m addicted to the thrill of mental romance and affairs”, ” I have no higher goal in life than to entertain myself, fantasize, and dream”…..and so on.

Once upon a time that was not so.

The libraries of our founding fathers and mothers were nation changing libraries of individuals who had a distinct purpose in life, principled men and women with goals who amassed books filled with the knowledge and resources to carry out their plans and educate themselves.

Johann Hamza - Date unknown

As a Christian young lady I want my library to be stocked with the tools to help me carry out my missions and plans. And to be a worthy collection of high quality books that will stand the test of time and last for generations among my friends and descendants.  I want to fill my library with books that will delight a vigorous mind and well disciplined tastes; volumes on history, theology, culture, music, law, art, science, biographies, economics, warfare, education, etiquette, practical skills, and a well stocked stack of reference materials to assist in the art of writing, along with a choice selection of great, inspiring fiction and literature. The kind of library that would state “I have an exciting and grand purpose in life”, “The world will be different because of my life”, “I’m not here to dream and drift with the tides”, “Here their be dragons…and dragon slayers!”, “I’m changing culture”, “My time is too valuable to waste”, “I delight in work and dominion” etc. In short, a library filled with the kind of books that leave our stranger with the impression that the house’s occupant surely must be away on important business or an outstanding adventure.

Your books do speak. They tell people:

Who you admire

What you value

What your tastes are

What you believe

What you aspire to in life

One does not need to be a Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple to deduce those things.

What does your library say about you?

Auguste Toulmouche - 1872