As many local friends have known for while now, we’re in the midst of a great purge.
For me, the trouble hasn’t been winnowing my wardrobe down to the essential kit that will do me well in Seoul. It hasn’t been painful to slash my tie collection by 85%. What’s been the most gut-wrenching, heroic, grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it act of my Great Purge?
Getting my international library down to just a handful of volumes.
How to cut a library by 85%
So, what did I do?
First, I separated the books that I valued. Books I knew I would want in my library for years to come. Books that I figured I would read at some point in my life, or which I would certainly want to pass along to my sons some day.
These included lots of Bible commentaries, theological texts, and books of spiritual guidance: sort of the tools of the pastoral trade, which I still consider my life’s calling. Others were works of classic literature. Still others were business and productivity titles.
These books went to my parents’ house in Ohio.
Second, I had a huge library liquidation sale in my living room. For a week, folks came over and paid whatever they wanted for whichever books they desired. I think I pocketed about $500 from this. That probably didn’t even come close to covering the cost of the books that I’ve bought second-hand alone—much less the retail price purchases.
But that’s okay. Cash money, baby.
The elect few
All along, though, I pulled aside books that were worthy of at least a nomination for Korea. I shoved them into a box and guarded them from the library raiders with my life. Bit by bit, I pulled out ones that I decided were less worthy than the others.
Ultimately, I ended up with these. Some 38 books.
It’s like those Facebook challenges that go around every so often. If you were stuck on a desert island, which 10 books would you bring, and why? Since I’m on a peninsula instead of an island, I get 38 instead of 10.
So, what did I end up with?
Immediately relevant titles
Wolterstorff is a theological stud muffin in the Reformed tradition. I’m now teaching at a Christian school. I plan to get inspired over the summer.
The other three here are titles that our agency, the Network of International Christian Schools, is having us read in preparation for our experience in Korea. From what we’ve read so far, these are really helpful both in terms of thinking about our challenge to raise our kids overseas, and in my work with ‘third culture kids’ at the school.
PhD dissertation books
I’ve been accepted to do a PhD in theology at Trinity College, Bristol, England, on something related to love and the divine in the Augustinian phenomenology of the French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion. Here’s the stack of his works I’ve been traipsing through.
The great thing about my new gig in Korea is: SUMMERS OFF!
I anticipate that this means time to write my dissertation, and occasional trips to England to work with my supervisor.
The best theological and cultural series ever?
If you put a Big Mac or a rotten turnip inside a book cover with the label “the church and postmodern culture,” I’d buy it. James KA Smith, you are the man for assembling this series. I plan to buy whichever new books are out in this series before leaving for Korea, and read them on the plane.
This was a no-brainer for me.
Kevin Vanhoozer is my boyfriend.
That’s what Ellie used to say about me. I have newer KJV titles to get caught up on, but I’ve read every word of these two on the bottom, and loved them. There’s an anthology up above too, which will be pertinent to my dissertation research. Then, Augustine’s Confessions, which may play a big part in my PhD work as well.
Then there’s other books that I’ll want/need for PhD stuff. I loved this book on Derrida by Smith. I’m afraid I’ll have to understand Heidegger to understand phenomenology and Marion. And check out those side-by-side images of Derrida and Saint Paul top right. Nice.
Love and marriage, love and marriage …
Tripp’s and Keller’s books on marriage are probably the best out there from a practical Christian perspective. I plan to keep reading both for years.
Then I’ve got books on romance by Alain de Botton and Roland Barthes which, paired with Jean-Luc Marion’s The Erotic Phenomenon, are a group of philosophical books that I plan to use to help me think about romantic love from various perspectives. Interestingly, de Botton is a popular British secularist, Barthes was a gay French literary critic, and Marion is a devout Roman Catholic French philosopher.
My ambition is to take my studies of Song of Songs, which I preached on last summer, and write a book about romance and sexuality. I’m sure that won’t make Ellie feel awkward at all.
And there is a book or two coming with me to Korea in this general category I won’t be telling you about on the Internet.
Practical spirituality: public and interior
I decided to leave the Eugene Peterson books I’ve already read (and loved) in Ohio and bring with me two titles that I haven’t read. EP is simply the best pastor of pastors (or plain old people) in print.
Zack Eswine’s book is really helpful for pastors beaten up in ministry. I’ll be going through it more and more in the coming months as I reflect on a good but tough last couple years.
Hunter’s and Forster’s books are about public theology: how to change the world without being too Constantinian about it. Wouldn’t leave the continent without them.
Rosaria Butterfield. What can I say? I would vote for her for dog catcher or president or anything she wanted my vote for. She has a new book coming out soon and I’ll devour it the day it is released.
“All you have is a bunch of facts.”
So said my friend Stephen of the books I was offering at my library liquidation sale. Well, I have graduate degrees in divinity and in European history, so, yeah, I have a lot of “facts.” (Although I would contest the notion that one can divide literature neatly into factual and imaginative.) As I said before, I’m keeping lots of my literature in Ohio.
But I’m going to bring one book of poetry. This one. If I love it, I’ll buy another by Collins.
Method or Madness?
I actually didn’t set out with a list of criteria that helped me decide what stays and what goes. And I think this is where it gets interesting. When I’ve done my posts about “10 books I’d take to a dessert island,” I found that I was picking books in a show-offy sort of way. I picked things from a couple distinct categories: best business book; best theology book; best history book; best biography; best novel.
What happened when it wasn’t an exercise, a drill, or a show-off post, but rather the real thing? What happens when it’s actually time to pick the 40 books you’ll pay to bring to the other side of the planet with you? When you know that every square inch of book is one square inch that can’t be used for your kids’ toys or your wife’s curling iron?
Read whatever you want
Well, you bring what you really want.
I didn’t categorize. I just grabbed my favorite books, and the books I felt compelled to read. There’s no biography in my stack. No novel. No business book. No productivity book. No history book!
All that’s here are books I want with me. Really want with me. This stack isn’t meant to impress anyone. It’s built purely on my desire to have just these titles with me, no matter what anyone might think.
And that reminds me of the big lesson in Alan Jacobs’s fantastic little book (which didn’t make my stack!), The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction:
“Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame. … Don’t waste time and mental energy in comparing yourself to others whether to your shame or gratification, since we are all wayfarers. … We should affirm the great value of reading just for the fun of it. … In my experience, Christians are strangely reluctant to take this advice. We tend to be earnest people, always striving for self-improvement, and can be suspicious of mere recreation. But God doesn’t just create, he takes delight in his creation, and expects us to delight in it too. … Reading for the sheer delight of it—reading at whim—is therefore one of the most important kinds of reading there is. … For heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens, or (shifting the metaphor slightly) some fearfully disciplined appointment with an elliptical trainer of the mind in which you count words or pages the way some people fix their attention on the “calories burned” readout—some assiduous and taxing exercise that allows you to look back on your conquest of Middlemarch with grim satisfaction. How depressing. This kind of thing is not reading at all, but what C. S. Lewis once called ‘cosmical and ethical hygiene.’ … So, the books are waiting. Of this you may be confident: they’ll be ready when the whim strikes you. ”