This post is to point you over here to Simcha Fisher’s creative blog post documenting the last books her parents read before they died.
Thanks to my friend Natalie for thinking to share this post with me.
The way in which Simcha takes note of her parents’ last reads or, at least, the books that adorned and surrounded their bedside tables attests to the way in which a personal library is a reflection of a person’s soul.
This reminds me of Anne Fadiman’s splendid chapter on “Marrying Libraries” in her book Ex Libris in which she reflects amusingly, “After five years of marriage and a child, George and I finally resolved that we were ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation.”
I am also reminded of Fr. James V. Schall’s insistence on the importance or building a personal library.
When we move or build, we should look for places to keep our collected books and printed matter. Read books are a precious item. No one else will ever read a book quite the same way that we do. Books can speak in many different ways, even at different times in our own lives. I always assign what I consider fine and great books to my students, books that are worth reading again and again. I would be ashamed to assign to a student a book that I did not think worth keeping. I have myself read Aristotle and Plato and Aquinas and Chesterton many, many times—finding something new in each reading. Furthermore, at different times of my life, I have seen things in these works that I could not have seen when I was younger.
Thus, I conceive a personal library to be composed of books we have read again. I consider a book that we have read to be part of our memory, something we can quickly go back to, something we can look at again when a problem or controversy arises. Often we know that we have read the precise argument we need.
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. I do not mean here the technical books of a given discipline that quickly become out-of-date, though even these preserve a certain history. Rather, I mean those books which explain things, that touch on the truths of our being, that reach to what is.
As Simcha’s post shows, a personal library is not merely an individual possession; it can also be a remnant of a person’s values, quest, and character.