I love to read. Since I’m mostly blind, I listen to a lot of audio books and magazines. If I want to read something that isn’t already in an accessible format, I have to scan it and use a software program that translates the printed material into something my screen reader can “read” to me.
The truth is, there’s so much reading I want to do; but I don’t have time to get to it all. But these aren’t the problems with books I’m thinking of as I write this.
Not everybody feels the same way I do about books. For example, my wife seldom reads anything. As distressful as this is to me, I’ve gotten used to it.
Aside from that, I had an eye opening experience in the spring of 2014 pertaining to the place of books in our lives as a society. My wife and I ran into more difficulty than I anticipated when trying to find good homes for the books in a friends unique and eclectic collection.
Allow some background on what was one of the saddest experiences I’ve had in years.
My good friend Gerald died in October of 2014, a little over two years after having a mild stroke and heart attack. A slow form of cancer finally took his life. He was 79.
My wife and I became his caretakers upon his choosing, since family lived a few hundred miles away. His last two years were spent living in an apartment, a much better situation than the run down trailer he had been living in.
Gerald was ready to go to heaven and let go of his worldly possessions. In the spring of 2014 he authorized my wife and me to sell the possessions and property where he had been living before his health crisis in 2012. The auction took place in April and brought in enough money to cover funeral expenses a few months later.
Through his nearly eight decades of life, Gerald accumulated thousands of books. Most were in a 10′ x 20′ outbuilding. Others were in the trailer he lived in. Even after we culled a hundred or more books in the worst condition, enough remained to fill the shed’s shelves and long tables..
Gerald read about everything. A used book dealer described this eclectic collection as very unique. Few subjects were left out. Nearly all the books were nonfiction.
The book dealer, who only bought a couple dozen books, told us books don’t sell well, especially if they’re older. Besides, he said people can find similar info online. Others we spoke to said the same thing.
But I’m sure many of Gerald’s books wouldn’t have been online, or they’d be hard to track down at best, in spite of what’s on Amazon and in rare bookstores.
A volunteer from the friends of our library, which is in a town of 100,000, said they had no interest in nonfiction books. The friends group is run by retired, elderly ladies, and they had no interest in going out to take a look at the books. Nor would they heft any boxes of them if they did want any for their annual book sale.
I tried putting an appeal on a book swap site I belong to, but I filled something out incorrectly, and the announcement didn’t go where it should have. Based on my correspondence with the forum’s moderator, there wasn’t a way I could have gotten past certain of the site’s restrictions anyway.
To try entering those books one by one on that site or on eBay would have been a horrendous undertaking.
A fair portion of Gerald’s books were Bible study and Christian books. Many were on prophecy, particularly Daniel and Revelation. Some books focused on a dispensational view of theology–a view which has received unfair and inaccurate assessments in recent years.
Other books dealt with the doctrines of grace–election and predestination. Well known authors of past decades from reputable seminaries and ministries were represented on numerous Biblical topics.
Of all the books amassed in the shed, I was most concerned that these Christian works find good homes. But I met with complete apathy. I can’t tell you how sad and angry this made me.
I contacted two Bible believing churches in our area which I’ve attended at various times over the years. One never followed up on my phone call to the pastor. The other never acknowledged my e-mail. I contacted a Bible college two hours distant from us. Again, not so much as an acknowledgement of my e-mail, which was specifically directed to a certain faculty member. My e-mail to a Christian radio station also garnered no interest in the books whatsoever.
At the property auction, someone bought the whole book collection for $5. Talk about disgusting and humiliating! However, upon inquiry, we were told the buyer wouldn’t just throw them all away. At least that’s some small consolation. It would have made me heartsick for sure if we’d been forced to pitch them ourselves, for lack of a better outlet.
Before the books were removed, my wife and I went out for a look at the Christian books. I took a few, and we set aside several volumes for a church rummage sale. I told my wife the church didn’t deserve them because they were among those who showed no interest. They got several, but I wonder if they tried selling them, or if they ended up in a dumpster.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t take many more of the precious Christian books for myself, space is one constraint. But I face a greater limitation because of my bllindness.
As noted above, modern technology makes it possible for me to put printed material into accessible form, but it’s a rather laborious task. On the other hand, to indict myself, maybe that’s like complaining that it takes too long to heat a cup of tea in the microwave as opposed to over a campfire.
Years ago, when I was in Bible college, I was fortunate enough to have some of my textbooks recorded on cassette. But when the organization who recorded those tapes upgraded to digital audio files, an awfully lot of cassettes didn’t make the cut. Besides, they don’t care to read religious materials any longer.
The few Christian audio libraries for the blind have a large amount of Christian fiction available, but to find truly good Bible study materials in their limited collections calls for discernment.
Maybe it’s all for the best though. What if people had shown an interest in Gerald’s Bible study books? They’d have learned something about that controversial book, the Bible. They would have begun to think on their own. Heaven forbid, they might have challenged their pastors and elders on a touchy subject. We can’t have that now, can we?
In Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, books were outlawed. Firemen were sent to burn them. Truth was effectively bottled up.
We might as well have the same thing going on today. No, we don’t need official book banning or censorship to accomplish it. We’ve done it to ourselves. The Internet, smart phones and social media have combined to tear us from books and rewire our brains.
I understand many people do read a considerable amount of material, both electronically and in print. But what are we reading? Does it merely serve as entertainment or escape? How much soul edification takes place?
I heard a great thought about books from an Internet marketing guru, ironically enough. He said a book is a wonderful way to express a body of thought in one place.
I’m convinced that the more ideas and info we have at our disposal, the better we’ll be equipped with a mindset for surviving the insanity the world throws at us.
And where do many of those ideas come from?
Books, of course.
What if we don’t have the Internet forever? All those books on e-readers and smart phones won’t be available when there’s no content available and no way to charge up the batteries.
I heard a news item once where a teacher suggested teaching children in school how to read material from print–separate from online material. Children and young adults no longer have capacity to read content of much length.
Sad, isn’t it? Or it should be if you’re into books at all.
And, if you’re not into books, why not? What do you and I have in common? What is there to talk about? If you’re not actively working to expand your mind, why should I want to know you?
Instead of calling this piece “The Problem with Books,” perhaps I should have entitled it “The Problem with People Who Don’t Read Books.”