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On Reading and Writing – It’s What I Do

Writing and reading lovers might enjoy this.

We are all different, and we all have different gifts and talents. If you are a Christian, you know that these are given to us by God, and we should use them for his glory. Sometimes a unique gift or ability you have are to be used for Christ and the Kingdom, but sometimes you may be asked to give them up.

I think here of the committed Scottish Christian Eric Liddell whose story was made famous in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. He was born in China to missionary parents, but studied in the UK. He became a terrific runner and even competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. But he gave this up, returning to China in 1925 as a missionary, where he died 20 years later. He said he ran for the glory of God.

Often the abilities and talents that you had as a non-Christian are what God will have you make use of in Christian service. Before I became a believer I read a lot and I wrote a lot. Of course, I was reading a lot of stuff I now no longer embrace, and I wrote things (such as articles for underground newspapers) that I now no longer agree with.

But where did that talent or ability come from? I believe God gave it to me, and for a while, I used it for pagan purposes, but upon becoming a Christian God took those same talents and baptised them into his service. So something I always liked and was good at God used for his work.

Sure, I still often commit the ministry of CultureWatch back to God, telling him if he wants me to give this up and do something different, I am willing. Thus far it seems I am to keep going in the sort of ministry I now am engaged in. But a change, of course, is always possible, even in my old age.

Here I want to speak a bit more about reading and writing, by means of a few anecdotes and stories. Since I mentioned my own ministry, let me begin there. This will be my 6099th article posted here. Unless God has me do something different, and as long as I have good health and eyesight, I will keep writing – usually an article a day.

If each article averages around 1500 words, I am getting up to ten million words. I consider myself to be an OK writer, but there are many others who are far better than I am. But I use whatever abilities I have – like Liddell’s athleticism – for the glory of God. Speaking of writing articles, I like what Jonah Goldberg said in The Tyranny of Clichés:

“According to legend, when George Will signed up to become a syndicated columnist in the 1970s, he asked his friend William F. Buckley, Jr.—the founder of National Review and a columnist himself—‘How will I ever write two columns a week?’ Buckley responded (I’m paraphrasing), ‘Oh it will be easy. At least two things a week will annoy you, and you’ll write about them’.”

Hmm, I must be really annoyed then, given that I write a daily column! But as I just mentioned, mine are not anywhere as good as these two of course. But I thought that was one useful bit of advice. For me, just opening the morning newspapers (online or otherwise) usually provides enough fodder to write something about.

As to large personal libraries, while mine is around 8000 books, I am aware of others who certainly had more. When I first went to Trinity College in Chicago, I would often go to the Trinity Seminary library. If my memory is correct, the great American theologian Carl F. H. Henry donated his own personal library of 72,000 books to it.

And a former boss of mine, the late great B. A. Santamaria was said to have left a personal library of 30,000 volumes when he died. So my own collection is rather small compared to some others. And as I have said now and then, my one earthly desire would be this: to have a home big enough with enough bookshelves to store my entire library in one handy location, and not have my books scattered throughout every room in the house. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

As to personal libraries, and how nice they can be, let me discuss a few. You can see a video tour of the amazing library of pastor Rick Warren in this video: 

In stark contrast, you can see my smaller and much less beautiful library here:

Let me finish with a story about the noted intellectual and Christian Reconstructionist, Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001). He too had a huge library, and he wrote plenty of books and articles of course (I only have 13 of his books).

A while back on the social media Christian apologist Douglas Groothuis posted about Rushdoony and his library. He said this in part:

I visited Rushdoony in the summer of 1979 at his home in Valecito, California. I had taken classes at New College Berkeley and had just graduated with my undergrad degree from the University of Oregon. Mr. Rushdoony was generous with his time. I took notes on what he said. He showed me his voluminous library and offered to sell me a number of his books at a good discount. I took him up on that, although I didn’t have the money with me. I later sent a check and often contributed to his ministry, Chalcedon. Rushdoony wrote that his library and writing area was a mess because it was a sign of life and activity. It certainly worked for him, and works for me as well, although I am less productive. I wish I had the capacity to read and write that Dr. Rushdoony possessed. He did so almost entirely outside of the academy or of any well-established educational institution.

But Groothuis also linked to an article written by his son Mark Rushdoony called, “My Father’s Books.” Here is part of what he said:

While a student at the University of California Berkeley, my father routinely used his lunch money to buy used books, then commonly available for five or ten cents. . . . When my father found a permanent home in Calaveras County in 1975, construction was once again necessary, this time a detached 1,500-square-foot library building. Thus, considerable capital went into not just the purchase, but the housing and moving of what was, not a hobby, but a ministry necessity.

The library continued to grow. Trips were often followed by the delivery of boxes of books. Always on a budget, my father carefully examined discount book catalogs and selections on clearance at bookstores. Soon the library was full and the house began to fill up. Any other flat surface became a storage area. By his easy chair a stack of reading was piled high, each at various stages of completion. (He liked to read in multiple books at a time.)…

My father’s literary output was remarkable. This was largely due to first, his reading. I picked the four years I was in high school as an arbitrary sampling. In his work journal, he reported reading 879 books in the years 1969–1972, noting that these were those he had read “carefully and fully,” i.e., not those he had skimmed or read in part. A book was often skimmed quickly to evaluate its value. If he deemed it worthwhile, he read it more carefully, underlined it, and often made index notations with page references inside the back cover.

He continues:

Moreover, he never had a catalog of his books or their organization. They tended to be shelved wherever and however he could make room for them. After his passing, I had to move the books from his house into his library, necessitating a fair amount of reshelving. I made several dump runs of orange crates, planks and jerry-rigged shelving and replaced them with 22 seven-foot bookshelves to house them more efficiently. Books were essential to my father, but bookshelves were a luxury that was often improvised. Despite their hodge-podge arrangement, my father could usually find a book he needed. When he could not, he would offer us an incentive of ten cents to find a book he would describe in detail. Unfortunately for us, his wage never caught up with inflation on the increased difficulty of finding a lone book in his growing library.

In addition to his reading and memory, a third factor, his work ethic, pushed his productivity. He wrote because he felt it was his calling. He wrote manuscripts for which there was little prospect of publication. He wrote chapters for books and placed them in a file folder on the shelf. Many manuscripts I never knew existed until after his death… 

People have often asked me if it is true he read a book a day. At times, he probably did, but, from the numbers I have cited, it was not a typical pace. He could have done so if he had not had so many other responsibilities. His journals reveal that he also, for instance, answered upwards of 1,000 pieces of correspondence each year, and spoke scores of times a year, often flying cross-country, speaking or testifying at a hearing, then boarding a plane to return the same day. Many times he was home only for hours, long enough for Mother to wash and iron his clothes and feed him before he left again. You would think such hectic travel would be enough of an exertion, but travel days often appear in his journal as days he finished two, three, or four books. Again, always present was a ruler and the pencil.

You can read the entire article here.

There is so very much I can relate to here! From underlining important bits, to storing books wherever they can fit, to even having the kids help out now and then when a volume cannot be found. But I do have one minor disappointment with this article: nowhere does his son tell us how many books he had – obviously tens of thousands of books were involved.

Again, I am nowhere in the league of someone like Rushdoony, but it is fun to read about other like-minded folks with similar habits and interests. I like books – I cannot lie. And I like collecting books. But as I get older, the big worry is not finding enough time to properly read them all – and not having enough room in my house to store them all.

First-world problems perhaps, but still…