Books on Culture: Finishing up Booked by Karen Swallow Prior
Recently, a friend visited our home and was drawn to the living room with its shelves of books.
“You can tell a lot about a person from the books they read,” she said.
She ran her finger along rows of spines—stopping now and then to tilt one out, study the cover, then slip it back in place.
I watched her browse rows of unrelated titles and wondered aloud, “What do these say about me?”
She grinned across the wide expanse of our built-ins. “I guess more than anything, they say that you love books.”
Booked has given us chance to peek at Karen Swallow Prior’s shelves and learn what her collection says about her. Clearly she loves books—and wants us to love them, too. Weaving the stories of books through the stories of her life, she invites us into intimate places of her soul and gives us instructive elements—woven in so naturally we feel as if we’re chatting across her dinner table—that enliven and deepen our understanding of classic books and poetry…and ourselves.
This week, as we wrap up our discussion of Booked, we are treated to more of this same skillful weaving of life and story. In Chapter 11, Prior cites samples from poems by several writers, including Matthew Arnold, who writes of loss of faith and hope. Prior explains that while her own faith in God remained uninterrupted throughout her life, she has in fact felt doubt through Arnold’s poetry. And, unexpectedly, the poetry of doubt helped grow her faith—leading her to invite Christ into her mind as well as her heart…something she resisted over the years. Repentance, she says, “means a change of thinking, not just a change of heart.” She asked God to help her change. And He did. Through books.
In Chapter 10, Prior illustrates how tender the practical side of love can be. She describes an unlikely Christmas gift from her husband: a wheelbarrow. He knew what would bring her delight: an extra-light, high-capacity model that rolls smoothly without tipping. The wheelbarrow, she confirms, was perfect for someone who cares for horses and chickens each day. And we see the beauty of love lived out in the mundane of everyday life.
[L]asting love is less like a dinner with candlelight and red roses and more like a wheelbarrow given on Christmas morning. Or like a compass.
Prior explains that the poet John Donne also used a mundane, everyday object—a compass—to describe the real, enduring love of his marriage, “one based in firmness, justness, perfection in the sense of completeness not freedom from flaws.” In marriage, Donne knew, as Prior has also learned, a transcendent experience with eternal implications plays out in “the nitty-gritty of everyday physical intimacies.”
I have felt this same kind of real, enduring love from my own husband in the simple, practical, nitty-gritty ways he is attuned to my needs. For example, he unquestioningly supports my love of books. This man who rarely reads married a woman who quite possibly owns more books than the small town library of her childhood. He knows how characters in stories served as friends; how authors of nonfiction served as mentors throughout my life; and how God used books—including most centrally His written Word—to fill and form my mind and soul. My husband honors and celebrates that, making space for them in our lives, quite literally, by building shelves to house them.
I continue to acquire more—and God continues to use them in my life. In fact, I still don't quite have enough shelves to hold them all. But my husband might take on the mundane task of shopping for wood this summer. Because he knows that the woman who loves him—the woman he loves—loves books. And she needs another shelf.
Want to join the discussion? If you are reading along and post on Booked on your blog, drop the link in the comment box. Or just leave your thoughts here. This completes our discussion of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. Thanks for joining us. For the discussion on chapters 1-3, click here. For chapters 4-6, here. 7-9 are here. Our book discussion in the month of February will be on Tim Keller’s latest: Every Good Endeavor. Next week, on Feb. 4th, we'll cover the introduction. I hope you'll join us!