Most prized books
People who know me know that I am a bibliophile. I’ve been collecting books since childhood. But bowing to my family’s complaints about the distribution of my collection in my hometown, I’ve made great efforts and worked hard in the last couple of years to reduce my book collection. My family kept pressing the questions, What is to become of my books if I die overseas? and, what about the cost? In fact, it’s true that the cost of storage is greater than the value of the books. That’s true of all libraries. Think about it. The cost of constructing a library building, then maintaining it, heating/cooling it plus other utilities, paying taxes on the land, paying for insurance and the salaries of those who work in the building. The cost of storing the books (and other materials) is far greater than the cost of producing/acquiring/replacing them. So under pressure, in recent years I have redistributed almost 500 books in Japan, and in Canada I have redistributed over 3,500 during my last two trips home. I hope that one more trip home, and another redistribution of another 3,500 books ought to bring my collection down to a more manageable size - about 1,000 hardcover books. I will not eliminate my library. No, I will always have many books, and at least for the foreseeable future my family will always feature in my plans for dealing with them.
Apart from being useful as well as symbolic, print books are a good interior decoration. They augment the home and give a good impression because they are physical works of art. As a physical object and a feat of technology, the printed book is hard to improve upon. Apart from minor cosmetic tweaks, the form has barely evolved since the codex first arose as an appealing alternative to scrolls around 2,000 years ago.
I know it’s wrong to be judgmental, but if I see a home without any books in it I quickly form a negative opinion. I am unimpressed to the point of anger by individuals who sing the praises of their e-readers, or other online digital material, and of schools who vacuously boast that they use an “online library resource.” Freaking morons!
As a physical object and a feat of technology, the printed book is hard to improve upon. Apart from minor cosmetic tweaks, the form has barely evolved since the codex first arose as an appealing alternative to scrolls around 2,000 years ago.
The decision to redistribute most of my library - almost 90% of it - forces me to make decisions about what to keep and what not. I have to decide what is dearest to me, and why. With redistributions already in progress, my collection is increasingly refined around three foci: Bibles, Shakespeares, and dictionaries. Currently, I have about 50 Complete Works of William Shakespeare, over 50 English dictionaries, and well over 600 Bibles in different languages and editions. I guess I’m interested in the World of God in many forms. First, many people think, what good are these books?, by which they mean What use are they? Second, many people think (wrongly) that you only need one copy of a book and that is enough. All dictionaries are the same, so you only need one. Shakespeare doesn’t change, so if a person wants his Complete Works, then one is enough. And, Bibles are all the same, so one is sufficient. It would take me pages of writing to explain why this thinking is wrong! Most people probably don’t know the difference between a pew Bible, a Family Bible and a pulpit Bible. It’s not helped by the fact that many churches now don’t have traditional pulpit Bibles, and pastors instead often use their convenient pew Bibles when standing at the pulpit. And, of course, more and more people use digitized Bibles on their computers or digital device.
Here are some of my most prized books. Many of them are facsimiles.
1. My most prized book of all is the 2018 Taschen facsimile of the complete Gutenberg Bible in 2-volumes. It was expensive, and I knew I should have saved my money for doctors’ appointments I had the same week, but when I saw it I knew I had to have it. The Gutenberg Bible is also known as the “42-line Bible.” It’s true. I counted them. 42 lines.
2. My second most prized book is a facsimile of the complete Codex Sinaiticus. That’s also, by far, my most expensive book. I’d like to think that being expensive means it is also valuable. But it doesn’t mean that. Because it’s a facsimile rather than the original it’s value might actually be close to zero. Of course, there is only one original copy of the Codex Sinaiticus, and it is priceless.
3. I also have facsimiles of the 1526 William Tyndale New Testament
4. the 1611 King James Bible (400th anniversary commemorative)
5. the 1537 Mathew’s Bible (a.k.a. the Coverdale Bible)
6. and the 1560 Geneva Bible.
7. The Holy Bible: King James Version (Leatherbound), 2012, is another 400th anniversary commemorative book. It’s beautiful.
8. I have a red, 1953 New International Version pulpit Bible which is absolutely fantastic! I’d wanted a pulpit Bible for a long time, but they are quite expensive, you know. Then one day, on vacation in my hometown, I came across this NIV pulpit Bible at a thrift store. Since high school I’ve enjoyed cruising thrift stores. It cost only $30 because of some water damage in the middle somewhere. I was shown the water damage, but it was negligible. The book was in first rate condition. Maybe it was sitting under a leaky roof, or maybe a reader was sipping from a glass of water and accidentally spilled some. Who knows? For a true collector, even the smallest damage can seriously impinge the value of a book, but in this case that was a ridiculous concern. The book is fantastic!
9. I have my family’s 1850 Family Bible. It’s huge. It’s in excellent condition. It’s also as heavy as an ox with its thick wooden boards. Although it’s a Family Bible, no notes about marriages, births and deaths are recorded in it, as if it was only a home decoration. Because it’s so old some people might think it’s valuable. But it’s not really, because Bibles like this are not rare. They were printed in the millions, many of which still exist.
10. I have a copy of the 1992 Good News Arabic Bible, a.k.a. The Ecumenical Version. It is not valuable. I just think it’s neat to look at the text of the Bible in Arabic.
11. In addition, I have some North American indigenous language Bibles. Again, they are not valuable. I just like the look of them. I have the Bible in Navajo and Lakota, and I have the New Testament in Western Plains Cree and Eastern Arctic Inuktituk.
12. I have four or five copies of the 1968 Norton Complete Works of William Shakespeare 1st Folio. They are difficult to read, but beautiful to look at. Works of printed art. In fact, the beauty of print books often features in my attraction to them.
13. Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Leatherbound Classic Collection). It’s beautiful. Complete Works of Shakespeare are one of the categories of books I collect. I have about fifty copies in different editions. But this leatherbound Classic Collection edition is a beautiful thing.
14. The Alexander Text of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (1975). This is an unexceptional student’s edition of Shakespeare, but I like it because I asked my parent for it as a Christmas present when I was in high school, and they got it for me. I remember being really excited. I’m still excited by it. My copy still has the original green and blue dust cover, which makes it more valuable.
15. I am also very fond of my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. I have several copies of that.
16. But I have only one copy of the Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia.
17. I have several copies of the 1935 Septuagint by Alfred Rahlfs - Septuagint Id Est Vetus Testamentum Graece Iuxta LXXX Interpretes. I have both the single volume and the 2-volume editions. I have other copies of the Septuagint as well, from different publishers. But I like the Alfred Rahlfs edition. Because I studied Greek in university I can read it a little, but it hurts my brain. I can’t understand what I am reading. I can only pronounce the letters. But that’s something, anyway.
18. and several copies of the Biblia Sacra Vulgata, the Vulgate of St. Jerome, in Latin.
19. I have three facsimiles of the Luther Bible of 1534, two of them are the lovely 2-volume set by Taschen.
20. I have a facsimile of the Biblia Germanica: Die Bibel in Der Deutschen Ubersetzung Martin Luthers Ausgabe Letzter Hand of 1545.
21. I have a magnificent copy of the Atlas Maior of 1665, also by Taschen, showing how the world was pictured at that time.
22. I have a facsimile of A Chronicle of the Crusades, 1474, by Sebasuen Mamerot, another Taschen book.
23. I have two copies of the 1934-39 Holy Qu’ran Text, Translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. I have many copies of the Qu’ran, but the Yusuf Ali edition is particularly famous.
24. I have a facsimile of Samuel Pepys’ copy of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, published by Magdalene College, Cambridge University in 1972.
25. Dictionaries are one of the kinds of books I collect. Like my Shakespeares, I have about fifty English dictionaries. But my prize is a facsimile of A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson (1785), printed in 1979 by Times Books, London.
26. The Complete Works of Michelangelo by Charles De Holnay (1966). This is a huge book that my parents kept in their sitting room when I was growing up, and I always coveted it. I think I was just impressed by its size. A few years ago, I asked my mother if I could have it, but she said she had just given it to her church bazar a few months earlier! I was only a few months late. But wait! That book sells for between $100 and $400 and she gave it to her church bazar sale where it would probably have sold for a few dollars at most. That’s why you can’t trust your aging parents with book-related things. They don’t know the treasures they have in their homes, and what things are worth. I went out to a used bookstore in my hometown, found the book, and bought it. I’m so happy I have it, and I will take better care of mine than Mom did hers.
27. I have a facsimile of the most mysterious book in the world, The Voynich Manuscript (Yale, 2016).
28. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s (the Jehovah’s Witnesses) book Man’s Search for God. A thin, red, hardcover book given to me by a former girlfriend many, many years ago. She and her family attended one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conventions that are held every summer, and she brought it to me as a gift. I keep it because there is a message to me written in her own hand inside the front cover. I think of it as providential that when I began redistributing large amounts of books from my storage unit in 2017 I stuck my hand in the nearest box at the door and this was the first book I retrieved. I knew I had it, although I hadn’t set eyes on it in years. I re-read the message and was reminded of the Bob Dylan lyrics:
I once held her in my arms
She said she would always stay
But I was cruel\
I treated her like a fool
I threw it all away
So if you find someone that gives you all of her love
Take it to your heart, don’t let it stray
For one thing is for certain
You will surely be a-hurtin’
If you throw it all away.
29. I am fond of my Webster’s International Dictionary, 2nd Edition (1943). I have several large dictionaries - the sorts of books that were the official library reference dictionary on a turntable in the middle of the reading room when libraries used to have them. I have never acquired my ultimate dictionary prize, The Complete Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. I could certainly afford it (as a used print edition), but I simply have no space for it. I have several different editions of Abridged OEDs, but not the legendary 24-volume Complete OED set. As a substitute I have the Webster’s. A fond, happy, proud memory of mine is the time in high school when I signed out the library’s reference dictionary. The librarian tried to convince me to take a smaller dictionary, of which many were available. But I insisted on checking out the giant reference book, which I was only allowed to keep out for the night. I was proud that I was the only student whose name appeared on the file card in the back cover. Ever since then I wanted a similar dictionary for myself. Now I have several.
30. The 11-volume Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant, published between 1935 and 1975. I first met Will Durant’s books during Grade 11 History with Mr. Paton. For several years they were my first resource for history papers. Later, I found that the father of the girl who gave me the Jehovah’s Witness Book Mankind’s Search for God, had a complete set in their house. I was very impressed. I wanted a set myself. It took a few years to find a set, but when I was ready the Sunrise Used book store in my hometown easily supplied them.
31. I have a 51-volume set of the Harvard Classics, given to me by my mother’s parents when I was a boy. I don’t know if 51-volumes is a complete set, but I’ve always thought so, because that’s how my grandparents presented it to me. I think that was the origin of my book collecting, and even now the Harvard Classics set is the anchor of my library. My set is old. The hard covers are worn and look brown. I think it might be a severely faded red.