For the Love of Books

I am a bookcat, not a bookworm. As Lauren Leto proposes in Judging a Book by Its Lover, “Who decided that the equivalent of a person who reads often is a filthy, writhing, grub?” Besides, my wife likes cats much better than worms.

Our recent trip to England was a week well-spent, but it is a good thing that I had my wife with me and that we flew RyanAir. Otherwise, I might still be sitting in some bookshop or may have spent a year’s salary on books to bring back. England has good bookstores, at least in Oxford and Cambridge.

Our first was Heffers in Cambridge. It was a large bookstore with a great game section—Europeans have the best board games—and floors of books. It even had the Loeb Classical Library in paperback. The religion section was robust and strongly Anglican with many titles by N.T. Wright.

Next, was the historic Cambridge University Press bookstore. I bought a small Book of Common Prayer (1662) there. Cambridge University Press is the “Queen’s printer” and publishes the BCP under royal patent.

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Oxford had three bookstores we toured. The Oxford branch of Waterstones, a chain bookstore in England, boasted four stories of solid bookishness. Oxford also has a university press known for their dictionaries. Fortunately, I had recently acquired a compact Oxford English Dictionary so the temptation was low there.

The crown jewel of bookstores on our trip was Blackwell’s. It is also a chain, founded in 1879, and the Oxford store on Broad Street is the original and flagship store. The Norrington Room in the basement houses, amongst other things, the religion section. They have a nice panning 360 of it on their virtual tour. (Can I make that my desktop or screensaver?) It was the only bookstore we visited twice on our trip.

It’s hard to explain the emotional reaction of being in a shop with such a solid and expansive selection of books I care about—and no Joel Olsteen in sight! That I escaped with only two Oxford World’s Classics editions from this place should be revered as a saintly feat of self-control and denial.

They had church history that spanned shelves and was mostly primary sources—Eusebius, Augustine, Bede, Aquinas, and dozens more. An end-cap was dedicated to titles from Cistercian Press, whose titles I have come to appreciate deeply in recent years. The philosophy section had the complete History of Philosophy by Copleston, an iconic work in the field and for me personally.

There is just something about being surrounded by great books, books that I appreciate and have read and want to read. On those rare occasions I walk into a library or bookstore like this, I feel like a cat on a comfortable perch in the sunshine. All is right and there is satisfaction in my world knowing that these places exist. I try to make my own library such a place as well.

Books are more than information, more than words on paper to me. At least some of them are. They are signposts along my journey, maps pointing out my route, where I have been and where I hope to go. They are reminders not only of the truths within them, but of times and places where I encountered them.

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