Just imagine 2,000 ducks waddling around a big pond. Some wood ducks. Some mallards. Some plain white farmyard ducks. Some old. Some fluffy little yellow ducklings. And they’re all mixed up. Now imagine that it is your job to organize them by species and subspecies, and then line them up alphabetically by name – from Abby to Zach. How long do you think it would take you to get all your ducks in a row?
It took me two weeks. Except my ducks are books. And yes, I estimate Mim and I together have about 2,000 books . This number does not include my digital books (about a hundred) nor my books of piano and organ music (another couple hundred). And it doesn’t include our cookbooks (probably another hundred or so).
Mim and I both like to read, and over the years we have accumulated many books. Mim says a good book becomes a friend – someone that we may want to go back to again and again at different times in our lives. We’ve accumulated friends, not just books. It’s not easy to part with friends. It’s not easy to part with books. But sometimes we try.
Twenty-four years ago when we moved from Chicago to Cambridge, we went through all our book shelves and gave away several boxes of books, the books we were pretty sure we wouldn’t read again. That’s when we got rid of most of our textbooks. But never fear. We found new books to enlighten our minds and enrich our souls.
Eighteen years ago when we turned our farmhouse into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, one of our distinguishing amenities as a B&B was that we had a bookcase in every guest room. We wanted to have more than just a Gideon Bible in every room. We put a good selection of our favorite books in each room – devotional books, novels, biographies, coffee table style picture books, etc. Many of our guests picked up a book and enjoyed it during their stay with us. Some even asked to take a book home with them, and promised to return the book by mail when they finished reading it. We were happy to oblige – delighted to share our love of books.
Nine years ago when we moved from the farm to the condo we put hundreds of books in our down-sizing sale, but we still moved about twenty boxes of books with us to the condo.
We had my brother build a wall of bookshelves from the knee-wall to the ceiling along the hallway in the finished part of the basement. However, we never had time to organize our books. We simply unpacked the books and set them on the shelves in no particular order. We wanted to get everything out of boxes. Our plan was to organize the books later, when we had more time. That time never came. Whenever we wanted to pick up a particular book, we had to scan all the shelves until we found it. Sometimes we were successful. Sometimes we weren’t. And we spent a lot of time just looking.
So why did I decide to get my “ducks in a row” over the last couple weeks?
By the end of June, the time finally came for us to empty the last of our belongings from the farmhouse. That included twelve more boxes of books! When we turned the farmhouse into a B&B-style retreat center we intentionally built up a nice little library of mostly inspirational books for guests of Whispering Winds to use. Some of these books were duplicates of our personal favorites. Others were new books that we picked up at resale shops and second-hand book stores in Madison. Even though we brought the big bookcase and a couple smaller bookcases from the farmhouse to the condo this summer, we still didn’t have room for all our books. I had no choice. I had to organize and filter all the books or Mim would never be able to get her car in the garage again.
My first step in organizing 2,000-plus books was to go through all the books on the shelves in the basement, searching for our favorite authors: Max Lucado (34 books!), Philip Yancey (17 books), Frederick Buechner, Tony Campolo, Henri Nouwen, Edward Hays, and about a dozen other authors. I put these books in the big new bookcase (also built by my brother) that we moved from the farm to the living room of the condo, arranging the books by author and title. Then I went through the twelve boxes from the farmhouse, picking out the books of just our favorite authors, and inter-filing them on the shelves.
I put all the duplicates of these favorite authors in another bookcase – the one we designated for books to give to friends who may have an interest in a particular subject, author, or book. Mim often talks with friends about some of her favorite books. If the person is really interested in the book, Mim is happy to give them one of our duplicates – to keep permanently or to read and pass on to someone else. We don’t have a “lending library.” We have a “give-away library.”
When I accomplished this first step of organizing the books of our favorite authors, I was elated. Finally, after nine years, our favorites are now organized so that we can easily find them whenever we want to read or simply reference an idea in them again.
Then I carried the twelve slightly lighter boxes downstairs, to organize these books with all the rest of our eagerly-waiting-to-be-organized books. I decided on the following general categories (which reflects our reading interests pretty well):
- Bibles – old family Bibles and various newer translations (1 shelf)
- Daily Devotionals (1-1/2 shelves)
- Inspirational Stories (4 shelves)
- Religious (6 shelves)
- Biographies and Memoirs (3 shelves)
- Bed & Breakfast and Travel (1 shelf)
- Norwegian History and Humor (1 shelf)
- Humor (1 shelf)
- Dogs, Cats, and Other Animals (2 shelves)
- Caregiving and Personality Types (1/2 shelf)
- Health, Medical, and Alzheimer’s Disease (2 shelves)
- Death and Dying (1-1/2 shelves)
- Music Theory and Hymn Stories (1 shelf)
- Writing (1 shelf)
- Self-Improvement (1 shelf)
- Current Issues (2 shelves)
- Christmas (1-1/2 shelves)
- Picture/Coffee Table-style books (1 shelf)
- Fiction (7 shelves)
Using the 24 built-in shelves (six sections with four shelves in each section) plus five other bookcases downstairs, I was able to fit all the remaining books, each in its right place – the right bookcase, the right shelf, then alphabetically by author and title. By counting the average number of books on a shelf and multiplying that by the number of shelves, I estimate our library is now down to about 2,000 books. That’s after donating about ten boxes of books to St. Vinny’s.
When I described the process of getting all our “ducks in a row” in our home library to a friend, she asked how many of those books we have actually read. Mim answered, “All, except maybe an eighth of them.” That’s only about 250 books left to read. Fortunately, I’m sure we can find more books sitting in resale shops just waiting to become new friends when we need them.
So why do Mim and I think of some of these books as our friends? One book was one of my mom’s favorite novels. I feel a closeness to her whenever I pick up that book. Another book, OPEN HEART, OPEN HOME was written by Karen Mains, the wife of our pastor when we first lived in Chicago. That book prompted me to think about hospitality as something that should be an important element in my life. THE ECHO WITHIN by Robert Benson helped me think through my desire to write about ten years ago. ONE PERFECT WORD by Debbie Macomber got me started on the habit of coming up with a new word to focus on each year instead of coming up with New Year’s resolutions. JESUS CALLING by Sarah Young is a daily devotional that I’ve re-read at least four times. I’m reading it again this year after taking a couple years off. THE SHACK by William P. Young is a very weird novel that I read a few years ago when I had the flu. It made me think about the character of God more than anything else I’ve ever read. I’m sure I’ll read it again. All these friends have enriched my life in many ways.
I’d like to go on and on, telling you about more of these wonderful hardcover and paperback friends, now lined up like “ducks in a row,” but this blog post is already getting pretty long. I guess it’s time for you to tell me about some of the friends on your bookshelves.