In Praise of Books

Howton Grove Priory: unpacking the library
Howton Grove Priory: unpacking the library

After the oratory or place set aside for prayer and worship, the library is probably the most important part of any Benedictine monastery. Ours began with just a handful of books but has grown over the years, so that it now fills (or rather will fill) the calefactory (photo above), several other parts of the house and the garage. Thanks to a kind benefactor and some diligent saving on our part, we have been able to install some purpose-built bookshelves in the calefactory to house our most important theological works; so now the work of unpacking the library boxes can begin.

There is something very comforting about the presence of books. As we unpack each one, it is greeted like an old friend and welcomed onto its destined shelf. Books have personalities which go beyond their contents. The binding, the paper, the typeface, all convey so much, to say nothing of the pencilled marginalia which recall the efforts to understand, engage with or dispute the arguments of the author. It will be some while before the library at Howton Grove Priory is shelved and catalogued as it should be, but in the meantime, how good it is to have our books back among us!


15 thoughts on “In Praise of Books”

  1. Yes, books are comforting. Particularly those ones that are special and deserve reading all over again. I have many collections from childhood, including Dickens and Conan Doyle, books that get taken out, dusted off and re-read periodically.

    I have a number of more recent books including theology and many by Christian Writers. They are reflective tools to revisit as and when needed. Just comfortable to have around. 6 different versions of the bible as well – need a shelf of their own.

    Electronic books are OK for travel, but you just need the real thing to feel comforted.

    • I don’t think it’s either/or with digital books but both/and. We have an increasing library of digital books, but until the whole of the western theological tradition is available in digital form, we shall need physical books; and as a book designer myself, I am still thrilled by the beauty of some books (and cast down by the ugliness of others).

  2. Footnotes – every once in a while I’d spot ‘Deut 12:14’ neatly amended in pencil to ‘Deut 11:14’. The scrupulous care of the patient, thoughtful monk ensuring no one should fall into error, respecting the words of scripture as too precious to be misrepresented. That one of the minor glories of monastic life.

  3. Having just moved and got the house into enough order to put up the bookcases, I can completely relate to this. We too still have many boxes and stack’n’stores filled with them and are wondering where to put them all. And part of the fun is just getting the books out and placing them.

  4. What a lovely feeling to have one’s books out of the boxes and onto the shelves! The process of moving is always so jarring and stressful. that one of the first acts I do when moving is to get the books out first, even before more practical things like pots and pans!

  5. I have always found access to a good library a major asset to any of the places I have worked, from a steelworks in Motherwell to a Grade I* building in Belgravia, and agree with sentiments on the ‘very comforting about the presence of books’.

    But for how long will books remain a major source of the written word? And for the writer, is it all a matter of timescale? A book may take 18 months to write and a further with the publisher before it reaches the shelves. For a column in an academic journal, it is still a matter of weeks from submission of copy to receiving the printed version. But with blogging, as soon as ‘publish’ is pressed, the item is immediately accessible to anyone.

    Nevertheless, is the pleaaure in seeing one’s books in Blackwells or the Bodleian matched by that of a high ‘hit rate’ for the post on a blog? Perhaps it all depends how we view the various options now open to publishing.

    • That is something I’ve waxed eloquent about in the past. Personally, I see the future of academic texts, course books, learned journals, and so on, as being digital/online because of the need to publish for comparatively small markets and update frequently; poetry and novels, I’m less sure about.

      I did my first eBook back in the 1990s and was told ‘there’s no future in it’. I don’t think people would say that today. As to the immediacy of publishing online, that’s both a boon and a bane, but it will be interesting to see how it develops in our lifetimes.

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