Oxfam Bookstore Conversation: “The Pleasure of Ownership”

The feel of a hardback, the beauty of an older book sitting on shelf, the smell of the pages in an older book, and the sound of paper as you turn the pages all contribute to the cultivation of a love for reading.

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Per my wife’s leading, we place a high value on simplicity as a family. This looks different for each person and family, but essentially this means intentionally resisting all forms of clutter (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.). We don’t want to be bogged down with the unnecessaries of life. In the physical domain, this means that we limit our material possessions. However, this by no means implies that material possessions are bad or sinful. This idea would be more at home within ancient Greek philosophy (especially Plato’s metaphysics), not Christianity.

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That being said, I had an interesting conversation with a lady working at the Oxfam bookstore today in Morningside. I found three hardback books by Beatrix Potter (each 99 pence) and another hardback book by Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass) for 1.99 GBP. I was pumped. The Potter books made me really excited because she was one of the authors that influenced C.S. Lewis as is obvious by the talking animals in both Potter’s books and Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. I mean, who doesn’t love Mr. and Mrs. Beaver?

I grabbed the books and went to check out. I then struck up a conversation with the lady behind the checkout counter. I told her that I was shocked by how good their prices were for these classic hardbacks. I proceeded to explain to her that Potter’s books influenced Lewis and that we, just like Lewis’ parents, want nice hardback books in the house that our children can pick up at any time. In the course of the conversation, we discussed digital books. I definitely read digital books from time to time. Quite often, it is cheaper to do so (unless you find a great used book store) and it can prevent the unnecessary clutter of books you might want to read but don’t care enough to keep around the house. That being said, I shared with the lady that digital books do not impart to our children a love of reading. She then used the brilliant phrase “the pleasure of ownership” to express what I was trying to put into words. In light of the simplicity we pursue as a family, we might be reluctant to use such a phrase. Howver, I think she is right. The feel of a hardback, the beauty of an older book sitting on shelf, the smell of the pages in an older book, and the sound of paper as you turn the pages all contribute to the cultivation of a love for reading. As my wife and I have discussed, we want our children to be lifelong learners.

C.S. Lewis once said that no book in his house was off-limits when he and his brother were children. No matter how nice or how old the book was, his parents allowed them full access. Looks like it turned out quite well for him. All of this to say that the “pleasure of ownership” can be an integral tool in the hands of parents when it comes to developing in our children a love for reading and learning. However, if our house is overrun with plastic toys and material possessions, the nice books won’t stand out. So, what do we want our children to value? And are we willing to do what it takes to create the kind of environment that is conducive to the values that we pay lipservice to?

Food for thought.

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