A Return
In Brian Wilson's Room (Or Making John Smile)

Judging Not By Covers

I recently inherited two boxes of approximately 75 books, old and mostly Christian books which my 84-year old stepfather managed to squirrel away from my almost 80-year old mother. My mother suffers from the early stages of dementia, or Alzheimers (we're not sure which), and sadly she is not reading much anymore. So he is cleaning out a bit of her library of books, books that meant a great deal to me when I was younger.

In the living room of my mother's modest home is a upholstered chair. It has a floral pattern to it, now fading, and I remember that as a young boy its curves fit me perfectly (not so, now.) I would curl up with a book in this chair and not be seen for hours. I read a lot of science-fiction. After all, I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club when I was eight. But lacking enough books, I also read books in her library. I remember a book about a mountain doctor, William Barclay's commentaries, World Book encyclopedias, and many, many Christian books by authors like William Wiersbe, Joyce Landorf, Elizabeth Eliot, and Billy Graham, among others. That's the thing about readers -- they will read anything available, even if it's not exactly what they would choose. At nine, Christian books by women weren't my first choice, but they were what we had. And they did me good.

Thus, opening the first of these boxes did bring back memories. There's the familiar smell of old paperback books which must have to do with age and dampness and ink and paper. It's the same everywhere. The covers are ragged in some cases, the pages browning. In some my mother has written her name in cursive -- the hand of a healthy woman in the middle of her life, with four children at home to care for -- and in others, nothing. In some there is underlining; others, blank page upon page, seemingly untouched. Like me, I wonder if some books were hoped for reads that she never got to.

Out of the 75 books I culled about ten that seemed to have some enduring value. In E.M. Bounds's classic, The Necessity of Prayer, I read of Bounds that "[a]s breathing is a physical reality to us so prayer was a reality for Bounds." That makes me want to read on, though perhaps my mother was too busy with childen to do so. In D.L. Moody's Prevailing Prayer,there is much underlining, and she even writes out the "Nine Elements Essential to True Prayer." She is learning and growing in her faith, and I smile thinking of how engaged with life she had to be at that point.

I picked up a book by Oswald Sanders entitled A Spiritual Clinic: Problems of Christian Discipleship, first published in 1958. Cost: 25 cents. I wondered if such discipleship problems were different in 1958 than they are almost half a century later. A review of the contents page confirms that there is nothing new under the sun, with chapters on suffering, despondency, prayer, determining God's will, and so on.

Two books by India missionary Amy Carmichael catch my attention. In Mimosa, she tells the story of a Hindu girl she watched come to faith and whose life she followed. First printed in 1925, the 1969 copy I held was the eighth edition. I conclude that eight editions probably makes it worth reading. In addition, Carmichael writes in simple yet beautifully descriptive prose. I suspect my children may enjoy this one. Another of Carmichael's books, Rose From Brier, also appears helpful -- "helpful thoughts for those who are ill," it says. As she had twenty years of illness, I suspect she knew what to say. I wonder if my mother read it during a time of illness?

Picking up Fritz Ridenhour's Tell It Like It Is, a faded and crinkled songsheet falls out, and I recognize that this is a book I bought while in college, and the songsheet is one from our Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship Chapter -- some of the first Christian songs other than hymns that I has sung. I wasn't going to bother with the book, with it's cartoonish cover and crew-cut topped Ridenhour on the back, and yet when I saw that the very first page was the poem "The Hound of Heaven," a classic poem of God's pursuit of His people, I decided to keep it.

The fact is, slickly packaged books may hide poor literature or bad theology, while old books with tattered covers and less than appealing typeface may contain gems of prose. Like my mother: At 80 she may be aging, forgetful, easily confused, and a bit fragile, and yet inside, deep down in her personal history, there are gems. I have to remember that. These books help.