Confessions of a Bibliophile

Harold Washington Library owl, image from

I have a problem with books. I cannot resist them.

The library is a refuge. Not a hangout like in college.

No, I am at peace walking through the aisles alone. Shopping titles. Dining on tables of contents. Being held rapt between stacks.

When we’ve moved to new cities, one of the first places I search out is a good public library. It’s easier to find than a good church. Quickly becomes like a second home.

(Once discovered, a good church does too.)

The huge owls perched on the acroteria of the 10-story Harold Washington Library in Printer’s Row were my guardians during our years in Chicago. Wise, familiar faces watching me arrive and depart on the train.

Now the headquarters branch of the St. Louis County Library shelters my son and I on our weekly pilgrimages.

And the books—they may be composed of dead trees, but they are alive to me.

The trend is electronic. But I like to physically hold the books in my hands. Turn the pages. Bookmark them with receipts, scraps of paper, bits of string.

The books feel earthy, grounded, solid. I breathe in deep and detect traces of turned dirt and soaked roots.

Blame my habit on my mother who introduced me to the High Point Public Library in North Carolina when I was in elementary school.

Empowered me with my own card. Let me check out books about whatever I wanted to read: dinosaurs, UFOs, Mary Quant.

image from

I remember the illustration of the lime green extraterrestrial giving me nightmares. I recall the section dedicated to electric blue in “Color by Quant.”

Indirectly, my mom taught me if I have a question, somewhere in a book there is an answer. Or, somewhere in a book there is an admission that there is no answer. At least not one we know yet.

Few goals in parenting are measurable in the short-term if at all. Instilling a love of books, however, cannot help but become apparent.

Early on I toted my child to the library. Empowered him with his own card. Let him check out whatever he wanted to read: dinosaurs, rodents, tsunamis, airplanes, Star Wars.

my son’s library stash

It didn’t take long for him to catch on.

Soon I couldn’t carry all he wanted to take home. We employed his little metal grocery cart. I figure this way he is responsible to carry his own load.

That’s what you learn at the library. To carry your own load. To be responsible for your own learning.

I still check out materials as well. Still gravitate toward non-fiction. Carry my own load. How? I don’t know when I consider the piles amassed at home.

It’s tragic really. I’ll never get to them all before they’re due.

There’s never enough time to read all the books. Same as there’s never enough time to spend with all the friends, plant all the flowers, cook all the recipes, sing all the songs, travel to all the places.

my library stash

But I keep those piles of books on hand. They are close when in spare moments I can indulge in their words. Theirs is a load I carry with pleasure.

All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. from Psalm 139:16 NIV

Today is where your book begins. The rest is still Unwritten

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25 Responses to Confessions of a Bibliophile

  1. You sound so very much like my daughter in this post. My daughter is home schooled and the sentences….”That’s what you learn at the library. To carry your own load. To be responsible for your own learning.”, are ones she too came to understand at the beginning of High School. She loves the feel and smell of a book. The older the better to her. Thank you for this post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. Libby

    My husband has threatened to buy me a Kindle several times as a birthday or Christmas present. I have flat-out refused and made him promise that he would never, ever get me any kind of eBook. Like you, I love the real thing too much!

    And speaking of milestones… I felt a rush of triumph when one day over spring break this year, I entered the living room of our house to my 6- and 9-year old each on a couch, nose in a book, reading to themselves. They may never learn much about cleaning or cooking from me, but if they grow up loving to read, I’ve done my job well. ;)

    So what’s on your reading/to-read shelf now?

    • Libby, if they grow up loving to read they can teach themselves about cleaning and cooking whenever they want to learn! :)

      The most interesting books in my stack right now are Slackonomics by Lisa Chamberlain, The China Study by Campbell & Campbell (it was recommended to me by a vegan friend), and The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terrorism by Garrett Graff… Lessons of a Lipstick Queen by Poppy King and Out of the Blue:The Story of September 11, 2001 from Jihad to Ground Zero by Richard Berstein of the NYTimes are interesting and in the stack too, only I’ve already read those before. Needed them as reference material for posts. Recommend both.

      What’s in your current or soon-to-be stack?

      PS: I can’t imagine going completely e-book, but I hesitate to say never to a Kindle. Amazon is taking over the world, you know…

      • Libby

        You are so right about teaching themselves! I remember how Karen Rheams from BSF used to tell me, “If you can read, you can cook.” Problem solved!

        Your book pile sounds much more impressive than mine… or at least more informative! Right now I’m reading a biography on Kay Thompson and also Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” Waiting on my shelf, in no particular order, are: “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls (author of The Glass Castle), “The Prodigal God” (Tim Keller), “The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes & Posner, kind of textbook-y), “Raising Resilient Children” (Brooks, Goldstein), “Home” (Marilyn Robinson, “Gilead” author), “The Time Travelers” by Linda Buckley-Archer (it’s a young readers book some other moms and I are reviewing for discussion and previewing for our kids), and Charlotte Bronte’s “The Professor” (only work of hers I haven’t read). I tend to alternate between fiction-memoir-academic.

        I’ll have to check into your list, haven’t read any of them but they sound fascinating–thanks for the recommendations!

        • Oh, I LOVE Karen Rheams! Thanks for quoting her. Anything she says is always welcomed here!

          Your list is pretty heavy too, Libby. And you have a pattern of alternating between genres. Nice…

          I really NEED to read more of the classics I missed in my Gen X school years. I adore this prof/author Susan Wise Bauer ( She writes about classical education. Her book The Well-Educated Mind is a gem for people like me who feel we might be lacking in the classics. It’s daunting to think of covering them in self-study, but in a way it’s freeing too.

  3. amummusing

    I enjoyed reading this. I feel very fortunate that our new local library is a real gem. It is in fact housed within the walls of an old church, which was scheduled to be demolished, so you could say it’s a church and a library in one. Check out this photo:,30828,en.jpg
    My kids are limited to just 6 books on their junior cards, but that’s probably a good thing since I have 3 kids, not all of them yet big enough to carry their own loads. There is little more important than books and reading.

    • Wow! Thanks for the link to the photo of your library, amummusing. That is exquisite. What a beautiful space.
      Three little kids times six books each, plus your own books… sounds like you have your hands full. How wise to keep the brains full as well with all that good reading. So sweet!

  4. So true! I’ve always loved school, the library, for one reason… books. I love just perusing, running my hands over titles, simply to enjoy the possibilities. Endless variety is at the touch of my fingers, and it will never go away. There’s no pressure. If I don’t like one book, I can return it and get a different one. I really enjoy reading your blog!

  5. Oh, I’m so much worse than you… I do love the library, but it doesn’t satisfy me. I need to OWN the books… I’ve been a book-hoarder since I could read. My mom used to dread any trips that lead us by a bookstore, because somehow I would lure her in, and she wouldn’t come out with a tab much under $100. Since I can’t get anything in Hungarian here at the stores, she ships me the new books she finished reading.
    I just wish the libraries here were 1) better stocked and 2) more accessible….

    • So you’re a buying bibliophile, CN? I understand.

      What went unmentioned in this post is my husband and I have nine boxes of books packed away in the basement between us. We’re in a temporary rental house now, so I hated to unpack and repack them all. And nine boxes is the culled down quantity! After I regretted purging my collection of works I later wanted to reference (see the post So Jong, It’s Right back in June), I’m afraid to let any more books go…. Amazon makes the habit easier to service.

      Don’t know if you have kids yet or ever plan to have them, but children’s literature adds another dimension of goodies to collect. My son has hundreds of titles and he’s only six!

  6. Ohh i am so with you! But i have to admit i don’t find the library i just buy them! As a little girl i always dreamed of a house with a room where the bookshelf’s are from one side to the other…. and yes i am still working on this but it is going well ;-)

    Thank you for you sweet comment and i’m glad you came by!


    • Hi, Leontien! So glad you visited. As a buying bibliophile, you’re in good company here (see comment from Chef Nusy). Welcome to the club. The room with wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling bookshelves is on the corporate wish list :)!
      Stay strong, L.

  7. I’m beginning to wonder if I might be a Bibliophile as well. I love books, words, shelves, libraries! –anything to do with the written word really. When I was in school I accidentally got locked up in the library a couple of times. I was always reading by myself in some quiet corner. Luckily it was always during the lunch break! :)

  8. I never thought that I would become a Kindle fan – I too, love books, but circumstances (living in China) have made my Kindle my lifesaver – lots of books available so quickly, at my mood, without the search for books in English. Great post.

    • Thanks, gkm2011. I can totally see where Kindle could be a lifesaver, as you wrote. The convenience of having books available to me whenever I want them and wherever I am makes me giddy. Hence, my hesitation to never say never e-books. Accessibility is a most treasured thing. How great we can enjoy reading both physical books and electronic books, at least for now.

  9. yep, me too on the book thing – K has put a moratorium on the book buying until I finish what’s on the shelf. The related problem is that I don’t want to get rid of the old one’s either -ha.
    Acroteria – good one – logging it in the vocab but will have to be creative to work it into a conversation : )

    • Acroteria… I learned a new word with this post too. Click on the link in the post to the Harold Washington Library wikipedia page to see where I found it in context. And to think I was going to call the owls’ roost a pediment!
      As for the moratorium on buying, there’s always the library :)!

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