Monday, June 30, 2008

Books: To Keep or not to Keep?

(Disclaimer: Not my bookshelf (ves)!)

My wife and I live in a two room penthouse apartment. Since we moved in we have been trying to figure out what to do with my books and how to make my study a place, well of study. Fortunately and unfortunately, my book collection is ever expanding to the point where 41/2 bookshelves are simply not enough, and the floor has been cluttered with even more books.

I guess I bring this up b/c tonight I rid myself of about 15 -20 books or so to clear space for those books that were beginning to resemble leaning towers on top of bookshelves. (Note to self: when you begin to stack vertically, there is a problem, Houston!) The process of ridding myself of these books was both anguishing and liberating at the same time. Questions such as, "How long has it been since I last looked at this book?"; and "How many intros to Jesus and the Gospels must I own?" (By the way, I am still considering the last question!).

So, I said all of this to ask for help. I still have a ways to go and would like to streamline my ever-growing collection even more.

What is your rule of thumb in what you keep and discard? How many commentaries of each biblical book do you keep on hand? I still have a long way to go in having a commentary for every biblical book. What are your ideas on lexicons, specifically how many and is the electronic route justification for alleviating the strain on the bookshelves in space and weight? What about your areas of specialization? I confess I probably own more books about Paul than anything else, with Jesus and Gospel books a fairly close second. Should one own many books in one area of specialization at the expense of others? Or should one concentrate on purchasing books in an area not as familiar in their research? What about expense? Is there a price to steep to pay? I have been good about not ever paying full retail for a book, but that is not saying much. It is much easier to do in a day where the internet offers a plethora of opportunities for discounts, along with SBL annual meetings and their good deals.

The other concern I have is this: Would I even be doing this if I had the space? Probably not, or as Paul would say μη γενοιτο. So, this is my cry for help, what should I do?


Byron said...


This is the paradox of book ownership. I clean out my stock about once a year, but not really. I try to buy only reference books now and only secondary sources that are key to my work. but there again, I tend to fail. Give up and get buried!

JM O'Clair said...

Matthew -- concerning lexica, you may be interested in reading here -- read all about having LSJ, in full, for free. As for BDAG, Accordance, Bibleworks, and Logos should to the trick. Although I cannot speak for Logos and Bibleworks so much, Accordance's BDAG is even paginated!

As for Hebrew lexica, BDB and HALOT, I'm sure, can be used on these programs as well.

Mason said...

I can very much sympathize with your ‘problem’, coincidently I also hit 4 ½ book cases recently as well (4 normal plus the shelves on my desk). I have cleared some books out, but not on a significant level, mostly just books I received from well intentioned grandparents who have a vague idea of what I’m studying.

One thing I have found helpful is buying my resources in digital format, both for ease of use and to save space. Personally I could not speak highly enough of Logos which is what I am using, and a number of very large sets that otherwise would take up a shelf or more can be found on it. For example I have commentary sets on it (Word Biblical Commentary, the New American Commentary, and the New International Greek Testament Commentary) as well as lexical resources like TDNT and EDNT, and the Church Fathers collection. Not only does the system save me a lot of space (and money) but the ease of use and tools available with the system make it worth far beyond its cost.

Outside of that though, pursuing theology and Biblical studies is a path that is inevitably going to require many books, so perhaps you ought to look for bigger bookcases…