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Picky reader

Packing up your life and moving has never been my favorite thing to do, and as I slowly whittle away at our book collection, I’m glad that we sold a lot of them to used bookstores like Half-Price. Over the years, I’ve become intensely picky about the books I buy out of necessity (lack of shelf space) and have developed a criteria which I’ve used to weed out my book collection.

1. Can you find it in the library?

The public library is one of the greatest inventions, ever. And King County has one of the better library systems in the United States. Thousands upon thousands of books available to me — for free! You can’t beat free!

Because of this, I’ve sold most of my fiction and a lot of my non-fiction that I enjoyed but didn’t make it into any of my top lists. Libraries are not going away any time soon (I hope), and maybe a reliance on the library will help motivate me to provide more support for the library systems around me. Plus, there’s no reason to try and overlap our collections — the public library ninety-nine times out of a hundred will do a better job than I will with my limited income. Better to focus our resources on building a library that really reflects who we are as a family, which leads me to my next criterion.

2. Can you buy it easily?

Because I can find most books I want in the library, I keep only keep the ones that I really like (Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, for example), and when I do go peruse the bookstore, I try to find things that are rare. Trawling through the clearance sections of used bookstores, for example, can often procure amazing treasures that you can’t find anywhere else. If you can buy a book at Barnes and Noble or Borders or Amazon easily, then you can probably find it at the library. The last few books I’ve purchased have mostly been from either academic presses or independent publishers. That way, any book I own I can genuinely justify by citing the fact that they may actually be rare someday, and by keeping them in good condition, I extend the shelf life of knowledge.

Through these two criteria, I’ve managed to whittle the book collection down by quite a bit, but apparently by not enough.


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Judaism for Everyone – Book Review

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of Judaism for Everyone.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of Judaism for Everyone.

I recently finished Judaism for Everyone: Renewing Your Life Through the Vibrant Lessons of the Jewish Faith by Shmuley Boteach. The back of the book consisted of quotes from the book on various topics, and the following quote on suffering caught my eye:

Too many religions emasculate mankind, asking us to bow our heads and accept God’s justice in the face of suffering. But the word Israel means ‘he who wrestles with God.’ We have a right to shake the heavens and spar with God whenever the innocent suffer.

What an interesting statement! So I checked it out and began to read earnestly. I left the reading experience feeling conflicted and slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good book and if you’re interested in theology, especially Jewish philosophy, this book does a fantastic job getting into the mind and thinking process of an Orthodox Jew. But I had dived in, hoping for a treatise on philosophy and theology, when in reality Judaism for Everyone is less a handbook on how you can incorporate Jewish concepts into your life and more an apologetic text for Judaism.

On the one hand, it’s a book full of sweeping over-generalizations and platitudes, but it wouldn’t be apologetic, religious, devotional literature without them, right? But for every claim that made me raise an eyebrow, Boteach still walks down some interesting roads. he admits that religion is a crutch for many, but then moves onto how “real religion begins where human limitations end” (p. 42). He talks about Judaism’s purpose of bringing heaven down to earth, rather than forsaking earth to climb to heaven. The chapters on suffering, prayer, and the kosher laws especially bring out very different insights for my thoroughly Christianized mind. The book is a great apologetic text for orthodox Judaism, and along the way you can glean some pretty fascinating concepts:

In Judaism, however, suffering is anything but redemptive. It leads to a tortured spirit and a pessimistic outlook on life. It scars our psyches and brings about a cynical consciousness, devoid of hope. Suffering causes us to dig out the insincerity in the hearts of our fellows and to be envious of other people’s happiness. If individuals do become better people as a result of their suffering, it is despite the fact that they suffered, not because of it. Ennoblement of characters comes through triumph over suffering, rather than its endurance (p. 197).

Or this gem on reciting prayers:

Many have complained that the rigidity of a set prayer book is stultifying and impedes individual concentration. They object to having to pray in a foreign language rather than their mother tongue, and they protest at having a fixed text composed of words that were consecrated and written thousands of years ago. My student tells me that they would rather take a banjo out into the fields and “sing a new song to the Lord” that is both personal and spontaneous. They feel stultified and uninspired in having to pray from a prepared text.

Their objects miss a crucial point. The great secret of Jewish prayer is that it is not about talking, but listening; not about beseeching, but imbibing. We awaken in the morning and pray to God, not so much to praise Him as to listen to the beautiful words that remind us of His omnipresence and that it is to Him that all terms of endearment should be offered (p. 131).

And another interesting quote of him defending the famous Mormon motto “modest is hottest”:

Modest dress is a good example. A woman who dresses modestly elicits great passion from her husband simply by undressing. The rule is simple: If a man does not wish to undress a woman in his mind first, he will not wish to undress her with his hands. Modest dress, a form of concealment, inspires lust and desire, in short, eroticism. Erotic obstacles are essential to the maintenance of seduction and passion.

Despite how much Mormons love to compare themselves to Judaism, much of his book is devoted to the philosophical differences between Christianity and Judaism and how those philosophies translate into cultural practice. Some of Boteach’s criticisms of Christianity will no doubt trouble many a Christian, even Mormons, and some of his writings, especially on suffering, will severely challenge the basic assumptions of Christian faith. Though you can tell he’s trying to be impartial, sometimes Boteach’s disdain for some of Christianity’s concepts show through the words. However, his criticisms against Christian culture hold merit, and a reader with an open mind can extract pertinent lessons from his sometimes scathing remarks, such as:

Judaism is best described as a celebration of life, no aspect of which is intrinsically un-Godly. And though Judaism condemns animalistic indulgence, the Talmud declares that in the world-to-come God will hold man accountable for refusing to partake of any pleasures that God has permitted, thinking that he would be more Godly as a result. Asceticism has a place only in a religion that imagines Satan behind every dollar bill and every sexual urge. But a religion that sees a spark of divine light hidden in every heart and hidden behind every tree teaches its adherents to bring this light to the fore. God wishes to be discovered within His world, and man is charged with this task (p. 49-50).

In the end, if you’re up for a whole new experience that will challenge some of the basic underpinnings of Western Christian thought and philosophy, read this book. As far as apologetics go, this book does a fine job introducing some of the major differences between Jewish and Christian thought.

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Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card



Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of books from the library. I love it; I’ve sold most of the books that I don’t read/haven’t read that I’ve purchased, and with the library card, I now have access to thousands of books which I can read at my own leisure. Surprisingly, I’ve been reading a lot more than when I’ve been buying books. I have a theory that the library puts a huge risk on not reading (you have to return it soon), but at the same time dampens the risk of not reading (you got it for free anyway). This makes reading a lot more fun and relaxed, as opposed to shamefully averting my gaze every time I make eye contact with the stack of books I purchased six months ago but haven’t cracked open yet. Oh, the shame!

The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity by Martin Palmer:

I was really apprehensive when I picked this up. It sounded interesting, but I’m not a fan of speculative archaeology/anthropology. Too often these kinds of books devolve into a 2012 apocalyptic New Age kind of thing and I hate those. But it sounded interesting enough and connected not only my love of learning more about Christianity, my faith, but also my love of learning more about my Asian heritage. Win-win!

This book certainly was a win. Martin Palmer has done his research. He details the discovery of a highly advanced Christian church established long before most people thought Christianity even reached China through Catholic missions. The texts revealed a mission keenly aware of the different traditions they found themselves in and their attempt to reconcile common Eastern beliefs within a Christian context. It’s a wonderful example of how flexible Christianity can be as a religion and some fascinating history as well. Along with the actual text of the Jesus Sutras, Palmer explains carefully the background of the Christian texts discovered within China. He describes the different schisms within Christianity in its early years, the turbulent history of Taoism, Confucianism, shamanism, and Buddhism within Chinese history, and the possible explanations for various fusions of the two vastly different traditions. The texts themselves are interesting to read, especially as it describes basic Christian doctrines with a very Eastern tone, detailing things such as the resurrection/reincarnation tension, as well as how Christ might work within the context and knowledge of the Tao. In the end, I found whole new branches I was previously unfamiliar with (the Thomarist church in India and the Nestorian churches of the East, for example) which I now have a newfound zeal in learning more about. Overall, the book was highly enjoyable, and despite selling most of my books and trying to pare down my actual physical library, this book I might go out and purchase, since it has high re-readability.

Ecofaith: Creating & Sustaining Green Congregations by Charlene A. Hosenfeld:

This book was kind of a hit and miss. The bulk of the book involves an extensive list of different ecological projects your church can engage in, from the really cool (have a community garden and compost bin on the church grounds) to the somewhat ridiculous (have the congregation sign an “eco-pledge”) to the downright insensitive (during a baby blessing or baptism, try to work in an environmental message). A large part of the usefulness lies in the appendix, where Hosenfeld, a psychologist, details some of the psychology behind mobilizing a group of people towards a common goal, and why people don’t do ecologically friendly activities even though they deeply care about the environment and the health of their families. The appendix also details strong theological reasons for Christian involvement within the environmental movement. All in all, an interesting book, but I found the bibliography a far more fascinating aspect of the book and a great stepping stone for finding interesting things to read about this subject.

Zen in 10 Simple Lessons by Anthony Man-Tu Lee:

I thought this book would be a very superficial skim over the basic principles of Zen. I’m already familiar with most of the basic precepts; one of my favorite teachers in high school was a practicing Zen Buddhist, and he taught my comparative religion class. We had many interesting conversations about the topic and I learned much from him (I almost ran away from home and joined a Buddhist monastery, so enraptured was I with their philosophy. Ultimately, I decided against it, but sometimes, I wonder).

This book actually goes in depth and covers many Zen concepts at length. I was definitely pleasantly surprised; a lot of the principles I studied in this book now govern some of the zazen techniques my wife and I have been practicing the past couple of days. It goes into the basics of zazen and meditation, the source of suffering, how to achieve satori, koans, and how Zen mixes with daily life. It also devotes a chapter to Zen aesthetics, debunking a lot of myths perpetuated by Western minimalists about what “Zen design” is supposed to be. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating philosophy, I highly suggest this book as an excellent primer.

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The Decline and Fall of the Lee Library

A couple of weeks ago I had blogged heavily about the books that I planned on bringing with me to Seattle. Because of space limitations and the last minute nature of the move, I couldn’t bring that many books and so I suddenly had to make the choice of which select titles I could carry with me out of the hundreds of books my wife and I managed to collect over the years. This caused no small measure of pain and consternation for me, but, eventually, I felt I had compiled a list that would satisfy me.

But literally the day before the move, I stared at what I would soon pack up and what I had set aside, and I completely changed my list. Aside from my scriptures, Bodies, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore and Jewish Dharma (you can probably detect a pattern by now), nothing else made the cut to come with me. I quickly shuffled the books around and ended up with a drastically new list.

Two insights on the list – all of them require some form of proactive learning. My greatest strength and curse is my inability to stay focused on one subject for too long. Because of this, I’ve developed a great breadth of knowledge which my wife both loves and rolls her eyes at. I always enjoy learning, and this leads me to my second insight. None of them could be classified as fiction. None of them. Well, one of them, depending on your political persuasion. Fiction rarely captivates me (blasphemy to my friends and wife); because of my personality, I love the world I live in with all of its quirks and inconsistencies, and why explore made up worlds when the world we live in already exudes such fantastic qualities?

Without further ado:

The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class edited by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim

This book exemplifies my core personality. A devotional to strengthen your intellectualism rather than your collection of religious platitudes, the book divides each day into a category of study: History, Literature, Visual Arts, Science, Music, Philosophy, and Religion (it’s not completely godless). Each day reviews a basic subject from that area, ranging from “Personality of Self” to “The Spread of Islam” to “Sound Waves.”

When I first saw this book at the bookstore, I immediately turned to my wife and emphatically told her that this gift would make a perfect birthday gift. I’m pleased to say that she remembered. And while the consistency of both my scripture study and my study from this devotional book varies with the seasons, I have never regretted this book.


The real numbers are the numbers that you are likely to encounter in day-to-day life. The set of real numbers consists of all the numbers that can be represented on the number line. It encompasses natural numbers, whole numbers, integers, rational numbers, and irrational numbers.

Ready, Set, Green: Eight Weeks to Modern Eco-Living by Graham Hill and Meaghan O’Neill

This book is the only one I brought that could qualify as fiction, considering your political persuasion when it comes to environmentalism. Moving to Seattle, I figured I should reacquaint myself with the environmental movement, but I also believe passionately in environmental conservation and prudent, simple living. This book works as a great primer, introducing each week with a new area of life that could use a little greenifying. After explaining the basics behind the theory, they then introduce a number of ideas which they categorize according to how time consuming and expensive they are. They also interview authors who’ve written on interesting subjects, such as up-cycling. Plus, the book is printed with recycled paper. Can’t go wrong there.


There are more than eighty thousand chemical compounds approved for use by the EPA in the United States. Of these, only about a fraction have publicly available reports of evaluations for human safety. Only about 20 percent of the eighty thousand are in commercial use at any time, and federal regulations and liability issues mean that almost all new chemicals have some degree of testing or structural analysis for impacts on human health and the environment. However, these reports are interpreted by companies with financial interests in selling the chemicals and are not required for review by independent bodies. Still fewer tests have been done on how combinations of chemicals affect us, which is how we are typically exposed.

Living a Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs and Values for Today’s Families by Anita Diamant with Howard Cooper

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated with the Jewish religion and culture. Many days I wish that I was born Jewish. There’s something about the combination of ritual, scripture, and custom that unites a people together. And with age comes wisdom; Judaism is one of the oldest religions still practiced today. My wife and I have always wanted to live an entire year following the Jewish customs. When someone recommended this book, we bought it and now wait eagerly for the next Yom Kippur to start our Jewish year. This book focuses more on a liberal Jewish interpretation, which at first disappointed me. But after thinking about it, I don’t know if I could last a year as a Hassidic Jew. This fact makes me sad and relieved.


For liberal Jews, not all mitzvot have the same weight because not all mitzvot provoke the sense of feeling commanded. As one rabbi has written, ‘There will be mitzvot through which my forebears found themselves capable of responding to the commanding God which are no longer adequate or possible for me, just as there will be new mitzvot through which I or my generation will be able to respond which my ancestors never thought of.’ Indeed, for liberal Jews, the increasingly complex modern world may suggest new and binding mitzvot regarding everything from the proper application of medical technology for the terminally ill to the ecological imperative to recycle.

Latin Made Simple by Doug Julius

While looking at requirements to apply for masters programs in theology, I noticed that many of them required the knowledge of either French or German, and Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. Because of this, I purchased this Latin book – I figured I could learn Latin and then knock French out in the process. I still want to learn German, Greek, and Hebrew, but all in good time.

I’m still working on the 1st declension, but I’m almost done and ready to start on the 2nd declension. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.


Practice reading this passage aloud, following the English sound guide, until you can read it clearly and without hesitation. Remember that in Latin every consonant and vowel is pronounced.

Pater noster qui es in caelis sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie. Et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et nos ne induas in tentationem sed libera nos a malo. Amen.


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My Favorite Children, part two

The continuation in a series of posts listing some of the books that made the rigorous process in determining which I take with me and the others that must wait in Utah until my wife and I come back for them.

6. A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon’s famous book is A Curious Incident with the Dog in the Night-time, which got a lot of press for its unique narrator – a boy with autism. However, my favorite novel by Mark Haddon is A Spot of Bother, detailing a traditional, conservative British family whose only daughter is marrying someone everyone in the family hates. Meanwhile, the son must determine whether he should bring his boyfriend (and scandalize the entire family, especially his parents, still in semi-denial) or not, the mother tries to mop up an affair, and the father slowly begins to go a little bit crazy, convinced he will die soon of horrible disease – but hopes he can hide it from everyone and contain it until after the wedding so that he doesn’t inconvenience anyone. It’s a great book on family and acceptance, but like Then We Came to the End, it’s got some graphic scenes and some good old fashioned Brit cussing, so if you’re easily offended, pass this one, too.


He didn’t have a problem with homosexuality per se. Men having sex with men. One could imagine, if one was in the business of imagining such things, that there were situations where it might happen, situations in which chaps were denied the normal outlets. Military camps. Long sea voyages. One didn’t want to dwell on the plumbing but one could almost see it as a sporting activity. Letting off steam. High spirits. Handshake and a hot shower afterward.

It was the thought of men purchasing furniture together that disturbed him. Men snuggling. More disconcerting, somehow, than shenanigans in public toilets. It gave him the unpleasant feeling that there was a weakness in the very fabric of the world. Like seeing a man hit a woman in the street. Or suddenly not being able to remember the bedroom you had as a child.

Still, things changed. Mobile phones. Thai restaurants. You had to remain elastic or you turned into an angry fossil railing at litter.

7. A Leaky Tent Is a Piece of Paradise edited by Bonnie Tsui

A collection of essays about nature written by writers no older than thirty, this collection puts a new spin on “nature writing,” where young writers products of the late 20th to early 21st century write about their ways of connecting with whatever nature remains around them. The title derives from a delightful essay of a  young man who, broken hearted, decides to move into a tent like Thoreau to Walden to remove himself from his worldly woes and learns a little about himself. Another essay speaks about learning the lesson of growing up from a group of river rafting guides who refuse to do just that. Another author writes of her intense fear of lightning and her conflicting desire to venture around the world. Each essay is more than delightful and makes nature much more accessible again to one who’s grown up in the city all his life.


But more surprisingly, once I could hold my despair and run a hand along its saggy, tired edges, the woe didn’t seem so boundless. The tent gradually became not a symbol of doom, but a very real refuge, my own pod of stability and control in a world that felt beyond control. Wind and rain could lash the tent and I would stay warm and cozy – as long as I held the walls up and stayed in the middle and had a towel to mop up the mess. So many years later, things really haven’t changed.

8. Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson

I first heard about this book from my friend Kimberly, who majored in communication studies. This iconoclastic book defies what conventional wisdom teaches us – that popular culture makes us really, really dumb. Popular culture won’t get you to Harvard, Steven Johnson writes, but it is making the general population smarter overall. If you want to learn how video games and even reality TV shows are helping us become a more smarter generation, I highly recommend this book.


To get around these prejudices [against games], try this thought experiment. Imagine an alternate world identical to ours save one techno-historical change: video games were invented and popularized before books. In this parallel universe, kids have been playing games for centuries – and then these page-bound texts come along and suddenly they’re all the rage. What would the teachers, and the parents, and the cultural authorities have to say about this frenzy of reading? I suspect it would sound something like this:

Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying – which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements – books are simply a barren string of words on the page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of the sensory and motor cortices.

9. The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In by Paisley Rekdal

Born of a Chinese mother and a Norwegian father, Paisley Rekdal writes painfully honest essays about being of mixed heritage, and what it means to never truly fit in. The most powerful essays for me detail her trip to South Korea, teaching English on a Fullbright contract. Having visited South Korea just a couple summers before, I could understand the almost traumatic experience of facing your Asian heritage head on and feeling crushed by the culture that should (in your mind) accept you with open arms.


I’ve never seen romantic stationary in Korean. There must be some, I think to myself, and later paw through the notepads in my desk, the fresh packets sold at school supply shops. But the ones I can find are always in English, I see, or French or Latin. And suddenly it occurs to me that this is sad, but because these cards seem to be spoiling something about Korea…I don’t like the fact that, to me, these cards appear like lies imported from another culture, a cheap sentimentality that feeds off the educationally enforced separation of the sexes.

Though I have often accused Koreans of whitewashing the truth about themselves with ritualized politeness, with Joseph at Usok I suddenly do not find this much different from the romantic moves and singers America produces in huge volumes on a seemingly daily basis…Perhaps my students, seeing movies from my culture, buying stationary with my language, have been taught to believe this artificial sentimentality is all that really matters to us. And maybe that makes them sad, too.

10. Jewish Dharma: A Guide to the Practice of Judaism and Zen by Brenda Shoshanna, PhD

For the longest time (and still today), I wished I was Jewish. No joke; I always thought Hannukah was cooler than Christmas as a kid, and it wasn’t just the presents. For some reason, decorating a tree seemed silly – celebrating God’s miracles of oil extension by re-enacting it seemed more real. On my mission, I declared to my district leader and good friend that I would only marry a girl from the tribe of Judah. Sure enough, on news of my engagement, Wolfgramm asked me if I accomplished this goal. I had forgotten about that boast a long time ago, but eerily enough, my wife derived from the lineage of Judah.

On top of that, I’m Asian, and with that come a lot of Asian baggage, despite my American identity. I have a lot of attitudes and traditions my parents taught me stemming from Confucianism and Buddhism. In high school during my senior year, I took a World Religions class from Mr. Prufer, who was Zen Buddhist. During that critical year, I was very close to running away from home and joining a Buddhist monastery.

Fast forward to 2009, and I’m still a faithful, practicing Mormon, though much more mature in spirituality than I was five years ago as a senior in high school. At Sam Weller’s, this book catches my eye – a book about how to be a practicing  Ju-Bu (Jewish-Buddhist)? And if there is such a thing as a Ju-Bu, could there be a Mo-Ju-Bu? I set to find out.

In a period of my life where my religious practice seemed stale and stagnant, this book breathed new life into it. The author writes about her life experiences, of being raised Jewish and finding Buddhism and trying to reconcile her two belief systems into one. Sincerely honest without rationalization or scripture wresting, Brenda Shoshanna demonstrates President Hinckley’s request that all religions bring what’s good in theirs, and see if we can add on to it. Perhaps, my version of Mormonism is less meet-and-greets, funeral potatoes, and college ward prayer meetings, and more meditating and mitzvot observing.


He [my Zen master] was right, but questions still haunted me. As zazen deepened, I could not avoid the persistent questions that rose up within – I thought about my family, my cousins, parents, sister, brother. Am I abandoning you, I wondered? Have I left my Jewish roots behind? Am I running away from who I truly am? What about all those who died to uphold the Torah? At certain times I felt that doing deep zazen, I was fulfilling the true Torah, actualizing all the commandments. Other times, dressed in my Zen robes, I felt as though I was trespassing, violating my deeper self.

…One day I said to him, “I feel I should go home.”

“Where is your true home?”

I breathed deeply for a moment.

“Your true home. Before you were born! Eshin, calm down. You have not done wrong. You are not doing wrong here.”

“According to my people I must go home.”

“Then stop coming.”

“I can’t.”

“Then sit more deeply, to the very bottom of the well. Finally, when you are ripe, you will see that we are all One.”

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Where Your Treasure Lies, Your Heart Lies Also

For the past hour I have been staring at my bookcases. Because of a last minute decision to move to Seattle, my wife and I suddenly face the near impossible task of deciding which of our library will stay behind, packed up in Utah, and which will continue on with us to Washington State.

And as I stand, scanning intently from title to title, each one bears a terrible choice, as if asked to decide between children on your favorite. I must be a terrible parent, since several of my “kids” hit the chopping block early – an extra copy of Crime and Punishment, a textbook on Introduction to International Relations, Albert Camus’ existentialist (and horribly depressing) The Plague. But then the decisions become even more gut wrenching than the usual – A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms isn’t exactly a page turner, nor do I consult it on a daily basis, but what if I need to know one day what aposiopesis means? I haven’t opened Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince in years, but there may come a time when I want to read once more about cynical realpolitik. And I’ve clearly read Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road several times so realistically I don’t need it when I move – but the prose! Have you ever read any prose more simultaneously poetically ironic and sublime?

The “to bring” pile shrinks as more books fall by the the wayside. each time I put one away makes me feel as if I’m burning them. I tell myself I will come back for these, my least favorite children. But should a bibliophile even be forced to abandon his library – even a portion – in the first place?

The Holy Bible – New International, King James, even the Recovery Version – will stay with us. Why Nations Go to War and The Craft of Research doesn’t make the cut. The Literature of American Jews (picked up for cheap at Sam Weller’s in Salt Lake City) will also come with me; Soviet Women Writing (bought along with The Literature of American Jews) unfortunately won’t. My 1955 RLDS edition of The Book of Mormon is one of my most prized possessions (purchased for $2.00 at a Blackwell, Oklahoma antique store), but I have to think twice about bringing both the current Hymnal and the red 1978 Hymnal that once belonged to my father (and before him, the Ricks College Twelfth Ward). In the end, sentimentality wins out, along with William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and a hardcover collection of writings by Plato, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. All three have been passed down from my previous generation to me – these artifacts are practically grandchildren at this point – you couldn’t leave them behind even if you tried.

Four versions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In the end, the still shrink wrapped boxed set wins, both because it has art most closely reminiscing J.R.R. Tolkien’s own sketches, but also because my wife and I bought it together on our honeymoon in a Half Price Books. From Seattle thou didst come, and to Seattle thou shalt return. The other ones aren’t without story, however. My combined edition with a movie still of Gandalf on the cover is one I bought for myself, only to receive an identical version from my friend for Christmas one week later. The friend’s stayed behind in Seattle; mine will stay in Utah for a season. My wife’s old copy is falling apart and will also stay in the home she grew up in and read said trilogy over and over since she was able to begin reading. We vow to come back for them someday, but sadly, we don’t know exactly when.

Pretty soon, I am bargaining. I could sell neglected video games to make room for my equally neglected copy of Death of a Salesman or The Scarlet Letter. I didn’t even like The Scarlet Letter, but it’s certainly more of a classic than Front Mission 4. If I left behind some clothes I never wear, could I bring more tomes? I’m preparing to give away possessions to make room for more books, willing to sell the plasma running through my veins in hopes of purchasing shipping for those children stuck in moving limbo. I consider adoption. Maybe Ben Crowder will accept an old, battered copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, even if it’s missing a spine? He’s not the prettiest book, but you can’t judge him by his cover, right? He’s full of good things, I promise. Maybe David and Tiffany could give The Prentice Hall Reader a warm home? She doesn’t need much – just a nice shelf to sit on and declare to your visitors how literate you are.

In the end, I can’t finish this gruesome task – at least, not today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll reconsider again the “usefulness” of the books in my remaining library. But then again, I didn’t buy books for their usefulness, but for their character. If I wanted utility, I would have bought a Kindle.


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Check out that girl’s library

After our wedding, my wife and I moved into a small studio apartment located on the corner of 800 N and 100 W in Provo, Utah. Before unpacking anything else – dishes, cookware, bedding, clothes, bathroom supplies – my wife and I put together five sets of bookshelves and proceeded to shelve our combined library.

Later, I would be stopped by one of my neighbors who would proceed to tell me how envious he was of our library. This will rank somewhere in the top 25 best moments of my life.

The surprising thing about our library was that despite the capacity to fill five bookshelves, there were only two duplicates in our combined independent collections: Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Color Code by Taylor Hartman. I believe the fact that these two books were the only two books that overlapped in our combined libraries is one of the reasons why we have such a strong marriage.

First – the fact that we had little overlap in our libraries meant we remain sufficiently different from one another, eliminating any chance of us running out of things to talk about. My wife rambles on about fantasy and fiction, while I ramble on about the various subjects my non-fiction books elucidate on, ranging from the ingredients of a Twinkie to the biography of the man who invented the thesaurus. She keeps me grounded by reminding me that sometimes entertainment is just that – entertainment, and my wife never has to subscribe to another podcast again, since I’ll talk about basically anything under the sun (vanity, vanity, all is vanity!).

Second – our first overlap is Lord of the Rings, written by the perennial father of modern fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien. Why does this show how we’re compatible? Because Lord of the Rings is the perfect marriage between shameless escapist fantasy complete with little hobbits, orcs, a giant spider and freaking Ringwraiths, combined with erudite Old English wordplay and complex social themes written into a vast, sprawling landscape of symbols! The book represents the combination of our personalities – a closet geek accountant who reads fiction to have swashbuckling adventures you can’t find within an Excel spreadsheet (though she assures me pivot tables can be just as exciting) and an almost obsolete English major aspiring for professorship obsessed with the strangest, most trivial scholarly topics. It is only expected that both of us would own our own copies, and strangely enough, we ended up buying a third boxed edition on our honeymoon – for real (for our children, we rationalized).

Third – The Color Code by Taylor Hartman. For those not in the know, this book is basically years of personality studies in psychology distilled into a simple, easy to understand system. Upon hearing that both of us knew about the book (and read it), we could tell each other what our colors were (she’s a blue/red, I’m a yellow/blue). We rarely use it as one would a fortune teller or take it as exact science, but the fact we both owned the book and knew it well showed we found interest in personalities and relationships. A lot of relationships fail because the two parties simply didn’t understand each other and rarely strive to understand – reading books about how to understand and work with other people meant our commitments to each other weren’t backed up with hopes and wishes; we were honestly trying to learn. This means all the difference.

A mentor of mine could read you by simply listening to what you said. He would let you sit there while all the while he wouldn’t say a word; nature abhors a vacuum and when people are confronted with silence, they fill it with their own words, of which he would use to decipher your soul. I, however, hold firmly to the fact that you can also learn a lot by looking through a person’s library. So what does your library tell about you?

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