In my personal library, whispering behind me even as I write on this Autumn morning, are hundreds of friends.
These friends are books. And I fancy that I am acquainted with the author of every one—and they with me.
The white shelves host an inviting hodge-podge of vertical colors, and every spine of every book speaks to me.
Each spine is like the profile of a friend, traced in the memory, and reminds me of the one thing that book taught me, or of an author (my acquaintances, if you didn’t catch that earlier) who said just what needed to be said in a way that worked for me.
And as with all friends, sometimes the sheer disagreement with what they’ve said is a reason to keep them close. They remind me what I must leave behind, and what I must treasure and nurture and multiply like loaves and fishes.
I am so grateful they, these authors, put thoughts, ideas, paint or prayers to paper—where would I be, who would I be, if they hadn’t?
What if I had not wrestled with their theses or grappled with their wild or quieting conclusions? What if I had not laughed at their wit or stood in awe of their mastery of the language (Annie, by what divine communion and brand of coffee did you gift us all with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)?
Occasionally, painfully, I’ve chosen to cull my library over the years, keeping only books that are essential to my spirit, life, and work.
Giving away books can be like giving away friends for me—it’s just not done!
Turning now and scanning the shape and size of each of these books, a smile softening my face, there is one true thing I notice.
Every one one of those books has left a legacy in me.
A legacy is a deposit of wealth, invested in someone’s life, for posterity.
And there are different kinds of legacies, I am noting, that have been left within me—particularly by the books that now rise behind me like an army backing my spiritual initiative against a chaos foe.
There is the legacy of voice—the author’s voice, phrasing, thoughts, and emotions—all moving within me.
I have hinted at the reality that, for me, I know my authors and like to think my authors knew or know me.
Each author (or painter, as is the case with many of my books) has pressed a subtle bend and curve into my own voice, writing, thinking, and feeling.
I am grateful for the legacy of words and insights from fellow writers across time.
There is the legacy of beauty—visual and tactile treasures lifting my spirit to hope.
A book’s cover, its contents, its fonts, its design—all conspire together to take me a new land to which I either willingly or unwillingly travel. This sojourner to striking and strange countries has been grateful for each journey I’ve taken.
In this, the designer, the illustrator, and the publisher have collaborated with the author to bring the book to its form and life.
I’ll pick up beautiful books in my library just to hold them, to allow them to impress me once again, to gently remind my soul, “Beauty matters, Dan. Beauty heals. Beauty gives. Beautify instills hope in this ragged and trying world.”
I hear. I hear.
I am grateful for the legacy of beauty stirring within me because of these books.
There is the legacy of gift—a lingering and recurring mood of delight when I recall how the book made it’s way into my life.
How a book comes to you can be as important in its eventual apprehension and appreciation as the book itself.
Any book that was gifted to me with deep thoughtfulness and awareness of who I am and am becoming, especially if it was signed by the giver or the author, or that came from someone’s personal library, has rarely left my shelf to my remembrance.
By default, I simply refuse to give away a personal note or signature, or a meaningful story of giving—a story that celebrates and commemorates an act of literary love toward me.
I am grateful for the legacy of gift a book can carry with it, a bestowal that continually reminds me that l am seen, and known, and loved.
These three legacies in books have changed me, and have made me a wealthier man by all truest measures and meanings.
If a book carrying any one, or more, of these three legacies ever does leave me, it will go to one of my children, to a precious family member, or to a dear friend.
The thrift store will never see one these special books from my library in its giveaway bin.
I’ll carry those books into my old age, from house to house, country to country, until they wear worn and become fragile and end up in the homes of those I care about.
I may need to let go of that dream at some point. But if I do, that dream will die hard and will be an act of surrender to the God who always keeps my heart free of attachments that will not abide with me in eternity-as-I-understand-it-to-be.
There are some books my children will have to decide to keep or give away.
As an author, I’ve kept these three legacies in mind as I write and work with others on releasing each book into the wild.
At my best, I want books I’ve written to reach all those for whom they were intended.
At my best, I want books I’ve written to be passed on, as voice, beauty, and gift to another.
At my best, I want to write legacy books that whisper to people from their bookshelves for decades, and perhaps centuries, to come.
Find your books, books that leave a deposit within you of voice, of beauty, of gift—and keep them close by for the years to come.
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