At used bookshops I keep an eye out for books by those great humorists of the 1920s and 1930s – James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Ring Lardner, the incomparable E. B. White, and my favorite – Robert Benchley. I have picked up quite a collection. I particularly like to find a book with the original dust jacket, and not just for the cover art. I love the advertisements printed on the back cover, and sometimes the inside cover of the dust jacket. One often finds lists of exotic books, celebrated in their day, and now completely forgotten, available for the low, low price of $1.98.
On the back of the 1936 edition of Benchley’s My Ten Years in a Quandary, And How They Grew, there is an advertisement for Blue Ribbon Books’ “12 Books that belong in every office or home library.” It includes Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Universal Dictionary for $2.49, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Illustrated for $2.95, The Modern Home Medical Adviser for $2.49, and the Outline of History by H.G. Wells for $1.98. The list also includes Hammond’s New Combination World Atlas, which comes “with a 32” by 44” folding wall map.” It is unclear from the advertisement whether the wall folds or the map folds. A simple hyphen would have clarified the matter.
Of course you and I both know which book tops the list – The Holy Bible, available for $1.79. This Authorized King James Version includes “a concordance and 394 page International Bible Encyclopedia.” It comes in “large, readable, self-pronouncing type,” and can be thumb-indexed for quick reference for 50 cents more. I have no doubt that of the 12 books listed, the Bible was the best seller – because the Bible is always the best seller, and has been as long as anyone has kept records. It has never sold less than double the number of volumes of its nearest competitor. Not even J. K. Rowling can compete.
The amazing thing about this is that almost everyone who buys a Bible already has one – or three, or ten. And yet we keep buying them. We keep them too. I still have the first leather Bible I received. It has my name stamped on it in gold leaf. I have the Bible my grandfather kept in the glove compartment of his car. I have a well-worn leather Dickson Study Bible that belonged to my wife’s grandfather. I have the little red New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs the Gideons gave to all us sixth graders back in 1974. I have maybe 30 more. I cannot throw a Bible away, no matter how damaged it becomes. If I have one that is almost unusable I put it in the free book bin at the public library.
So I have a lot of Bibles. We all do. What does that mean? Often, it doesn’t mean much.
In the great John Ford western, The Searchers, Ward Bond, who plays a combination-preacher/Texas Ranger, hands his Bible to a gut-shot rancher and tells him to hold it tight. “It will make you feel good,” he promises. In the movie it has just that effect. I am afraid we often use the Bible similarly – as a totem or talisman to make us feel better.
Of all the books that belong in home or office the Bible is certainly the most important. But it is not like Hammond’s New Combination Atlas – anchoring down the coffee table until someone needs to find the capital of Mongolia (Ulan Bator). We have Bibles so we may read them. We have them to wear them out. We have them to use, and use, and use again – every day.
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all day…how sweet are your words to me, they are sweeter than honey to my mouth, the Psalmist writes in Psalm 119.97 & 103. He did not have a Bible in his home or office. The book would not be invented for seven centuries. Scrolls were rare, and expensive. And yet – the word he did have – through public readings, and temple service - was his dearest possession. He treasured it in his mind, and in his heart. The folks at Blue Ribbon Books are right. The Bible belongs in every home and office. It belongs in every vest pocket, glove compartment, back pack, night-stand, care package, and dorm-room. But most of all, the Bible belongs in every mind and heart. This is the Bible’s true home.