This has to be a very rough approximation.... counting the number of bookshelves in the house, # of books per shelf, more or less, etc., a quick estimation rounding down more often then up, I get something in excess of 2,000 books, excluding those still in boxes, bedsteads, etc., and does not include the books over in my office. When we moved to Maryland in 1996, we carried 42 boxes of books along with all of our other things. It's not got any thinner since then.
2) The last book I bought:
Exercising huge restraint the last time I was at Borders, I only got two:
Peace in the Post-Christian Era by Thomas Merton, first scheduled for publication in 1962, suppressed by the censors of the Catholic heirarchy at the time and finally published by Orbis Books in 2004. Merton was essentially forbidden by the powers in his Order from publishing anything on the subject of war and peace, which did not prevent him from circulating this manuscript in mimeographed form. It contains insightful chapters about Origen, Augustine and Machiavelli.
Playing another bit of catch-up, I got a copy of the 25th anniversary edition of Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan (Revised Edition, 1992: Orbis Books), a fairly succinct attempt at dis-covering the historical Jesus. Nolan claims, in the first paragraph, that the book is not written from a starting-point of faith in Jesus; but as this does clearly become the goal, this disclaimer is just a tad disingenuous. What it does do is maintain a pretty clear separation between faith in Jesus and in institutional Christianity, or what is identified somewhere in the text as "Christianism."
What both of these books provide, in different ways, is an appeal to a pre-Constantinian understanding of the Christian message; difficult for both authors, who are Catholics wanting to stay within the fold of the Church, even as they set forth reasons to be critical of its modern manifestations.
3) The last book I read:
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (1995: ReganBooks [an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers]). This one kept me up into the wee hours; a delightful alternate POV to the traditional Oz story, essentially a bit of Oz fanfic, very well done, fun to read, especially because you get to see people you know in a very different light indeed. And of course, it's a cautionary tale about the nature of good and evil: how, pray, can we really tell which is which? And as with any good story, it's about growing up, developing relationships, taking responsibility (or not), the joys and tragedies associated with becoming what we can only loosely call human.
4) Five books that mean a lot to me:
Oooh. Picking just five, or even just fifty, is almost an exercise in sheer randomness. It would be a total cop-out to say the Bible, or any of its subunits or purported competitors in the realm of sacred texts, so I'll leave out the entire category. I'll also leave out the extensive universe of commentaries on the same, since I'm always involved in one or more of those. Though I will include at least one foray into philosophical theology. Might as well start with that one, as these will be in no particular order. It's hard to name single books, though. I tend to go with an author, and devour everything that he writes.
- Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches To Its Cultured Despisers.
I put Schleiermacher in here to stand in for all the philosophers and theologians who have helped me to associate traditional biblical religion, personal pietistic mysticism, and unfettered intellectual inquiry. My short list of theological must-reads include Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, Johann Arndt, Gerhart Ebeling and let's not forget forays into such oecumenical heretics as G.I. Gurdjieff (Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson and Meetings With Remarkable Men), and to a lesser extent his sometime disciple P.D. Ouspensky (The Fourth Way). And I must add that the highest compliment ever paid me by one of my own teachers was when he recommended that I read Simone Weil (Waiting For God), because my way of thinking seemed to be something like hers.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 3 volumes. Kids, I was re-reading this one before most of you were born. With him go George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, William Morris, and, well, this was supposed to be a short list, wasn't it?
- The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson. The man has a vocabulary to kill for. Also: Anything by Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle). Anything by Neil Gaiman. Neuromancer by William Gibson. The Hyperion series byDan Simmons.
- Howard Phillips Lovecraft, The Colour Out of Space, and Other Stories, and many others. He scared me when I was first coming to consciousness, and gave meaning to my nightmares, not long after Tolkien first delighted me. I've loved him for it ever since.
- How can I squeeze into one final entry the collected poetry of William Blake, the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Mallory, e. e. cummings, and oh, let's say, the Brothers Grimm? How can I have left out Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, not to mention Lewis Carroll, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert A. Heinlein?