I have a collection of old leather-bound books, some inherited from my grandparents, others picked up haphazardly during the years. My wife calls them my "oldie mouldies" and she couldn't understand why I needed to take them with me when we moved to London for a few years.
It's true, as she points out, that I don't read them very often but I like having them around. They reassure me of the enduring value of things and they remind me that the pursuit of wisdom is a shared endeavour; wisdom is the work of multiple generations. Even when some of the ideas expressed in those old books strike me now as curious, blinkered and outdated, there is value in them still for they remind me that some, perhaps many, of my own thoughts will also appear in time to be parochial and short-sighted. I can't tell now which ones they will be but the realisation of my own limitations engenders, I hope, some humility.
There are other books I treasure that I have owned for a long time. I was about 16, I think, when I bought my first copy of Søren Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments. I didn't understand it then, and I probably don't fully understand it yet, but I eventually wrote my PhD thesis on that book and have since published a couple of books on Kierkegaard's work. Others of Kierkegaard's books have also captivated me, especially Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death.
The titles sound a bit grim but there is something joyously edifying in Kierkegaard's profound insight into the nature of our human condition. The same goes for Dostoyevsky, one of my favourite novelists. Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov aren't exactly a laugh a minute but who, having read them, cannot be grateful for the glimpses they give us into the human soul?
During time my family spent in California a few years ago, we visited Steinbeck country: the Salinas Valley, Monterey Peninsula, Cannery Row. I took two of my sons to the Steinbeck Museum, where we bought books, and Steinbeck's works became the topic of conversation in the car as we continued our tour around California. I loved Steinbeck's novels when I read them as a teenager. Following our visit to Salinas, I read East of Eden for the first time and was reminded again of Steinbeck's genius.
Happily, one of my sons returned to school after that holiday and chose three Steinbeck novels for his NCEA reading project. Another son, also for an NCEA project, wrote a monologue in the voice of George, one of the two main characters in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. My son imagined and portrayed George talking to his dog, the only friend who would listen to the wisdom George had accumulated during the years. In reading Steinbeck, and seeing the world thorough others' eyes, my sons, too, were growing in wisdom. One day, I hope, they will be glad to inherit my collection of "oldie mouldies".
Murray Rae's book, Architecture and Theology: The Art of Place recently won the Ashton Wylie Book Award for 2018.