Sell the books back

Shawn Anthony — bless his heart — is having agita over the cost of seminary textbooks (“The Campus Bookstore Lament”) but a rather warm feeling towards his bound paper children. My advice: get over that feeling right now. Last night I was culling my groaning bookshelves, and it seems to be a task I do far too often. Some of the books have never been opened (by me), and many of the rest have been so long with me that I don’t recall when I read them. A significant portion of the later group I bought for seminary. My seminary career was 1993 to 1997, before email was common and the Internet acquired useful resources. Instead, I acquired books, many of which I got for research and these are many of the ones I don’t use. After all, I’ve got Google.

Not that I didn’t try to save money. Both as an undergrad and in seminary, I borrowed books from others and the library, including Congregational Library. (I still do.) I tried to sell books back, but I could get little money for them.

And not that I don’t buy a lot of Universalist books, but that’s only to make a library that can’t be found outside of Massachusetts or perhaps New York. (With the pull times being what they are, the Library of Congress doesn’t count.) I would rather do without all the paper, and I keep asking myself, “if Universalists were so danged revolutionary, why didn’t they invent the PDF file two hundred years ago.” Getting those books into electronic circulation is a long-term goal, stymied no doubt by my hand and wrist problems.

But the real problem was the warm advise of older ministers who associated (in so many words) the aquisition of a large library to mature ministerhood. All I’ve gotten out of that is backaches moving dozens of cartons of books around and student debt I’m still paying. Information overload, not information want, is the problem of our age. Since we don’t share Erasmus’s book and information market, why should we share his seminary-folk-wisdom about buying books first?

Choose your books — like your battles — carefully.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. It is written that Channing, Emerson, and others of those generations could read all the books in publication before ordination, and the post ordination years could be devoted to commentary, correspondence, and writting their own opus.
    Still moving a trunk load of classics by stage coach was something of an undertaking, but not like the moving vans it takes to move the clerics these days.

  2. LOL. Scott, I actually was injured the last time I moved my books … box, by box, by box. My left knee blew out something terrible. I’m not sure if such a collection is worth it, but I still won’t be giving them up the practice any time soon.

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