Monday, May 29, 2017

The Cost of a Book

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” - Desiderius Erasmus

If you’re a homeschooler, you know that this is the season of spending money on books to prepare for the coming school year. Or, if like me you buy them whether it is the season or not, it is the season when book sales and curriculum sales and conferences make books—new and out-of-print-- readily available. For book lovers, this is the equivalent of Christmas specials at Christmas time.

I used to joke with my children, usually upon arriving at home with a trunk full of books, that if we ran out of grocery money, we could always eat the books. The quote of Erasmus above reveals that this is no new idea under the sun.

The other day, I stumbled upon this comment of Jean Jacques Fabre:

“…and I wanted to know more than I had learned from the schoolboys, which was just how to rob the cells of their honey with a straw. As it happened, my bookseller had a gorgeous work on insects for sale…and boasted a multitude of attractive illustrations. , but the price of it!—the price of it! No matter, was not my splendid income supposed to cover everything?—food for the mind as well as food for the body? Anything extra that I gave to the one I could save upon the other, a method of balancing painfully familiar to those who look to science for their livelihood. The purchase was effected. That day, my professional amoluments were severely strained. I devoted a month’s salary to the acquisition of the book. I had to resort to miracles of economy for some time to come before making up the enormous deficit. The book was devoured. There is no other word for it. In it, I learned the name of my black bee. I read for the first time various details of the habits of insects…”

And I wince to think of the impoverishment this generation would suffer if he had not “devoured” that book. A book is not worth what it costs today, but what it will acquire in value to persons, persons of infinite value whose minds crave its priceless ideas in order to grow.

Charlotte Mason agreed on all points:

“One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child's intellectual life.” (Parents and Children, p. 279)

How can you put a price tag on knowledge, on friendship, on life? Books contain all these and lead to more knowledge, friendships, and living. Truly, it is not the price tag that determines whether or not we should purchase a book, but the worth of the person who will be reading it. When set in the scales, people and money are very unevenly weighed.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Happy Memorial Day, Liz. I pray that you have a blessed day with your family, possibly squeezing your newest grandbaby? :) This is a lovely post and I agree. Besides my faith,family,and friends, my home library is the dearest thing to me, because it represents hope, love, and dreams. Books are truly amazing portals and so many are dear friends themselves. Lovely post. <3 Amy @hearthridgereflections

  2. Oh Liz - love that you are such an enabler! Our hearts beat as one when it comes to buying books. Thank you for this. I feel so much better now after a bit of a book buying bender today. Ha ha!

    1. Glad to help you any time. Book buying may feel like an addiction, but
      it is no more an addiction than grocery shopping is for feeding our
      family. Both are necessary, one for the body, the other for the ind,
      and body and mind are inseparable.

  3. Liz, I read that very same CM quote about the importance of books to my husband during a date. (Yes, very romantic. LOL *^^*)

  4. How might an Instructor contend with the Commandment, "Go and sell all ye possess, and give the money to the poor."

    1. I am not sure I am grasping the intent of your question, but that commandment was given to a young man who was so in love with his riches it was a stumbling block to his love of God and neighbor. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us, which I do not view as a resignation to accepting this inevitability, but a fact to make the poor always our concern. Our possessions and prosperity are for the very purpose of sharing with others in need.

      Today's children are poor in spirit, poor in mind, and in need of literary riches. The cost of a good book does not compare to a new car, home, vacation and all the other luxuries most of us take for granted. In giving the best literature to our children, we are educating them in the knowledge of God, in the love of their neighbor, in unique ways only books can accomplish for them. I would gladly go
      without new clothes or luxurious vacations to feed my children's minds so that they will grow up to help build the kingdom of God and not live selfish, unjust lives towards others.