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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,

Liz