The gift card

There is a gift card in a small paper envelope on the corner of my desk. I’ve been keeping it carefully since my birthday in June. I’m not usually one to hang onto gift cards. I receive them for what they are - a way to obtain a treat - and they are soon spent. I’ve used gift cards as gifts for others on several different occasions. They aren’t the perfect gift, but when I know that someone has needs or wants and I’m not quite sure what the right gift might be, a gift card can enable the recipient a measure of freedom of choice that doesn’t exist in some other gift possibilities.

This card, however, represents a delicious choice for me. It is a card for a local bookstore. I’m not sure that I can explain the dynamic, but books have very special meaning for me. When I went to college, I had three books that went with me: A new Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a Thesaurus, and the Bible my parents gave me. When I unpacked my things, I arranged my three books on the bookshelves over the built-in desk in my dorm room. Just a few days later, I walked back from the college bookstore with a stack of textbooks for my classes. The shelves still were mostly empty. For the next eight years, my bookshelves continued to have new volumes added on a regular basis. Some of the books were temporary residents in my collection, borrowed from the library. When I married, we merged our libraries. I was pleased to have Susan’s German books join my French books. Before we owned any furniture, I made bookshelves for our first apartment. I loved arranging the books on the shelves.

In graduate school I discovered used book stores and the increased power of purchasing used books. When we moved into the parsonage of our first church, we still didn’t have much furniture, but we had books to fill the shelves in our study with a few extra to grace the living room.

For the next four decades and a bit more, I continued to collect books. In addition to the theology and philosophy books that had marked my educational career, I began to add fiction and poetry books. A few history and political titles began to appear in my library.

When we moved from Idaho to South Dakota the driver of the moving van said that we had set a record for the most weight he had ever hauled in his truck. A big part of that were all of the boxes of books. In South Dakota I began to build new bookshelves. After another quarter of a century of collecting books I had a library in the basement of our home with floor to ceiling shelves on three walls. In addition, Susan and I both had walls of bookshelves in our offices filled with our books. From time to time someone would ask, “Have you read all of those books?” I’d usually answer, “Yes” and then explain that some of the reference books such as commentaries and dictionaries were books I regularly consulted but that I had not read cover to cover.

Then the time came to retire and move from our South Dakota home, it was also the time to downsize. I had to shed a lot of books. We invited friends and colleagues to sort through our books for volumes they wanted. We donated boxes of books to the church library. We boxed up books that went to thrift stores. When we explained our dilemma to the realtor who helped us sell our house, she agreed to store boxes of books for the next AAUW book sale. I think she was surprised when we showed up at her garage with a pickup load of books.

We still moved a lot of books. We have shelves that are six feet high along 12 feet of a wall in our living room that are filled with books. But I have been very careful about not collecting more books. I have tried to avoid buying new books. We have become regular patrons of the library, borrowing books to read and returning them gladly.

Through this process, the gift card that I received for my birthday has turned into a treasure of sorts. It represents the option of going into a book store and coming out with a brand new book that I can take home and read and put on my shelves even though my shelves are a bit over filled and I don’t need any more books. I have savored the anticipation of that purchase for three months now. I don’t know if my family who gave me the card is aware of how much pleasure it has given me because I haven’t yet gone to the books store to get the book. I’ve got a little notebook with titles and authors of possible volumes. I want to be sure that the book I buy is the kind of book that one reads more than once. I am not going to abandon the library.

I’ve had so much fun with that gift card without even using it that last week I went into the book store and didn’t take my card with me. I allowed myself a little bit of browsing and then I purchased a gift card to give the gift to another person. I have money with which I could buy books, but I am trying to discipline myself and make careful choices about my purchases.

I think that the time has come to use my gift card. I have a likely candidate for its use. It will be a hard cover book that is in stock at the book store. In this age of technology, I can check the inventory at the store by going to their website, so I know they will have the book I want. In the next week or so I plan to go to the store and make my purchase. It will be a delicious moment, followed by taking the book home and sitting down in my recliner to read.

Now all I have to do is to identify what book in my existing collection I’m willing to give away in order to make room on the shelf. If I’m really smart, I’ll give away two to reduce inventory.