When I lived in Lancaster, I was spoiled.
There are many reasons for that. Family. Great friends. A burgeoning arts and food scene. A third-floor bedroom in a house built in 1860 with hardwood floors and big windows that I left open as much as I could, windows through which the sounds of reggaeton would flood in from neighbors and passing cars.
I could go on. But one of the other reasons was the fact that my apartment was just a 45-minute drive from one of my favorite places in the world. Forty-five minutes: just about how long it takes, incidentally, to listen to local folk hero Denison Witmer’s 2005 album Are You A Dreamer?
To get to this favorite place of mine, you’d hop on Route 30, heading west at a few ticks over 55 through the ‘burbs and sprawling farmland. Once you cross the Wrights Ferry Bridge over the Susquehanna River you’re in York County. From there, you head south on Route 24 through some more farmland and ‘burbs, then on into Dallastown, a quintessentially central Pennsylvania town with old brick buildings, formidable hills, and a modest population of 4,000. It’s an off-the-beaten-path kind of place.
But right there on Main Street, directly across from a stately old church, sits a house that is home to a terrific little bookstore – and a one-of-a-kind bookseller.
I’m referring, as some of you may have gathered, to the legendary Hearts & Minds Bookstore and to Byron Borger, who for over three decades has owned and operated the place with his wife, Beth.
What kind of a bookstore is it? Well, it’s a Christian bookstore in the sense that the Borgers are animated by the conviction that every square inch of creation and culture is under the Lordship of Christ. But in contrast to most other Christian bookstores, Hearts & Minds has sections dedicated to such subjects as art, architecture, music, social justice, politics, fiction (no, not just Left Behind and Amish romance novels!), poetry, urban planning, sociology, science, history, and yeah, theology, philosophy, missiology, liturgical studies, and other more churchy genres, including plenty of books geared toward people who don’t read for a living.
In other words, Hearts & Minds is unique. For further proof of this fact, look no further than a great new collection of essays, somewhat verbosely titled A Book for Hearts and Minds: What You Should Read & Why – A Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore. What’s that strange German-sounding word in the middle of the subtitle, you ask? It’s festschrift, “a volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute or memorial.” There you go; learn something new every day.
Edited by Ned Bustard and published by Square Halo Books, contributors include N.T. Wright, Karen Swallow Prior, Steve Garber, Aaron Belz, Andi Ashworth, and Gregory Wolfe – and their chapter topics run the gamut, from New Testament studies and history to film and cooking. Each contributor has, in one way or another, been impacted by the legacy of the Borgers’ lifelong labor of love, whether in person or from afar. (Oh, and did I mention N.T. Wright once sang a Dylan cover in the bookstore’s backyard? He did and there’s proof. You’re welcome.)
Eclectic by design and a bit uneven in places, even this book’s quirks form a fitting tribute to part of what makes Hearts & Minds such a special place – the diverse spectrum of people from all kinds of church backgrounds who continue to walk through the front door at 234 East Main Street. For example, the education chapter is by G. Tyler Fischer, Head of School at Veritas Academy in Lancaster, who argues for Christian classical models of schooling as the ideal and against mainstream education systems as lost causes (they are “crashing and burning,” we learn). Meanwhile, that is directly followed by a chapter on ethics by mainliner David Gushee, who recommends, among other books, Christianity and the Social Crisis by Walter Rauschenbusch, the famous (or infamous) leader of the social gospel movement. Not exactly part of the curriculum in classical Christian schools.
These contributors, for all their differences, have each been dazzled by the wonders of Byron’s enthusiastic heart and encyclopedic mind – or is it the other way around? During a given visit, Byron may very well offer you a cup of coffee (on the house, of course) and proceed to give you 20 seemingly far-flung book recommendations. He’ll model robust, holistic, winsome Christian thinking the entire time, but he’ll never tell you what to think. He respects his customers (and, I wager, he trusts the Holy Spirit) too much to do that.
Several of these essays include personal ruminations on the power of books to change, well, hearts and minds. I know that’s certainly been true in my own life, and if you’re reading this, it’s likely been true in yours. Although I don’t envision being courageous enough to attempt reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time anytime soon, and while Ursula K. Le Guin’s books haven’t particularly hooked me yet, I learned a thing or two about science and fantasy thanks to recommendations from Michael Kucks and Matthew Dickerson, respectively.
And that itself is a tribute to the Borgers and their bookstore. Everything matters. Be curious. Read with courage, imagination, and above all, love. Then go out and live accordingly, the Lord being our helper.
In that way, A Books for Hearts and Minds is not unlike the ethos of my newsletter, The Bookshelf, or even this blog, where I publish book reviews. I don’t expect every reader to be interested in every book I highlight, any more than Byron himself whould expect every customer to devour every single book he recommends (between in-store conversations and his Booknotes reviews and recommendations, he’s far more prolific than I could ever hope to be). But maybe, just maybe, you’ll discover a book here and someone else will discover a book there, and the world will be just a little bit better for each of us because of it.
So if you ever find yourself in central Pennsylvania, please do pay Hearts & Minds a visit. But wherever you are, you can support this labor of love by ordering books from Byron and Beth online. That’s one small way we can add our own contribution to the Hearts & Minds festschrift.