Episodes in a Reading Life: Smith Family Bookstore, Eugene, Oregon

Smith Family Book Store is the tag on hundreds of my books. It would take too long to count them. Places shape souls. This place, a used bookstore, formed me intellectually.

When I moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 1976, for my second year of college, I discovered a large used bookstore one block from my studio apartment and one block from Northwest Christian College. I attended there for two quarters before transferring to the University of Oregon. This sanctuary for book buffs was a mere block from the University of Oregon and became my intellectual epicenter.

Roaming the stacks contributed as much to my education as the books assigned for my courses. I read of Viktor Frankl in my Introduction to Psychology class. At Smith Family, I found a copy of his book, Man’s Search for Meaning for only 95 cents. One of the great books of the twentieth century—on par with C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man and several others—Frankl’s seminal work still has a place in my library.

That first year in Eugene was a lonely one. However, First Baptist Church became my spiritual home. Dr. Jack MacArthur’s powerful and eloquent preaching and Pastor Mike Hilty’s teaching for our college group grounded me in Scripture and the Christian life, as did my new Christian friends. Yet I lived by myself, was often melancholy, did not have a girlfriend, and found myself ensconced in books—those for college courses and those from Smith Family and other bookstores. I was a young Christian and a young man who was beginning to sense a hunger for knowledge. Smith Family offered a plethora of used and mostly inexpensive books on every topic of my interest—philosophy, psychology, religion, theology, the Bible, and more.

All bookstores offer serendipity. You never know what book will pop up. You find them and they find you. But in a large used bookstore—especially one in a university town—the selection is vast and a bit unpredictable. You find classics, recent popular books, older popular books, and…obscure out-of-print books. Smith Family sold all their books at half the cover price. The older ones were inexpensive—and tempting. They usually won over a young and aspiring bibliophile.

During my years in Eugene (1976-1984; 1989-1993), Smith Family Bookstore changed locations several times and added a new location outside the university area. I continued to peruse and purchase books, hundreds of them. Upon graduating from The University of Oregon in 1979, I spent the next five years in campus ministry. Vast stretches of time were given to me for reading and writing. I had the university library and Smith Family Bookstore to offer a wealth of books on any subject I wanted to explore. There were many.

When I returned to Eugene for visits in the summers of 2013 and 2014, both locations were still there and ripe for wandering and wondering through the mountains of knowledge. I sent home several boxes of book treasure.

Denver, where I live, is not a university town, as is Eugene. There are a number of schools, but no major university, and therefore, Denver lacks the penumbra of university culture—the coffee shops, music stores, bars, delis, and bookstores. I can find that in Boulder, but not here. There are few used bookstores, and none to compare with the mighty Smith Family. Yet my library has been fed by Smith Family Bookstore; so, it remains with me.

Author: Douglas Groothuis

Author of Christian Apologetics, Truth Decay, On Jesus, On Pascal, and others. Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary since 1993. Head of The Apologetics and Ethics Masters Degree Program and Co-Director of The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture. Senior Fellow for Apologetics.com.

3 thoughts

  1. Hi, Doug. I will add “penumbra” to my vocabulary. I recently bought 1000 vocabulary cards for the GRE. Twenty cards for fifty days will get me through the heap. That’s not bad at all. I enjoy vocabulary learning.
    Smith Family Bookstore sounds like a great place to wander and wonder. Perhaps stumble upon Kurt Koch, Edward John Carnell, Gordon Clark, Ronald Nash, or Walter Martin books. A 10$ hardcover from 1964 of Carnell’s An Introduction to Christian Apologetics is currently for sale on eBay, still graced with its original dust jacket. There was an older set of God, Revelation, and Authority by Henry on there for $49, but it is gone. My most recent additions from the past month, mostly from Amazon, are:
    – The New Mormon Challenge, Editor: Beckwith
    – A Survey of Metaphysics, E.J. Lowe
    – Metaphysics: The Big Questions, Eds.: van Inwagen and Zimmerman (a Ph.D in philosophy at Rutgers would be nice!)
    – Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays, Leibniz
    – A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus, Editor: Donald K. Campbell
    – How to Write a Philosophy Paper, James S. Stramel
    – Philosophical Writing: An Introduction, A.P. Martinich
    – Writing Philosophy: A Student’s Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays, Lewis Vaughn
    – The Existentialists (1968), James Collins
    – The Art of Public Speaking, Tenth Edition (a great textbook used college courses) Stephen Lucas
    – An Introduction to Existentialism (1962), Robert G. Olson
    – How to Read Wittgenstein, Ray Monk
    – The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century, Second Edition, David F. Ford
    – 20th-Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age, Stanley J. Grenz
    – The Empiricists: Locke: Concerning Human Understanding; Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge & 3 Dialogues; Hume: Concerning Human Understanding
    – The Rationalists: Descartes: Discourse on Method & Meditations; Spinoza: Ethics; Leibniz: Monadology & Discourse on Metaphysics
    – Audiobook: Church History in Plain Language, Fourth Edition, Bruce Shelley
    – Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (1993), Editor: Walter A. Elwell
    – Expository Hermeneutics: an Introduction, Elliot Johnson
    – Things Which Become Sound Doctrine: Doctrinal Studies of Fourteen Crucial Words of Faith, J. Dwight Pentecost
    – Being and Having – An Existentialist Diary, Gabriel Marcel
    – Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope, Gabriel Marcel
    – The Parables of Jesus, J. Dwight Pentecost
    – The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy Second Edition ($4.44!) I needed a new copy, the copy I had was stolen
    – The Flowering of Old Testament Theology: a Reader in Twentieth-Century Old Testament Theology, Eds: Ben C. Ollenberger, Elmer A. Martens, Gerhard F. Hasel
    – He That is Spiritual; A Classic Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Spirituality, Lewis Sperry Chafer

    Your manuscript for Philosophy in Seven Sentences is finished, correct?

  2. Sounds like heaven man. Nothing beats this kind of experience; perusing, smelling the books, delightfully being overwhelmed. I’ve had a related experience with a bookstore in Pasadena California called the “Archives”.

  3. I too have fond memories of the Smith Family Bookstore indeed — but I am quite certain you read about 20x as many books as I did.

    Additionally I also have fond memories of the fine teaching from Dr. MacArthur and Pastor Mike Hilty. I was a new believer back then and those Conservative Baptists taught me the Word of God — for which I am grateful to this day to have been so firmly rooted in.

    And I am beyond grateful to the McKenzie Study Center where I had the opportunity to meet you as well as be taught by you and some other wonderful thinkers. 35 years later these experiences left an impact on me which is felt to this day — much of which has been handed down to our sons who now love the Word of God

    Thank you my friend. I am so exceptionally grateful. And thank you for being a true voice in the wilderness all these years later.

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