I realise this will surprise many, but I have been known on occasion to read a book, or to even buy a book! As shocking as that might sound, it is in fact perfectly true. With books being bought and read now and then, I have developed a few rules for myself when it comes to all this.
I have actually penned a few pieces on this topic in the past, but one can always find room for more such articles. Having collected some books over the years, hopefully I have also accumulated a bit of wisdom along the way as well. Needless to say, if you hate books and you hate reading, you are advised to turn away now!
However, for those of you who are book lovers and book collectors, this piece might resonate with you and/or be a bit of fun. So here then are eight tips or rules about book buying, book collecting, book reading, and book appreciating:
One. Some authors you simply buy whenever you find them. If they have just come out with a brand-new volume, in most cases you grab it – no questions asked. You know they are reliable and trustworthy and will always deliver the goods. And most book lovers already have their lists of most-loved authors.
For Christian writers one can always count on some dependable names. You will always snatch up a Martyn Lloyd-Jones volume, or one by C. S. Lewis. or by Charles Spurgeon, or by J. C. Ryle, or by Os Guinness, to mention just five superlative English Christian writers of past and present.
Two. In the old days it was always a great joy in life to carefully inspect second-hand bookstores for items on your most-wanted list, or to just see what delightful surprises might await you there. While it is still terrific to discover and check out a new second-hand bookstore, or revisit an older one, the internet of course has radically changed things.
Now we have so many online book dealers, and many bookstores have their stock detailed online, that one can do most book-browsing at home, and with the click of a mouse make any necessary orders. So one need not leave home anymore as one tracks down fav volumes. But no question, it is still a hoot to go into an actual bookstore – new or used.
Three. Sometimes you just don’t know if a new book is worth buying or not. A few obvious things you can look for right away: Is it put out by a reliable publisher? Is it penned by a reliable author? Does it get good blurbs on the back from other authors you know and trust? Is it somewhat within budget?
Speaking of which, New Zealand Christian teacher Winkie Pratney once had the “ten cents rule” (which now would be the “one dollar rule”): For every dollar you spend on a book, there should be at least one good idea or one new thing that you learn. So a $25 book should offer 25 new worthwhile insights or ideas.
And if some new books are just too costly, it might be worthwhile simply waiting for them to either eventually come out second-hand, or go down in price in a bargain section of the store. Of course the risk is if you wait too long, the book might disappear altogether, go out of print, and be very hard to find later on.
Four. I am often asked if I have read all the books I own. I usually reply by saying it depends on the book. A work of fiction tends to need to be read in its entirety, or you miss a vital bit of plot development or character assessment, or some other key matter.
But many of the books I have are reference books – such as commentaries or systematic theologies – and often you can just go to the relevant section you are after. One need not read every word of those books. Of course great treasures like those by Chesterton or Lewis you likely want to read every page of.
And you need to learn to read selectively. A good non-fiction book will tell you at the start of each chapter, if not each paragraph, where it is headed, and then details are supplied. Sometimes you can just skim through and get the big ideas, and not worry about the particular details or illustrations until some other time.
Five. If you have a lot of books you will need to keep some sort of listing of them. I happen to have a 105-page Word document in rather small print which lists all 6700 of my books by author, title, and rough cost (in case the house burns down and the insurance guys need to know replacement costs – but let’s not even think that way!).
Better to start such a list early before your library gets too large! Also, I have my list on a OneDrive thingee, so I can see an automatically updated version of it whenever and wherever I need to. This comes in real handy when you are in a bookstore and not sure if you already have a particular book. I have bought far too many duplicates over the years, so I need such a system to help me out!
Six. Some folks might go down the path of ebooks and Kindle, etc. It certainly is a good bit cheaper, and it certainly helps with the storage problems. But if you are like me you understand that this is heretical! Give me a good book I can curl up in bed with, smell its ink, caress its pages, etc.
Seven. Speaking of heresy, there are of course purists out there who never dog-ear a book nor underline a passage. I say amen to the first: death to all page benders! But I must confess that I do use a yellow highlighter to accentuate important bits. Some folks might have a terrific memory and know just where to find a quote in any book, but not me. OK, I partake in yellow sacrilege then. So shoot me already!
Eight. As to storing your collection, the bigger it is, the more difficult this can become. The truth is, desperate times call for desperate measures, and running bookshelves above your doorways, in your kitchens, in your bathrooms, and any other conceivable place may be the way to go.
But I speak not just in terms of having enough room to house your prized collection. As any librarian knows, there is always the problem of cross-classification. If you sort and shelve your books by subject, sometimes a book can go in more than one category.
All true book lovers and collectors know full well the joys and sorrows of such dilemmas. Should a book dealing with a great saint and his theology and his place in history go in the biography section? Or in the theology section? Or in the church history section? These are painful dilemmas indeed.
Also, should you keep some authors altogether, or put their books in the relevant subject areas? For example, terrific writers like J. I. Packer have written on a wide array of biblical topics, so their books can go in theology sections, in Scripture sections, in Christian living sections, etc.
Or you can keep all your Packer volumes in one place. That is what I have done, along with a few other authors, such as John Piper, Lloyd-Jones, G. K. Chesterton, and Lewis. And then there can be the problem of what to do with rather broad and diverse books in a set: keep them all together, or divide them by topic?
Some sets on systematic theology I keep all together, such as those by Bavink, Bloesch, or Berkouwer. But some series I break up by specific topic, such as Christology, eschatology, ecclesiology, soteriology, etc. This includes multi-authored series like the Contour of Theology series or the Bible Speaks Today series.
And all true theology and commentary lovers will also know about this big-time difficult dilemma: do I keep particular commentary sets (such as NICNT, NIVAC, NIGTC, Word, ZECNT, BECNT, etc) together, or do I break them up by biblical book?
I happen to have my 700+ commentaries arranged by biblical book. That way if I am writing, say, on Ephesians, I can grab from my shelves my 20 or so commentaries all in one go – that is, if my arms are large enough to hold them all!
On and on the shelving problems go. But it is all part of the wonderful world of books, reading and libraries. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And it might be fitting to close with a few of my fav quotes on this topic:
“A house that has a library in it has a soul.” Plato
“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Erasmus
“There never yet have been, nor are there now, too many good books.” Martin Luther
“I cannot live without books.” Thomas Jefferson
“My books. I cannot tell you what they are to me – silent, wealthy, loyal lovers. . . . I do thank God for my books with every fiber of my being. Friends that are ever true and that are ever your own.” Oswald Chambers
“What can be better than to get out a book on Saturday afternoon and thrust all mundane considerations away till next week?” C. S. Lewis
“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” Anna Quindlen
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx