Do you own a stack of books which fall into the category of “purchased with every good intention of reading?” For Christians, this usually occurs after being caught up in the emotion of a powerful, well-delivered quote accompanied by a fervent recommendation. Your pile of books may also include birthday gifts and/or you might be a victim of the Koorong Bargain Bins (the former and the latter can be combined to produce endless variations for any gift-giving occasion).
Consider these principles:
1) Ask yourself: “why do I want to read this book?” Answering this question succinctly will help you to clarify your initial purpose for reading the book. If someone gives you a book, write down their recommendation in the front cover. A clear purpose will also give you a context for reading (on holidays, after dinner, before bed, etc).
2) Find the big idea. Most devotional authors have one big idea. Publishers force authors to elongate 20-30 pages of excellent text into 200 pages of washed out text (it’s like getting to the 45 minute mark in the sermon and the speaker says “that was just my introduction”). If the big idea inspires you – read on. If not – consider the book finished.
3) Prioritise the very best works. Modern theological authors churn out the books (unlike their ancient counterparts who had to deal with state-sponsored violence and aggressive canons). Ask around to find out which books best represent the author. Incidentally, if your good intentions stack is full of lesser books by well-known authors – we can only deduce that you or your loved ones have been to the Koorong Bargain Bins (see above).
4) Don’t buy any more books until you finish reading what you have. (Mothers, Wives, & Girlfriends – Commentaries are always exempt from this principle). And finally, if you must continue to neglect your reading list:
5) Don’t read one or two chapters of a book and then reference it again and again at social events. Four years ago, I mentioned to someone that I had read the Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. He immediately asked me to recall all of the Nine Marks. By some miracle I remembered them all – but I couldn’t tell you what they are now. Reading a few chapters or even the whole book doesn’t make you an expert on the work or the author. Ask a close family member to tell you if you are abusing this principle.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote an article on purchasing books in The Sword & the Trowel. For the reader who could afford little he wrote: “Don’t buy thin soup; buy the essence of meat.” I concur.