There’s a dangerous myth I keep hearing amongst Christians. And the place I hear it most is when I’m standing at a conference bookstall trying to interest people in Matthias Media’s books and resources.
It’s the myth that we really ought to finish reading all the books on our bookshelves before we buy more.
Such a sentiment seems almost godly and prudent.And I suppose in some ways it could be viewed that way.
But—and with the caveat that you need to bear in mind that I work in marketing for a book publishing company—I want to suggest it’s nonsense. Here are three reasons why:
(1) It’s not all about you!
Of course, one of the main reasons to buy a book is to benefit you. But it’s not the only reason. Books can help other people too, right?
So you see a good book at a good price. Broaden your purchase criteria. Don’t just think “Would I like to read this book?”. Ask yourself “Would this book help anyone I know?” or even “Would this be a good book to have on my shelf in case it would be helpful to someone including me in the future?”
Bookshelves shouldn’t just be an archive of our past reading. They should be a rich resource stockpile for future ministry. Including multiple copies of some books that we know we will give away or lend frequently.
(2) It’s not about finishing.
I also want to defend the practice of starting books and not finishing them.
Of course authors want you to read their whole book. But if their work is not compelling, and you’re not getting a lot out of reading it, give up! Cut your losses. Honestly, you haven’t invested that much cash in the book—probably less than the average starter or main course at your local Chinese restaurant where you might also wisely decide not to finish what you pay for. Personally, I find it hard to persevere with a book when I find the argument of the first part weak. So I confess to having quite a few books with a bookmark placed about one-third of the way through. But that’s okay. That’s not a reason to give up on books. It’s a reason to try a different one.
(3) Impulse buy ≠ bad.
For many of us who like books, when we stand looking at a shiny new title, with its alluring cover that seductively calls out to us “buy me! read me!”, it is very tempting. And tempting equals bad, right? Well, no. Not necessarily.
By all means, take your time to look carefully beyond the cover because you can’t judge a book… yada yada. Read the chapter titles; flick through and get a feel for what the author’s big idea and trajectory is; check if the writing is engaging; think about the reputation of the author and publisher; if you’re really desperate, you might even read the ‘celebrity pastor’ endorsements.
In other words, don’t ‘impulse buy’ without checking out whether this book seems like a good investment. But on the other hand, the book is there in front of you. It looks helpful. It’s a reasonable price. If you don’t buy it now are you ever likely to buy it and add it to your “resource stockpile for future ministry”?
So, there you have it, bibliophiles: your very own DIY rationalization starter kit.
Author: Ian Carmichael