A recent comment on my blog about how to get one’s hands on a pricey philosophy of religion book without having to fork over the near-100$ price tag got me thinking. I figured I would write this post to give some pointers for how to acquire books (not necessarily own, but get them in-hand) to further one’s study. I will be sharing specific insights for Christian scholarship, but overall this should be useful for anyone looking to read scholarly (or any!) books.
I will explore a number of ways, some of which may be familiar to you, to get these books in order to consume more awesome reading. Be aware: some of these which may seem obvious at first (library) will, I hope, have more insight beyond the obvious.
Please leave comments if you think of something that I’m missing here. As I live in the U.S., this list will have some things which may only be relevant for that. International readers, feel free to share some of your own insights in the comments.
We’ll start with the obvious: use your local library. You’d be surprised what they might have access to. Inter-Library Loan is a great way to get books not immediately available. Often, your local library will have partnerships with university libraries across the nation and they’ll be able to get you that book to read. If you aren’t taking advantage of this, do so. Best of all this will be free! Well, apart from the taxes you pay. So you may as well use the library because you pay for it anyway!
Another thing to look out for is any local seminary libraries. Often, they’ll let you come in and at least sit down and read, and you may even be allowed a guest pass to check books out. It’s worth exploring and the seminary will have a robust collection of philosophy of religion and theology books. I very much recommend this route if at all possible.
Look, I know your thoughts because they were mine: “I like the smell of books”; “I like to hold the book in my hand and page through it”; “I don’t want some newfangled device!”
I hear you.
But now, be silent, because I’m going to explain why you should go for e-books and probably spring some cash for an e-reader (or at least get a Kindle app on your smart phone or something!).
1) Shelf space- a constant struggle for we book-a-holics is shelf space. E-books provide a library at your fingertips without needing anything more than a single device.
2) Old books are freely available- Literally hundreds of thousands of books are now public domain, and many are available online for free through places like Open Library. You can access things like historical apologetics books by the “armful” and they’re all free. Beat that.
3) New books are often free- Many publishers cycle through books being free for a day on Amazon. It’s worth your time to check there frequently to see if a book you may want is free. Go off of your wish list and check on Kindle to see if a book might be free, and be aware that these do change fairly frequently. It may be worth signing up for some Facebook groups or e-mail lists about free books so that you don’t miss as many (and find some you didn’t even know about).
4) Major savings on books- Have you been eyeing that 200$ treatise on a topic of interest? Oh look, it’s 50$ on Kindle. Why not save the shelf space and 150$ and just get the Kindle version? This example is extreme, but you can usually save at least a few bucks by getting the e-book version.
5) Reading e-books isn’t as bad as it sounds- Again, I hear you, I resisted for a while. Now that I have my Kindle, though, we’re inseparable. I do miss the smell of books, but the screen looks like the page of a book, and I can highlight and even take notes and bookmark pages. Moreover, it’s lightweight and small so it is easy to carry. Also, imagine that vacation: instead of trying to lug a backpack full of 25 books, you could bring your e-reader and have access to an entire library (I have well over 200 books on mine).
Another obvious instruction, but there is an art to this. That is, pretty much everyone has a limited budget for buying books (if any–I know how that goes!), along with limited shelf space. So it’s not as simple as just saying: “Yeah, go spend that 150$ on that latest book from Brill” (very pricey publisher). Here are some things I’ve done to both discipline myself and acquire books in a more meaningful fashion.
1) Set a clear budget- obviously, without this you either have no way to buy books, or you will buy too many and not eat. Whether it’s 1$ a week and you save up for 50 weeks before you buy that one book or it’s 50$ a week and you’re drowning in books, set a budget.
2) Be aware of space requirements- once more this seems obvious, but try to keep in mind the space books take. If you have limited shelf space (and we probably all do), keep in mind that a 500 pager is going to take up a lot more space than a 150 page book. For that 500 page monstrosity, it might be better to look at E-Books above.
3) Make AND MAINTAIN a wish list- We all have wish lists, but have you thought of this as a way to limit or direct your buying? While browsing through Amazon and throwing things on your wish list, why not also try to think along the lines of expense and need? A good rule is this: leave a book on your wish list for at least 2 weeks before buying. If those two weeks are up and you still really want the book and have budged for it, then it’s more likely it wouldn’t just be an impulse purchase. Another thing to keep in mind is to prioritize your buying: some books we have an idle interest in reading; others are necessary for our research. The one’s in the latter category should almost always trump the former.
Look Into Review Programs
Many publishers are willing to give you free books in exchange for reviews. For example, Crossway has a blog program in which they make available some e-books to bloggers and you can review 2 a month or up to 12 a year. That’s 12 books you both don’t have to buy and also which don’t take up shelf space. Other publishers are often willing to send you books if you contact them. If there’s a new book out that you want to read, try contacting the publisher and offering to review it on your blog if they send you a copy. It’s a mutually beneficial system.
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