On Acquiring Books- How to get scholarly books to read

question-week2A 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).

Buy Books

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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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


11 thoughts on “On Acquiring Books- How to get scholarly books to read

  1. Hey, J.W. – A good post. I’m no Luddite and I like ebooks for all kinds of things, but I have found it hard to study them. Even with note-taking and search features, etc., it’s not easy. Any suggestions on tactics for e-studying?

    Posted by Michael Poteet | October 1, 2014, 8:45 AM
    • I hear you on the terribleness of e-books. I would like to think that Christians could pave the way in this realm, given their focus on the tremendous importance of the Word. It would also be neat if Christian publishers could partner with churches, trusting pastors to apply reasonable discounts. This would even allow pastors to connect fellow parishioners with similar interests! We could show the world that there is a radically different way to operate. Sadly, I doubt this will happen. The world has such a firm, conforming grip these days…

      Posted by labreuer | October 1, 2014, 1:01 PM
      • I don’t know, Labreuer, I don’t see that Christians should have any particular agenda *against* ebooks given our faith. The Word became flesh, not book (electronic or otherwise). The bound codex is just another technology, with its advantages and disadvantages like any other. Our faith isn’t in the format. (Granted, format can shape how we perceive content, in conscious and unconscious ways… I am curious as to how the scriptural canon will be perceived after a generation or so of being able to just look up pericopes online, in isolation, apart from the context of physical proximity to the rest of the Bible…)

        That said, the ebooks are awfully hard to use as study tools. Are we supposed to cite Kindle locations? I wonder what they’re teaching students in research methods these days – as my son gets older and has to start writing formal essays, I guess I’ll find out. But my formal schooling ended with my M.Div in ’97, long before ebooks were the issue they are today. I would have loved to have acquired a lot of the books I had to buy physically in e-form, I just don’t know I would have used them, practically, on a regular basis.

        Posted by Michael Poteet | October 3, 2014, 12:03 AM
      • I don’t know, Labreuer, I don’t see that Christians should have any particular agenda *against* ebooks given our faith.

        Whoops, I didn’t mean to imply that. Instead: “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”

        The Word became flesh, not book (electronic or otherwise).

        Bahahaha don’t get me started on the holographic principle. :-p

        Posted by labreuer | October 3, 2014, 10:29 AM
      • At the risk of getting you started… say more! I am not familiar with the principle so I don’t catch your drift. A brief glimpse at your link makes it seem intriguing, though.

        Posted by Michael Poteet | October 3, 2014, 2:32 PM
      • You asked. :-p

        You know that age-old mind–body dualism thing? Sometimes it gets new names, like genes vs. memes. Whether it’s actually a new thing or not—well, it depends on whether it’s “Behold, I am doing a new thing!”, or whether it’s recycled old ideas which are an attempt to reach conclusions precluded by the Logos. The only thing I can say about the holographic principle is that it might have more mathematical detail than has come before—but only might. Those Scholastics were pretty smart, even if they, too, had accepted false premises (e.g., and this may not be quite correct: a fundamentally impersonal god whose ‘relationship’ with us is equivocal and not analogical, to human–human relationships).

        The fundamental idea is that you can think in terms of matter–energy or information (bits), and get lots of the same answers—maybe all of the same answers. This raises the question: “What is most real?” Many people want to make matter–energy “more real” than information; the holographic principle offers sound reason to question this. For a view that balances the two viewpoints, see Philosophy of Mathematics § Indispensability argument for realism.

        The above being said, one can still get the critical aspect of physicalism granted all of the above: physicalism most relies on causal closure, not matter–energy. Physicalism would favor, for example, a block universe over a growing block universe. These aren’t the only options, but if we pit them against each other (yay dialectics; I’m reading Emil Brunner at the moment), we can see how God could act constantly in a growing block universe, but would be closer to a deist in a [static] block universe. So, if one believes in redemptive divine action, one needs a way for the redeeming to happen. (For a scholarly treatment: Evan Fales’ Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles.)

        That being said, I have a friend who is only genetically Jewish, who likes to say, “Whatever it is, it’s probably wrong somewhere.” (The statement applies to itself.) I will bet you—I know this is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me—that he has anti-idolatry in his blood, such that he refuses to transgress Ex 20:3–6: he refuses to confuse a picture of a thing with the thing itself. (See the map–territory relation + mistaking the map for the territory.) So, I can see ways for the [static] block universe to be a good model, for some purposes.

        P.S. Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry does bear on this, and is awesome. And if you like it, I would also suggest Worlds Apart: A Dialogue of the 1960’s and Unancestral Voice, and even Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis.

        Posted by labreuer | October 3, 2014, 3:46 PM
  2. Thanks for mentioning libraries! Inter-library loan IS pretty fantastic. Most public libraries will interlibrary loan with public universities near by if not libraries all accross the country. Librarians are all about connecting patrons with resources.

    Posted by SPoegel | October 2, 2014, 10:16 PM
  3. Good stuff! I use those methods above!

    Posted by SLIMJIM | October 3, 2014, 4:44 PM
  4. thanks for the tips – the amazon wishlist has been really helpful for compiling/ordering my to-read list! (it’s a definite improvement over the pieces of paper/documents that i keep misplacing)

    with regard to e-studying – i’ve found it helpful to note down definitions and key points or quotes in a commonplace book (as one might do with a physical book, in any case) which saves me from having to flip back constantly, but i’ve yet to come up with a substitute for those notes along the margin which wouldn’t quite make sense in isolation from the text. overall, it’s still considerably less efficient than using a physical book though, so any suggestions you might have regarding studying with an e-reader would be really welcome!

    Posted by zann | October 8, 2014, 9:19 PM
    • E-studying is very difficult and the way I approach it is often just as a book- I sit with my laptop and type my notes up in a separate document so that I can have the same types and number of notes as I would had I done it with a physical copy of a book. It takes dedication, but it’s very helpful.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 15, 2014, 5:08 PM

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