I love books, not just the idea of books. I love reading books. In our materialistic culture, we often equate owning books with reading them. We see a massive library and assume the owner to have the knowledge of the sum. Unfortunately, sometimes purchasing takes place of reading, and book owners become collectors rather than readers. However, regardless of how many books we buy, we cannot say we truly own any book until we have actually read it, and we can possess many books without owning any.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against buying books. I have hundreds. However, book collecting is an expensive hobby, and it serves only to nurture one’s own vanity unless those books are put to use and read. We would do well to buy less and read more.
Bible college and seminary students often have the urge to buy as many theology books as possible. This urge typically results in expensive mistakes. Students spend their undergraduate years accumulating outdated and overly general resources. During graduate school, students buy cutting-edge but exceedingly specialized resources. After graduation, most books in students’ libraries are retired to boxes and dusty shelves. Students would do better to save their money and make thoughtful purchases as they near graduation with their terminal degree. If books are needed beforehand, library cards make acquisitions much cheaper than credit cards.
Before buying any book (even a textbook), ask three questions. First, why do you want to buy this book? If your answer begins: “this book presents an interesting position on…/is significant to…/would be great for…”, then stop and don’t buy. In fact, if your answer is anything but “this is a book I want/need to read,” then you should not buy the book.
Second, can you read this book without buying it? If you have never read the book before, then you should always try to read it first for free. Perhaps you can borrow it from a library or a friend. Even if a book costs several dollars to borrow via inter-library loan, a small fee is much cheaper than buying a book in order to read only once.
Third, for those books you have read, would you profit from owning a personal copy? You will find that engaging in good reading habits such as taking reading notes will often eliminate the need for owning a personal copy. You may even find yourself studying borrowed books better than those you have bought because of the necessity to return them. In such cases, you may actually own the content of borrowed books better than those that sit on your shelves.
Theology students are pounded with advertizements and testimonials that urge them to buy books and digital library systems. Time equals money, and money spent on books often cuts silently into the time necessary to read them. Just because a book sits on your self or hard drive doesn’t mean it is doing you any good (even if it is fully searchable). Don’t buy books you don’t want. Read them first, and then buy the books you will actually use.