Reading When You Can't Afford Books
When I was in seminary, I had an insatiable desire to read and learn and read some more. It was difficult to find time to read.
But even more difficult than finding time to read was finding money to buy books! It took all the spare cash I had to buy the books required for school. Looking at the new books at the seminary’s LifeWay, I sometimes thought to myself: If someone were willing to donate to me all of the books I really want to read, I’d write a 5-page review of each one – just to show them their money didn’t go to waste!
In some ways, that wish has come true. I now receive new books from publishers. The books that come from publishers then turn into lots of book reviews on the blog. But I still remember the feeling that I’m sure many readers of this blog have: you want to read more, but you can’t afford the books. I’ve been there. Yes, cost can be prohibitive.
Here are a few suggestions for how to be a reader when you can’t afford books:
1. Read good book reviews.
There is nothing more frustrating then spending your precious few dollars on a book that winds up being a disappointment. The more book reviews you read, the better you will understand which books are worth picking up.
Book reviews also give you information about the theological conversations taking place in the book world. Check out Discerning Reader. Or the book reviews in the back of Theology Journals. Most of them are now online. TGC also reviews books. As does Christianity Today. Look at the reviews from scholars regarding new releases. Read author-interviews and book excerpts so you can find out “in a nutshell” what different authors are trying to say. When you don’t have the time or money to read a book, find a book review instead.
2. Read your favorite books again.
That’s right. Take the books you already have and give them a second go. Not all of them, of course. But the good ones… the ones you remember well.
Reading the same book twice is never the same experience. I remember reading a book when it first came out and liking it a lot. Then, I remember reading it again a couple of years later and being horrified at the lack of discernment I’d had the first time.
Some books that you love the first time will leave you dry the second time. Other books that seemed too deep or uninviting the first time may be just what you need the second time. So be a good steward of the books you already have. Read them again!
3. Beg, steal and borrow. (Actually, just beg and borrow.)
Borrow books from family and friends. I was home for a few days around Thanksgiving and saw that my dad had just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. I took it home and read it in a few hours.
My dad is a history lover too. So he is my resource for biographies and and books about American history. I don’t need to buy a lot of books in that field. Dad always finds really interesting titles and then passes them along to me.
Theology-lovers: ask your pastor what he is reading. See what he recommends. Find friends and family that read and then rely on them to “feed” you books!
The best thing about borrowing? You can ask the person if the book is worth your time and attention. So you not only get to borrow books – you get a screener this way too!
One caveat: make sure you return books you borrow. If you don’t, you won’t be borrowing many more.
4. Go to the library.
Sounds crazy, I know. But you can find good titles (generally secular) at the library. If you have a seminary in town or a theological institution, get a library card and enjoy the books that are available.
5. Get used books cheap.
If you find some books you would like to buy, try to find them on Ebay or Amazon Marketplace. Used books are just as good as new books (for me anyway). Bestsellers from two or three years ago are often sold at low prices online. You might have to spend a little time searching, but you will make up the difference in money. And sometimes you have more time than money!
6. Find classic books online.
GoogleBooks is incredible. There is no excuse for us today to not read the classics of Christian history. More and more books are being scanned and entered into Google’s database. The amount of knowledge available at the click of a mouse is simply breathtaking. There are thousands of classic works of literature available for free on Kindle. Spend some time sorting through the books that have stood the test of time. And then enjoy the insights of those who now form the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on in the race.
- adapted from a post first published in March 2009