lifeway-campus-bookstoreIn recent months, I have come to realize that this blog is frequented by readers who appreciate my book reviews and author-interviews. This recent development of Kingdom People into a forum on books and ideas began back in 2007 when I first set a goal of reading and reviewing 100 books a year. 

I realize that it can be discouraging for some to accept my challenge of reading 100 books a year when book costs can be prohibitive. 

I remember well my days as a full-time student in seminary (also working three part-time jobs and trying to be full-time husband and dad). It was difficult to steal away a few precious moments of 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. I also have a book allowance as part of my salary that allows me to purchase books I might otherwise not think of reading.

But I understand the dilemma that many of my readers have: you want to read more, but you can’t afford the books. I’ve been there. Yes, cost can be very 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. 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 new 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.

Are you a beggar instead of a borrower? Then, I encourage you to keep your Amazon wish list active and up-to-date.

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 ridiculously 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. 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.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

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28 thoughts on “How to be a Reader when You Can't Afford Books”

  1. Joanna says:

    A great resource online is http://christianbooksummaries.com/ .They provide 8 page long summaries of the content of popular christian books. It gives you a chance to get the big ideas of books you may not have otherwise had the time or money to be able to read and can also be helpful in working out if a book is one that would be worthwhile to read in full.

    For buying used books online i’ve found http://betterworld.com/ to be pretty good.

  2. phil says:

    Trevor,

    Great post. I love Google Books, too.

    Regarding the public library– I was amazed when I perused our local library. I found books by John Piper, John MacArthur, and RC Sproul. I also found great biographies and books about church history (yes, even biographies that reformed guys love).

    It may be worth mentioning that many churches have an under-utilized church library. If your church doesn’t have one, start one! Begin with donations.

  3. Dwightk says:

    Check out Thomas Nelson’s “Book Review Blogger” program to get free books from them in exchange for a 200 word review. Even non-writers like me can handle 200 words…

    http://brb.thomasnelson.com/

  4. If you have books that you don’t want anymore, another route for cheap, used books is the various online book-swapping services. I’ve managed to swap a bunch of my old fiction books that are just taking up space for more serious fare, each for the price of postage. Paperback Swap (which does more than just paperbacks and Bookmooch are the best, IMHO. The latter even allows for international delivery.

    While not all serious fare, I’ve gotten over 150 books in 2.5 years through these two services.

  5. Todd says:

    Another good option is http://www.christianaudio.com. They give away a free premium audiobook every month. Audio is a great way to learn more, especially if you are in a commute, listen to an IPod, etc. This month’s giveaway is Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Don Whitney.

  6. Another excellent resource is the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at http://www.ccel.org . The CCEL is for online use, but it has features you’d often expect only from a downloadable program (such as the ability to highlight text. Your highlights will be remembered whenever you sign in). CCEL offers a wide variety of classic Christian literature, going all the way back to the 1st Century, and moving up to extensive libraries of the greats like Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and more! Definitely an invaluable resource for those of us who could never dream of amassing our own vast printed libraries.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Re: #4– Also, use Interlibrary Loan! You can borrow books held by other libraries in your state/ across the country. For free. :)

  8. Brian Current says:

    Seems like everyone i read online (blogs, which i call “JT & Challies & Friends”) recommends marking in your books… making notes in margins, inside the book cover, etc, which was really hard for me to get used to. Now, when a friend wanted to borrow “The Reason for God” by Keller, i had to say “um, well, it might be difficult to read cuz my pencil tore this thing up!” – so, it seems like book marking is a great way NOT to be able to share books with others, our friends, etc.

    Any thoughts on overcoming this?

  9. Chris Ashton says:

    Trevin – thanks for this post. As a seminary student who loves to read I know the frustrations you described. Apart from eBay and Amazon marketplace, might I also suggest BookDepository.com. This British site has an exceptionally good range of new, discounted Christian books and offers free international postage which means that you don’t have to always be calculating addittional costs, and you don’t have to combine orders to save money.

  10. Sean says:

    A great online book buying site is http://www.abebooks.com . Dirt cheap, high quality books!

  11. hanz says:

    How did you get the publishers to send you books for you to review? Was it as easy as telling them that if they send you Book A and Book B, you will review them on your site?

  12. June says:

    I’ve really been enjoying my book rental site, BookSwim. It’s like Netflix for books. A huge money/lifesaver, really…book rental has been a great way to go for me.

  13. Trevin Wax says:

    Hanz,

    It really is that easy. Most publishers willingly oblige if you agree to review the book.

  14. Joe says:

    Interlibrary loan is great, as Elizabeth mentioned above, and I’ve also noticed that if my local library finds it’s too difficult to find the book I’m requesting, they’ll go ahead and purchase it. In the last year, they’ve purchased books by C.J. Mahaney, Jerry Bridges, and Joel Beeke from ILLs I requested since they couldn’t easily find them. The C.J. Mahaney book (Living The Cross-Centered Life) always seems like it’s checked out, so others are benefiting from it too.

  15. hanz says:

    Thanks for the reply, T-Wax. It sounds like a win-win situation for the book reviewer and the book publisher.

  16. aworthydiscussion says:

    I’m enrolled at my local seminary for 1 paper a semester. That gives me access to their entire library. Best thing is that I can request a book from the library from the comfort of my own home, they courier it out to me, and i have it the next day. They also provide me with a return courier to get it back to them free of charge.

    Seriously – if you want to read theology – enroll part time at your local seminary !!

  17. john says:

    amazon.com’s kindle store allows you to read a sample of the books on the kindle store. this is a great way to get a feel for a book before reading it. in addition the kindle version is usually much cheaper than buying the book in paperback. i know that the kindle costs a lot ($359) but if you have an ipod touch/iphone, you use the free the kindle app on the itunes store. i feel like a billboard for amazon and apple right now but i have really enjoyed reading different books this way over the past week or two.

    jb

    oh yeah, google books is awesome. i haven’t used project gutenburg (gutenburg.org) but it has over 27000 free ebooks.

  18. Ray Arnett says:

    As a public library director, the best advice I can give is for you to ask at your local public library. As several people have mentioned, libraries will borrow from each other (including seminaries) to get you the book. Also, we will sometimes purchase the book if we think others might read it as well. How do we think others might read it? Well, if we have people asking for the book or books on a topic – then we might buy it. I review books for Library Journal – many religious titles are only appropriate for larger public libraries and academic libraries. But some are appropriate for even small libraries. The bottom line – ask, ask, ask. That’s why we are here!

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  20. there are many used books sale in our area and i frequently visit them to buy some `

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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