More than 1,000 books are printed every day in the world, and several thousand new religious titles come out each year. So how can you recognize jewels from junk when you’re looking for a book?
Here are a few tips:
Know the author. This is the most important tool you have. I’ll buy anything published by certain authors. But there are other authors I won’t read Learn from experience who’s good and who’s not. If you read something that’s bad, think twice before you read something else from that author. When you read something good, check out that author’s next book.
Read the cover and the jacket. Pay attention to the author’s credentials when you look at the jacket. It matters. Too many books have great titles, but nothing else. The author just felt like writing a book. Check out the author on the jacket cover. Try to discern if he or she has any experience concerning the book’s topic. Of course, sometimes you have to take the jacket copy with a grain a salt. Often it’s just hype and sales copy. But you need to at least review it.
Look at the table of contents. Pay attention to the chapter titles. Usually they’ll tell you quite a bit about the book’s contents. Take a look at the forward, too. It should give you a feel for not only the contents of the book but also the style – whether it’s a light or heavy read.
Check out the bibliography and the footnotes. Always check and see who is referenced in a book. You can tell a lot about a book just by who is quoted. If an author isn’t quoting anyone I care about, it tells me that the book will probably go in an unhelpful direction. If they’re quoting those I respect, I’ll pay attention to what the author is saying even if I’ve never heard of him or her.
Beware of books that claim too much. Pass on the books with claims of big results and little work. It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t grow a church overnight. You can’t – or shouldn’t – drop 60 pounds in two months.
Beware of books by celebrities or about celebrities. I rarely read a book about a celebrity. Once in a while you’ll find a strong one, but many of them are fluff.
Read book reviews. You can find good book reviews in a variety of places online and in print. There are many blogs that publish helpful reviews. Always be on the lookout for books that other people find helpful. If people or publications you respect affirm a new book, it very likely will be worth your time as well. Sometimes you’ll find an article where respected leaders will share some of the books that have influenced them over the years. Those articles are gold mines! Scan them for great books to review.
Note the publisher. Some publishers produce good books; others don’t. Certain publishers produce scholarly books; other publishers produce more practical and popular material. Take note as to what kind of books a publisher produces and let that inform your choices.
Wait a while before you buy. Unless I know the author, I rarely buy a book when it first comes out. Many books are “hot” books – ‘everyone’ is reading them. Worthwhile books will stand the test of time. A book that’s been in 15 printings will be well worth your time. Good books will prove their worth by staying on the market for an extended period of time.
Books matter. I hope you’re not only a reader – but also a smart reader. What you don’t read is as important as what you do.