There’s a lot out there in the Christian book market. I don’t have enough time to read all of it. I don’t want to read all of it. What I want to do is to read things that will challenge me, make me think, help me grow, and point me to God. So I thought it was worth writing down a few of the ways I came to the books I love, since “pick a random one and buy it” is almost never a good option.
1. I listen to wise and discerning Christian friends. My mom, my husband, a few friends, and some folks here online: they’ve all guided me to interesting authors and interesting books. Generally, if I know a person and I’m familiar with their faith walk and we’ve talked a lot about matters of faith – or if I know we share similar tastes – I listen when they tell me something’s worth a go. I’d say it works out 9 times out of 10.
2. I deep-dive bibliographies. I’ve found a lot of success by looking into the books that my favorite authors read, or by diving into the books they mention in their books or in their bibliographies. Often if you like an author, you’ll probably like their influences, too – or find them illuminating, at the very least. I came to Henri Nouwen in this way – he kept popping up as a reference in Philip Yancey’s books!
3. I live at the library. This is a good, low-risk way to try a book you think might be good but that you know nothing about. Sometimes if you’re not willing to lay out the money but you want to experiment, the library is the way to go. I’m fortunate; my library stocks quite a few very current and brand-new Christian books and series! (Plus they often have these things available in multiple formats, like audiobooks, for people who prefer them).
4. I search and research. Look up books on a topic that interests you and, when you find them, do some research on the author, the publishing company, and so on. This can help keep you away from bad theology, bad thinking, and bad research. A little bit of effort goes a long way toward helping you find something you like.
5. I use the “If you like…” feature. A lot of Christian bookstores (and even public libraries) have this. If you search for a book, oftentimes you’ll see a panel recommending other, similar books: “If you like this, then try this!” More often than not, this churns out some decent recommendations – though of course it isn’t failproof.
6. I read the Amazon reviews. If I’m torn about a book or if I’ve heard about one that sounds good but is otherwise unfamiliar, I head over to Amazon and read the reviews. Not one review. Not ten. Lots of reviews. While individual reviews may or may not be trustworthy, I find that reading a bunch of them can often peg problems that may turn me off a book – or things that may interest me about it. You can get a sense of what a book offers, or doesn’t, from the reviews that people offer.
7. Give up on what doesn’t click. There was a book by a well-known Christian figure (none of my usual suspects or favorites, and no author I’ve ever reviewed or acknowledged here) that I really, really wanted to read. So I ordered it from my library and I started reading it, and…
…and I hated it.
I disagreed with some of the points in the book, major and minor. I found the author grating and condescending. I realized I was gritting my teeth just to get through chapters, because I am the kind of person who thinks I “need” to finish a book.
I didn’t. I made myself stop. Why waste energy on something that isn’t going to grow me or point me more toward God?
Sometimes a book just doesn’t work for you. You thought it’d be funny and it wasn’t. You thought it’d be about one thing and it was really about something else. You thought you’d agree with the points and you don’t. Maybe it’s even a really silly reason, like the whole thing references the KJV and you’re an NIV sort of person. Sometimes your mood might just not be quite right for it.
And that’s fine. The best way to find the book you love is to let go of the one you don’t. So don’t feel bad if you decide to abandon one book for another, or you sheepishly mark one off your list without having read it. Sometimes the wisest choice you can make is to go on to something new.
(P.S. If you’re reading something really good right now, feel free to mention it in the comments! I am nosy about people’s reading.)