Some Thoughts/Questions About Owning & Reading Books

Discussion in 'The Literary Forum' started by E.R. CROSS, May 14, 2018.

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  1. E.R. CROSS

    E.R. CROSS Puritan Board Freshman

    I was reading a couple things recently, one about how John Bunyan had a very small personal library; and another a quote by a man (I forget who) who stated that the Bible and either Fisher or Ames' systematic (again, I forget) was sufficient to be a minister.

    I posted a while back about trimming my library, but now I am seriously considering the pros and cons of literally only having a Bible and a book or maybe three.

    1. What is your opinion on this? Keep in mind I am a layman, so I don't have the same needs as a pastor as far as books, commentaries, etc. Do you think that, at the very least, devoting a significant amount of time to reading and re-reading only a particular book could be a beneficial experience?

    2. If your library could only be the Bible and one or two other books, which would they be? No internet, no library, no prospects of acquiring more books.

    Maybe it's just me, but the thought of trying to master a few, instead of merely dipping into many, has great appeal.

    I struggle with wanting to collect every Puritan work I hear of, to the point where good books become a weight upon me, staring at me from the shelf as they wait to be read.

    Am I merely romanticizing here?
  2. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    I'm working on building up a library that I can pass on to my son and so that I can lend or give books to people who need them. Apart from considerations of space on the bookshelf, I do not see how it is possible to have too many books (so long as they are good books). The more books, the better.

    But if I could only have the Bible and a couple of other books, those other books would be a metrical psalter and a volume containing the Westminster Standards.
  3. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I am with you on the Psalter and sing from it daily without exception. But partly due to my aging eyes, and partly because I love computers, I have invested heavily in my Logos library. I have about 4,500 books and related resources in my electronic library. More books than I could ever hope to master in my remaining years (days or hours, God knows). I have been teaching on Luke for nearly a year and checked my resources and found that I have about 40 commentaries on Luke alone. I often pray that the Lord would help me choose "five smooth stones" of the best books at a time. I read cover to cover, several works at a time. I bought the best tablet money could buy. A Samsung 9.75 inch Galaxy Tab S3. I have often thought and even said to my youngest son Davis that I am highlighting sections with him in mind for the future.

    But I said all that to say this. I keep one physical hardcover book on my table at all times. That book is Fisher's Catechism. Over 4,000 Q & A on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. There are 170 sub-questions on SC Q4. What is God? I have had a long love affair with Fisher's going back some 25 years—so much so that I published an addition myself. I don't know any other book that covers in so few words as much theology.

    Oh, I just noticed that is 3:26 AM and I am late for my devotions. Good reading and a good day to all.

    Edit: I offer a 30% discount only to PB members on Fisher with the code PBFISHER
  4. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Puritan Board Junior

    I would say both Bavinck's and Vos' Reformed Dogmatics are essential for theology lovers. Balance that with one or two devotional Puritan works.
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The Holy Spirit gave teachers to the church. Those teachers wrote books.

    I don't have that many books for shelf space reasons, but I do read a lot via library and stuff.
  6. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    I have that Fisher's Catechism! It's certainly a valuable resource. I wish I'd known about the discount! :)
  7. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I would like to become a master of Scripture, but aside from that, I am very much a dipper. But there's no one answer that's right for every person.

    If the number of good Puritan books has become a weight upon you, as you say, it is possible you are suffering from a malady my wife and I have dubbed "book righteousness." It happens when your self-evaluation of your worth comes from the number of good books you've read rather than from the blood of Christ and his righteousness.

    I can tell you from personal experience that this is a crafty disease that's hard to eradicate. It tends to be found among those who are Reformed, because it grows from otherwise good impulses. Awareness, confession, and the forgotten virtue of moderation are helpful. True humility, defined as spending much of your free time doing things that feel beneath you, is also a possible cure. Prayer usually helps (but beware of "prayer righteousness"). Having seen to these things, read however many books you want.
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  8. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Books today are not nearly the investment they were hundreds of years ago. If you like them, enjoy them. I find books that were hard to engage at one point in my life may snap to life at another. A few are precious revisitations with a particular author or truth that can be enjoyed many times. Why predecide, unless you truly cannot afford books?
  9. ccravens

    ccravens Puritan Board Freshman

    I am having the same thoughts. Better to master a few than have read many. But I haven't yet made the commitment.
  10. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I *buy* the books I want to master. That means stuff like Witsius, Plantinga, Hodge, Shedd. etc.

    I don't buy the "new stuff." I get it from libraries.

    I generally don't by commentaries. I know enough of the original languages and I have a few good Greek and Hebrew lexicons.
  11. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    I would probably choose a study bible in your favorite translation, the ST of your choose, and a really good book on devotions/praise.
  12. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Freshman

    Good commentaries are invaluable, especially to those who know the original languages. They are probably the books I buy and consult most often. Perhaps that displays the difference in our interests, though.
  13. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I couldn't agree more. I have 9 of your works. These past four or so months I have been reading Dale Ralph Davis's commentaries on the history books cover to cover.
  14. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I agree. I have access to critical textual commentaries via my alma mater library.
  15. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    One of the perks of being my church senior pastor is the means to buy and use books, as he gets a 1000.00 per year to apply towards that, and asked him onetime why so many reference books, few commentaries, and his reply was that he really researched himself the text in Greek/Hebrew/English, and then went to a reputable commentary, not other way around.
  16. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    Those three are my top three choices.

    I remember one older brother lamenting that he wished in his younger years that he had spent more time reading the Bible than books about the Bible. I want the Scriptures themselves to be my closest friend. If I must settle all controversies with them, then I want to know them. Doing this will allow me to greatly profit from men who know/knew them better than I do.

    I’m certain I could spend decades in the Westminster Standards. What a compendium of insights from experienced pastors/theologians!

    My library is not big, and my accountability partner (who is also my wife) makes sure I buy books that I’ll read, and for good reason. I’m absolutely convinced that the best way to manage your reading is to master a few excellent works and pump every drop from those deep wells that you can get.

    I’ll never exhaust the Bible, or the Psalter, or probably the Westminster Standards. Beyond reading, I believe it’d be powerfully profitable to get as much of all three fixed in your memory as possible. That will never fail to bear abundant fruit.
  17. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    I don't believe in reading books.

    I read only my Kindle. ;)
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  18. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman

    I was just thinking about my library the other day and had the following thoughts:

    1) Impulse buys are hit and miss. I will hear of a good recommendation, think "that is a great topic for me to dive into" and then find later it is really far lower on the priority list than I originally thought. I will usually buy several books on a particular topic I think I need to study and then not end up getting to it.

    2) Moving forward, I really wish I would only buy books I plan on reading more than once - so investing in resource type books (systematic theologies, monographs, quality commentaries, high quality practical theology books, etc.)

    3) I have probably overspent most in building up my commentary collection. Much of what I bought was based on recommendations from D.A. Carson's small book, user reviews, etc. (Though I have to say I have been very pleased with my Ian Duguid commentaries. :) )

    Commentary series are very hit and miss. Even the same commentator can vary in quality from series to series of course depending on the purpose of the commentary, their stage in life, etc. These days I tend to favor commentaries who comment on the theology/message of the text rather than linguistic details but if I was doing weekly exegesis I probably would think differently.

    4) Popular level books - So hit and miss (more miss than hit). I really should stick with fewer authors that have proven to feed to my soul and mind. When someone recommends the latest "hotness" I am usually disappointed. I am rarely disappointed by the Puritans and older works that have stood the test of time. However, this may be a function of where I am currently at in my spiritual journey and maturity and where the rest of the modern audience is that most authors are targeting.
  19. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    My analytical shelf.
  20. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    You could also consider collecting books that you know you never will get to read for the purpose of passing them on to your children. Maybe they will read some of the things you did not read, while not getting to read some of the things you did read. Perhaps having such thoughts in mind may help in alleviating the weight one feels to read all of them.
  21. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    Right. A library is a valuable investment that can be passed on! That's the main reason why I've mostly moved away from digital books. I want my son to be surrounded by good books as he grows up.
  22. Mason

    Mason Puritan Board Freshman

    I've given some thought about this and I think I would be satisfied with:

    1. Authorized Version
    2. 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter
    3. The Westminster Confession (Banner's edition)
    4. Unabridged Pilgrim's Progress
    5. The Institutes of the Christian Religion
    6. The Canterbury Tales
    7. à Brakel's A Christian's Reasonable Service
    8. à Brakel's Commentary on Revelation
    9. Turretin's Elenctic Theology
    10. Machen's Greek for Beginners
    11. η καινη διαθεκε (TBS edition)
    I'm thinking about donating the rest of my books to my church's library and just keeping these.
  23. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    I've loved books since I was a kid. My mom read to me before I knew how, and I picked it up early. I was reading novels by the time I was 10-11 years old. I've always had a library of sorts which reflected my interests at a given time. Mostly secular until the past five or so years.
    Once I was in a used book store in West Palm Beach, FL, looking at a multi volume set of Sir Richard Francis Burton's One Thousand Nights and a Night. It wasn't 'that' expensive, but it wasn't cheap either. I said something like, 'I'd like to have it, but I'd probably never read the whole thing.'
    The proprietor replied,'It's like the ocean, I may never go there, but it is nice knowing it is there in case I ever want to.' His rational struck a chord and I bought the set. I enjoyed it for a time but eventually sold it on ebay and got my money out of it.
    I have accumulated quite a library of Reformed books. Most used, but in excellent or better condition. More than I could probably possibly read if I live thirty more years and reach the century mark.
    I have high hopes though, and dedicate my free time to working my way through them. I don't ever watch television or films, at least not in the past five years, and rarely read secular material, other than current events, and that is limited.
    I have struggled within myself as to whether my being a bibliophile is 'of the world', and merely materialism disguised as devotion. The jury is still out on that one. When I eventually go home to be with the Lord my church will gain a library of hundreds of books, albeit with the aroma of pipe tobacco impregnated within them, so all will be well that ends well. :detective:
  24. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    If I could go back in time, would have tried to read the bible much more, would have been more serious about application and prayer time with God, and would have also would have read more into Historical theology, as have read many ST, but not that much of HT books.
  25. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    +1, but there's no time like the present ..... :)
  26. Gabriel Barnes

    Gabriel Barnes Puritan Board Freshman

    I most certainly see where you are coming from. And I believe being able to master several exceptionally important volumes to be a very profitable endeavor. I do however believe that having a library with various volumes can be quite beneficial.
  27. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    While I am skeptical of the idea of getting rid of books, I happen to find myself doing just that. So if I had to narrow it down to books that I reread and analyze and at times commit portions to memory, it would be these.

    Moliere, Plays. Any of them.
    Shakespeare. Comedies. The tragedies are overrated.
    Hodge, volume 1.
    Alexander Pope. Poetry.
    Samuel Johnson.
  28. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman

    Blasphemy! ;) Though I do love the construction of Midsummer Night's Dream, God used Hamlet powerfully in my life at an early age so it will always have an endearing spot in my heart. I would be fine if I never read King Lear again and have no desire for MacBeth so maybe you are mostly on to something.
  29. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    Ah, yes. The academy of the overrated.

  30. PaulCLawton

    PaulCLawton Puritan Board Freshman

    This may out me as one who possesses "book righteousness" but I find some of the advice given here to be odd. I would say buy as many books as you can afford and read as many as you possibly can. By all means read the best books, but read widely also; you never know when you may be able to recommend a book you have read to someone in need and reading widely will also help make you a more interesting person. Tolle legge...
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