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How I Discover Books
Nine Ways I Find Reading Material
Truett Seminary begins the fall term next week, so students are back on campus. This is my fourth academic year. I’ve taken a lot of students to lunch these past few years, and a few professors and fellow staff members, too. Most of the time we remain on campus. Occasionally we venture off campus, as I did last week, when I visited Schmaltz’s with a third year seminarian.
Our lunch conversation turned to books. My friend wanted to discuss Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood and Carl Trueman’s Strange New World. I had read both books in the past year. I was asked how I learned about modern titles and how I choose what to read.
I have a shotgun approach. I pay attention to the following:
I keep my eyes open and see what others are reading. When I’m in the library, at a coffee shop, or any place where books might be on display, I make observations. If I see the same book popping up again and again, I take note.
There are a lot of smart people out there who write newsletters. I am on the email list of Cal Newport, James Clear, Gracie Olmstead, Daniel Darling, Matthew Lee Anderson, Alan Jacobs, and others. Online journals and magazines send out daily digests or weekly emails, and some include reviews or highlight new releases. If they refer to a book or quote an author, I take note.
A few podcasters I listen to will interview authors as part of a book launch. If the book sounds interesting, I write it down. More often than not, new books will make it to a library collection nearby, either in the Waco Public Library system or at Baylor. Popular modern titles can often be read at the cost of a library card, and since they are modern books, the odds are is that they’re the product of an intellectual current or a fad and may not be worth adding to my personal library anyway.
I go to bookstores and look at table displays and end caps. Titles are highlighted for a reason. Most of the time, it is because an author sells, the subject matter is of relevance, or the publisher has promoted the book to the bookseller in a way that signals that they believe a title will be a hit. Not all new books live up to the hype. Some are terrible, but are pushed as part of the ebb and flow of publishing. Publishers push the best stuff they have, even if time reveals those books aren’t great.
When I attend a lecture on campus or listen to sermons I make note of books that are mentioned.
I browse bibliographies and chase footnotes. If a title keeps appearing, I chase it down.
Publishers still issue new release catalogs. I’m on a few mailing lists. When a new catalog arrives, I browse.
My public library branch has a shelf for new releases. I browse spines and pull books. I check out new stuff. I don’t read everything I check out—I don’t have the time. But I do flip through, look at the table of contents, review the subject matter, and familiarize myself with a broader network of authors. The new release section is divided by genre, but the primary reason for placement upon that shelf is that the book is new. By browsing in this spot, I’m able to see what’s being written about in the areas of religion, philosophy, and spirituality, but I’m also able to see what is being published in biography, the arts, politics, self-help, and more.
Most importantly, I talk to smart people. I’m just a caveman. If someone I respect is reading a title, I look into it. If a smart friend is carrying a book, I ask, “What are you reading?” A good follow up: “And what do you think?”
What do I do with titles I discover? I put those titles on a list—one I can return to.
You need a capture system.
I used to keep a list of books to read in a notebook. Now, I keep that list on my phone. The important thing is to have a place to record those titles that you can be accessed the next time you make a Amazon List, provide friends and family with gift ideas, or visit the library.
I read a lot of old books too. But I collected those titles by modifying or using several of the strategies above.
One good thing about keeping lists of books to read is that you’re always reminded that you don’t know it all and there is more to learn. You’ll never read it all. Be selective with what you read, and refine your tastes over time.
Still reading Ron Chernow’s Washington.
I’m almost through Seneca’s Selected Letters. I’ve begun Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen’s Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Dallas Willard’s Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks, and David Foster Wallace’s encyclopedic novel Infinite Jest.
Since my last newsletter I finished Robert Creech’s Pastoral Theology in the Baptist Tradition and Michelle Ule’s Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman Behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional. I also read a couple of little books: Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man (a book I expect to return to, I enjoyed it so much) and Francis Schaeffer’s The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way and No Little People.
Sights and Sounds
August tunes can be found here.
I’ve watched a lot of movies since my last edition of the newsletter:
Le Samouraï (1967)
Rise of the Legend (2014)
Marathon Man (1976)
The Death of Stalin (2017)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
The Death of Stalin is a dark comedy, a lampooning of Soviet Russia. Steve Buschemi is absolutely hilarious as Nikita Khrushchev. Communist ideas remain part of the mix in our world today. Human beings are still tempted by utopianism and totalitarian ideologies. This movie exposes ways communism fails, not by way of argument, but through absurdity. When the head of state dies in a communist system other functionaries work to fill the vacuum, not in ways that are in the best interest of the state or the people, but in ways that are in their own self-interest.
I really enjoyed Le Samouraï, Marathon Man, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Each film told an interesting story. But even more than story, I enjoyed the look and feel of each of these movies. Of the three, Le Samouraï, a French film that mixes noir, mystery, and a warrior’s code, was my favorite.
On the blog: Sean Tucker encourages us to make the art we believe in, my dog Hondo is six years old, Dallas Willard reminds us that thinking of God rightly is of supreme importance for our spiritual formation, Henry Scougal shows how keeping God before us can free us when tempted, a sermon I delivered on July 31, what it was like to see over half a hundred people baptized, and one church’s risk of play.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - When your chicken and waffles are packing heat and grenades, watch out. Where’s The Waffle Den? In Killeen, Texas, right next to a CEFCO station located about four blocks from the church.