10 Principles to Guide Your Book Reading

Archibald Alexander | 1772-1851

Archibald Alexander | 1772-1851

I have a wonderful two volume book set called Princeton and the Christian Ministry. If you are a pastor, you absolutely need to buy these two volumes. Page after page offers challenge, conviction, encouragement, inspiration, and excellent instruction on the pastoral ministry and all things relating to it. Buy it. You won’t be disappointed. If you do buy it and are disappointed, I apologize for nothing. Something is wrong with you.

Anyhow, in this wonderful book (that you pastors need to read), there is a chapter containing a long forgotten lecture by Archibald Alexander, a legend of Old Princeton, entitled The Use and Abuse of Books. Being the bookish sort of fellow that I am, it caught my attention. It is a lecture given to students (future scholars) in order to help them benefit from books and avoid abusing them. I have found the chapter helpful and I offer you a few of his points and quotes to guide the booky part of your life. Enjoy.

Maxims That Should Govern Your Book Life 

IMG_19181) Never let good books keep you away from the Good Book. “All our studies should be subordinate to that of the sacred Scriptures. Better read nothing else than neglect this; other books are useful just in proportion as they aid us in understanding the Bible. No man can use too much diligence in digging in this field. It contains a treasure which can never be exhausted.”

2) Don’t substitute reading for thinking. Don’t become a bad parrot who only regurgitates passages/arguments of previously read books without really thinking through them for yourself. “Books are not properly used but abused when they are allowed to supersede the exercise of our own faculties. We must cultivate independence of mind.”

3) Don’t read too much or too fast. Food gluttons will reap little reward. “To read a great deal without exercising our own thoughts on subjects is like eating a great deal which the stomach cannot digest. The food in neither case turns to nutrition, and instead of strengthening, it weakens the system. Some men are constantly devouring books; without discrimination they swallow everything which comes in their way. An unnatural appetite is created, but no advantage is acquired. The man becomes little the wiser for all his reading. To burden the memory with a multitude of undigested and unanalyzed things is of no use. It would be better to leave them in books.”

4) Always return books you borrow. You will be judged for such crimes. “We must stop the common practice of neglecting to return borrowed books. It should be one of our fixed rules when we borrow a book to read it speedily, use it carefully, and return it certainly.” Now, for those of you who have “burrowed” (i.e. stolen) my books, repent and return them to me.

5) Don’t read books you aren’t ready for. Start with intro level works and slowly work your way up. Don’t rush yourself. It’s not as much about who you have read as much as it is being able to understand what you’re reading. “Many books can only be read with profit by those whose minds are prepared for the subject. It is, therefore, a disadvantage to read some books too soon, especially if they are never read again.”

6) Just because it’s well written, doesn’t mean you should read it. Not every good book needs to be read by you. “If we are already acquainted with the subject, or if we are capable of thinking for ourselves on the same, we may dispense with reading a book. Often, however, it is necessary to (skim) it as to form a judgment of its merits so that we may recommend it or affix on it our censure.”

7) Some books need to be carefully and repeatedly read. Like this one.

8) Make notes, highlights, and marks in the books you own! I will make a post about indexing soon in the future, but for now, note this: it is not real reading if you are not writing. Do your future self a favor and highlight, note, and mark in all your books!

9) Treat your books well and with order. “I have seldom known a person who profited much by books who treated them rudely. A real scholar contracts a friendship for the very volume which has contributed to his information and edification…Benevolence should lead them to hand down unimpaired to future generations every means of useful instruction enjoyed by themselves.”

10) Don’t try to build your library too fast. Just because you have Amazon Prime doesn’t mean you need to buy a new book every few days. It may help to heed the read one before I buy another principle. “You will probably read with more care when you have a fe well-chosen books than when you have before you a great number which will tend to discourage you. Your desire to read a book will be greatly diminished if it lies on the shelf before your eyes for years before you find opportunity of perusing it.”


About Dana Dill

I'm a Christian, husband, daddy, pastor, professor, and hope to be a friend to pilgrims on their way home.
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