Book Snob At The Coffee Shop
For a few years now, I’ve known a guy who is a know-it-all. Every time he meets a friend in a coffee shop, he lets you know that he’s well-read. When someone needs a book recommendation or a Christmas gift, he’s always got an idea. In fact, he’s got a shelf full of them! He reads, reviews, listens to, studies, and summarizes books—and he’ll let you know that too! He considers himself to be ahead of the curve on all the best books, both old and new, so don’t even try to recommend something to him because he has already seen it, ordered it, and read the first chapter on his Kindle.
Have you ever met a guy like this? I usually see him in the coffee shop once or twice a week. In fact, he’s at my house every day. I look at him in the mirror every morning. Sadly, I’ve been faced with the realities of my snobbery as I’ve seen friendships go sour and friends get annoyed with my incessant tendency to reference and recommend the latest books I’m reading. I’m sure they have gotten sick of hearing me go on and on about how the current book I’m reading is one of the best I’ve ever read on the topic.
Don’t Read In Vain
As I write these words, it’s embarrassing to think about how many times I’ve made a fool of myself as a book snob. I’ve read a little more than 200 books, which could seem like a lot until you look at the bibliographies of your shelf. If the average American reads 12 books each year, it may seem amazing to read a lot more than that. It’s humbling to see that guys like Tim Challies read 2 books a week, and Albert Mohler reads several each week as well.
I’m not a big shot at all—though there are times that I think I am. There are times that I vainly plow through a book just so I can add it to my reading list or say that I’ve read it. The vanity in reading this way is summed in Ecclesiastes 12:12: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” This isn’t saying that reading many books is sinful or even something to be avoided. But it can indeed be “vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Learning To Read Again
After a couple of years of reading a lot (not all!) in vain, I have deliberately changed the way I read. In fact, I’ve changed the way I look at reading altogether. The Puritan writer, Richard Baxter, said, “It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make a man wise or good, but the well-reading of a few, could he be sure to have the best.” In other words, it’s not important to simply plow through a book just to say I’ve accomplished it. Rather, reading a book well makes all the difference.
Here are some of the changes I’ve made regarding how I read:
1. . When Jesus was waging war with Satan, He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). It is to my shame that there have been years where I’ve read 30 or 40 books but didn’t read through the Bible. While professing to value God’s Word above every other book, my actions proclaimed that “man lives by good books and God’s Word is a supplemental add-on if I get around to it”.
2. I read good books slowly and I mark them up with copious notes. There are some books that I read to simply gather the information or to see what’s in it. Sometimes this happens when a friend asks my opinion of a book I’ve not read or asks me a question on a topic I haven’t looked into. There are other books that warrant diving deeper because they help me behold Christ or draw me to deeper devotion (2 Corinthians 3:18). Books like David Saxton’s God’s Battle Plan for the Mind or Brian Hedges’ Watchfulness have been slow and meditative deep reads for me.
3. Rather than always grabbing the most popular or eye-catching titles, I’ve shifted my reading to fit practical needs in my life. For example, I recently started co-pastoring a church, and I preach twice a month in addition to my full time teaching job. We are preaching through Galatians, so I do the bulk of my reading from commentaries on Galatians. If I’m not reading something on Galatians, I’m listening to a book on parenting, marriage, spiritual disciplines, or pastoral ministry. These are my life priorities right now, and my time is limited, so I’ve given up much of my pleasure reading until summer break. God has been gracious and shown me much through these good books in the past couple of months.
4. I ask other people to talk. Ok, I’m at least trying! I haven’t come close to mastering this, but when a friend tells me they’re reading a great book, I am learning to ask them to describe it, share relevant quotes, or summarize it for me. This not only helps me listen, but it allows me to show that I value my friends—even though I often struggle to display it! It also allows me to glean from good books when I don’t have the time to devote to reading or listening to them myself.
Learn From My Foolishness
Don’t be that know-it-all guy at the coffee shop. Don’t be the “self-professed authority on every topic” lady at Bible study. Even if you read at Mohler pace—some 300 books a year—you don’t have to let everyone know about it. Remember, “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly” (Proverbs 12:23). This doesn’t mean that you never share what you know. But it means that you share wisely and with humility, knowing when the time is right.
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