Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of Making Books... No End

According to the Official Google Blog, last Sunday, there were 129,864,880 books in the world. If you want more information as to how they came up with that figure you can find it here. However, by anyone's calculations that is a lot of books! And, of course, the number is increasing every day. But this statistic makes me wonder how many of these books have actually been read. Along the same lines, a few weeks ago I was listening to a CBC podcast and someone said that the average academic journal article is quoted less than once, which the presenter saw as an indicator that few people are reading these articles and that academics are increasingly writing for one another more than anyone else. So we live in a world full of books and journal articles, more and more with each passing day, most of which will never be read in spite of all the time, energy and money that goes into their production.

But amid the pessimism I think it is important to remember that some books and articles will be read. Some will exert a great influence on people today and in days to come. What makes the difference? Who has the best chance of being read? And more importantly, who is most likely to influence people for years to come? The key is to write about important subjects, to write well, and to write in a way that people can understand. Those who do this are much more likely to get a hearing and to have their thoughts and ideas discussed and debated not just for a day or two but on into the future. This is also true when it comes to Christian books. So few stand the test of time. So few say something that needs to be said and say it well. Too many are just written to increase an author's visibility in the Christian marketplace or to enable the author to say that they have written a book.

Good books are wonderful and we have all enjoyed them. But they are not easy to find. I don't want to waste my time reading someone's half-baked ideas about anything and I suspect that others feel the same way. As with the rest of life, it is ultimately not quantity but quality that counts. Many years ago a biblical writer who has been read with profit over and over again put it this way: "Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and search out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher search to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails - given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body" (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12).

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