[Note: I wrote this as my first post and have updated it over the year. I have added a few more ideas. Feel free to let me know what you would add. Thanks!]
I did want to begin by sharing some ideas on how to judge a book before your read. Since many of you may be Christian, I will jump ahead and focus on how to get a feel for religious book.
If you are like me, you spend time on Amazon.com just browsing to see what's around, what's coming up, and what people generally think of books you either just bought, or are about to buy or read. Read the reviews. Does it have one, two, or five stars? Do the reviews seem fair? Are there any recurring problems mentioned? Many theology books are notorious for having bad binding. Are you better off buying it used?
2. Blurbs, or those personal endorsements on the back
Who blurbs the back of the book? Blurbs are the endorsements given to an author by other recognized authors, personalities etc.. this one can say a lot or a little. I once thumbed through a book that was endorsed by Donald Miller. He is the author of "Blue Like Jazz" which many of you know makes some interesting theological statements. I almost put the book away, but it turned out to be a great book on how to do church discipline today. If I could remember the title of said book I'd recommend it (Something like 10 mistakes churches make)! Of course, seeing well known, respected leaders recommend a book helps. But you must go deeper still. Does anyone who's opinion you trust like the book you are about to read?
3.Table of Contents
Yes, at some point you have to pop open the book and read what the author intends to communicate (you knew you were going to at some point) Is there a structure? What are the headings? Is there an apppendix? If it has a sripture index, does it have a lot of scripture? How long is the book? Who gets mentioned a lot in their bibliography or endnotes? I once had to read a book that had a lot of end notes referencing Carl Jung-it's still a somewhat decent book, but now I read it with caution.
Who published it? I'm not too happy with Zondervan now that they are cashing in on the Emergent movement with an Emergent line of books. This doesn't mean that all Zondervan books are bad. And yes, to be fair some Emergent books are decent (sometimes). If anything Intervarsity Press is guilty of publishing many questionable books (the openess of God anyone?) Where as a company like Crossway is known to publish Reformed authors. Ditto for Christian Scholars Press and P&R Publishing.
What year was this published? If this is older than a decade, their info maybe outdated. But, there are those few books that stand the test of time, so don't hold onto that too hard and fast.
6. Author Info
Who is this person that you are about to let into your thoughts? Thanks to today's world, you can find a ministry website for almost all Christian authors. Just be careful that their book isn't just an endorsement for even more (and more expensive!) material from them. What school did they go to? What is their testimony? What school do they teach at? Have they made controversial statements in previous books? Is their church a good place? Do they have a blog? Are there incriminating pics of them with Miley Cyrus?
7. Your own interest
Why do you want to read this? What is it that you need to know? Some books need only a quick glance and a read through a chapter or two to get whatyou need. Others demand a lot of time, and are worth every hour of reading. Pray, reflect, but for goodness sake tell people. We need to have more open discussions about books.
A few more things to consider as you read a book;
8. Does your enemy hate or like it?
You either see this one or you don't.
9. What are the bloggers saying?
Tim Challie's page Challies.com is now THE place to get a good Christian book review. He truly is the Christian Uber-blogger/book reviewer. I trust him.
10. Author's intent?
Why was this book written? To inform? Persuade? Make a point? Share an experience? These are things you want to keep in mind. It will help you decide if you want to read the whole thing and if they are making substantial arguments or if they are being honest.
11. Would I want to own this?
Or would I be happy borrowing it from the library? There are a few books I wouldn't want to be caught dead with. Seriously.
12. What's the point?
So what are you going to get out of the book once you read it? What are you going to do about it?
13.The friend test
Ask your friends what they think about it (if they have read it). They may save you a trip to the bookstore.
14. Re-read factor
Is this one of those books you'll want to own long enough to read again? Granted some of those books are hard to spot at first, but some you just know you'll read again and again.
Ok there you go, READ. But think as well. I might also add, that I will talk about how to read a Christian book in the future.