January 30, 2009
The Greatest Bargain in Academic Books
Psst. Wanna know a book-buying secret? Up to ten books for sixty bucks.
The smart money’s on reference books. Take one of IVP Academic’s “Black Dictionaries” (e.g., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings), with about 800,000 words for $50 to $60 (and discounted at what rate?). The same amount of material might occupy 7 to 10 academic books, priced out at a retail of $200.00 or more. And the material in the reference book is likely to have a longer shelf life than that in other books. Plus it will serve a wider variety of purposes.
What’s more, next to classic original texts themselves (Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley etc.), reference books are the foundational building blocks of a library. If any physical proof is needed, just observe their traditional place in a university library—they’re often the first thing you encounter on entering at the ground floor. You don’t want to build your library on wood, hay and stubble (uh, that’s not to say that’s what all the other books are). No, what you want are solid blocks of quarried limestone or granite. Reference books.
When I was a student, I learned this lesson early on. My premier book dollars went to reference books. I still have most of them. And this wasn’t just the eccentric preference of a future reference book editor. It was the studied option of a poor student! At that time I figured that if a book was a one-time read, I’d check it out of the library. (And little did I know then how much more editorial investment went into reference books!)
I’ve never fancied myself as an investment consultant, but I do have this advice: In a day when we are all looking for conservative investments, reference books represent the smart money in book buying. It will pay off now and for years to come.