Help Me Decide If This Is a Harebrained Idea

I sent this message to some friends and got a little bit of discussion going, but I’d like to open it up more:

I get lots of ideas. Some are good, and some aren’t good upon greater reflection, but it’s fun to entertain them. And if they go somewhere, great. I’d like some thoughts from y’all on one of my latest ones.

Since getting on Goodreads, I’ve been struck by just how many churchy books I should read, and want to have read, but don’t want to actually read. And I wonder if you feel the same. I’m talking about the “missional leadership for the blah blah” books, not the more devotional stuff. You can spend all your time reading church administration if you aren’t careful.

But there IS useful stuff in a lot of those books.

Then I got to thinking about the RevGalBlogPals blog and how useful it is as a ministry resource. And they have a feature on there, RevGalBookPals. Here’s the most recent one. Really good reviews can give you the gist of a book. But reviews aren’t quite enough; you need more of a summary. A colleague of mine once sent me an executive summary for a business book he thought I’d find useful. I guess there is a service you can subscribe to.

So then I thought–would there be a market for “executive” summaries of church administration books? I’m not talking about a paid market (or am I?), but enough people to make it worthwhile. Sort of a swap thing. So let’s say I just finished reading Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, and I’ve outlined it in 2-3 pages or whatever. Someone else has read Introverts in the Church and outlined it. So I have access to the latter book’s summary since I’ve contributed to the pool.

As a rule, I don’t outline books as I read them, but if it meant a ticket to other books’ outlines, I might. But would other people?

Robert is skeptical because he says that people get different things out of books. I think that’s just the nature of the game. The books you’re most interested in, you’ll read. The books you’re less interested in but that might still be useful, you might read a summary of, and that would be adequate.

Two primary considerations of this idea, beyond whether there’s a market for it: there’d have to be some mechanism for distribution, as well as some basic level of quality control.

What do you think?

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21 thoughts on “Help Me Decide If This Is a Harebrained Idea

  1. marciglass says:

    i can’t decide if I think this is a brilliant idea. Or if it sounds like more work than just reading the book. will have to ponder in my heart. But probably not until I’ve gotten ready for Holy Week and a publishing deadline. (It seems I have some work to crowdsource too!).

  2. I would be game. Plus if someone’s summary was really good then it would just want me to read the book even more. I don’t think it’s something I would pay for, but if it was a swapping kind of deal or a contribute to have access deal I would take part.

  3. jillsusan says:

    I’m in a book club that is hit or miss for me as to whether or not I’ll read/finish the book before the meeting. Many times I access Wikipedia and they have good summaries (cliff notes style) of the book we’ll be discussing this month so I can enter in, kinda.

  4. It reminds me of something I saw on an academic blog recently about how a history phd student decided to post all of his notes/summaries of the books he read for his comps online so that they could help other students. Which I thought was a brilliant idea (and very generous of him).

    I think it only will work if you’ve got people who are taking notes/writing summaries anyway. My own personal tendency is to write down a lot of quotes rather than paraphrasing when I take notes, because I’m always afraid I’ll need to quote something properly later, so my own notes on books wouldn’t be of much use to anyone. (Then again, I tend to always think my personal notes won’t make sense to other people, but I ended up sharing my notes from a recent workshop with a few of the pastors and church council folks at my church after one of them saw my typed up notes I had from it, and they all really appreciated it, so I may be underestimating myself).

    That said, I’m just a librarian who happens to be interested in church and theology stuff and is working on a MA in Applied Theology – I’m not necessarily the aim of your idea either, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt. (That said – I’d love to be your “friend” on goodreads if you’d like – I’m not sure how to make myself findable – I thought that the main part of my email address was my username there, but it doesn’t appear to be part of the url anymore… hmm…)

    • MaryAnn says:

      Would love to connect with you too! I’m still learning the privacy settings, but you should be able to search for me, MaryAnn McKibben Dana (?)

      • didn’t seem to work when I searched for you, but if you add younggeekylibrarian to the end of the goodreads url you should be able to find me (it wasn’t working earlier from work, but it seems to be now)

  5. Another question to weigh: although you say you don’t usually outline books as you read them, might there be a personal benefit to doing so as well (deeper understanding, retention, later reference, etc.)? If so, would this mean that it would take a smaller pool of participants to make it worth your while?

  6. What I glean from my reading may be considered “weird” but I would be happy to “share” what I produce. The downside to me would be IF someone made assignments. And without that (assignments) the products (book read) would seem to be quite random with no control for overlap. In any case, I cherish and enjoy my Third Life reading and “poetry” writing (work).

  7. Karen Sapio says:

    In a way, it’s not so different than what we do in the Feast and the Well: a group really committed to diligent work with texts where each member takes on a bit of that work for the benefit of the whole group.

  8. candivernon says:

    When I was in seminary I was involved in a Women In Ministry group led (oddly enough) by a local woman in ministry. When she read a book she thought we’d find interesting/useful, she would outline it and we would discuss it at the next monthly meeting. Occasionally I wanted to read the book for myself afterward, but usually this was enough for me. I really appreacited it. Maybe we could have some kind of a forum discussion moderated by whoever wrote the outline.

  9. There’s so many books that I would likely prefer to hear what others think before I bother to buy them. I was thinking of the number of books I read in CPE which, to be honest, is a staggering number. So this is a cool idea (in my estimation anyway).

  10. jharader says:

    I think this could be useful both for the access to outlines/summaries and for the discipline of reading (carefully) at least one professional book every once in awhile. Even if there are only six people who wanted to do this, if we each took two books a year that would give us one outline a month. In terms of format, a Facebook group might work. I see that there is a tab for documents, but I’ve never used it. A blog is another option, and you can set password protected pages if the intent is for a closed group . . .

  11. s wiles says:

    I like this idea. I definitely get the whole “should” thing. But those administration and missional type books never rise to the top. I’d think this would be incredibly useful. I use harvard business review for this kind of thing in the non-church world, and would love some stuff like that for ministry stuff.

  12. Charlotte Lohrenz says:

    MaryAnn, I like the idea, think it would be useful and even rather fun. I am trying to think of the downsides. I come up mainly with quality control and the possibility that our individual contexts direct our reading. But, all in all an intriguing idea.

    • maybe the individual contexts bit could be remedied by the fact that there could eventually be more than one summary for a book? like if someone likes what they read enough to read it they might want to share their own? Kind of defeats the purpose though if one plans on that. The individual contexts bit is the main reason I find it hard to review books very well – so much of what goes on when you read has to do with what’s in your own head, and not what is on the page. I hate feeling like I’m penalizing an author for the fact that their book and me were just not good fits at the time. Then again, there’s always going to be authors who some people click with and other people can’t stand. I personally will read absolutely anything Lauren Winner writes and be greatly moved and inspired. Whereas I have a friend and coworker whom could barely even get through Girl Meets God. Different books for different folks. Not sure how to solve that though…

      • candivernon says:

        I don’t think that’s an insurmountable downside. Some books will appeal to some and not to others. Some outlines will appeal to some and not to others. It’s just a way to have a sense of what more books are about without having to read all of them ourselves. If we want the full impact of the book, we will need to read it for ourselves. No one’s going to be tested. (I hope the tone of this note is not crabby. I don’t mean for it to be. I haven’t finished my first cup of coffee yet.)

  13. MaryAnn says:

    Not at all Candi…

    Very thankful for all the feedback. I’m trying to figure out what happens next.

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