By Erik Raymond
“How can I read more books?” I’ve gotten this question a number of times since I’ve started posting more book reviews here on the blog. Here are some of my thoughts to this question.
This past year I have attempted to become more intentional with my reading. In previous years I have read a lot but I would not say that I read well. My reading lacked a detailed attack plan. As a result, sometimes reading happened and other times it did not. What’s more, I felt as though my reading was more chosen for me rather than me choosing it. I read what I thought I needed to read for my job. Over the last few years I have been slowly making adjustments and feel like I am in the best place that I’ve been since I first became a Christian. I am reading more and enjoying it much more. With summer here, and summer reading listing abounding, here are some personal discoveries that were helpful to me.
PICK OUT BOOKS FOR EACH MONTH.
I created a simple excel spreadsheet that includes a bunch of books that I think I should read or want to read. Towards the end of each month I pick out books from the list and put them under the upcoming month. This process of assigning myself books has been very helpful for me. After ordering the list I put a (tentative) start date and due date in a column and then keep track during the month. It is important to remember that you have to be reasonable here. Since most people don’t read books as fast as Al Mohler it does not make sense to set yourself up for failure and say that you are going to read 100 books in July. Make a reasonable plan and chart the course.
VARY THE BOOK SELECTION A BIT.
This has been new for me. I used to read what I thought I needed to read to keep up with current trends or to do what I needed to do work-wise. Now I have tried to make each month have at least one biography and one fiction book to go along with the theological reading. In time I would like to add some books on history because I know this is not a particularly strong suite of mine. This variation has been surprising for me. Several years ago my wife bought me one of Marilyn Robinson’s books, Gilead. I never read it because I didn’t have time to read a book “like this”. But now with these changes I have read two books by Robinson this year (including Gilead) and have really enjoyed them. If I had not made myself read them then I would not have read them. And, if I’d not read them then I would never have found the pleasure that I found in reading them. The variation has been real good for me.
READ FOR PLEASURE.
I always thought something was wrong with me because I would hear others talk about how they loved to read. I didn’t love to read as much as I loved to get information. After reading a couple of books that pointed out how we tend to miss out on the pleasure of reading because we are hounds for information, I began to wonder if I could change this. I decided to treat the book like Jacob treated a wrestling match with the angel, “I won’t let you go until you bless me!” I’ve grabbed some books that people say are really good and, with trust in their recommendations, would read them through. Over time I’ve found that I really enjoyed the books. Reading became pleasurable. It actually worked. Now, I’m enjoying reading more and as a result, joyfully reading more books. (books on pleasure: Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, and The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I also have found Tony Reinke’s book Lit! to be very helpful for cultivating an appetite and plan for reading.)
IF YOU ARE COMPETITIVE, THEN MAKE IT COMPETITIVE.
If you are not competitive then feel free to skip this one. I am very competitive. When I set a schedule for reading it is like setting a goal for running, lifting or cycling. I set a goal for how many books I wanted to read this year. Once you figure out what you need to do per month it becomes a friendly competition with yourself. Like anything, this can be taken to extremes, but, if done right, this can be a nice way to get more reading in.
BE WILLING TO PUT THE BOOK DOWN.
I used to get discouraged when reading because I’d be in the middle of a book that was not very good but felt like I had to finish it. One day I just said, “this book stinks. I’m not reading this.” I put it away and moved on to another book. I ended that relationship quickly and painlessly. Moving on to the next book was really good for my reading.
GUARD YOUR READING TIME.
I schedule time for reading. Most of the time it is early in the morning and/or over the lunch hour. I rarely read in the evenings or on my days off when I am home with my kids. If you block out 45 minutes a day to read and you read 20 pages (this is an average reading speed) then you will read 600 pages a month! That’s about 3-4 books per month, and nearly 50 per year! Think about that. But, if you don’t guard this time and you do something else during that time (fill in the blank) then you will miss being shaped by these books. I try to guard my reading time with a tempered reasonableness. It’s not so important that it cannot be replaced but it cannot be replaced flippantly or easily.
REDEEM TIME FOR READING.
It just makes sense to take a book with you. There are many times that we are waiting for someone or something and instead of reading headlines or social media, we could be reading a book. Throw a book in you car, purse, or backpack; you’ll be glad you did the next time you are waiting. I also have been blessed by the technological developments that allow us to read electronically. My Kindle has been a very valuable tool here. Of late I have been using my Kindle app on my iPhone to read books to me while I exercise, commute, or do menial tasks. In the video below you can get the gist of how to do this.
READ WITH OTHERS.
Maybe you are not competitive and have had trouble persevering in reading. I have seen people greatly increase their reading by being part of a group that reads books. Whether at church, work, family, or neighborhood, get some friends together to read and discuss the books. You will doubtless find yourself reading (and thinking) more in a group.
These are some random thoughts from the last year or so of trying to read more efficiently. What about you? Do you have any thoughts on what has worked well for you?