July 23, 2012

Book Talk

Good reading should be the vocation of a lifetime. ~John Piper
A worth of a book is to be measured by how much you can carry away from it. ~James Bryce
I think anyone who knows me knows I love a good book. Reading isn't just a hobby for me that I pick up, but is integrated into my life. It's normal for me. I'm always reading a book... usually a couple of different ones these days. If you and I sit down over steaming mugs of coffee, I promise you that at some point I'm going to ask you about what you've been reading. I've always been this way thanks to having parents who are both bibliophiles themselves. You should see how many bookcases we have in our house. If we were to combine all four of our book collections we could open a small library. No joke.

My Tips for Reading More and Reading Better Books

#1. Develop a Book "Framework." We all have differing amounts of time to read. And the smaller that time is the more overwhelming it can be to pick what to read. Having a general idea of what you want to spend your time reading enables you to pick up books that are worthwhile to you. Here's mine for an example...
  • Books that encourage me or stir up my affections for Christ
  • Books that challenge me in unearthing/understanding theology/doctrine
  • Books that assist in my specific career path
  • Books that explore my personal interests
  • Books that are popular (normally) for the purpose of dialoguing with others who read them
  • Books that are purely for enjoyment/fun
I like how Tony Reinke pointed out in a lecture of his that it is also helpful to "know which authors cater to specific reading priorities." In a way it helps you learn to respectfully note the authors weakness (be it an idea, doctrine, etc.) but still glean from and admire the author's strength.

#2. Be Balanced in Your Reading. Read from a wide variety of genres and authors. Read both new, old, and really old books. You shouldn't just read the popular authors right now, read from dead people as well. C.S. Lewis recommended that for every recently published book you read, read an old book. Read what you'll love as well as books/authors you wouldn't necessarily agree with (to quote Aristotle here: "The mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it").

#3. Reading is a Discipline. A good reader doesn't just read for the sake of reading. A good reader will chew and then either digest or spit out what they're reading. A good reader will not read every book the same way either. Reading a work of fiction is different than reading nonfiction, poetry, theology, research, and every other genre. To approach all books the same way doesn't give the genre or author it's due respect. And realize that not every book is meant for you, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily a bad book and that there's nothing of value to be gleaned from it

Now here's the thing if you want more time to read: you're going to have to cut back on other entertainment venues and/or make reading more of a priority or an integral part of your life. I read more than some people because I don't play video games at all and I don't watch TV all that much. The average American watches anywhere between 3-4 hours of TV a day. I spend maybe that much in a week. Do a little math here, if a person reads for 40 minutes a day (20 minutes in the morning, another 20 during the day, and 20 at night) than the "average" reader should be able to read a book a week (roughly 250 pages)... four books in a month! =) If you cut back on just one hour of TV a day, you'll be reading more than the average person.

#4. Always have a Book on Hand. I carry a book with me everywhere I go, because we all know there are those times when we find ourselves waiting around with nothing to do (the DMV and doctor offices being THE worst). Use that time to read instead of staring at your feet or checking your phone constantly.

#5. Check The Endnotes/References! In the back of a lot of books you'll find this list of all the other books the author quoted or referenced in their book. Don't skip over those couple of pages at the end. There may be some hidden "gems" in there. If you have a favorite author, find out who influenced them in their life and writing; check out those authors as well. 

#6. Always Read Reviews & Recommendations with a Grain of Salt. Honestly, I don't read a ton of book reviews. Book reviews are a funny thing with me. Mostly because half of the time I dislike them, because... well... there's a list (and this really is my opinion here, so feel free to skip over this all):
  • Too many Christians are too dependent upon book reviews. It doesn't teach individuals to be discerning in their reading themselves, or to form their own opinions, thoughts, or ideas. The person who gorges on book reviews more than actual books does little to exercises their minds. I know people who read (seemingly) hundreds of reviews in a year and then turn around and only read maybe three or four books in that same year. That's not a bibliophile. They do it under the banner of being able to dialogue and engage others in making "smart" reading choices. Personally, I don't think that makes one terribly credible in book conversations. People need to be reading the actual books and coming to their own conclusions. I don't need to know what *Challies or *Wilson thought about the book, I want to know what you thought about the book. If I want to know what they think about I book I can go find out myself. I have to honestly wonder what some Christians would do if they couldn't rely on other Christian leaders to read books for them. They'd either never read or they'd be forced to think for themselves.
  • "That's not a 'clean' book" No lie. I hear that. Here's the problem with that: The Bible, the truth we hold as perfect and sacred doesn't shy away from showing mankind's depravity. The Bible isn't "clean" in that regard. God doesn't have an issue showing just how low we humans can get. "Clean" books don't showcase reality in that way. The best books are ones in which we have characters who echo human depravity and are redeemed.
  • They come out as soon as the book is out thanks to the internet. It used to be months before reviews would start popping up. And they tended to be better for the most part. It forced people to actually "sit" on the book for a while. To think it over. Let the ideas cool down for a bit before giving a critique.
  • Critiques are taken way too far or are too nit-picky. Will people read books, and believe those ideas to an unhealthy extent? Sure. But I'd like to think that people are smarter than we give them credit for (or maybe I'm just naive).
  • Always read the book in it's entirety if you're going to publicly review it. Half the time I have to wonder if people actually read or finished a book when reading their reviews on their websites and blogs of a book I've read as well. Not reading the book in its entirety is stripping away it's context. That's a "no-no" for me.
  • Repeat after me: Authors are not flawless. Authors can't go in-depth and explain everything to the reader in detail in just one book. Not all Christian books are written by pastors or theologians... and when they are, they all come from a variety of backgrounds/denominations. There's nothing wrong with that, it just means that as a reader we need be reasonable, flexible, and rational in our expectations while reading from a variety of authors.
Bottom line: Don't read insane amounts of book reviews. Develop discernment in your reading, but also in which reviews/reviewers to pay attention to as well. Ask yourself, "W.W.S.S. (What Would Spurgeon Say)?"
Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.
More on books and reading, which I think is worth your time...
*I'm not taking a potshot at Challies or Wilson. Both have had some great book reviews... as well as ones I'd disagree with too. And that's how it probably should be. 


  1. I'll confess, I don't read a huge "variety" but I have read one Austen book (YES!) and a few bio-books in addition to all that fiction. :-)

  2. LOVE this! I'm like you, Kevin and I don't even own a TV, so I LOVE to read:) My grandmother and I are reading biographies on Christian missionary workers from back in the day, and my faith has been So encouraged by that! We read "Hudson and Maria" about the love story of Hudson Taylor (which is AMAZING) and are just finishing one on Amy Carmichael.

    Also, have you read any Kate Morton books? I just finished her 3rd, and seriously they are AMAZING. Page turners:)

    I want to know YOUR favorite books my dear! love Katie

  3. i love how well read you are! probably one of the reasons why you are so wise :D

  4. Katie: There are so, so many! =D All time favorite would be "Desiring God" and "My Utmost for His Highest". Anything by Mark Driscoll, Piper, C.S. Lewis, Beth Moore, Matt Chandler... I could go on and on. Recently finished "The Scent of Water" by Naomi Zacharias and LOVED it!

  5. You have some amazing advice here natalie, wow. I can appreciate how much time this took to put together thank you. And I so agree with it all too, especially number 2 and 3! And I would add, read with a journal on hand and highlight!!!

  6. This is great. As a person who has always loved to read and purposely makes time for it in my week I have a hard time remembering it doesn't come so naturally to others.

    I'm especially loving #2 about balance. In high school I loved fiction but have now mostly grown out of it (I maybe read one fiction book a year) and it drives me crazy when people my age say that non-fiction books bore them, but after trying to figure out why they say that they admit they have never even tried to read non-fiction.

    My nighstand currently has something like 13 or 14 books on it ranging from memoirs, to classics, to biographies to newly published books. On topics about missions, being an introvert, living a simple life and finding beauty in the broken.

    All that babble about books has made me want to go read . . .

    Thanks for another great post!

  7. This is great! I find it challenging to read something I don't completely agree with, but very useful. It's a reminder that my own thoughts and beliefs should be challenged if they are to stand at all, so it's a good practice to read books that make me think "Hmm, that's different than what I think about so-and-so ... But what does the Bible say?" And many times I humbly realize my own ideas were not as solid as once thought. It's hard to realize that, but oh, so important. I also agree that different types of books should be read differently. I love biographies of Christian missionaries and read those for hours in one sitting, but find it very challenging to do so with theology-heavy writings of Piper, Driscoll, or Tim Keller. I have to read those in smaller increments, think about what I read, re-read a bit, take a break to let it soak in, then start again. Otherwise it just ends up all sounding the same or it gets to be over my head because I didn't take time to understand basic principles and stumble over anything thereafter


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