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How to Read More; Better


I love reading. It is my single favorite hobby to do in life. Those who know me best, will regularly hear me discussing something I am currently reading, or have recently read. As people have come to know me as an avid reader, I often hear the same sentiment- “I wish I read more”. I find myself regularly encouraging others in ways to grow as a reader, and in turn, read more than they do now. Reading is a joyful endeavor, and I love seeing people grow in their love and appreciation for good books. I will share below a number of different pieces of advice I find myself often sharing with others. I hope these serve you well – Tolle Lege!

Learn To Read

This first tip is not meant to be insulting, or belittling. The reality is, most people do not know how to read well. More than simply identifying words and rushing through pages, reading requires prolonged, critical engagement with thoughts and arguments. Every author is making an argument to you, and the reader needs to be able to engage with the authors flow of thought and the development of his/her argument. This takes time, and is a skill worth learning well. Reading is a very active experience. There are also different ways to read a book, at different levels of engagement. You can check out the famous book, How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler, to get you started.

Read What Interests You

Often, when somebody wants to grow as a reader, they think they need to begin by jumping into major works, on subjects they “ought” to be interested in. In my context, I meet individuals often who say they want to grow as a reader, and immediately think that means they should take on Herman Bavinck’s 4 volume Reformed Dogmatics. While such reading might work out for them, often, new readers would be best served starting small, and in areas where they find genuine interest in. Do you like baseball? Read a book on baseball  you find intriguing. Do you think history is kind of cool? Go pick up a good book on a compelling era of history. There is no need to get going on a 1,500 page work by a major theologian if you’re going to drop out after 20 pages. Read fiction. Read good, compelling books on the christian life from the best authors (C.S. Lewis, Kevin DeYoung, etc). I constantly find myself reading books on Theology, American History, Winston Churchill, Economics, and the New England Patriots, because that drives my passion for reading. Reading books you are interested in will make you a better reader, develop more interests that you can read up on, and give you momentum for tackling bigger books.

Build Momentum with a Reading Snowball

There is something about finishing books which builds momentum. When you close the back cover on a book you’ve just spent days engaging with, you want to pick up the next one and keep going. I find it helpful, for newer readers to pick up smaller books, which they will be able to actually finish, rather than massive tomes which they may burn out on quickly. As you finish off books that are in the ~100 page range, it will encourage you, and equip you to take on books that closer to ~200 pages. As the momentum grows, your ability to take on more will build as well. I could never have imagined taking on books of 800+ pages when I was in college, but now, they don’t seem daunting to me (in fact, I love them!). Even if you don’t end up reading major works, finishing off books will help keep you in the flow of reading.

Quit Bad Books…But Not Too Fast

What happens if you find yourself reading a book, and it is just absolutely dull? We don’t want to waste too much of our precious time on bad books, and let’s be honest, there are a lot of bad books. One blogger made the sad, but true observation that we will not have time in our short lives to read everything we would like to. Therefore, we need to prioritize what we read, and be willing to move on from bad books that only waste time for good books. I learned a rule on when to quit bad books which I find helpful. The rule goes like this – Take 100, and subtract your age. That is how many pages you must read of a book before you can quit it. This keeps you from quitting too fast(some books just take time to get going) and allows you to quit before you’ve spent too much time on it. At the time of this writing, I now give every book 70 pages before I quit. This rule has paid off both ways, both in keeping my in good books which started slow, and allowing me to ditch bad books not worth my time.

Buy More Books

Some people think the best way to buy books, is only to buy them as you are able to read them. This may be very financially responsible, but it actually limits how many books you end up reading. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, shared his recommendations with a group of pastors at a local conference. He said “if you wait to buy books for only when you’re going to read them, you’re going to miss out on a lot of good books”(paraphrase). I think he is right. If you we’re to tally up the most important books in my life, most of them were books I had owned for several years. Books picked up at a conference, in a store, on Amazon, and held until later on prove to be a very fruitful investment. Use discernment, yes, and practice good stewardship, but don’t hold back on picking up a book that has caught your eye simply because you won’t get to it for a while.

Read Together

Reading with others can provide good accountability for everyone involved. If you know that you will be meeting with friends to discuss a few chapters this week, you will be far more attentive to getting it done. Reading together also allows you to benefit from the insight of others. I started a book club at our church early on in my ministry, because I knew getting people together to share their insights into a book would be immensely helpful. People see things differently, and that can be helpful as we engage a good book.

Make a Plan & Share it with Friends

Like any other area of life, if we want to accomplish something, it helps to have a plan, and to have accountability. In 2022, I plan on reading 85 books, and in order to do that, I need to have a plan in place. My friends and I have made reading plans which we evaluate and revise towards the end of each year(my plan is a rolling 5 year plan). This maps out books I want to read over a few categories, and allows for a helpful tool along the way. I don’t view it so rigidly that it cannot be adjusted in the year, or that I can’t allow a few new books to break into the schedule. But having a plan on paper, that others know about, helps keep me on track, and be mindful of how many good books I have that I want to get to, as soon as I can.

Read Multiple Books at the Same Time

I hated this idea at first. For the longest time, I could not stand being in several books at the same time. I liked being able to conclude a book before beginning another. But this is very helpful, and allows you to read more. There are different types of books, and depending on your personality, you will read these different types of books, in different places and in different ways. I love reading theology, but I need my mind to be sharp and focused in order to read it well. If I wanted to read a Systematic Theology, right before bed, it may be difficult to retain much. That is not the case, for me, when it comes to books about sports, or fiction, or a few other genres which I can easily engage in a lighter way when my mind isn’t as fresh. Some books have long chapters, which require you to have lengthy reading sessions to move along in, as opposed to some books which can be reasonably engaged with in only a few minutes. Having a few books going at the same time allows for variety in what you read, and when you read it. Which leads to my next piece of advice…

Place Books All Around Your House

Tied to the previous point, we read different types of books, in different ways, but also in different places. If you know you like to read about sports, or fiction, or biography before bed, when you’re not as mentally sharp, have a few of them on your nightstand with a book light. Keep your Systematic Theology, perhaps, near your reading chair, where you can spend the appropriate time with it. I do a lot of my reading in the bath tub, so I always have books close by that I can engage when I want them. I keep books on current events, that I know I will want to get through quickly, on my kitchen table. Commentaries stay on my desk. You get the picture. Know where you like to read the different books you are currently in, and place them accordingly. You’ll be amazed how much reading you get done, simply because you were thoughtful in this one area.

Always Take A Book With You

While you’re busy putting books all around your home, do yourself a favor and put one by the front door. I never go anywhere, without a book. Instead of checking Facebook, or ESPN, or my email when I have a few free minutes waiting for my next meeting to show up, I read a book. Not all books can work for this context, so again, pick what works for you. But I find it very helpful to always have a book with me. You will find that there are many opportunities throughout the day, and week, where you can get some reading in, if you simply have a book with you.

Utilize Kindles & Audio Books

I’ll be the first one to admit, I fought these for a long, long time. I love having a physical book in my hand, and something about going digital, or audible, just felt wrong. But as I have grown as a reader, I have found that both of these methods can serve as helpful complements alongside regular, physical book reading. Having a Kindle with a backlight, allows you to take books where you might be able to otherwise. I can carry bigger volumes on a plane, or read while rocking my son to sleep at night. Using Audiobooks, likewise, allows me to listen to books in my day to day car driving time. I listen to very few podcasts these days, because I find it more worthwhile to engage in a book. Just driving to get groceries, to the coffee shop, or to get gas, you can finish off quite a few books using apps like Audible. Make the most of the margins, but supplementing using the technology we have available to us.

Go Down the Black Hole of Good Books

Maybe you’ve had this experience before- you are reading a few good books, and you realize, they all end up quoting the same resources. One good way to further your book reading, is to allow the good books you come across to helpfully guide you to the next ones you will enjoy. If you find many books citing J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, perhaps its worth the read? If you find the same few lines from Puritan John Owen, maybe it’s time to go read his stuff directly? If you are reading a book on American History, and the same scholar keeps being referenced, perhaps he has authored something that could pique your interest? If you pay attention to the timeless books which are often quoted in newer works, you will be able to discover some gems that will encourage more discovery.

Use Good Books as Kindling For Faith

One of the main reasons I read so much early on in my christian life, was because I had to. I started following Christ in 2010, and shortly thereafter began struggling with spiritual depression. As I fought through the fog that seemed to always be present in my life, I turned to good books to help my faith stay alive. Dane Ortlund, a fellow pastor in my Presbyter, wrote a very helpful article some time ago, and spoke regarding the importance of good books:

I would add a sixth word of counsel: read Richard Sibbes. Or John Bunyan. Or Thomas Goodwin. Or Jonathan Edwards. Or Spurgeon or Owen or Calvin or Whitefield or Charnock or Ryle or Packer or anyone whose heart was in heaven while his feet were on earth and who writes accordingly. When your soul is sullen, shock it to life with the defibrillator of old books.

Read good books, because they serve your faith, your joy, and keep your heart tethered to Christ.

Don’t Compare Yourself To Other Readers

We do not read to make ourselves feel good, or to be better than other members at church. We read because it’s good for our souls, and it serve our hearts delight. If you find yourself being discouraged because others read more than you, remember that people have different dispositions and preferences. Some people(me) are just nerdier than the rest, and find constant reading to be a joy. Comparison will not be able to sustain the desire to read more, only joy can. Recognize that the reason you should read more is because it is good, important, and healthy. We are justified by faith alone, not by pages read, so challenge yourself to read more this year than you did last, and give yourself grace when others seem to be moving quicker than you.