Wednesday, August 23, 2017

My System for Reading

I want to take some time from the devotional posts that I usually do, and talk about reading. The most frequent questions that I am asked is: “How do you read so many books?” And, “How do you remember what you read?” In this post, I want to show you my system for reading as much or as little as needed or desired. I am mostly writing about how to read non-fiction books, although this system can work for fiction as well.

The Desire
Most people want to read. If they do not want to read, they at least want to be able to say that they have read a lot of books. Christians want to be able to say that they have read theological writings far and wide in pursuit of gaining insight into the Christian life and the Scriptures. If you are anything like me, you have a pile of books that you want to read, but it never seems like a book makes it OUT of the pile and back on the shelf with the satisfactory change of status to “read.” Most of us just laugh it off, and say that we will get to it whenever we have some extra time. But face it. There is no such thing as “extra time” in our day and age. So if we are going to be readers, it is going to be in spite of a busy schedule.

That is a fact that I had to learn in seminary. At the beginning of the semester, I would face thousands upon thousands (usually 6,000) of pages in the “to-read” pile. And if I wanted to pass my classes, those books needed to steadily move into the “read” pile. For the first two years of seminary, I tried to read as much of one or two books per day as I could. But I would finish the book without much confidence about the subject matter. I had just gone through the motions and not retained much of what I had read. Talk about a waste of time! I knew that I needed a better system. So this is what I did.

The Principle

I had an epiphany one day. It is one of those realizations that makes you embarrassed that it wasn’t so obvious beforehand. I realized that a 300-page book could be finished in 30 days just reading 10 pages a day. 300 pages—especially nonfiction—sounds painful…right? But 10 pages is doable. This is where I encourage people to start. If you are not reading at all, just start reading 10 pages out of one book every day. Take a pencil and mark where you stopped, and pick up right where you left off the next day.

Expanding the Idea

I need to read much more than one 300-page book every month. In seminary, 300 pages was a week’s worth of reading, and I had very little time to do this reading. What to do? The next realization came after reading 10 pages per day out of several books. Switching books after 10 pages kept my focus on what I was reading and helped me to see progress as I moved from book to book.
So I started reading 10 pages out of 5 books every day. That is 50 pages per day, and 350 pages per week! That comes out to 1,500 pages in 30 days. If the average length of a book is 250 pages, it comes to about 6 books in a month.

In Practice

I have kept this going with up to 10 books at a time. That is 700 pages per week and 3,000 pages per month (12 average-sized books). I reserve such a load for when it is necessary (like now, when I am doing a ton of reading in preparation to preach Genesis). For the most part, I read somewhere between 5 and 7 books at a time. Using this method, I remember what I read—although it can be hard to recall where I read something.

This is fairly easy to accommodate to a busy schedule. When I was doing a lot of driving each week, I either had my Kindle read to me or I had audiobooks playing. Even now, I have Kindle read to me while I fold laundry or mow the lawn. But mostly, I read physical books with a pen in hand, and I sprinkle my 10-page spurts throughout the day. That keeps me thinking about what I just read for a while.

Take This!
Most people do not need to read 3,000 pages a month. You may not even have a need to read 1,500 pages per month. And that is ok. But I encourage you to read, and especially to read good theology. My copy of J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God, is 254 pages. At 10 pages per day, that will take about 26 days to read slowly and meditatively. You could add John Piper’s book, Desiring God, and read its 307 pages in 31 days. So in one month, you could read two good-sized volumes about the Christian life and be challenged and encouraged in your walk with God. You will find that if you leave your reading to some imaginary day when you have a bunch of free time, you will probably never get anything read. Reading is worth taking the time amid a busy schedule. Especially in this day when we have so many resources available to us.