The Reading Life
Somehow over the past year my Amazon wish list crept up to some 180 books. That’s bad news because the rate of books I’m adding to my list is greater than the rate of books I’m reading. This doesn’t even include the stack of books in my office waiting to be read, the ones that I’ve promised to review, and the couple that I’ve pre-ordered.
Sure, some of them are reference works that don’t need to be read cover to cover, but some are works like Owen’s Communion with the Triune God that need to be read slowly and savored.
Occasionally I’ll come across a quote or thought that’s quite good. When I look into it, I sometimes discover that the thought comes from a book I own but haven’t read quite yet. Reminds me of a chapter in Ordering Your Private World called “The Sadness of a Book Never Read.” It is actually kind of sad to own some of the stuff we have access to and never benefit from it.
I don’t want to be one of those guys who thinks that owning and touching the cover of a book makes me smarter. So here’s what I’m thinking.
First thing: I need to get a lot pickier. I started this week by ranking my wish list. It seems a lot more manageable now with just over 20 books ranked highest. Thoreau was right when he said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them all.” I can handle these 20 books. The real fun will start when I am done with these books and have to choose between the almost 75 books I’ve rated as high on my list but not highest. Still, 75 is still better than 180.
Books are expensive, but the real constraint is time. Even if we have scads of time to read, we probably don’t have enough time to read the best books in the fields that interest us. There simply isn’t enough time to read without being picky. It’s especially important to be picky because some of the more popular stuff that’s being published isn’t worth the time and won’t be read by anyone five years from now. I have lots of these books on my shelf and they don’t age well.
Even more importantly, reading is a discipline that takes time and commitment. Tim Keller recently commented, “I find that people who learn to read online can’t work their way through heavier books and works. So you can say the internet creates a market – but the counter is that it is merely giving them shorter attention spans, and that makes discourse more shallow and less well-informed.” I think we all face the temptation to settle for the stuff hanging on lower branches, and blogs seem more urgent, especially when there are 100+ items on my Google Reader list. But online reading is not enough.
Here’s what I’m thinking for the coming year when it comes to books:
- Really being selective with what hits my shelf
- Mixing some newer books with some classics
- Having a book from a few categories (fiction, theology, applied theology) on the go at any given time
- Aiming to read 75 books next year
- Posting a 100-word review of a book each week
If you have any suggestions on how to maximize one’s reading, and how to cultivate discipline to read, leave a comment. I’d love to hear what works for you.