You know how it is…..busy life, many books, little time. You’ve skimmed through many a preface in your day, read a multitude of introductory chapters, even managed to reach page 100 (a milestone indeed) in several volumes you fully intended to complete. But alas, you find that making real progress eludes you. Too many choices, too much dabbling. In your weaker moments, you think of it as a perusal paradise…but, more truthfully, it’s death by browsing.
What is the confounded reader to do?
Well, here are some principles that will help you stay on track. None of them are laws which must never be broken. So, if you don’t find them helpful, discard. These are more narrowly for Christian readers, but the general principles apply to all readers as well.
1. Know Thyself. Self-knowledge will help you avoid the obvious pitfalls. Don’t rationalize that you’re simply going to take a look at the new book you just got in the mail yesterday. You know the routine. Preface, chapter 1, part of chapter 2…..book mark perpetually stuck between pages 42 and 43. Don’t do it! Flee, my reader friend!
2. Thoughtfully make a reading list, and stick to it. Making the list is fun, but as with all things which involve words, it is much easier to speak or write them….much harder to live by them. Try, as best you can, to stick to the list once you settle on the titles you should read.
3. Focus on three or four books at one time and resist the temptation to add more. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, and you’re a disciplined reader, you will not make the necessary progress to feel like you’re getting anywhere. Wheel-spinning will kill book reading. Stay the course and plow ahead. Books have an ebb and flow to them. You will hit dry spots, but press on…the tide will (hopefully) be coming in.
4. Know when to cut bait. If a book is bad, you should know it before long. No sense in wasting your time. Fish elsewhere.
5. With regard to theology, the writer is typically building his or her case for their thesis. Flow of thought and argumentation is critical. Don’t short change yourself by stopping and starting, read through consistently. If you stalled in the middle with a long pause in your reading, start over from the beginning.
6. Be a well-rounded reader. Try to read a commentary, a biography, a topical study, a volume of church history, etc. every year. Put more importance on reading something from the canon of western literature on a regular or semi-regular basis. Don’t think reading fiction, or secular nonfiction is a waste of time.
7. Never let your reading crowd out regular, systematic, intentional study of the Scriptures. Always read the Bible, not only books about the Bible. Keep your priorities straight.
Now you can approach that pile of half-read books with a renewed sense of direction and purpose. Oh, and don’t forget the coffee. That should have been principle # 8. I suppose some principles, being universally accepted, don’t really need to be stated.