Reading has always been a great joy for me. But for a few years I succumbed to the easy lure of online distractions and my reading suffered. Then I suffered. My work suffered. My emotional state suffered. I wasn’t even having as much fun in my off time, staring at screens instead of engaging on a much deeper, better level in good books.
Now I’m back to reading as much as I used to. Occasionally someone will ask me how many books I’ve read. After telling them (see point #1, below), the follow-up question is always the same – how do you read so many books?!
The challenge is not reading a lot of books. For most of us, it’s overcoming the distractions of life (busy schedules, interruptions, the easy lure of TV and the internet) to get fully engaged in more than a couple of pages in a row.
Today, we’ll look at some of the principles that help me regularly set those things aside and stay engaged in lengthy reading. The points are in third person (“you”) but they’re drawn from a first-person perspective (“me”).
Here are the other articles in this series:
- The Ten Best Books I Read This Year
- Ten Great Books I Read This Year (11-20 of Top 20)
- My Reading List (So Far) For 2023
- How I Keep Notes When I Read Nonfiction (11 Ideas)
1. Don’t Worry About How Many Books You Read
I read a lot of books. About 100 in a typical year, 140 in 2022. (You can see my full GoodReads list, here.)
But the number of books is not the point.
Many people get far more benefit spending time in fewer books, pondering, re-reading, and thinking more deeply about each of them. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work for me. I get far more joy, learning and overall benefit from reading a lot of books, really quickly. They even stick deeper in my memory that way.
Do what works for you. The person who reads a lot of books isn’t smarter, the person who goes deeper with fewer books isn’t more profound. Just keep reading in the way that works best for you.
2. Have Plenty Of Books On Hand
This is hugely important.
Reading books is like eating healthy. If you have plenty of fruits and veggies on hand, instead of sugary snacks, you’re more likely to eat healthy. Likewise, if you have a wide variety of books on hand, you’re more likely to grab them instead of your device.
Options are essential for regular reading engagement. And there are more options available now than ever before. I start with 20 to 30 unread print books on shelves at home. Plus, I use an e-reader for nighttime and travel reading.
3. Use Free/Discounted Book Options
I love libraries and used bookstores. (Yes, they’re still around.)
Plus, any time we’re near a thrift store, I always give the book section a quick look. Sure, the options are minimal, but some of my favorite books every year are surprise treasures that I grabbed off a thrift store shelf because twenty-five cents to a dollar was worth a shot.
4. Get Comfortable With EBooks
It took a while to get comfortable with eBooks. But it’s a great way to carry a huge variety of books as I travel. Plus, an eBook with a backlight makes reading in bed much simpler.
Most libraries are connected to an eBook app (I use Libby) through which you can download eBooks and audiobooks for free from anywhere. Check your local library for what they use.
5. Always Take A Book With You
I’m never out the door without a book in hand. And now with eBooks and audiobook, it’s easier than ever before.
6. Read What You Love
Reading should be enjoyable. Certainly, there are required books for work or learning new skills, but if that’s the only time you read, that may be why reading is more a chore than a joy.
7. Read Different Genres
I read from every genre imaginable. My bookshelves (physical and virtual) have biographies, novels, fantasy, history, classics. . . You name it, I’ll read it.
By mixing it up this way, I never get bored.
8. Read Different Subjects
I have many friends in ministry who only read books about ministry – or at least only read books from a Christian worldview. I get it. But I need a broader range than that.
In my booklist, you’ll find books on theology, science, business, nature, finance, and more. Books by people I agree with and those I don’t agree with. Those who share my faith and those who don’t. If I only read books from within my field, I hinder my ability to put things together in ways that may not have been seen quite that way before.
For example, years ago I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books. He bases much of the plot on a theory that the larger the group of people is, the more predictable people’s behavior becomes. This led me to research the Law of Large Numbers, which helped me gain a greater understanding of the differences between how small and large churches are pastored, and it’s now a staple of my teaching.
No, I didn’t base my teaching on science fiction, but science fiction introduced me to a legitimate line of study that I would never have discovered if I’d only read books about church ministry.
9. Have More Than One Book Going At A Time
When people ask me “so what are you reading now?” I always have at least three answers. Why? Sometimes I feel like reading different things. Some require deep reading, others can be picked up for a few moments at a time, and others are fun when I’m feeling tired or low.
10. Have More Than One Format Going At A Time
I always have a print book, an eBook, and an audiobook going at the same time. That way I’m ready for any eventuality. Have an hour during the day? Print book. Working out? Audiobook. Traveling? eBook.
11. Have More Than One Genre Going At A Time
Of the three books I have going at one time, I try to make sure one of them is for work, one is for fun, and one is to explore a new subject.
12. Schedule Time To Read
In addition to catching random reading moments, I always set aside chunks of time for uninterrupted reading. You can’t really appreciate the great books without it. Plus, the classics deserve the respect of my undivided attention.
13. Read For Work, At Work
If your work requires you to read, some work time should be set aside specifically for reading.
This is especially true in pastoral ministry. Since I love to read, I used to feel guilty when I took time to do so while in my office. I felt like “real” work involved scheduling appointments, sermon prep, and so on.
No more. Reading, even reading for enjoyment, keeps my mind, emotions, and spirit fresh and alert for the work of ministry. It counts as work, even (especially) if it’s enjoyable.
14. If It Doesn’t Engage You, Read Something Else
I used to hate abandoning a book in the middle. Now I do it easily.
Certainly, there are books that can take a while to fully engage me. Many of the greatest books I’ve ever read didn’t hook me until after page 100. But unless it’s required for work or school, I don’t owe a book or an author anything.
If a book doesn’t engage me, I tag the last page read, then set it aside. Sometimes I’ll come back to it and really enjoy it. Sometimes not. An unfinished book is not a crime.
15. Keep Track Of What You’ve Read
This is something I’ve started to do only in the last few years, but I wish I’d been doing it all along.
I use the GoodReads app to track my books. It’s easy to use, and it’s helpful to remind me of what I’ve read. This is especially useful when about half my books are eBooks and audiobooks, so there’s no physical copy on a shelf to remind me of them.
16. For Nonfiction: Learn How To Highlight And Keep Notes
I have a system for highlighting and tagging books that allows me to do two important things: 1) Find important notes when I need them, and 2) Grab a previously-read book off the shelf and get the entire gist of it in just a few minutes.
This is especially helpful for research. I’ll detail that process in my next article.
17. For Fiction: Enjoy It
I read fiction for fun and emotional growth.
I never mark up a work of fiction. I lay aside my marker, sit back, relax and enjoy the story. In order to stay in the narrative flow, I try to read fiction in as few sessions as possible, which, if the book is good, is a joyous pleasure.
I used to read classics almost exclusively. But in recent years I’ve started adding in some new fiction. Including light mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy and comedy.
(Photo by Carlos Martinez | Flickr)