“Imagine that you make the wildly ambitious goal of reading one book per week for the next fifty years. Lofty aspiration! If you remain faithful to the task, you will read about 2,600 books. Not bad for five decades of reading. Now consider how many more books are available for you to read…
Currently, the Library of Congress houses eighteen million books. American publishers add another two hundred thousand titles to this stack each year. This means that at the current publishing rate, ten million new books will be added in the next fifty years. Add together the dusty LOC columes with the shiny new and forthcoming books, and you get a bookshelf-warping total of twenty-eight million books available for an English reader in the next fifty years! But you can read only 2,600–because you are a wildly ambitious book devourer.
So how do we decide which one book to read? Or maybe more importantly, how do we determine which ten thousand books to reject?”
— Lit!, p.93 (Kindle edition)
Good questions! Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.
However, in his book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Tony Reinke attempts to guide readers through crafting a personal response to these questions.
The first half of Lit! explores a theology of reading. If that sounds complicated, let me reassure you: it’s not, and it’s incredibly helpful. Reinke dives into practical matters such as the need for written records (in a visual age), the effect of sin’s curse upon literacy, and the way a biblical worldview enables us to benefit from many different types of books.
The second half of Lit! guides the reader to apply this theology — in other words, how our beliefs affect our reading choices on a book-by-book basis. He discusses how to form reading priorities, tips and tricks for reading nonfiction, various benefits of reading fiction, why you should mark up your books (I’m still mulling that one over), ways to find and protect reading time, building community through reading together, and raising readers both in the home and in the church.
But by far, the chapter which impacted me the most — and the reason I highly recommend this book — is Chapter 7, Read with Resolve: Six Priorities That Decide What Books I Read (and Don’t Read).
Reinke advocates making a list of your reading priorities, by considering what you usually read as well as what you’d like to read.
Of course, as Christians, the Bible ought to have the highest priority above all other books: “The bottom line is that no single book should receive more attention in our lives than Scripture” (p.94). Beyond that, however, our reading choices will vary according to our tastes and priorities (as considered in Reading: a Christian Perspective).
He offers examples of his own goals, and explains how each of those goals can be met by reading various genres. For instance: “reading to kindle spiritual reflection” can be pursued through classic Christian fiction (he mentions C.S. Lewis), Christian biographies and autobiographies (Augustine’s Confessions), and sacred poetry (John Donne’s sonnets).
And never fear, Reinke does not neglect reading for fun! One of his own priorities is “reading to enjoy a good story” and includes everything from biographies, to novels (both Christian and non-Christian), to fantasy, to humor. In his words: “Christians should not blush when they read for pleasure, for escape, or ‘just for fun.’ Provided that this is not a form of escapism–and assuming the book does not glorify sin–the practice is enjoyable and honors God” (p.102). And again, “reading for pleasure does not mean we can not be educated at the same time” (p.103).
I took Reinke’s suggestions to heart, and actually did spend time determining my reading priorities. I considered what I naturally enjoy, what would be useful in my various roles (wife, author, leader, etc), and what would help me mature as a Christian.
Here’s a rough idea of what that looks like for me:
- Reading to Gain Bible Knowledge
- Bible studies, theology, commentaries
- Reading for Spiritual Growth
- Christian living
- Christian biographies
- Christian poetry & hymns
- Reading for Personal Development
- Relational nonfiction (marriage, community)
- Educational nonfiction (hobbies and interests)
- Vocational nonfiction (writing, ministry, leadership)
- Reading to Satisfy Curiosity
- Biographies & memoirs
- General nonfiction
- Reading for Relaxation
- Historical fiction
- Mysteries & suspense novels
- General nonfiction
I end with a strong recommendation that you invest in some time in reading this book — and praying over your reading priorites — whether you consider yourself a reader or not. Borrow it from a friend or library, or buy it on Amazon. It’s well worth the $10, and the time to read through it.
That’s why I read. What about YOU?
Share a comment with some of YOUR reading priorites!
Disclaimer: this post contains my affiliate links.