Monday, July 31, 2017

Read, Read, and Then Read Some More

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." Dr. Suess, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut

According to Pew Research, the typical American reads five books in a year, at least as of a few years ago, and I could not find any more recent statistics. Now, we could (and I almost did) start to rail about how that is terrible and how TV, Netflix, etc. are taking our attention away from books and destroying our minds, but there are probably a lot of reasons for why the typical American reads so little. Maybe they do not like to read, which is probably a lot of people, and I am not sure how to convince them otherwise. Maybe people are just too busy, which will be somewhat addressed in this post. Or, maybe people just do not feel like they can read a lot, perhaps because, like me, you are a slow reader and your comprehension is not the best. Well, hopefully this post will be an encouragement to you.

Let me say up front: I am a slooooow reader. I could go into why, but that is not really relevant and will sound like I am making excuses. But, because I am a slow reader, I have struggled to read as much as I would like to read. In seminary, my greatest struggle was not tests or papers but finishing all the reading that was required. It felt like torture because I had to read about 625 pages per week. I am a slow reader.

But, I have made some changes to my reading habits this year, and I have already read 31 books this year, and I am on course to read probably more than 50. And, by the way, in most of July, I have not had much of a chance to read for a few reasons that are not really important, which has slowed my progress a little, but I think I am picking up steam again. The point is, however, that if I can read 31 books in about six months, you can too because I bet you are a faster, better reader than me. Most people are. Here are the ways I have changed my reading habits that has helped a lot:

Reading Categories

I realized earlier this year that my reading was somewhat haphazard and directionless, so I decided to divide my regular reading into categories that covered the major areas of responsibility in my life: being a Christian, being a husband, being a father, being a pastor/preacher, being a youth leader, and being a human who likes to be entertained (i.e. fiction books). I try to be reading a book in each of these categories at any given point in time. This is not always the case (e.g. currently, I am not reading a youth leading book but have one I plan to start soon), but having these categories gives me direction when I finish a book. I do not just go to a "best seller" list looking for any old book, but I ask, "What category am I missing currently?" and I go looking for a book in that category.

Reading Books in Parallel; Not Series

And, no, by that I do not mean series of books, like The Chronicles of Narnia series. I mean: I read several books at once (parallel); not one book at a time (series). (These are circuit terms, but they still apply well here.) So, I try to be reading a book in each category (see above) and a few others books (see below) at once. For my regular reading categories, I try to do a chapter of one book a day (e.g. a chapter of a Christian life book Monday, a chapter of a marriage book Tuesday, etc.).

In my opinion, this has the advantage of keeping me engaged in my books and not getting bored with my reading. I do not know about you, but because I am slow reader, when I read books in series (i.e. one at a time), I got bored with the same book after a while. Reading books in parallel helps me to keep from getting bored while I read at my pace.

Now, you might think, "Doesn't that mess up your comprehension? Don't you forget what you read the last time since it could be a week or more before you read another chapter?" Well, it might, but I have one other habit with this: at the end of each chapter of a book, I summarize it in a paragraph and write that on the last page of the chapter. This helps me in two ways: 1) it allows me to remind myself of the content without going over highlights, which takes more time and 2) it actually helps me retain information better because I have to summarize the chapters, thus forcing me to bring the point to a few sentences.

Books for Groups: i.e. Accountability for Some Books

Another habit I have gotten into is reading groups or accountability for reading, however you want to put it. Nothing helps reading like knowing you are going to have to show up to a group and discuss a chapter of it it or lead a discussion on it. These are generally books I do not read regularly (see above), though sometimes they cross over with the regular category books, so sometimes, I might be in one of these books for months, but the reading and summarizing (see above) still helps me to grow. Furthermore, the discussion with others propels growth even more. For example, currently, I am reading three books this way: one is a book I am leading my high school youth group in discussing, and the other two are for a theology reading group I am in with other pastors.

Books for Certain Times or Places

In addition to my regular reading books and my group books, I have several books that I read only in certain times or places. They are a kind of "filler" books that I use to fill blocks of time that I might normally fill with useless activities.


At the beginning of this year, I decided that using my commute to listen to books would be better than using it to listen to music or even podcasts, though I do take a break from my audiobooks sometimes for music, podcasts, or prayer. Most of the time, however, during my commute I listen to an audiobook. With Amazon's deal with Audible, you can get the Kindle and Audible together on a lot of books, and usually only costs $7 extra for the Audible upgrade (if it is available, which it seems to be about half the time, in my experience). (It used to be about $3 extra, but recently Audible and/or Amazon jacked their prices up, but that is still a lot better than buying the Audible book by itself.) Then, if you want to read it on a Kindle reader you can, and your progress is synced across Kindle and Audible.

Now, with these books, you want to choose the right book to be your audiobook.
  • It cannot be a book on which you would need to concentrate or in which you might want to take notes or make highlights. You have to be comfortable not "reading" these books with comprehension and retention equal to actual reading with a highlighter in hand. Generally, I try to choose books that I want to get a taste for and may reread later for better retention, or sometimes these are books someone asked me to read in order to give my opinion of it.
  • I also recommend you choose a book with chapter lengths that are either shorter than your commute one way or about twice as long. For example, if your commute is about 10-15 minutes like mine, I try to choose books with chapters that are 30 minutes or less, for that way I can at least listen to one chapter a day (to and from work). I have found that I often cannot remember where I am in the flow of logic of the author if I let the chapter roll over to the next day. One of the best books for this, is In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson. It is, first of all, one of the best modern books on the Christian life (maybe the best), and, second of all, its chapters are about seven minutes long. By the way, I recognize that I am blessed to have a short commute. If you have a longer one (like I did when I lived in Atlanta, GA), you have a lot more options of audiobooks because you do not have to find ones with really short chapters. 

"10,000 Steps" Book

Have you heard of the "10,000 steps" idea for exercise? The idea is that if you make good use of your walking habits, you can easily get in 10,000 steps a day: park at the back of the parking lot, take a little longer route around the grocery store, run with your kids in the house (my boys run laps in the house often), etc. You try to fill time that you would normally use standing still with steps, and if you do 50 here and 65 there in little increments throughout the day, by the end of the day you can do 10,000 steps.

Well, I am always reading a Kindle book that is my "10,000 steps" book. This is a book I read when I am waiting in line at the coffee shop, waiting for my lunch companion at a restaurant, or when I have a few moments of waiting pretty much anywhere. Even if I can just read a couple of paragraphs, if I do that 20 times a day, I may have read most of a chapter or a whole one. This, by the way, is why I make this a Kindle book, for I will always have it on me since I have a reader on my smart phone. You can do this with a physical book, but then you have to remember to take it with you everywhere.

Now, as with the audiobooks, you have to spend a little time choosing the right kind of book for this one. It needs to be a book with short, intentionally-demarcated sections or, better yet, short chapters, and it needs to be another one for which you do not feel like you need to have great comprehension and retention. But, since this one is one you can highlight in or make notes, you can do a little better in that area. A good example for this is How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas. It is easy to read, has short sections, and is easily retainable.


Get one or two daily reading devotionals and just do the page for each day. Yes, it will take you a year to read these books, but they can be very edifying and it adds one or two more books to the number you read a year. This year, my wife and I are both reading New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp in the mornings and The One Year Praying through the Bible for Your Kids by Nancy Guthrie in the evenings, both of which I would highly recommend. Some other good ones are D. A. Carson's For the Love of God books (two volume set).

Be Okay with Dropping a Book

I used to feel like if I started a book, I needed to finish it, but it hit me this year that kind of attitude can waste loads of time and really derail your love of reading. You waste time because you are reading a book that is not worth it when you could be reading one that is worth it, and it derails your love of reading because it is a major chore to try to finish the book. Listen: it is okay to say, "This book stinks" and drop it. I have done that three times this year myself.

Track Your Progress

Finally, tracking your progress through your books with a service like is hugely inspiring. I look forward to logging into Goodreads once or twice a day and recording my progress, for it helps me to see that I am getting somewhere. Just trying to visualize your progress in a stack of books is not really helpful, but looking at your list of "currently reading" books in Goodreads and seeing you are 51% of the way through one, 67% of the way through another, etc. is really encouraging and inspiring. Plus, it feels really, really good to click the "I'm Finished" button and leave a quick review. It also has the benefit of reminding you about those books you might have forgotten to read in a while.


Well, there you have it. That is how I, a really slow reader, have read 31 books so far this year and may end up reading more than 50. Hopefully, this has been helpful to you and not sounded like bragging. I am serious when I say that I am pretty sure you could easily outdo me here. You probably read a lot fast than me, and so if I can do as much as I have with these habits, you can do a whole lot more.

So, go out there and read... a lot.

By His Grace,

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