Most of us have full time jobs that do not allow for hours upon hours of reading each day. I’m no different in that regard. When you add to the common workweek being a husband, fathering, local church teaching and preaching responsibilities, hospitality, personal discipleship, and studying for an MDiv that has syphoned some 8 years off my life (It’s true!), there’s not a lot of bandwidth left for reading.
I suspect most of you are floating in a similar boat down the same kind of river. The difficulty of our time constraints is only compounded by all the stellar book publishers out there who produce such great content. Moody, Cruciform, B&H, Crossway, P&R, Banner of Truth, Matthias Media, Eerdmans, Baker, Zondervan, IVP, ad infinitum, are all firing books off the press like literary Gatling guns. And praise God for that! But as a guy who is not able to read while at work, it can be daunting to keep up.
My aim in this post, then, is to help you read more books and better books by implementing these six simple tips:
My wife and I do not have cable, so we have picked up the practice of slowly plodding through books by reading them aloud to one another. We don’t place elaborate or super intense goals on how fast or how many books we read. We just choose a book, begin reading, and then finish whenever we finish. Honestly, setting audacious goals for reading aloud might end up killing what reading aloud is all about in the first place.
Another helpful word on reading aloud would be to choose biographies and fiction works over Christian living or theological books. Linear, plot-driven types of books (biography, fictions, novels, etc.) are just more conducive to the format of reading aloud.
A few books that Mallory and I have read this way are:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Holy War by John Bunyan, Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, The Dreamer Cometh: The Luther Rice Story by William Carleton
So, for reading aloud, what book should you start with?
Another way to delve into more reading is to make the most of your commutes by listening to audiobooks. Similar to reading aloud, narrative-type books are probably the most conducive genre for the audiobook format. By this, I simply mean I have not found theological books or Christian living books to be as profitable when absorbed through an audiobook version. I once tried to listen to Jonathan Edward’s A Dissertation Concerning The End for Which God Created the World on audiobook! Yeah, it was as terrible of an idea as it sounds. I’ll never get that $19 back. His mind-bending logic and intense argumentation just doesn’t lend itself to the audiobook format. Not deterred, I later tried to listen to The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper, and that was a mistake too. Let me be a personal guinea pig for you in this respect and tell you again, stick to narratives for audiobooks.
My family and I have utilized audiobooks most while driving to and from vacation or business trips. Mallory and I absolutely devoured the 100 Cupboard series and The Ashtown Burials series by N. D. Wilson. Even upon arrival at our destination, we wanted to keep listening. A few others I’ve listened to are: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson.
iTunes has tons of free audiobooks you can download. Just go to the online store, and type in a book to see if it’s free or in your price range. You might look into audible.com or christianaudio.com as well. They also have great subscription options which might be helpful to you if you spend quite a bit of time in the car. The important thing is that you are getting at as many great books as possible, so just get a good audiobook and start listening.
There are quite a few free PhD dissertations, theological journals, articles, and digital books out there if you’re diligent to look out for them. I use an iPhone Plus just for the reading experience a larger screen provides. And, because I’ve enjoyed the experience of reading on my iPhone, that makes me all the more persistent in chipping away at little “reading projects” on my phone. It’s a great way to maximize those spare 5 to 10 minute pockets of time that present themselves throughout the day.
Right now, I am slowly reading through Dr. Jason Allen’s dissertation on Christ-centered homiletics. I’ve also been whittling away at a Sinclair Ferguson article on John Owen’s pneumatology and am currently working through one of Midwestern’s theological journals. I found all of them for free.
So, be diligent to download a few free resources, peruse them in those spare pockets of time, and choose to be okay with slowly plodding through one or two of these little projects at a time. iBook/eBook reading is a different kind of reading - a more incremental and distracted reading - but you’d be surprised how many articles and dissertations you can get through if you keep a posture toward it.
Make a Hit List
You should have a “hit” out on certain books you want to read. I mean a reading “hit list” or a list of quality books that are important for you, in particular, to read for your unique vocation or maybe important for everyone to read simply because they are classics. A hit list will vary from person to person because everyone ought to have individual goals for their reading.
When compiling one’s hit list it is important to take into account your interests, vocation, weaknesses, research projects, stage of life, recent events, classic pieces of literature, holes in one’s theological thinking, etc.
Now, to be clear, this is not really a tip on how to read faster, just one on how to read better!
For me, this means I read widely in the discipline of biblical theology. I also read a fair amount in the area of homiletics as well. I have an academic interest in the book of Proverbs, so I am always reading something concerning Proverbs. By the end of my life, I would like to have read everything by John Owen and mastered his complete corpus. I think John Piper has served all of us well as a model in his pursuit of mastering Jonathan Edwards, so I am usually working on an Owen book. These four particular interests shape my hit list.
How would your interests and stage in life shape your hit list?
I am an unabashed podcast junky! I eat ‘em up like chicken wings on 50-cent wing night. Podcasts on iTunes and lectures on iTunesU are readily available these days, and you’d be crazy not to take advantage of all the great content that is out there. I understand this does not technically count as reading, but what we are ultimately after in reading is a heart change. We want a more Godward life - a life filled with right theological thinking and appropriate doxological response. We want to be shaped by authors and sentences.
If you utilize podcasts rightly, they can be powerful tools regarding this more ultimate concern. They have undoubtedly functioned this way for me. Below I have compiled a litany of possibilities for you, an evangelical buffet if you will. It’s scary, but this is only a sampling of the podcasts I listen to and check regularly. I listen to podcasts when mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, during mundane tasks, and during car rides. I’ve even been known to put my phone in a Ziploc bag and catch a podcast in the shower. I am serious about my attempts at redeeming the time for reading and knowledge-gaining, y’all.
Christ the Center: Doctrine for Life by Dr. Camden Bucey
Theology Refresh with David Mathis
Calvinist Batman & Friends
Preaching and Preachers: A Podcast Hosted by Midwestern Seminary President Jason K. Allen
Expositor with Dr. Steven J. Lawson – OnePassion Ministries
On Preaching with H.B. Charles, Jr.
Reading and Writing
Home Row: A Podcast with Writers on Writing by J.A. Medders
Reading Writers by Aaron Armstrong
Cutting it Straight with H.B. Charles, Jr.
Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville
Capitol Hill Baptist Church
Grace to You with John MacArthur
Books of the Bible & Exegesis
Help me Teach the Bible with Nancy Guthrie
Word Matters with Trevin Wax and Brandon Smith
5 Minutes in Church History – A Weekly Christian Podcast With Stephen Nichols
Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology Podcast
All you have to do is go to the iTunes store and type one of the previously mentioned podcasts in the search bar, subscribe, and then listen to your heart’s delight.
Start More Books
Don’t be afraid to have multiple books going at the same time. I find that when I am reading multiple books at the same time, I finish more books—more than I do when plowing through only one book at a time. Crushing two or three small books while plodding through a larger work motivates me to read. If I only worked through one large book like Calvin’s Institutes for about six weeks, I would feel as if I weren’t achieving much. At that rate, I would only read about eight books a year. So go ahead, get five to ten books going all at once, you’ll be surprised how many you finish.
So there you have it! Six legitimate ways you can get in more reading and get better at reading in the process.