[image by annais]

Throughout the years I have been presented with various philosophies (systems, ways of approaching it) of reading.

  • When I was in grade school I remember the philosophy was basically quantity. The more books I read, especially in the summer time, the more ribbons the library gave me for my achievement.
  • When I was in high school and college the philosophy seemed to be that one better read the material because it will probably be on the exam.
  • When I was in seminary the philosophy was presented to me that my reading was analogous to filling up a reservoir of wisdom and knowledge that I would continually draw upon throughout my ministry.

All of these philosophies have been varied in their approach, but ultimately they have really led me to a love of reading.  But there are so many, many books out there to read.  I actually remember my dad at one point lamenting the fact that he would not be able to read all the books he desired to read before he died one day.

Bite Size Social Media
One of the reasons that I have tried to pull back on, and set better boundaries around my online-social media use, is because my discipline of reading was losing out to the number of hours I spent online.  And in that process I had begun to notice that I was becoming more of a consumer of bite sized information.  It was getting easier and easier to browse through hundreds of articles on a daily basis, and harder and harder to read through a book and let it saturate me. And in the end, very few (and I mean very few) social media avenues actually had the ability to bring about new awareness, insight, and ultimately transformation in my life. I had more and more information, but I wasn’t feeling more knowledgeable, especially in the sense of deep, life changing transformation.

In John Dyer’s post Dostoyevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World, I came across the fascinating section where John, speaking about Dostoyevsky, says this:

During his exile, the only reading material that he had was a copy of the New Testament and Psalms. Though he was raised in the Orthodox church, he describes this as the time in which he came to know Jesus and experienced conversion. With no access to anything but the most significant literature ever written, he read the Scriptures over and over until it completely saturated him. And it formed his mind to create the highest of art.

Information Deprivation vs. Information Overload

Postman points out two major concerns:

1. The kind of information we intake is insignificant.
2. The amount of information we intake overshadows what little significant information we do intake.

In other words, if you read a passage of Scripture in the morning, then later consume lots of TV shows, blogs, and advertisements, it doesn’t matter if the content is morally good or morally bad, the sheer volume of information will dilute anything truly great and tend you toward seeking more and more insignificant material.

Why Take In Books?
Whether the book comes in a hard copy or digital copy does not matter. The point is that a book requires something of you. It requires time and commitment. Browsing the web does not…at least for me. I’m not saying that one can’t form a discipline on browsing the web, but it’s rare, especially because the click of a button is so close.

When I read a book I have to set-time aside to do it. Usually that means something else is getting put on hold. I’m not on the computer. I’m not watching TV. I’m not at my desk working. I’m not in conversation at coffee with someone. Reading a book requires me to carve out time for it, and it requires a level of commitment if I want to read through it. Reading books also takes a lot of work, and if we don’t exercise that muscle it is bound to atrophy. I’ve begun to notice that several things have begun to atrophy when I was spending inordinate amounts of time online. Writing by hand has become more difficult. Patience has become more difficult. Imagination was lacking because the computer did the imagining for me. My intellectual skills were dulling because I was jumping from bite size to bite size pieces of data.

My Philosophy of Reading
I’ve always been an avid reader and usually have a number of books on my desk or bedside table at once. I’m not good at reading one book and moving onto the next. I like a handful at once, and then another handful after those are read. In order to keep a balance in my reading and to make sure I’m hitting on all cylinders I’ve developed a little philosophy of reading for myself.

These are the four types of books I’m looking to read at one time:

Intellectual Rigor…
In my rotation at all times is a book that I deem to be of great intellectual rigor. This is usually a book that is slow going and may require me to keep a dictionary or thesaurus handy as I read. It often requires me to re-read sentences and paragraphs a number of times before I can move on. These are books that may only allow me to read 3-10 pages at a time because I need to process what has been written. Sometimes I will set the book aside for days or even a few weeks before I return to it. They are ultimately books that help one establish, and undergird their philosophies in life. Think of them as cornerstones or anchors.

Vocationally Practical…
This is not to say that that books above are not vocationally practical, but that these books are more accessible and sometimes requires less intellectual rigor in reading them. They are often designed specifically for certain topics that allow fairly easy consumption. These are the books in the area of business, therapy, ministry, design, etc. that one finds helpful tips in them, but they aren’t necessarily saying anything groundbreaking or new. They may bring new focus to the topic, but they are often built upon the philosophies/theologies of many, many writers before them. I would say that these are the most commonly read non-fiction books.

I find it a requirement for myself that I always have one book of fiction in the rotation. Without fiction I find that my imagination begins to atrophy. I also find that characters and narrative provide amazing insight into life, work and play that “practical non-fiction” books do not. I also know it’s a tendency, especially for those involved in ministry and other work settings to find themselves only reading “practical non-fiction” books relating to their profession.

I usually have one book that I’m reading that pertains to one of my hobbies. This is a great way to learn more about what I enjoy doing, provide insight, helpful tips, and help me delve deeper into my passion.

There is not a time limit on when these books have to be read by, but I do my best to keep them in a rotation each day/week.  Sometimes it takes several weeks.  Sometimes a few month or two.

What Say You?
Do you have a philosophy of reading?

What works best for you?