This is a guest post by Ben Zornes.
As a new year begins, it is an ideal time to review one’s growth and development over the last year, and set healthy goals for the coming year. Jonathan Edwards actually put a lot more emphasis on the new year’s day sermon, than on an advent sermon; and I believe that is because the reality that rolling over into a new year provides the perfect moment to repent of last year’s failures and, by grace, aim for new heights.
From a young age I developed a love for books which has never abated, and one of the saddest things to me is how often I hear folks say that they “just aren’t readers” or that they “are super slow at reading”, or other such statements. Sadly, because they feel inadequate or disinterested they deprive themselves of the wealth of helpful wisdom that is accessible in the famous writings of history.
In this digital age, we have servants at our fingertips in the form of smartphones, and there are some incredibly helpful ways of getting great content into you, even if you “aren’t a reader”.
How will you read more better and faster?
Tip #1: Just Start
Now, to begin, most of what you read, you’ll never remember. Even if you’re an underliner, you’ll likely never remember every word you scan. This is actually one of the things that paralyzes many people, in that they either become slower and slower readers, afraid of missing a word; or else they just don’t know which book to start.
Reading is like eating, and should simply be a habit of life.
You should have staples to your diet (i.e. protein, fiber, good fats, calcium, etc.); but a slab of fudge, or a treat every now and again is just fine, so long as it doesn’t dominate the diet.
As Christians, a good staple to the diet is to read classic works of Christian men and women throughout history (Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Calvin’s Institutes, Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, would be great starting points).
However, a good complement to such writing would be to read some classic philosophy books: Aristotle, Plato, etc. Do this in order to form an understanding of the great conversations, debates, and worldview that have predominated throughout history. When reading more modern authors, look through the bibliography and find books that catch your interest for further study on the topic.
Always have a good novel in your diet (dime-store romance novels don’t count); Dickens, Lewis, Austen, Shakespeare, etc. Read a collected volume of poems from the best poets. Read a book on economics, some historical event, a famous athlete’s memoir, or a biography of some controversial historical character.
Again… chase the footnotes.
Now, that addresses the one thing that paralyzes people from beginning to read, i.e. where to start. In essence, the answer to that problem is to just start, by golly! You likely have a book in your library you’ve never touched, start there, check the bibliography, and keep going.
Tip #2: Don’t Listen to the Voices
As far as slow reading, here are some tips that have helped me hammer through my seminary textbooks. Most of us read by “internally vocalizing” the words we see on the page.
However, you don’t do that when you see a billboard on the side of the road; you see the words and you know what it says without even really looking. This is because you’re not listening to what reading experts call “subvocalization”. When you subvocalize the words you’re reading, you end up going slower and slower; so, to fight that, stop listening to the voices!
One way to go about that is by learning to simply see the words and move on, forcing yourself to move at a consistent rate by scanning with either a finger or pencil. Two tools I’ve found especially helpful is an online app called “Spreeder”.
It allows you to select a “words per minute” (WPM) rate, and then it flashes up one word at a time at that rate. You can crank through some thick books, really quick, and you find that the more you do it, the faster you go, and the more you retain.
Another “hack” along these lines is to change the settings on your eReader app so that the font is the largest it can go. This removes the obstacle of your eyes having to scan “excess” text. It slows you down trying to stay focused on the line you’re on when the font is smallish.
Tip #3: Form a habit of reading
Someone once told me that when John Piper wrote a response to N.T. Wright’s book on justification, he read through Wright’s massive work by simply reading as much as he could while brushing his teeth. This illustrates an important mindset to have when it comes to reading; find little slots that you wouldn’t typically use for reading, and instead whip out your phone and read a paragraph. You can mow down big books over time with such a habit.
Another great aid is audio books; something our forefathers didn’t have available. This allows you to make use of your commute time, and work through books you might not read otherwise.
For instance, in my recent move across the country, I picked Dante’s Divine Comedy, to listen through during the 20+ hours of driving. I’d never read it, and it is an important work which shaped the Western world’s understanding of heaven & hell; now I have. Audio books, eReader’s, web apps like Spreeder, are like having a host of servants at your beck and call; so make use of them.
Tip #4: Set A Goal
Finally, set a time-frame and determine to read one book in that period. Some folks are wizards and can read a book a day; but don’t feel bad about simply determining to read a book or two every month! Just think, in one year you’ll have read 12-24 books. At that rate, you could read through a huge pile like the 38 volumes of the works of the “Early Church Fathers” in 2-3 years.
Or rather plan to read 3-4 of those volumes every year for the next 10 years; anyone who would take up such a task would find themselves enriched by understanding some of the writings of the early Church. As you start making it a habit, try doubling your pace, and get to the point of reading a book a week. If you do that for 50-60 years, you will have read 2000-3000 books in your lifetime!
As you form the discipline of reading, you’ll find yourself able to move faster; this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever stop, pause, underline or make a note of something especially striking. That’s why you read after all.
However, the Book of Jeremiah has about 44,000 words in it. If you trained yourself to read at 400 WPM, you could go through the whole book in a little less than 2 hours. You may find that you’re able to read through the Bible two or three times a year at that pace; which shouldn’t replace careful study, but it would aid in seeing the overarching scope of all the Scriptures, by continually touring through its pages. All this to say, the tools are all out there, and there’s probably an old-school, dusty bookshop just down the street. So, get to it!
If you have any ideas about how to read more better and faster please leave a comment below.
Want to read more about reading? Check out this recommended recourse: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke.
Ben Zornes is a pastor, musician, blogger, and author. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at New Saint Andrews through the pastoral training program Greyfriars Hall, which is a ministry of the church he is currently on staff with: Christ Church in Moscow, ID. His newest book, The Fruitful Christian Life: Meditations of the Fruit of the Spirit is available from Ellerslie Press. Follow him on Twitter at @ or on his blog at www.benzornes.com.
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