This is a guest post by Josh Stringer (@revjoshstringer). Josh is a pastoral resident at College Church, and will be graduating from our program in July 2013. If your church is looking for a pastor I highly recommend you consider Josh. You can contact him via email at jstringerATcollege-churchDOTorg.
Is one of your New Years resolutions to read more? If so, you need a plan that will work. Last year, I accomplished my goal to read fifty books in 2012. In this post, I’m going to tell you how I did it, so that you can read fifty books in 2013.
The catalyst for my journey toward fifty books was when I was given a copy of Lit! by Tony Reinke about a year ago. I had read books on “how to read” before but this one was different. Reinke instills the value of reading all kinds of books from a redemptive point of view. He also gives practical tips on reading well, widely, and efficiently.
I took some of Reinke’s principles, made a plan, set a goal, and got to work, with the result that I read fifty books last year. Here’s ten ways you can do it this year.
1. See the Need
You will enjoy reading more when you recognize that you need to. There’s no way you will discipline yourself to accomplish a big reading goal without seeing the benefits first. But don’t forget what your biggest need is: the gospel. Good books point to the gospel, but they are not the gospel. Keep that distinction straight.
2. Set Goals and Make a Plan
What kind of books should you plan to read? How do get started on the plan?
Challenge yourself numerically and thematically as you put together your reading list. Make it large and wide. Include biographies, fiction (classics and modern), leadership, theology, parenting, commentaries, etc. Make your list bigger than your goal. This way you’ll have plenty of books to choose from.
As you get started on your plan, start the habit of reading three books at a time. That might surprise you, but it was my biggest takeaway from Reinke’s book. The three books you read should mix genres and skill levels. Read one book for casual reading, another that requires undivided attention, and a third that is somewhere in between.
As you assemble your list, be careful not to become your own lawmaker. Fifty books in a year is not an indication of spiritual maturity. In fact, if you base your identity on how much you read, it indicates your spiritual immaturity. Don’t make your reading goal an idol.
3. Read What You Want to Read
What stirs your soul? What is relevant to you? What questions do you need answered? Let these questions guide your book choices. If you want to read what’s on your list, you’re more likely to actually read it.
That said, don’t only read books you know you will agree with. Don’t only read “yes man” books. Read books that will challenge your critical thinking.
4. Learn ‘How to Read’
Early on in your plan, read a book on reading. I’ve already recommended Reinke, but Adler’s How to Read a Book is helpful, too. Consider taking a speed-reading course. The work you put in up front will pay off in the long run.
5. Reorganize & Reevaluate Often
All page counts are not created equal. You will read some books faster or slower than you expected, and your reading schedule will get thrown off.
Stop. Take a deep breath. Reorganize. Reevaluate. Keep going. Repeat as necessary.
Your season of life affects your reading pace, too. September might be busier than February. It’s harder to read if you welcomed a new child into your family. Don’t get discouraged! Plan accordingly.
6. Take Good Notes & Debrief
You took time to read it, so take time to remember it. I’ve started using a folded, blank piece of paper as a bookmark and I always keep a pen handy for note taking. Underline and write in your books. When you finish a book type up your notes, quotes, and make an outline. Use your compilation kind of like a self-made index.
Obviously, some books will be more worthy of debriefing than others. Some won’t be at all. For some books you’ll write a five-page outline. For others you will only collect a half-page of quotes.
7. Be Flexible
Just like the best quarterbacks call the best audibles, you will need to deviate from your plan. A new book, fresh from the publisher, will catch your eye. The need to tackle a topic will arise. Or you will dig into a book, and it will just be bad. Put it down and walk away. Just walk away.
8. Read “Brain Candy”
You’ve heard of writer’s block. You can get reader’s block too. The cure is to remember what it feels like to finish a book. Put down Dostoevsky and read the Hunger Games. Take a break from philosophy and read something practical. But go easy on this stuff. Just like too much candy rots your teeth, too much brain candy will rot your brain.
9. Read With Others
It’s one thing to recommend a book to someone; it’s another to read a book with someone. Pastors find it easy to recommend books for people’s needs. If you have a book coming up in your reading list that will help someone else, invite him along for the journey. The pressure of reading with someone else will keep you accountable to your goal.
10. Make Time
Darrin Patrick once said, “In our house we don’t have ‘no media,’ we have ‘low media.’” If you’re serious about reading more in 2013, you’ll take measures to eliminate distractions. This doesn’t mean you can’t watch the NFL playoffs or go see The Hobbit. It does mean you’re going to have to make some decisions to hold back and stick with them.
However, be sure not to neglect your family (if you have one) or your friends. Put the book down and watch Mickey Mouse with your kids and take your wife to a movie. Don’t let your monkish introversion give your friends a reason to plan an intervention meeting.
If you had told the high school version of me that in the future I would read fifty books in one year, I would have responded, “Maybe in ‘a galaxy far, far away…’” Then life and ministry taught me that I didn’t know as much as I thought. I realized that people smarter than me had written on matters I needed to know more about.
So I set a goal, made a plan, picked up a book and started reading. The result is that I’m now reading more than I ever could have expected. I hope my experience helps you do that, too.