Sometimes people ask me, “How do you read so many books?” I can offer some practical advice, or I can blame it on the fact that I’m simply able to read more quickly than most, but I’ve come to realize that this isn’t the right question to be asking at all.
See, I ask this question a lot, too. I read other people’s lists and if I could read that much, too. I remember one blog post in particular about how to read 200 books in a year, and I remember feeling guilty and subpar because I couldn’t do that. I’m pretty sure most of you guys have felt the same way—I need to read more!
Partially, that’s true. We as a culture don’t read nearly as much as used to. It’s becoming a lost art, a lost pleasure. Some—many—people really do need to read more. But regardless of whether you need to make reading more of a priority or you’re a voracious bookworm, you’re still asking the wrong question if all you’re concerned about is how to read lots of books.
Here’s why: It’s not about the amount you read, it’s about how you read and why you read.
In years past, I have (and still, sadly, do) taken a lot of pride in the number of books I read or how fast I go through them. But I’ve slowly been realizing that if that’s all I’m concerned about, I’m wasting my time. Reading to just read, to get through the book, to add it to a list, is a waste. Speed-reading, skimming hard or boring parts, choosing shorter books over longer ones—these aren’t necessarily wrong (sometimes you have to speed-read school books, longer books don’t necessarily mean better, etc.) but if that’s all you do, you’re selling yourself short.
C. S. Lewis said:
There is nothing in literature which does not, to some extent, percolate into life.
Books can change your life. Just think about it for a little: They can inspire you to do right and remind you of the consequences of doing wrong. They can draw you closer to God, correct your thinking, and teach you about the world and human nature. They provide you role models and people whose mistakes you can learn from. They help you empathize with others and open your mind to new possibilities and new ways of looking at things. They remind you of important truths and can help guide your decisions. The problem is, you can’t gain any of these incredible benefits if you don’t read carefully.
To read so that you are learning from a book, so that you are considering how it can apply to your life, so that you can have a dialogue with the author, agreeing and disagreeing with their points and expanding on what they are trying to say—to read like this, you need to read slowly. You need to pause sometimes to work out exactly what’s going on, what’s being stated. You need to read each word to grasp the full meaning and beauty of each scene. Sometimes, you need to read longer, harder books because they often contain the greatest lessons and truths.
Here’s the catch: If you do this, you will benefit immensely from your reading, more than you would have believed possible, but you will also not be able to read as much.
However, I believe that’s okay. Because how you read is dictated by why you read. If you’re reading just for the fun of it (and that’s totally fine—in moderation), you’re not going to savor each word and try to extract life lessons. If you’re reading to check off something from a list, you’re not going to slow down and connect the book to your life. If you’re reading to learn and grow and discover, you will dig as deep as you have to and take as much time as you must. While it’s fine to read “fluff” books and give your brain a break, which is truly important, your reading life must consist of more.
As Christians, we are called to take every thought captive, to make the most of every opportunity, to glorify God in everything we do. I believe this comes into play even when we read: To ensure we are not being led astray by subtle lies in books, we must carefully consider the messages each story is sending. Using our time wisely means we are reading to learn and act differently. (Again, sometimes a wise use of your time means a break, a fun no-brainer. However, I think we often lean too far in this direction and fail to read the hard way.) When we read with discernment and do our best at it, we glorify God.
There’s another thing, too, for us writers: One of the best ways to grow in your writing is to read great writing. To really read it. If you’re reading too quickly, you’ll miss all the little stylistic techniques great writers use. You won’t have time to examine why they picked a certain word over another. You certainly won’t copy down favorite passages so you can get the feel of great sentences.
To conclude this ramble, just remember that reading can be one of the most rewarding and rich activities in your life. It can impact your actions for good like few others disciplines can. But to gain these treasures, you must work for them. This means that you may not get to fifty books in a year. It means your reading list will look wimpy compared to others’. But that’s not what matters, is it? No, how much you read doesn’t matter, in the end. It’s how you read and why you read.
Have you experienced this? Do you have tips on how to make sure you read for the right reasons and learn from books? Tell me what you think about this topic in the comments!