I never used to read.
One summer, my mom tried to solicit a deal with me: she would give me a dollar for every book I read. I found the shortest book on my shelf (one that was certainly too young for me) and got my first dollar. I read the same book a second time but was–rightfully–refused compensation. I held onto that single dollar the rest of the summer.
In high school, I was required to read To Kill A Mockingbird. I opted to skim the internet’s spark notes for the book’s first half and retreated to paying attention in class discussions for the second. For the record, my quiz mark for the second half was considerably lower than the first half. And I’m not sure my parents knew.
While out at the family cottage the summer after grade ten, I picked a book off the bookshelf and decided to start reading it. It was a 1982 non-fiction book about worldliness and the Christian life. It was not great. But I read it, and was surprised to find out that I could read a book voluntarily. I told myself that this was only possible because it was a book on Theology. And so, for a couple years I told people that I read books but only non-ficton. I simply could not read fiction. (I admit this statement came off a bit pretentious).
This is no longer true. I soon reformed my thoughts and expanded my reading. I now have a two-fold approach to reading.
I am a believer in reading different kinds of books. It took me a while before I started regularly reading fiction. Often I find myself reading the classics, but I have come to see great benefit in reading fiction. C.S. Lewis described it as enlarging our being: “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”¹ There are benefits to reading more than just fiction and theology, as Cornelius Plantinga Jr. summarizes: Poetry tunes our ears for language; biographies give good judgement; journalism helps us understand current events; essays teach focus of thought; and literature gives us a model of prose style.² So I expanded my reading from pure theological text to include novels, poetry, biographies, and other books.
I am a believer in reading different kinds of books at the same time. Books have a tendency to compliment one another. The unexpected connections between two books enhance the reading of each one. Their meaning and significance heighten when read concurrently. Sometimes the connection is as simple as reading The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, a novel, while also reading The Cost Of Discipleship, only to discover that a character in the novel was also reading this Bonhoeffer classic. Other times the connection is more complex and beautifully rich. I recently read G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place Of God and experienced a beautiful illustration of its in-depth scholarly analysis in Fahrenheit 451, which I was reading at the same time. (If I told you more, you wouldn’t have to read Fahrenheit 451).
With the belief in reading different kinds of books, and reading different kinds of books at the same time, I came up with a system to track my reading progress. I divide my reading into five different, loosely-defined categories. I try to be reading books from at least three different categories at any time. I never have more than one book on the go from the same category.
Here are the five categories in no particular order:
LITERATURE: Books in this category include works of fiction, collections of poetry, and plays.
ACADEMIC: Books in this category are usually related to theology or Biblical studies, but are more scholarly in nature.
CRAFT: Books in this category are about becoming a better Worship Pastor. They focus on worship, music, or the arts.
EXPERIENCE: Books in this category are biographical or historical. The opportunity is to learn from the experience of others or from different periods of time.
PROCESS: Books in this category focus on personal growth and development. It is a bit of a catch-all category as it ends up including books on leadership, Christian living, current issues; whatever does not fit well in the other categories.
¹ C.S. Lewis, An Experiment In Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961) 141; Quoted by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Pastor As Public Theologian: Reclaiming A Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015) 118.
² Cornelius Platinga Jr. “Reading For Preaching” in The Pastor As Public Theologian: Reclaiming A Lost Vision, 136-38 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015) 136.
What are some of your best book recommendations? Let me know in the comments below.