Take Up and Read

A few years back I took up the habit of writing down the books I read throughout the year. I know there are services out there intended to do this, but I always found them to be more cumbersome than helpful. In part, I wanted to measure my reading habits and consumption over the years, but I also knew that the simple act of writing the completed books down would help jog my memory of what I read last year or even last month.

For me, keeping such lists is not so much a prod to read even more or a yardstick to compare with other readers, but a personal habit to better retain the content what I read and get a better vantage point on what I have been reading. So, keeping that in mind, I have included my reading list of 2017. As you peruse the attached list, I have included a couple of points in regards to reading that I have found helpful.

(1) The Value and Enjoyment of Reading More than One Genre

I am a pastor, so various theological subjects, biblical studies, biography, leadership, and church-related topics are the primary focus of my reading. However, as important and these subjects are, I have found that those primary subjects are enriched by reading poetry, fiction, and even fantasy. The style of writing, the use of imagery, and narrative not only provide the spice of variety but actually help me write and think better within my primary vocation.

(2) The Importance of Reading to Engage Rather than to Consume

I’m not sure why, but somewhere along the way I became conditioned to read books primarily to finish them. I sought to consume the print on the page in order to turn the last page. The goal of starting a book became dominated by the ambition to finish it. Thankfully, this practice has been curbed by a change of approach. Instead of reading to gobble up the content of the book, I think of reading as a conversation with the author. I am hearing what the author is saying and actually engaging with their own words. Particularly within non-fiction, this habit has caused me to slow down. To ask questions about what I am reading. To vary my pace through a book and reflect. Practically, this looks like underlining, annotating with a “?” if I don’t agree, a “!” for a hearty amen, or even a scrawling thought across the top margin. Upon reaching the end, I feel I have done a much better job of engaging with the book and walking away with the author’s big ideas. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to mark up your books, you will be better for it in the end.

(3) The Habit of Reading the Same Books Again

There were several books I read this year that were not new to me. Some of these re-reads were volumes that I hadn’t picked up for several years (The Christian Ministry, Animal Farm, MLJ Letters), while others I read within the last year. The value in this is that books strike you differently at different seasons of life. The last time I read Bridges, “The Christian Ministry” I was in my late 20’s serving as an associate pastor, with two fewer kids and ten fewer years of marital experience. Bridges’ exhortations to pastoral care and preaching to all kinds of people are appreciated now in a way I could not then. The sum and substance of a book just hits you differently further on down the road. New books are good, reading older books again is sometimes better.

(4) The Pressure To Remember Everything

At times I have felt frustrated in looking at a particular spine on my shelf and not quite sure I could summarize the various points, flow or narrative of that book. Sometimes this panic even creeps in mid-book. “Am I getting all of this?! Can I regurgitate all 12 sub-points and the major headers thus far?” I had noticed there was this underlying anxiety that I was reading, but not milking every last drop of worth from each book. Somewhere along the way, I remember someone writing about the mistaken idea that in order to read well, we must remember every single chapter, argument, insight or point. But unless we are gifted with a photographic memory, we will forget something. Instead of fretting over what I might not remember, I focus on retaining what I can and trust that even if I don’t remember the complete outline of a book, this doesn’t mean that a book hasn’t been helpful to me. After all, if perfect retention were the yardstick for successful engagement, our conversations, the hearing of sermons and correspondence would also be failures!

Above all – take up and read. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a reader, read more books than you read last year. Read different books and read some well-worn favorites. Make a list of what you read, and watch the list grow.

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