You may have seen my monthly posts throughout 2016 about Tim Challies Reading Challenge (see my year end post here). He made some changes to the overall plan to make it more flexible and is continuing it in 2017. You can download the plans here.
This time around, I’m planning to be a bit more strategic. I want to continue to read more broadly, but I also want to be more selective with the books I read in my usual genres. I am generally a completer when it comes to reading, so I’m trying to break that habit.
Along those lines, you may have wondered how I was able to read so many books last year (or in previous years). Part of the answer is found in Challies post on how to read 100 books in a year. I don’t typically set a goal for how much I want to read, but if you’re not in the habit, that’s a good idea. Also, his tips for constraining entertainment usage are helpful for time management.
Typically, I am able to read so much for a few reasons. First, I read 900 words per minute (on average). This comes in handy when reading so much within the biblical studies and theological studies genres. Often, you notice that many of these writers repeat themes and ideas. As an example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across an explanation of creation-fall-redemption-consummation in biblical theology. It is rare that an author says anything that adds to the discussion of those topics, so reading through that section of his book goes quickly.
Second, and this goes with the quicker pace, I don’t read every word (that’s part of how you do 900). I am reading primarily for comprehension, not necessarily absorbing each and every word. In non-fiction, the prose isn’t always that great anyway, and unless you’re reading a book by Kevin Vanhoozer, you’re not missing any clever turns of phrase or literary allusions. I’ll adjust my pace to compensate based on who I’m reading, but many things are easier to plow through if you’re primarily after the argument and comprehension. An extension of this is learning when to not finish a book, but that’s a topic for another day.
Third, I set aside specific times to read. For me, this is first thing in the morning after Bible reading, and then for a good chunk on Saturdays. I have two established reading spots (one morning and one afternoon) and will resurrect a third in the coming weeks (the beach). Having specific places and times to go read helps prime you for the task. Also, I bribe myself with beverages on both occasions.
Fourth, I read multiple books simultaneously. I guess “concurrently” is better. I only read one book at any one time, but I cycle back and forth between several. One reason for this is that I like to jump around on tasks. Another is that you can actually read more if you switch out books between chapters. I use bookmarks and chapters as naturally stopping points. In a typical morning session, I might read 2 chapters in one book, and then one in another. Mentally, this is actually easier than trying to focus on one book until you finish it. If you can learn to have several books going at once, and switch between them when you read, you’ll actually be able to read for longer stretches of time.
Lastly, reading is something I enjoy doing, so it comes easily. That being said, a downside to reading so much last year is that it means there are other things (like writing) that I didn’t do with the available time that I had. I was also reading a lot to escape, which is not a good thing in the long run. I am hoping to be more engaged in my relationships this year, and so that means less reading. I would rather have a balance ultimately, so this isn’t something I am reluctant to do. Ironically perhaps, my New Year’s resolution is to read less and relate more. As the months of 2017 pass, I’ll be sure and let you know how it goes!