Several recent things have prompted some recent reflection on my own priorities in reading - which accounts for why I'm dropping The DaVinci Code from my current reading list (I had only read two chapters), and will continue to plug away at various types of books that I find it so easy to neglect (Puritans, more difficult theological works, history and biography, etc).
In no particular order, here are the things bouncing around in my over-crowded brain.
(1) The recent blog posts of C. J. Mahaney, J. Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever on reading at the Together for the Gospel Blog. Reflecting on the obviously deliberate reading strategies of these men has made me want to be even more intentional in my own reading. Note: one of these guys - I think it was Mohler, indicated that he tried to read a few pages of from literature or fiction every day. I remember that C. S. Lewis once told Kathryn Lindskoog to never stop reading for pleasure. So, with more intentionality in reading, I'm not taking that to mean no fiction or leisure reading - More on that in a minute.
(2) At the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors this week, Ajith Fernando told about a pastor who was so burned out in ministry that when he left his church he didn't even take his library with him. The pastor who followed noted that in his library, the books that he appeared to have read in his early years of ministry were theological, while the more recent books had more to do with leadership and management. That recalls another thought from Lewis who said that while he did not find devotional books very helpful, he had often found an unbidden song arising in his heart as he worked through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in his teeth! Just a reminder to me (and you) that working away at difficult books on doctrine is good for the soul.
(3) Over the past six weeks I've bought a lot of books - so many that I've had to spend several hours reorganizing my library to make shelf-space for them. That exercise is always good for me, because it reminds me of the many books I have - but haven't read yet (which has obviously never kept me from buying more!) And that, in turn, motivates me to want to read more of those books (also the new ones) and less of books that are neither nourishing to the soul nor immediately useful for ministry. Hence, "no" to The Da Vinci Code.
(4) John Piper's biographical lecture on William Tyndale this week, coupled with Ajith Fernando's vast number of stories about suffering saints reminded me of the value of biographies and history. I haven't read as many biographies in the past two years (and I have read a lot more fiction - not a good trade), whereas several years ago, I was downing between five and ten a year. So, I'm feeling eager to dig in deep to a biography on Augustine or Luther or some missionary whose life will both inspire my own and lend more historical depth to my own teaching and preaching.
(5) Regarding fiction, I find myself going through phases where it really helps me (to wind down and relax) and other phases where I just can't get into a novel. I've been in one of the latter phases lately, meaning that the last three or four novels I've started have not grabbed (or at least haven't sustained) my interest. And if I have to work at a novel, it's just not fun any more. Regarding The DaVinci Code, my wife read about half of it and conscientiously decided not to finish it because of its blasphemous sub-plot. Which just makes me think that I won't really enjoy reading it for leisure reading. (I was aware of the controversy surrounding The Da Vinci Code when I started it. I had planned to read it and then read a critique, but doing that no longer seems to fit into my higher priorities for reading). So, for "leisure" reading, I'm going to spend more time on biographies and Christian authors whose books really do both entertain and stir me (most notably, Ted Dekker and C. S. Lewis. Well, and maybe whenever John Grisham writes a new book!).
(6) One more thought: with so many books to read and so little time to read them, I'm thinking that I need to develop a new kind of reading disciplines - first, that of skimming. I have done this some, but I honestly hate to skim books. I like to read the whole thing. But there are alot books out there that I'd like to read or at least be acquainted with and I just won't have time to read them all thoroughly. So, I'm considering trying to just take a couple of hours once a week or so to get as much as I can from a book that I don't really plan to read all the way through. These books will mostly be books on topics with which I'm already pretty well-read, more popular level books on Christian living - especially books that mainstream Christians are likely to be reading, etc. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, I'd like to develop the discipline of really digging deep into one or two books a year to master them. I did this with Jonathan Edwards' The End for Which God Created the World several years ago - reading it three times and taking extensive notes and outlining it the third time through. The benefits to this were great and methinks I should do it more often.
“It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make one wise, but the well-reading of a few, could they be sure to be the best.”
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