Tips on reading well
A few weeks ago I saw my friend Jason Salamun, a church planter in South Dakota (yes, there are church planters there!) posted on Twitter a few tips on how to read well. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I take reading very seriously. I’ve been accused by friends – many who are quite serious – who say that I read too much. They ask repeatedly, “Why do you spend so much time with your nose in a book?” Two reasons:
 I know I’m a nerd and I’m okay with that, thank you.
 Because I have so much to learn that I need/want to! That’s why I take reading so seriously!
On the surface, the statement I made earlier sounds quite silly, doesn’t it – “taking reading seriously”? Don’t most adults in the US know how to read? some have asked. But on a deeper level, its amazing how so few people see reading as a gift, a discipline, a tool, an opportunity and an invitation to friendship.
I highly recommend two books that deal with reading. The first on is Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read A Book. When this was first recommended to me by another avid reader I said to him – only half-kidding – “You’ve got to be kidding me, right? A book on how to read?” And then I read it. Its a fantastic book. If you have a gift card to Borders, Amazon or Barnes and Noble, spend it on this book. It will change and sharpen the focus of every book you read the rest of your life.
The second book I’d recommend has just a chapter actually from J. Oswald Sanders’ book Spiritual Leadership. His chapter on The Leader and Reading is worth the price of the book itself. It’s been said before that leaders are readers. I’ve wondered if someone can be a great leader without enjoying or participating in reading. I’m sure its possible – God’s Spirit can use anyone – but I have never met – or heard of – a great leader who didn’t read regularly.
I am not the world’s best leader or reader (I can’t even claim that title in my neighborhood) but I do intend to read intentionally and formatively. Here are several practical reading tips that I live by when I read:
- Always have a pen when you read. Always. Always. Always. (Sorry Kindle, this is why I don’t know if we will ever be close friends).
- Earmark, draw, underline, write in the margins, dog-ear the pages – do whatever you need to do to create a “filing system.” There will be times where you’ll want to go back and find that concept, thought, story or quote when you need it. You’ll be glad you marked it. My wife accuses me of “butchering” books. I take that as a compliment…
- Don’t read what’s popular. Read what is – or will be – lasting.
- Ask people you trust what they are reading. And write down what they recommend so you don’t forget.
- For the most part, avoid ‘how-to’ books. It takes out the element of critical thinking.
- If you must read fiction, save it for vacation or a holiday/summer break. (I know I’ll probably take some heat for this one, but I don’t care: I’m sticking with it!)
- Make the Bible the most important and primary book you read this year – and every year.
- Read outside your field. Allow yourself to be stretched in new areas.
- Borrow books from friends and check out books from the library (but be mindful of using a pen and earmarking its pages, especially from the library!)
- Always bring a book with you. It’s amazing the little moments throughout an average week that can be redeemed with a few minutes of good reading (i.e. line at the post office, waiting for a friend to pick you up, a few minutes between meetings, etc).
- Read good biographies of women and men whose lives are worth emulating. As Martin Luther King Jr Day is approaching I checked out his autobiography. Its fantastic. It’s moving me to respect Dr. King even more than I already had in the past.
- Read in order to be become wiser rather than to become smarter. Don’t read for your personal benefit; read so that the world benefits from what you read.
- When you read the book always be asking yourself, “If I could sit down for coffee with the author, what would I want to ask him/her about what I’m reading?”
- Log what you read so you can look back at the end of the year and see how you’ve grown.
- Turn off your TV and read. Your nights can be more fulfilling if you did this, at minimum, just one night a week.
- Read a book out loud. Megan and I are reading Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years out loud to each other, then stopping and discussing what sticks out to us. It’s a fun way to grow together as a couple, too.
- Have a shelf of favorites/classics that you refer to often – and re-read them every year or two. Just because you read the book doesn’t mean you’ve retained all of the information.
- Read things that will stretch you. It’s good for the mind – and the soul, as it keeps us humble.
- Have a dictionary handy. Never go onto the next sentence until you can comprehend every word in the sentence you’ve just read.
- Read books written by dead authors. Classics – regardless of genre – are classics for a reason.
- Visit used bookstores. You can find some incredible deals on some fantastic books.
- Read newspapers sparingly (with the exception of the Sunday New York Times). The best thing to do is scan these for key concepts. It’s amazing how much I can learn when I read the in-flight magazine on plane rides.
- Read reviews of books before purchasing them.
- Join a book club. They’re everywhere if you look: Barnes and Noble, the library, local organizations, neighborhoods. I noticed the other day the local supermarket that has an upstairs cafe hosts one! If you can’t find one, start one.
- Read magazines. Well…not all of them. Some of them Many of them will turn your brain to mush. But it’s amazing what you can learn from some good magazines.
- Write 1-2 page reviews of good books you read and save it in a Word document. It was a meaningful book, send the summary on to others so they can learn from it as well.
Leaders: what other reading tips would you suggest?