On My Reading Habits

As I have been finishing up the books on my spring reading list and formulating my summer list, I noticed some trends in what and how I read. This hasn’t necessarily been a conscious decision, but is more of an evolution of my reading habits.

I came across Dr. Albert Mohler’s reading habits and recommendations, which I thought were interesting. Discerning Reader also has a helpful article here based on Mohler’s thoughts and dealing with how to select books and managing reading time. Tim Challies, in his feedback forum, talks about the importance of topical reading here, and how reading all you can on a particular topic helps you to read faster and with more comprehension and discernment on the topic. C.S. Lewis writes on the importance of reading old books, which you can find in full text here. Additionally, my dad has mentioned that while topical reading is helpful, reading all you can on the topic can be burdensome (especially for “lay” readers) and even discouraging at times due to the sheer amount of material available on each topic. He recommends topical reading – but stresses prioritizing the “classic” or “archetypal” books of each topic. My dad’s reasoning is that if you read what is widely considered to be the singular work(s) on a topic, many other books on that topic will cite it and refer to it. Thus, after completing the works, you can move on to another topic. Dad, feel free to comment more about your thoughts, especially if I am grossly misinterpreting them.

A combination of exhaustive reading on a topic and reading only the distinguished works is helpful for lay people, or at least graduate students, like myself, who may not have the time or energy to dig into every book on many topics. Mohler’s thoughts are helpful in crystallizing and focusing my own reading habits, and I recommend reading his article. I’ll touch on it and go into more detail here.

First, Mohler says to maintain regular reading projects. He divides his own projects into six categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. He is also a full time author/pastor/blogger/teacher and much of his daily routine is taken up in reading, which helps. I’ve found my “categories” have evolved into Theology, Devotional, Church Life/Spiritual Growth, Literature, and Non-fiction (which includes media/culture/and other). Books read with a friend or in a group can fall into any of these. A goal of mine this summer is to start into the Biblical Studies category.

Since I can’t read several books each week like Mohler, I have started the habit of making a reading list each season. It is only after reflecting on my forthcoming summer reading list and reading Mohler’s thoughts that I realized that I have been loosely trying to read at least one book per category each season. I like it the way it has worked so far. For example, this spring (list to the left) had Devotional books (Miller & Sproul), Non-fiction (Lewis), Literature (Tolkien), Culture (Prothero & Moreland), Theology (Challies & Miller), and Spiritual Growth (Chapell).

Mohler also recommends reading through every work of one author who “demands your attention” – all of Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul, or J.C. Ryle for example. This may take a while, but I like Mohler’s reasoning: “Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development. No author can complete his thoughts in one book, no matter how large.” I haven’t done this yet, but the author I have probably read the most of is C.S. Lewis. I would like to maybe read all of one author’s works over the course of a year – maybe in 2009. Any suggestions on an author? I’d prefer it to not be a contemporary author, and not C.S. Lewis.

Similarly, Mohler says to invest in some sets and read through them – the works of Edwards, Luther, or Calvin for example. I hope to do this sometime – Calvin’s Institutes have sat on my shelf taunting me since I received them as a college graduation gift two years ago.

Finally, Mohler encourages readers to make books your own – write in them and mark them up. After all, they are meant to be used and interacted with, not “collected and coddled.” One exception he lists are antique books. I like to mark up my books, but try to do so while keeping them in nice condition (I loathe broken bindings). My friend Jimmey shares the same hesitation I do in lending books to people for this reason.

It’s interesting to see how my book-reading habits have evolved, especially in the last year or so when I really gained a passion for reading. I’m looking forward to seeing how them continue to evolve in the future. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed sometimes with the breadth and depth of the material available on so many topics, but a loose system like what I discussed above seems to help my reading habits.

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4 thoughts on “On My Reading Habits

  1. An appropriate appendix to this post would be on finding time to read. With work, school, homework, and family, etc., it’s tough to find time, so I usually try to read during my lunch breaks (when I’m not doing homework) and before bed.

  2. Yes! All binding breakers everywhere need to repent and turn from their evil ways! I’m not down with writing in books either. That’s what notebooks and journals are for. What is wrong with people?

  3. Oh, and in reference to your reading all the works of an individual. I’d like to read all of Jonathan Edwards, but imagine that’s gonna take me several years.

  4. I’m totally with you on “binding breakers,” Jimmey, but we’ll have to agree to disagree about writing in books. I like to underline in pencil (I loathe highlighters) and write small notes in the margins as needed. I can see why a journal/notebook can be good – to interact more with the book, get your own thoughts – but I like to know what was good about the book in the context of it, instead of searching around for a sentence or whatever.

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