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Tim Challies

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March 30, 2010

More than any other question that comes in via email, I’m asked this one: “How do you read so much?” While granting that I do read a lot, I think it bears mention that there are lots of people who read as much as I do or a lot more. The difference is that I write about what I’m reading, so you’re more aware of it than you are with most of these voracious readers.

Every year or so I sit down to write out a few thoughts on reading. I’m doing so again today, offering a few thoughts on how you can read more and read better. This is adapted from a list I created a couple of years ago. Actually, what I’ll do is write today about how to read more and read more widely and then tomorrow we’ll work on reading better.

Read - Start with the obvious: you need to read. If you want to be a good painter, you’ve got to paint; if you want to be a good runner, you’ve got to run. So before anything else, you need to commit to the discipline. Unless reading is a genuine passion, you may need to be very deliberate about setting aside time to do it. You may need to force yourself into it. Set yourself some reasonable targets (“I’m going to read three books this year” or “I’m going to finish this book before the end of the month”) and work towards it. Set aside time every day or every week and make sure you pick up the book during those times. Start out by reading a book that deals with a subject of particular interest to you. You may even find it beneficial to find a book that looks interesting—a nice hardback volume with a beautiful, embossed cover, easy-to-read fonts and excellent typography. Reading is an experience and the experience begins with the look and feel of the book. So find a book that looks like one you’ll enjoy and commit to reading it. And when you’ve done that, find another one and do it again. And again.

Read Widely - I’m convinced that one reason people do not read more is that they do not vary their reading enough. Any subject, no matter how much you are interested in it, can begin to feel dry if you focus all of your attention upon it. So be sure to read widely. Read fiction and non-fiction, theology and biography, current affairs and history. You will no doubt want to focus the majority of your reading in one broad area, and that is well and good. But be sure to vary your diet. I think it’s especially important to say to Christians that you are allowed to read mainstream books. Read a bit of Malcolm Gladwell or read Freakonomics or a title plucked from the bestseller’s list. Many of these books will enrich you in unexpected ways.

March 25, 2010

This morning I’ve got Whitefield and Wesley on my mind. This morning I was thinking about John Wesley’s infamous and divisive sermon called Free Grace and went looking for what I had written on it in the past. This was the sermon that began a significant rift between Whitefield and the Wesleys, for not only did it set them at theological odds, but it also betrayed Whitefield’s trust in Wesley. Though the men continued to love one other, this sermon was a very significant force in the eventual separation between them. Wesley’s sermon, though still highly regarded by some, is hardly a fair, biblical or thorough treatment of the subject of free will, free grace or predestination. It relies far more on shock, bold claims, and outrageous exaggerations than it does on Scripture.

One of Wesley’s biographers, Julia Wedgwood, was harsh but fair when considering this sermon. She says,

March 17, 2010

I am often asked for pointers on writing book reviews and recently realized that, to my recollection, I’ve never written on the topic. That may be because I consider myself quite a poor book reviewer. I got into writing reviews (over 500 book reviews ago now) by circumstance more than skill; I had a blog, I read a lot, and book reviews just started to happen. Yet I am aware that I am not a great reviewer. Read the Times or a theological journal and you will encounter a completely different skill level in reviewers.

Having said that, I think I am able to write reviews that appeal to a particular audience. And in that way at least, I’ve been successful. So today let me share just a few pointers for those who are considering writing reviews for a medium similar to this one.

Know Your Audience

As I said a moment ago, any success I’ve had owes more to writing for a defined audience than in great skill. I know who reads this site and I try to write about books that will be of interest to that kind of reader. If my IQ was about 100 points higher and if I wrote for Themelios I might read and review Revitalizing Theological Epistemology: Holistic Evangelical Approaches to the Knowledge of God. As it is, though, I know who I am and I know who reads this web site and I try to review books accordingly. Almost by definition, the people who read this site share at least some of my interests and so what is of interest to me is of interest to them. That’s part of the beauty of a blog.

So know your audience. Know the kind of book they will want to read and then anticipate the kind of questions they will want answered before they consider reading that book. Here are the types of questions I tend to answer:

March 12, 2010

This little reflection, which I wrote yesterday while researching my book, seemed appropriate to post this morning, one day after the 199th anniversary of the birth of Luddism and the very day that the next great technology, the iPad, goes on sale.


Luddites have gotten a bad rap. Synonymous with irrational suspicion toward technology, Luddites were, in reality, not nearly as concerned with technology as we might think. History has not been entirely fair to them.

Early in 1811, the owners of Nottinghamshire weaving mills began to receive angry and threatening letters from General Ned Ludd and his Army of Redressers. It’s unlikely that there ever was a Ned Ludd; historians believe that the name was a fictitious name fabricated by workers in the textile industry. And these workers, artisans mainly, had much to concern them. As the nation became increasingly industrialized, machines began to do the jobs previously done by men. The work of skilled craftsmen soon became the work of an apprentice or an unskilled woman operating a machine. Wages plummeted as did quality and even the demand for quality. The craftsmen were quickly becoming obsolete and impoverished. The new machines did inferior work, sure, but it was both fast and cheap—a trade-off most people were willing to make.

Under the banner of Ned Ludd, the old artisans plotted to thwart the factories that appeared bent on destroying them. They first wrote letters threatening harm to factories if they did not rid themselves of the machines. Not surprisingly, the factory owners refused to comply with the demands. And so the Luddites attacked. Within weeks factor raids were a nightly occurrence and hundreds of knitting machines had been destroyed.

March 10, 2010

I have been introducing you to the team who will help make my next book a reality. First you met Ryan the Editor and then Chris Fann the Marketing Man. Today I want to introduce you to Agent Andrew (known to some as Andrew Wolgemuth). He is, as you may have guessed, my agent. His job is to represent me before the publisher (first to help find one who would like to publish my work, then to negotiate a contract and then with anything else that happens to come up). He will stay involved with the work from beginning to end.

I’ll let Andrew introduce himself… 

I’m Tim’s literary representative. Or – a bit less dramatically – his agent. Though I didn’t set the course of my professional life after seeing Jerry Maguire (I’m sure a movie about a literary agent would be just as compelling) and while I didn’t grow up aspiring to be a member of the publishing industry, I’ve been surrounded, challenged, taught, and blessed by books and great authors for my entire life.

In fact, my first official paycheck came from Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers a couple of decades ago (the “Wolgemuth” in that company was Robert, the owner of the agency that I now work for; the “Hyatt” was Mike – now the CEO of Thomas Nelson; my dad, Dan, was CFO for this house. They published Orel Hershiser’s Out of the Blue, Max Anders’ 30 Days to Understanding the Bible, and Patrick Morley’s Man in the Mirror, among many other excellent titles). I helped W&H with mailings or marketing…or something that felt pretty big time for a seven-year-old.

My second employer was Can-Do Trash and Recycling Service. That was a good gig, but it’s significantly less relevant to my present occupation.

March 06, 2010

Earlier this week I began introducing you to the people who will be involved behind-the-scenes in bringing you my book The Next Story. First I introduced you to Ryan the Editor who will (obviously) be responsible for editing the book. And today I’d like you to meet Chris Fann the Marketing Man. His job is to try to convince you that your life will be incomplete if you do not own at least one copy of this book (and, preferably, many more than that). His job will be complete and successful if and when every Christian in North America knows about the book’s existence. Here is Chris’ bio:

Chris will market and position Tim’s book in such a way so it will sell more copies than Harry Potter and Twilight while having the longevity of Homer and Plato. (Nothing like over-promising, right?)

The vast majority of his efforts go toward creating awareness of the books given to market. According to Warren Bird, author and Director of Research at Leadership Network, “The average book in America sells about 500 copies a year. Only 10-25 books sell more than a million copies in a year. Fewer than 500 sell more than 100,000. Nearly 200,000 new titles are published each year.” There are thousands of books published each month, and even more content than that put up on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. There is a great deal of noise in the world today, and Chris’ job is trying to find ways to speak uniquely, not louder.

March 04, 2010

Writing a book is a team effort. Of course I’m the one who has to spend endless hours hunched over an endless success of books, tapping away on a keyboard and staring pensively out the window. So let’s be honest—I do most of the work. But still, there are lots of other people involved. I figured it would be fun to introduce you to some of the people who will play a role in getting my next book into your hands.

First up, I’d like to introduce you to Ryan Pazdur, a.k.a. Ryan the Editor. An Acquisitions Editor by trade, he has already helped convince the good people at Zondervan to take a chance on my next two books. And as we put together The Next Story, it will be his job to make sure that the book I write is worth the $12 or $15 I’m hoping you will spend on it. To him will fall the inevitable but thankless task of reminding me of a little thing called deadlines (I’m going to be late for everything, Ryan. Deal with it!). He will also be reading what I write and telling me what’s good, what’s bad and what’s just plain awful. He’ll work with me on content, on tone, on voice, on all of those things that make a book what it is. If the book stinks, you’ll blame me, but his boss will blame him.

So world, meet Ryan the Editor:

What does an editor really do? Sitting around reading books all day may sound to some people like the best job in the world. And certainly, that’s an important part of an editor’s work. An acquisitions editor (AE) spends quite a bit of time reading book proposals, attending conferences, and looking for worthwhile books to publish [in Canada we know this as schmoozing]. As the primary contact with an author, AEs typically work with authors to help them refine their proposal, structure their book, advise throughout the writing process, and make revisions to the manuscript. They serve as an advocate for the author and communicate the expectations of the publisher back to the author. From the proposal stage to the completion of a revised manuscript with solid content, AEs work back and forth with authors, clarifying ideas, altering the tone of the writing, and strengthening the content of the book. It’s a pretty amazing process, filled with lots of prayer, conflict resolution, and creative thinking. There is nothing quite as satisfying as holding a printed book in your hand after months of editing and revisions.

March 02, 2010

Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia must be one of the few banks in the world that allows you to order gold bullion online. Visit their web site, punch in your order along with your credit card information, and a couple days later FedEx will deliver your gold to the door, all sealed up in a plain and boring little envelope.

The gold comes in bars, though not those massive gold bars you see in the movies. For somewhere around $1200 you could purchase a 1 ounce gold bar and have it delivered to your home. It would be 22mm wide, 38mm high and 2.3mm thick. You’d soon find that your dollar does not go far when you are using it to buy precious metals. What you would do with it once you buy it is a bit trickier—maybe you’d put it in a safe deposit box or maybe you’d just bury it out in the backyard. You probably wouldn’t want to carry it around in your pocket.