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Tim Challies

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June 05, 2010

Earlier this week I read the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr—the guy who wrote the infamous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” It’s a fantastic book and addresses many of the kinds of questions I’ve been asked and (hopefully) answering in my own book. Seriously, you should consider reading it.

Carr looks primarily to what the internet is doing to our brains, to the way we think and even to the way we perceive ourselves. And inevitably he spends quite a bit of time looking to the history of communication, including the book. And here are a few of his thoughts about what makes the book such an amazing invention, especially when compared to digital readers. In them he captures just a bit of my passion for books.

It’s not hard to see why books have been slow to make the leap into the digital age. There’s not a whole lot of difference between a computer monitor and a television screen, and the sounds coming from speakers hit your ears in pretty much the same way whether they’re being transmitted through a computer or a radio. But as a device for reading, the book retains some compelling advantages over the computer. You can take a book to the beach without worrying about sand getting in its works. You can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off. You can spill coffee on it. You can sit on it. You can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery day.

The experience of reading tends to be better with a book too. Words stamped on a page in black ink are easier to read than words formed of pixels on a backlit screen. You can read a dozen or a hundred printed pages without suffering from the eye fatigue that often results from even a brief stretch of online reading. Navigating a book is simpler and, as software programmers say, more intuitive. You can flip through real pages much more quickly and flexibly than you can through virtual pages. And you can write notes in a book’s margins or highlight passages that move or inspire you. You can even get a book’s author to sign its title page. When you’re finished with a book, you can use it to fill an empty space on your bookshelf—or lend it to a friend.

May 09, 2010

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read is a book by Pierre Bayard, a professor of French literature at the University of Paris. In what is a bit of a provocative book and one that relies on more than a small measure of wit, Bayard argues that not having read a book does not need to serve as an impediment in having an interesting and intelligent discussion about it. He goes so far as to argue that in some cases the worst thing you can do, the thing that would most dishonor a book, is to read it.

“Reading is first and foremost non-reading,” he says. “Even in the case of the most passionate lifelong readers, the act of picking up and opening a book masks the countergesture that occurs at the same time: the involuntary act of not picking up and not opening all the other books in the universe.” Therefore even the most prolific reader does far more non-reading than he does reading and makes far more decisions not to read than to read. Non-reading is a genuine activity as much as reading is a genuine activity. It is not just the mere absence of reading; it is a choice not to read particular works. And yet, he argues, non-reading should not prohibit us from having intelligent and guilt-free discussion about books we have chosen not to read.

So tell me. What do you think of his book?

May 06, 2010

Yesterday I spent some time thinking about how and why and where we all buy our Christian books. I started with the question, “Why do people shop at one e-commerce store and not another.” And from there I just found more and more questions that were asking for answers.

I started writing out such questions and before I knew it I had put together a survey suitable for Christian readers. And I’d love it if you’d take 2 minutes to complete the survey. It asks for no identifying information and really shouldn’t take you more than a couple of minutes. After we’ve gotten a good quantity of responses, I’ll let you in on the results.

Click here to take the survey

April 10, 2010

Ten days ago I announced the next classic book we’ll be reading together. To refresh your memory, it will be The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months, you know the pattern. Through the week anyone who wishes to participate reads a chapter from the book and on Thursdays we come here and discuss it. It’s that simple, really. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community. The Bruised Reed is, by all accounts, the kind of book any Christian will benefit from. So please do consider reading it with us.

April 06, 2010

Last week I encouraged you to Read More and Read Better. Then I got both busy and distracted and didn’t give you the second part. So let me do that today. Let me tell you how I read a book.


Before I do anything else, I want to get an overview of the book. Very rarely will I read a book without really knowing what it is about. Here I learn about the reason it exists, whether it is attempting to make its mark in the world of ideas or the world of entertainment. Here I learn about its significance. And, most importantly, here I learn about its purpose. From the back cover, from the Foreword and Preface, I can learn what the book is trying to do, to teach. I may also turn to a review or two, though generally I prefer not to since I prefer to form my own opinion of it. (The less familiar I am with the topic, the more likely I am to read some reviews.) I also tend to read the Acknowledgements since this tends to help me understand the author a bit more.

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.

December 11, 2009

The end of the year is drawing close and, if you’re like me, you’re already beginning to think about what you’ll do differently (and, hopefully, better) next year. When it comes to my daily devotions, I’ve been thinking about putting myself on some kind of a reading plan. I have only rarely done those in the past and don’t know that I’ve ever really stuck with one all the way through to December. But next year I think I will give it a go. I have also been thinking about daily devotionals—something I could read either by myself or with the family. I’ve drawn up a list of a few notable devotionals. There are hundreds available so this is represents a drop in the proverbial bucket. But I think if you are considering a devotional, you are likely to find at least one here that would appeal. Do let me know if you know of others that would be worth investigating.

Daily Readings from the Life of Christ by John MacArthur. This two-volume set is recently published by Moody and focuses on the life of Christ. “In this daily devotional by highly acclaimed author John MacArthur, your hungry heart will be focused on God and His Word. With insights on the life of Jesus, thoughts to ponder, and wisdom gleaned from years of careful study, this devotional will feed your daily walk.”

Voices from the Past edited by Richard Rushing. This volume, brand new from Banner of Truth, offers daily devotional readings from the Puritans. It does not follow any particular order (that I can see) in the Scripture passages accompanying each devotional.

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. This is a classic devotional that offers two daily readings, one for the morning and (you guessed it) one for the evening. Again, the accompanying Scripture passages do not follow any set order. If purchasing it as a gift for someone else, there are attractive gift editions of it available.

For the Love of God by D.A. Carson. This two-volume devotional contains a systematic 365-day plan, based on the M’Cheyne Bible-reading schedule, that will in the course of a year guide you through the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once. To accompany the reading plan Carson has also written comments and reflections regarding each day’s scriptural passages. “And, most uniquely, he offers you perspective that places each reading into the larger framework of history and God’s eternal plan to deepen your understanding of his sovereignty—and the unity and power of his Word.”

Through the Bible Through the Year by John Stott. “John Stott has assembled a new book that will guide readers through the Bible according to the church calendar. Seeking to renew a Trinitarian approach to Scripture, Stott divides these daily reflections into three sections. From September to December, Stott focuses on how God the Father revealed himself in the Old Testament. From January through Pentecost, he focuses on the life of Christ in and through the Gospels. And between May and August, Stott looks at the Holy Spirit in Acts, the epistles, and Revelation.”

DayOne Publications has an ongoing series that offers readings from the writings of a number of well-known Christian pastors or theologians. Currently available are:

365 Days with Calvin edited by Joel Beeke (brand new).

365 Days with Newton edited by Marylynn Rouse .

365 Days with Spurgeon edited by Terence Peter Crosby (there are 4 volumes available).

There is also a volume with readings from William Wilberforce (edited by Kevin Belmonte) but it seems a bit more difficult to come by.

Walking with God Day by Day by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. “Walking with God Day by Day offers brief daily devotionals that engage the mind and the heart. You will not just find spiritual nourishment in its pages; you will learn about God and the great themes of the Bible. Robert Backhouse has compiled excerpts from choice passages in the writings of Dr. Lloyd-Jones according to monthly themes. By reading this devotional, you will grow in your understanding of God and learn to apply the truth of His Word day by day.”

Faith Alone by Martin Luther. “Freshly translated from the original German into today’s English, this book contains a treasury of devotionals taken from Luther’s writings and sermons (1513 to 1546), conveniently divided into daily readings to point readers to the Bible and a deeper understanding of faith.”

Daily Dose of Bible Knowledge. Though I have this book, I have not yet read through all of it. I mention it, though, because I really like the idea behind it. The book “helps you start every day with a fascinating exploration of the Bible. The book includes 365 inspiring one-page articles that delve into everything from the Ark of the Covenant to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The articles are grouped into 52 weeks, with each day of the week dedicated to a particular subject area.” So it is not a devotional, per se, but still a helpful day-by-day kind of book.

Tabletalk Magazine by Ligonier Ministries. If you’d rather receive a monthly publication than buy a book, consider Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk. In each monthly issue it offers daily devotionals along with a good number of articles written by many respected pastors, theologians, authors and the occasional Canadian blogger.

November 15, 2009

A little while ago I read Warren Wiersbe’s book 50 People Every Christian Should Know. Just the other day I was tidying up my bookcases and noticed a toothpick sticking out of the book. I opened it to the page marked by the toothpick and found a quote I guess I must have been hoping to come back to. Turns out it’s a good one. It comes from a chapter devoted to Alexander Whyte. Here it is:


The sales manager of a successful Christian publishing house tells me that pastors are not buying books. “Most of the books sold in Christian bookstores are sold to and read by women,” he said. If our pastors are not using their valuable time for study, what are they using it for? Perhaps Whyte had the answer: “We shroud our indolence under the pretext of a difficulty. The truth is, it is lack of real love for our work.”

Alexander Whyte loved books, and he read them to his dying day. The Puritans in general and Thomas Goodwin in particular were his main diet. But he also thrived on the mystics and the princes of the Scottish church, such as Samuel Rutherford. Whyte constantly ordered books for himself and his friends in the ministry. However, he cautioned young pastors against becoming book-buyers instead of book-readers. “Don’t hunger for books,” he wrote a minister friend. “Get a few of the very best, such as you already have, and read them and your own heart continually.” Whyte often contrasted two kinds of reading—“reading on a sofa and reading with a pencil in hand.” He urged students to keep notebooks and to make entries in an interleaved Bible for future reference. “No day without its line” was his motto. He wrote to Hubert Simpson: “for more than forty years, I think I can say, never a week, scarcely a day, has passed, that I have not entered some note or notes into my Bible: and, then, I never read a book without taking notes for preservation one way or another.”