If there is something you do that consumes a lot of your waking hours, it makes good sense to read at least the occasional book that will challenge you to do that thing better. A preacher will read books on preaching, a hobbyist will read books about how to grow in skill at his hobby, one hopes that his doctor reads updated medical journals–you get the idea. I spend a lot of my life with a nose in a book and have found it helpful to read at least the occasional work on the skill of reading.
Recently I re-read Tony Reinke’s Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, having first read it as a manuscript quite some time ago. I’m glad I did. Lit! is a comfortable read in that it reminds me a little bit of The Next Story. In some ways Reinke does with literature what I sought to do with technology. He has taken a subject that has received more attention in the mainstream than in the Christian world, he has read those books and then distilled their wisdom, passed it through a biblical lens, and crafted a theology of literature. In doing so he has created a very useful book.
Here are five good reasons to give it a read.
To Gain a Theology of Books and Reading
I know in the abstract that there is a theology of everything, a way of thinking Christianly about everything we do and everything we experience in this life. Somehow, though, it had escaped me that there is a distinctly Christian way to think about books and reading. In Lit’s first few chapters Reinke provides that theology, beginning with the Bible, the world’s greatest work of literature and the only one that has been divinely inspired, and proceeding from there. He shows that the Bible is the book through which we understand and interpret all other books which in turn leads to discussions of the Christian worldview and the benefits of reading non-Christian works. This is just the right place to begin.
To Understand the Benefits of Reading Non-Christian Books
There are some non-Christian books that no one should read; there are some books that are morally abhorrent or otherwise entirely inappropriate. But many non-Christian books are genuinely helpful and continue very valuable insights, whether those are insights into the world or insights into the non-Christian mind or human experience. Reinke looks to the doctrine of common grace and on that basis points out seven benefits of reading in the mainstream. I can attest from personal experience that I have benefitted tremendously from reading outside the Christian world and that I continually encourage other Christians to do the same. Lit! puts biblical reasoning to this and encourages Christians to maintain a varied reading diet.
To See the Importance of Imagination
Humans are uniquely gifted by God in having been given an imagination. God has given us this ability “to enable us to create art, make scientific discoveries, further technological progress, and write poetry. And God has given us an imagination so our book reading will be more effective.” I have come to realize in the past little while that I have a tendency to downplay the value and the sheer blessing of imagination. This has been brought home to me by a sermon series. At church we are currently progressing through the book of Revelation verse-by-verse and this apocalyptic literature has highlighted to me the beauty of imagination and even the need for it. The imagination is what enables us to understand and enjoy this kind of writing (and many other kinds of writing). Reinke is very helpful in highlighting the importance and the blessing of imagination.
To Learn to Read Better
There are several chapters in the book that teach how to become a better reader. Chapter 7, “Read With Resolve,” provides six priorities Reinke uses to decide what books he reads and what books he doesn’t. This chapter helps provide guidance when choosing books to buy, books to read, books to throw in the trash. It also highlights the important practice of not finishing a book that is not worth finishing. Chapter 8, “How to Read a Book,” provides 20 quick tips on how to read. Much of this is wisdom from Mortimer Adler that has been distilled from hundreds of pages to just a few pages. Chapter 12, “Marginalia,” describes the process and the importance of making a book your own by interacting with it–scribbling in the margins, highlighting important passages, mining the most important quotes, and so on. Reading this book will help you become a better reader, more aware of when to read slowly, when to read quickly, when to continue to plow through a dense book and when to wave the white flag and put it back on the shelf.
To Enjoy the Essays
I see the book’s second half as a series of essays, each dealing with a different component of reading. These essays can be read in sequence and in a sitting if you like, but I think they are equally effective, perhaps more effective, if read one at a time over a longer period of time. The prescriptive nature of some of them dictates that they will take time to digest and apply. For example, the essay that looks to raising children who value reading provides a helpful jumping off point, but will take months, maybe years, to put into practice. Reading it in fifteen minutes will not bring nearly as much benefit as taking time to read it slowly, to think about how you can implement it in your own family, and to begin to measure its success. Also in this section you will learn how to read well even in an age of distraction, you’ll get some suggestions on reading in community, and you will see just how much reading you can do by using all of those little moments that otherwise go to checking email or staring into space.
Lit! is a genuinely helpful book that I recommend to everyone, whether you are an avid or an occasional reader. In either case, you will benefit from this distinctly Christian guide to becoming a better reader.