Friday, May 10, 2019

Suggestions about Reading

This article was first conceived upon receiving an email from a Thinking Friend in rural northwest Missouri--a man who lives less than five miles from where I grew up. Even though he is now retired, Tom wrote about the problem that many of us have, the problem of not being able to read all that we want to read.
Reading Problems
For most of us, the first reading problem is simply that there is too much to read. In addition to all the books and periodicals that beckoned for reading in past years, now we have the constant inflow of stuff to read on the Internet, including the incessant flow of Tweets and Facebook postings as well as “breaking news.”
So, the sheer volume of what we need to read and want to read is definitely a problem.
There is also a quality problem: so much is available on the Internet there is a tendency for more and more of us to neglect reading books and journal articles that have been carefully researched and written with the intention of being carefully read and digested.
Thus, we are faced with the problem of having/taking the time to read substantial books/articles rather than just the ubiquitous here today, gone tomorrow, writings.
Reading Selectively
Through the years I have certainly experienced the problem of having too much to read and too little time to read everything I both needed to read and wanted to read. However, I have two suggestions in this regard.
Particularly at the time when I was in the most demanding job of my life--both in terms of time and responsibilities--I purposely decided to spend the first thirty minutes of my workday every day reading important books and reading them carefully and thoughtfully.
That wasn’t much, but it was something--and something that added up to many significant books read each year. Of course, there was a lot of other reading I did every day--work related reports, letters, requests, etc., as well as academic articles.
Even in retirement I have continued the practice of carefully reading meaningful books for at least thirty minutes every morning. I have just finished Richard Rohr’s book The Universal Christ. (I am planning for my next blog article to be about it.) And now I am reading Serene Jones’s new book Call It Grace.
The other suggestion is one that many of you know and practice already: learn to read selectively. Everything doesn’t have to be read in detail. Thus, there are some books that, of necessity, I read only in part, and some I speed read--and it is all right to read some books that way. (Of course, care must be taken not to misunderstand or jump to conclusions.)
Reading Well
Although I have only as yet read three of its twelve chapters, I highly recommend Karen Swallow Prior’s book On Reading Well: Find the Good Life through Great Books (2018)--and I especially recommend the Introduction, subtitled “Read Well, Live Well.”
(I was first motivated to read Prior’s book after reading the enticing article about it in the Plough; you can read that article and see the attention-grabbing illustrations accompanying it by clicking on this link.)
Prior, an English professor, emphasizes, “Read books you enjoy, develop your ability to enjoy challenging reading, read deeply and slowly, and increase your enjoyment of a book by writing words of your own in it” (p. 18).
Those words apply specifically to books such as I referred to in my first suggestion above.
I close with the following words from Prior’s 2012 work, Booked (2012), p. 64. 


  1. It was gratifying that the first comment I received this morning (before 6 a.m.) was from my daughter Kathy. She wrote,

    "I have always admired your reading habit. I am thankful to have been raised in a family that values reading."

  2. I also appreciate Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago reading and responding to today's blog article:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your excellent suggestions about reading.

    "One must read selectively and I try to confine my reading to books and articles written by reputable authors (i.e., experts in their respective fields). There is a lot of junk out there, so one has to be very careful."

  3. What you have written is so true. Too much to read of good quality and too much we must evaluate to find the good stuff. Thus one reason I read all your blogs while still having to read articles and books for work (I retire next year!) You didn't mention while doing all this reading, you continue to write. Hooray for the rest of us!

  4. Enjoyed your INFO on reading and I start Every morning with reading The Bible and Select Devotional.
    Then I go to reading books,magazines and the Internet.
    This seems to work for me and I am amazed about how much I get to read and enrich my knowledge.
    Thanks for your Excellent article Leroy on Reading.
    John(Tim) Carr

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, John Tim.

  5. One of the things I appreciate about your blog is that it creates and encourages a community of conversation; a community which exposes me to readers who have different reading ‘selectivities’ than mine. Conversations over a common reading list frequently may be (and have been) fruitful, but listening to readers of literature I have not read facilitates a broader exposure of (to) ideas than one’s own expenditure of time permits.

    An opinion (what do you all think?): The current capability of publishers to produce books quickly has made the need for discerning “books and journal articles that have been carefully researched and written with the intention of being carefully read and digested” more significant. “[T]he ubiquitous here today, gone tomorrow, writings” easily become books with appearance of rumination. So I think.

    Thanks Leroy for your efforts to encourage a more thoughtful community of readers!

    1. Thanks, Dick; it is good to hear from you again.

      Perhaps the bigger problem than publishers producing books quickly is the prevalence of self-published books now (such as my recently published book "Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now"!). Some of the latter (such as mine, of course!) are carefully researched and written with the intention of being carefully read and digested, but some are not, and the general public may not know how to differentiate.

      I do appreciate your recognition that I am, in fact, seeking "to encourage a more thoughtful community of readers."

  6. Thanks, Leroy, for your especially thoughtful blog this week. I reflect often on my reading, especially now that I'm no longer in a profession that requires it (piano technicians do read and write, but it is not the "end" that it is for teaching scholars in the academy). Still, although I'm more selective about my reading in all of my areas of interest, I do frequently try to embrace my own self-criticism: I don't think (reflect) much on what I'm reading. I try too much to "cover" new books and ideas.

    What I've learned in reference to a wide ranging group of content-categories is that: a. there's not really that much that is truly new (e.g., that I have not encountered in other, older books, within a set range of my interests--but see below); b. that one book has treasures in it far beyond "main idea" generalities; c. much of the real fun of reading is exploring ideas in conversation and debate with readers who read at depth, too. Your blog, while helpful and provocative, and much needed, simply cannot do justice to but a few ideas in any one book, let alone plumbing the depths. d. I constantly fight my own biases: it's a lot easier to read what I like (e.g., what I generally agree with) than to challenge my own biases, including my Christian biases (We've been reading books by well-known atheist authors in SS class, recently. You'd like it, I think.)

    It may well be that less "coverage" (fewer books) may, in this case, truly lead to more knowledge (e.g., through reflection, attention to detail, listening and debating with other readers, and then, of course, re-reading). Thanks, again, for your evocative thoughts.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Milton.

      With reference to your "c." I do often feel the problem of being too shallow in limiting my blog articles to 600 words--and feeling the need to keep writing about different subjects/books rather than going more deeply into important books that need more careful thought. For the most part now, I am comfortable being a generalist rather than a specialist as I was to a certain extent back when I was writing scholarly essays. I like being in touch with a wide variety of people. At the same time, I miss being able to go deeper with a few people who have knowledge and interest in narrower subjects.

      I like Karen Prior's emphasis on reading slowly, which is similar to your last paragraph. That is what I try to do in my 30-min.-a-day reading of carefully selected books. But I also have a desire to know something about a wide range of books, which is the reason I speed-read or read only select sections of many books.

  7. Reading is important. I watch people read their Bibles in church on their iPhones as cover for doing other things on their iPhones. A new generation I guess. I stick to my hard version, but do read the commentaries on the side...

    For general reading, I like starting the day by reading the NLT Bible, and end the day reading one of my favorite
    magazines (eg Missouri Conservationist). But there are also the business related books, language books (Swahili, German, Arabic) to brush-up a little, and of course the diversions from the woes of life by some of my favorite authors - novels.

    1. Tim, thanks for your comments and for ending with a reference to novels. I didn't say anything in the article about recreational reading, which is also of considerable value.

      For 50 years now I have averaged reading a novel a month. Rather than watching TV before going to sleep each night, I read a few pages of a book, usually a novel. This is an meaningful part of my reading practice.

  8. I appreciate this post. When I think of reading there are two quotations that ring true. The first comes from the author of Ecclesiastes 12:12: "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh." And Francis Bacon: “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”