Reading Habits and Book Idolatry

Posted: December 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

If there is a sin of book buying then I am in big trouble! I just finished reading Tim Keller’s Generous Justice, (which I highly recommend), and it marked the 120th book I have read this year. 

When I tell people how many books I typically read in a year (anywhere from 100-150 depending) they tend to wig out.  I get it.  I’m a geek and I accept it.  You can argue that it is a bit sad…I may be guilty of not having a life but I love to read.  I realy, really love it!

The response I normally evoke after the “Wow! What a nerd!” look is the question, “How can you read so many books?”

First of all, I am a quick reader.  I learned how to read more efficiently in grad school (I recommend Charles Van Doren’s “How to Read a Book”).  Second, I take advantage of every free moment and all I can say is praise God for audio books and Kindle!  Yes, I count audio books but those make up only about a dozen or so books a year out of the 100-150 for it typically takes at least a month for me to get through an audio book (I’m listening to Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand right now and it is amazing!).  I also have a Kindle on my Droid and I read a few pages here and there whether I’m in line at a grocery store or waiting on a plane…or sometimes….much to my shame…sitting at a red light (I apologize if I’m the one you had to honk out to get moving). 

But all of that is to simply answer the common responses I normally receive when talking books (and I run down that rabbit trail often to the chagrin of many).  What I really want to outline are my reading habits and challenge you to develop a habit of your own for a number of reasons: (1) I am appalled at how poorly people write today and I am convinced it is tied to how little people read; (2) You are missing out! Regardless of what the elite say, it is a great time to be an avid reader.  Every year I let my geek flag fly high by picking my favorite (and, sometimes my least favorite) books of the year.  This year will be difficult because there have been at least 15 books that I can name off the top of my head that are nothing short of excellent; and (3) I don’t want print to die the slow death that so many predict it will.  Selfishly, I love it and want to do all I can to save the beast.

First of all, I read the Bible through every year and have since 1997.  I have a reading plan that I like and you can find one easily online at places like the Desiring God web site.  I wake up in the morning and read a few chapters of Scripture and I cannot recommend this discipline enough.  Set your alarm for 20-minutes earlier if you have to, man or woman up, and do it. 

Second, I read to my son.  I travel a lot but when I am home my boy loves for me to read to him.  We read at meals and before bed.  We are always read a small portion of the Bible and discuss it but we also read great works like the Narnia Chronicles, The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings, A.N. Wilson’s 100 Cupboard series and are now deep into Harry Potter.  Reading these aloud is a great blessing.  If you have kids then read to them and read them something with substance!

Third, I read during the day.  I typically read works related to the church and I read at lunch if I’m by myself, I read on planes, etc.  I read a lot of short works like books by Francis Chan and Tim Keller.  When I travel I knock off at least two to three of these per trip. 

Fourth, as aforementioned, I read books on my Kindle or listen to audiobooks whenever I can. 

Fifth, I study.  I take time during the weekends to prep sermons and Bible studies.  I tend to teach and preach through whole books of the Bible and am able to read through a couple of commentaries and related scholarly works every year.

Finally, I read at night as part of my “wind-down ritual.”  I have long struggled with insomnia and now fight sleep apnea.  I took my wife’s recommendation to turn off the web & the television an hour before bed and to settle down and relax.  I lay in bed and read something, that in the words used to describe the great Seinfeld character Bania, “you don’t have to think about.” I read a chapter or so of the recent Bram Stoker award winner for best horror novel or the Edgar award-winning crime novel or a bio like the new ones by Jay-Z and Keith Richards.

My reading habits are a bit over the top but I would strongly recommend that you at least read the Bible, read a good book to your kids, have a book by a solid Christian author like C.J. Mahaney or D.A. Carson on a Kindle or in your passenger seat and read something fun for yourself at night or on the weekends. 

I do have to confess that as much as I enjoy reading there is a dark side to being a bibliophile.  It seems to me that there is an enormous amount of pressure, especially among young evangelicals, to read EVERYTHING!  Speaking for myself, anyway, I feel a tug to buy and read every book that Justin Taylor or Tim Challies or even Scot McKnight recommends on the blogosphere. 

There is weird and very geeky peer pressure to devour every work by John Piper and to dissect every book by those to the left of mainstream evangelicalism.  There is a very real danger of “book idolatry,” in which a person can become defined by how “with it” they are when it comes to Christian publishing.  I am wrestling with that monster now and not sure how it will come out.  I’m sure this is a warning that only a handful of us hardcore nerds should heed but if you are among the few, the unduly proud, the meta-Christian dweebs then perhaps you, and I, need to repent.

  1. malin friess says:

    I look forward to seeing your favorite books for 2010. DeYoung’s list of favorites have been great.

  2. oh yeah! Your favorite book list will be awesome!

    I too worry about the reading idolotry culture. I have a friend or two who I’m pretty sure only reads because John Piper endorses it (I wish I was kidding).

    Thank you for the insight into your reading life!

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