Introducing the TGC commentaries


Compared to many, I am a slow reader. I have spent hours on speed-reading techniques to no avail. It’s embarrassing to read something together with my wife, since she usually gets a few paragraphs ahead pretty quickly. I can imagine the disappointment she feels to have to wait at the end of each page. It’s also frustrating to see many close friends moving along quickly down their reading lists, overwhelming me with “must read” suggestions. Maybe you’ve felt the same way.

For a few years now, I’ve used a reading plan that has helped me get through a pretty good number of books every month, despite my setback of being a slow reader. For the frustrated and overwhelmed readers, here are a few suggestions.

1. Read in 15 minute segments.

The maxim of “do everything in the 15-minute periods of time, because the hours never come” is certainly true-especially for parents with small children. I try to follow that wisdom with my reading plan. Usually, at 10:45 a.m., I’ll stop what I’m doing and spend 15 minutes reading. After my 15 minutes is up I go back to what I was doing. I do the same at 2:45 p.m.. I can maybe get 30 pages read with both slots (I told you I was a slow reader). If I do that over every day of the week, that’s 150 pages—a small book or half of a big one. That is 150 extra pages I usually don’t have read by the end of the week. It doesn’t seem like much, but it goes a long way when it seems like there’s never any reading time.

2. Get up 40 minutes earlier.

I don’t mean to sound like a Puritan, but early in morning is the best time to knock out a big chunk of a book. We have a 2-, 3-, and 5-year-old and once they’re up, kiss any quiet and focused time goodbye. So after devotions, I usually try to set aside at least 40 minutes of reading of time. My computer, iPhone, Twitter, Facebook, and all other distractions are still tucked away. By the time I’ve moved from my devotions to reading a book, I’m on my second cup of coffee. My brain has ceased from lagging.

3. Use the odd times to read.

At the gym, I usually spend 30 minutes on the bicycle. Instead of listening to music or watching the horrible Hollywood news on the TV screens, I bring along a book. Because I’m exercising, and my rebelling, out-of-shape muscles can distract me, I usually bring a biography or some good classic piece of fiction that doesn’t take too much brain power.

4. Read widely and more than one book at a time.

There was a time when I had a bad habit of not finishing books. There are some who read books because they’ve gotten everything they need from it, they need to move on, or they know the arguments well enough to know where the author will go. But my reasons weren’t so virtuous. I simply grew bored with the books or was lured by the next new release.

I discovered that if I read a couple different books at a time, I usually won’t get bored and not finish one. Even more helpful, I found, was when I read widely. In other words, I try to keep from reading two or three books of the same kind. For example, I am reading three books at the moment. In the morning, I’ve been spending 30 minutes reading Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology by Oliver Crisp. It’s a good, boring book to grit my teeth and read through, not too worried about making notes in the margins. I spend the last bit of my morning reading time with Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, as I follow Mark Dever’s plan of reading through a church history figure each month. At the gym, I’m reading Churchill by Paul Johnson. During my 15-minute reading segments, I’ve been reading P. G. Wodehouse’s My Man Jeeves. This variety keeps me from being disinterested in one of the books and giving up on it.

5. Work hard to finish a book.

It’s true that a bad book is not worth your time. But not finishing a book is an easy bad habit to get into. There are three or four enticing books that come out each month that tempt us all to forsake our current one. Don’t do it. Finish books! Don’t be tossed to and fro by the pretty paperbacks that fill the “New Books” aisle. Good books are less common than you think. Important books are rare. And we probably shouldn’t label anything “great” until it at least hits the second printing. In the last five years, there were around 1 million books published in the United States. It’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t find one as good as Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis, none will be as important as Augustine’s On the Trinity, and not one as great as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

These principles have helped me go through a pretty steady reading list every month. I’m still a slow reader, so the number of books I read won’t dazzle you. But I’m reading enough to be regularly strengthened, encouraged, and stretched. I even happen to fool some into thinking I’m a fairly quick reader.