When asked what I do for a living I will sometimes answer, “I read.” Then when asked what I do for fun I smile and say, “I read.” That is one of the joys of being a literary agent, the privilege of reading…a lot.
As such, the quantity of material that must be consumed just to keep up can be overwhelming. An ability to read quickly helps but also the ability to “graze” through material to capture its essence is a learned necessity.
For “fun” I like to read novels that are fast-paced science-fiction, thrillers, or suspense (I’ve already read four this month). They can be read extremely fast since it is the action that pushes the story. But they are usually disposable after I’m done. Fun, but not necessarily with substance…sort of like mind-candy.
I also scan dozens of non-fiction books every month. To see what a new writer is saying. To figure out why this particular one is a best-seller. To get a sense of trends in the marketplace. To find a book I want to really read some day. But as mentioned above, this is a form of “grazing.” Every once in a while a book will sieze my attention but more often they are simply “scanned and filed away” for later.
I’m not saying there isn’t value to this practice but it isn’t always the best thing.
What We Can Lose When Reading Fast
Unfortunately it feels like the consumption of massive amounts of material loses something. We can lose:
1. A sense of wonder at astounding literary quality
2. A deeper understanding of the themes in the book
3. Miss an important step in logic in a non-fiction book so that the presentation feels lacking (the fault of the reader not the writer)
4. An opportunity to let the words grip and mold the soul
It was last year that I came across a fascinating study of this same topic. In the book Slow Reading in a Hurried Age by David Mikics (Harvard University Press) the author presents 14 guidelines (or rules) for “slow reading” and then shows how to apply them in various genres. If you, ironically, do not have the time to read his book, at least read his Huffington Post article where he writes a synopsis of each of the rules.
Francis Bacon said it even better in one of his Essays:
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”
What to Read?
If I’m going to invest a month or more in a book, I want it to be worth the time. Don’t you agree?
Here are a few suggestions that may not be easy reading but should ultimately be worth that effort:
Teaching a Stone to Talk – Annie Dillard
A Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey (also look for her new book Finding Truth coming in March)
The Denial of Death – Ernest Becker (read with discernment!)
Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl
The Mystery of Marriage – Mike Mason
Barrabas – Par Lagerkvist (won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1951)
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Chosen – Chaim Potok
The key with this exercise is to read them slowly. If it takes you twelve years to read these twelve books, that is okay! The plan is to take a little piece at a time and savor each bite. Let the ideas presented shake you a little. Let the craft of the writing astound you. This list isn’t comprehensive, simply illustrative. The list isn’t meant to be exclusively orthodox but is meant to make you think about your theology in a healthy way.
Pick one. And then post your thoughts on your reading…at least a month from now. Any sooner and you’ve read the book too fast.