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How to Read Like a Methodical Madman

So You Wanna Read More Books?

Some readers just like to graze, while others have places to go and people to meet. Some spend time in the literary meadow chewing the cud, while others believe that life is a highway and a library card is the gas pedal. This is just another way of saying that readers are people, and people are different.

But what about those who would love to get a lot of reading done, but are not sure about how to go about it? I remember once as a young man reading a magazine interview with an editor, and it came out in the course of the interview that he read a couple of books a week. At the time, this struck me about as feasible as hopping to the moon on one foot. But—and this is the point—it also struck me as altogether lovely. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could do something like that?

Start a Book Log

I decided that I would start trying to hop in that direction when I could, alternating feet, and so when I was done with college I started keeping a record of my reading. You can actually learn a lot that way. Kids today can do it with Goodreads, but back then you had to write it down in a notebook.

If this is something you want to do, don’t set it up in a way that leaves you staring at a deadline every Friday—“which book shall I try to finish before midnight?” Reading fifty-two books in a year counts as reading a book a week, even if you finish seven of them in a rush one weekend, and you also go three weeks without finishing any.

Reading fifty-two books in a year counts as reading a book a week, even if you finish seven of them in a rush one weekend, and you also go three weeks without finishing any.

I established my book log in 1979, and since then whenever I finish a book I write down the name, the author, a very brief evaluation, and the month I finished. This has the value of letting you know your natural pace, and that pace you can then pick up if you like.

Just Chip Away

I am a great believer in plodding. If some readers are blowing down the six-lane highway of life, the approach I am recommending is more like hiking the Appalachian Trail. Just walk. Chip away, and then chip away some more. It is amazing how small things add up to great things.

Let me illustrate how it works in different reading scenarios.

Say that you want to read some whacking great book. Your edition of Moby Dick has some 700 pages, and that is almost as daunting as the whale itself, and you are not driven like Ahab. Divide 10 into 700 and that gets you 70. 70 days is somewhat over two months, taking it at 10 pages a day. But 10 pages a day is—if you are any kind of reader at all—a trifle. If you were still in school and the instructor made you read 10 pages a day for some class, you would laugh exuberantly and snap your fingers at the syllabus. But if this makes you break out into a sweat, make it 5 months and five pages a day. Plodding works.

Writers to Read

Writers to Read

Douglas Wilson

Helping writers and avid readers prioritize and learn from the great works of English literature, this book introduces Christians to nine great authors whose work deserves to be read, such as Chesterton, Lewis, and Robinson.

Read More than One Book at a Time

Another trick is that of learning how to read a number of books at once. I just counted, and I have about 30 of them going. Some are books I finish in order to start right over again (Bunyan), while in other instances I am always reading a particular kind of book in that slot (like poetry). With a book of poetry, savor it. Read just two pages a day. I am currently on page 274 of The Works of Alexander Pope, and there has been more than one moment of “oh, that’s where that comes from!” Just tonight it was “who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel,” an 18th century version of killing ants with a baseball bat.

When you are working away, bit by bit, with that number of books, there will usually be one of them that starts to invite you into the backstretch, and that gives you a welcome opportunity to finish it out on Sunday. Among these books, I don’t read any of them for more than 10 pages a day—unless I hit the backstretch and want to finish it.

I forgot another small list of books I am chipping away at. These are the books in my Kindle, which I pretty much read only on airplanes. Kindle is a fantastic way to lug around another e-satchel of books, and I chip away there also. It all adds up.

Some might think that to read this way is to be permanently distracted, but it is like anything else you do. Once you get used to it, you are kind of used to it.

A last thing. Don’t let any kind of reading, the bite-sized incremental kind I am recommending, or the binge reading that some people go in for, displace your Bible reading. However you arrange it, always set it up so that Scripture comes first.



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