“How can you READ this? There’s no PICTURES!”

Apparently, I don’t feel busy enough with my current Reading Challenge efforts. Today I registered for a summer course with Southern Seminary Online (Biblical Hermeneutics! Wheee!).  That’s an 8-week intensive, with a full slate of lectures and assignments.

The prospect of adding summertime graduate studies to my already-full plate had me scrambling for advice on how to make it all work. Recently, I’ve noticed a few blog posts floating around that suggest ways to read non-fiction books more quickly. The common element of all such articles seems to be that you have to read as little as possible of the page in order to grok the information. It treats books as mere text files. Open book, absorb essential content, discard book.

As a reader and as a writer, this doesn’t quite sit well with me.

I mean, I get it. There are trade-offs. Reading is sometimes time-consuming. People are busy these days. And some books frankly don’t deserve the time it takes to read them.

But if we reduce reading to mere information absorption, we distill the soul right out of the experience. Frankly, that would be a shame. (And if I sound like a goofy English major, well, guilty as charged.)

I just finished reading Greg McKeown’s critically-acclaimed book Essentialism–a study in how a philosophy of “less but better” can make us more productive and happier. The book is pretty short (fewer than 300 pages), but it took me a while to finish, mainly because the ideas McKeown proposed were worth chewing on for a bit. I even went back and wrote a sort of “executive summary” or outline of the book’s contents,chapter by chapter (something I’ve never done before), for my own records and review.

Now, if I had simply searched for such a summary online and read that, would I have saved time? Sure I would have. It would have taken me less than a half-hour, versus the several days of 30-60 minute stretches that it took to finally read the book cover-to-cover. However, if I had only read a summary of the content, I don’t think I would have remembered it quite as well or begun to absorb its lessons.*** The gradual nature of deep engagement with this type of book gave me opportunity to consider, critique, and apply what I found to be most helpful.

So I say: choose good books, and read them carefully. I don’t have any studies or surveys to back up my position–just the anecdotal data of one reader’s experience. But what I have learned over the years is that, when you’ve taken the time to choose your books wisely, reading deeply and thoughtfully is worth the time you invest in it.

Your Turn: Are you a book skimmer, or a book soaker? Do you try to hit the highlights when you read, or do you stew over books like I do? Do you have any suggestions for me, when it comes to reading faster or more effectively? Please share those in the comments!


***The irony of all this being, one of the lessons of Essentialism is that you can’t do it all. Because our time and resources are limited, we have to make trade-offs. On the surface, it may appear that I’m acting like a Non-essentialist by adding yet another obligation to my plate. But the truth is, I’m taking these lessons to heart, choosing what is most important to my purpose and goals, and making the appropriate adjustments. For example, my Reading Challenge progress in those two months will likely stop altogether while I’m in class, and my blogging output will be likewise affected. But more on that next month.

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