While I was on vacation last week, I re-ran a post from 2008 about setting a reading goal of 100 books a year. While many resonated with the call to set a reading goal, others chided me for suggesting too high a number or for choosing speed over reflection.
Having considered some of the criticism of that post, I thought it might be good to follow up with a few more observations about reading, some of which may be helpful to those who think reading too many books may be counterproductive.
1. You cheat yourself when you read some books too quickly.
On this point, I agree with the critic who thinks that setting a reading goal could cause you to pass over significant books that deserve much time and close attention.
- Speed reading a devotional work, for example, might cause you to miss the purpose of the work.
- Obviously, the Bible deserves our time and attention. We should concentrate on spending significant time in meditation and reflection when reading God’s Word.
- Other books deserve time too. John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin is a classic. Banner of Truth’s recent update makes the language easy to understand, and yet I still spent three months working through that book last fall. Three months well spent, I believe.
So yes… I agree that some books need to be lived in for a time in order to fully come to grips with the glorious truths contained therein.
2. You cheat yourself when you read some books too slowly.
Having acknowledged that some books deserve reflection and time, I still believe that many books (if not most) can and should be read more quickly. Not every book is Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship.
In the case of many (if not most) books, the reader can quickly come to grips with the main point, consider the author’s perspective, and then move on. Some books deserve careful attention and reflection. But many are practical and easy-to-comprehend. Get what you need and go on.
If you are in a five-star restaurant with a five-course meal, you are foolish if you devour the meal in ten minutes. On the other hand, if you’re in a Steak and Shake, you don’t want to spend three hours on the Frisco Melt. A steak dinner is digested differently than mashed potatoes. You may find you enjoy both meals, but you (hopefully) enjoy them in different ways.
3. Set reasonable goals based on where you are in your life.
My wife’s reading goal will look different than mine. My goal may be different from yours. I suspect that D.A. Carson, Al Mohler and John Piper have very different reading practices.
But I still affirm my initial challenge to set a goal for reading. Why? Because you are more likely to read if you set a goal than if you don’t.
Set a reasonable goal and then go for it. If it’s a book a month, so be it! Goal-setting is simply a way of holding yourself accountable to a discipline.
Let’s say you set a goal of 25 books this year (roughly one book every two weeks). It’s possible that you might not make your goal, but I believe that you’ll get closer to that number having set a goal than if you forget the goal and read unintentionally all year long.
So once again… Happy reading in 2010!