You know you’re a bibliophile—or possibly a giant nerd—when you’re really excited about reading a book on… reading. I mean, who intentionally reads about reading? If all the stats about how much time people are spending in front of screens are accurate, the strangeness of reading about reading isn’t really that much of an issue—the real issue is getting people to read at all. To think about what to read, when to read, how to read and most importantly why reading matters. For the Christian, this is especially important. We are men and women who are to be “people of the Book,” and yet we seem to have difficulty even reading our Bibles. This is why I appreciate Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. In this short book, Reinke offers wonderful, thoughtful insights into the importance of reading and how believers can make the most of it.
Divided into two parts, Lit! first offers a theology of reading before moving into the practical application. On the need for developing a theology of books and reading, Reinke captures the necessity well when he writes, “Before we step into a fully-stocked bookstore, we must be determined to read the imperfect in light of the perfect, the deficient in light of the sufficient, the temporary in light fo the eternal, the groveling in light of the transcendent” (p. 28). This may seem simple and obvious—and indeed it is—but how many of us practice this? Are we engaging in the discipline of discernment and reading everything—whether written by a Christian or not—in light of a biblical worldview, one that “equips us to see and treasure the truth, goodness, and beauty in Christian books [and] in non-Christian books”? (p. 63)
This is particularly important given our tendency to live within a Christian bubble. With discernment and wisdom, we can read non-Christian books and recognize the truth that exists within their pages to the glory of God, without giving wholesale endorsement to all that is found within those pages. It allows us to “simply treasure whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8)—wherever it is found” (p. 79).
Moving into the practical application, Reinke quickly moves through priorities in reading (short version: Scripture, then everything else), 20 tips for reading non-fiction, a few benefits of reading fictional literature, finding time to read and the dangers of distraction, the benefits of writing in your books (and there are many!), raising readers and the signs of a healthy reader. There’s much that could be said about each chapter in this section, but I want to highlight one point that Reinke makes regarding distraction:
As Christians, convinced of the importance of book reading, we must periodically gauge the effects of the Internet and social media upon our lives. The concentration and self-discipline required to read books requires years of practice to build and consistent exercise to maintain. If we are careless, this concentration and discipline will erode, and we will find ourselves in a losing battle—losing our patience with books and losing our delight in reading.
The skill and concentration needed to read books is worth fighting for. (145-146)
This again, is super-simple advice, but it’s desperately needed! I’ve seen this tendency in my own life where I’ve struggled to maintain focus on the book that I’m reading. Sometimes it’s just a bad book and I don’t want to read it, which is one thing, but part of the reason I decided ultimately to move to a dedicated e-reader instead of holding out to purchase a tablet was because even knowing the option to fart around on Facebook exists is distracting. I love to read, but I need to be able to concentrate on it to get the most out of what I’m reading (or writing for that matter).
Without question, Lit! is the most practical and helpful book I’ve read this year. Reinke’s insights reminded me of the need to be intentional about my reading priorities and challenged a number of my reading habits, even as it affirmed others. If you’re an avid reader, this book will be a blessing to you. If you’re someone who to whom reading does not come naturally, I’d highly encourage you doing all you can to get through this book. You’ll be glad you did.
Title: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books
Author: Tony Reinke
Publisher: Crossway (2011)