Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Crossway, 2011) immediately had me salivating when I first read that it was coming out over a year ago. With heavy hitters endorsing it (J.I. Packer, Leland Ryken, Randy Alcorn, Tim Challies, Russell Moore), and even the title itself I knew it would hit the spot. I love reading, and I love reading about reading, and I especially love reading a Christian’s thoughts about reading. The author, Tony Reinke, blogs over at Miscellanies and works for Desiring God as a “Content Strategist” where he does a mix of “theological research, reading, writing, journalism, and photography integrated with social media.” Last year he published his first book, ), which is a delightful look at the contours of book-reading.
The book is split into two sections: 1) A Theology of Books and Reading; and 2) Some Practical Advice on Book Reading. Both sections were good, but I particularly enjoyed the second section. For many Christians, becoming serious about their faith means becoming serious about reading, whether it’s Scripture or other Christian literature. That’s my story. My maturing faith has led me to value books, the insights I can take away from them, and the ways they shape me. It has also caused be to be a bit more cautious about what I read– sometimes too cautious, to the point where I’m agonizingly slow to pick my next book. My need wasn’t for a robust theology of books (although part one was affirming and crystallizing the thoughts I had already been having) but rather for a more practical approach.
I was hoping Lit! would help me
- In deciding how to choose which book to read next.
- In understanding how and the reading of fiction is valuable.
- In reading non-fiction well, so I retain more of what I’m reading.
- In finding and making time to read in a busy schedule.
All of these questions were answered, and more.
It gives hope. Reinke writes with personality, so it feels like he’s right there with you coaching you along in the process to become a better reader. At one point in the book he admits that most of his material is autobiographical– things he’s learned on the journey. It feels that way, and I count it as a plus, because it becomes clear that Reinke is not unlike me– he’s quite a normal guy who has a job to do and a family to lead, diapers and all. And if he can do it, I can too!
It’s very accessible. Since I finished this book a few weeks ago, I’ve been turning back to it regularly. One of the reasons I think it turns out to be so helpful is that it’s short and compact. Not much fluff. Reinke writes “This book is short and to the point, or at least as short as I could possibly make it. The shortest chapters are short because they could be short; the longer chapters are longer because there was no possible way to make them shorter” (Introduction, 18). This means that his points are made quickly. He doesn’t dwell anywhere too long. I like this approach because it gets me through the book faster and serves as a great reference for later usage.
It’s practically helpful. The book actually changed the way I read. After I finished, I realized that there was so much good stuff I needed to think through it all again, and write it down in a compact way for the future. So I went through part two and developed a one-page tool for reading non-fiction well. I marked all the things he suggested to do before reading (skim the book, examine the skeleton, read the last chapter, etc), during reading (mark thesis statements, trace the argument, use specialized markings), and after reading (revisit certain markings, summarize the book in a paragraph, etc). Many of these tips and tricks I’m putting into practice now. Later I’ll be blogging about how helpful they are.
Lit! was, without question, the most enjoyable book I’ve read so far this year. It was fun, like having a long conversation about books and reading with an old friend who likes those topics as much as you. He writes playfully with good humor, making the tone more like a conversation than a manual. After reading the book I feel better equipped to read well, retain more, and enjoy the process. Reading this book now will help you read and enjoy books in the future.