Why I Started Reading Fewer Books

I love reading books. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I love the thought of reading. Reading, on the other hand, I find taxing.

I know many people who love reading. I’m not one of them. What I do love is learning. Since reading provides me the best and, perhaps, the most effective way to learn, I read. While I don’t necessarily find reading enjoyable, I read anyway.

Did you know over 300,000 books are published every year in the US? Yes, every year. That seems a tad excessive.

Thanks, Gutenberg!

If it wasn’t for his amazing printing press, there would be fewer books in the world. I would also have far fewer books on my bookshelf and in my Kindle.

I suffer from a buying books addiction. I can’t stop! I buy book after book, but I don’t always read them. Every time I look at my bookshelf, or look at my Kindle library and see all the unread books, I feel guilty.

Last year I decided to alleviate my guilt. I would make more time for reading. My reading would be intentional and focused. I would have a plan!

My plan revolved around creating two lists; Books I want to read and books I have read. I would choose a book from the “want to read” list and read that book and only that. Instead of having multiple half-read books, I would focus on one book and read it from beginning to end.

I would also keep track of the books that I read. Tracking would help me stay motivated, give me a plan to address my unread books, and provide feedback on my progress.

I am happy to report that my plan worked!

I read more books! I read a lot more books. I started my plan in April and by October I had read 53 books. I estimate, if I would have tracked the whole year, I would have read somewhere around 70 or 80 books.

I would read anywhere from one to three books a week. I was tearing through my unread books with ease. It was great. I felt good about myself and was proud of my accomplishment.

And then I stopped.

I didn’t stop reading. I stopped following my plan. I stopped tracking. I didn’t stop because I got lazy, I stopped with intention and purpose.

Why stop tracking when my approach seemed so effective? Basically, there were two problems with my plan that I didn’t anticipate.

For one, I was after the wrong goal.

If you looked at my list, you would see the books A Curious Mind (9 days), New to 5 (1 day), and Emotional Agility (5 days). Were they good books? I think so. To be honest, I can’t remember too much about them. Did I read them? Well, I saw all the words. I underlined things that seemed important. I can go back to Kindle and look at my highlights. Yet, I’m not sure the experience of “reading” those books was really what I wanted.

My stated goal was to read more books, which I was. But my real goal was to learn, which I wasn’t doing. I’m not sure I learned too much from any of those books. The fault wasn’t with the author, the fault was with me!

The second problem with my plan was the books I was choosing to read.

While I was reading a lot of books, I found I was gravitating toward books that seemed easier to read. If a book covered a difficult topic or seemed like it might take a long time to read, I wouldn’t pick it from my “to read” list. I started looking at the “average reading time” that Kindle lists and used that to pick the next book on my hit list.

In October, I decided to stop keeping track. Instead, I would focus on learning and choose books that could take longer to read, but offered a deeper insight and understanding of the subject matter.

Here are some key takeaways from my new approach:

  1. Passive reading isn’t the same as active reading.

  2. It’s okay to have unread books.

  3. Interacting with the book means I need a physical copy.

  4. Reading may not come naturally.

I am also learning that I don’t really know how to read a book. Not for deep learning anyway. So, I brushed off my copy of How to Read a Book that, I, ironically, listened to on Audible a few years back, and so I might find a process that helps me learn.

I assume I will be reading fewer books, but I am convinced I will gain a deeper understanding of the subject, read more challenging books, and, who knows, might just enjoy reading!

I may write another post outlining the process that I land on for reading. Right now, my process is too new to share. I have to live with a process for a while tweaking it through trial and error.

If you have a process or technique you use to read, share in the comments!

How 4 Tips Help Me to Read, Remember, and Learn

4 Tips that Help You Remember what You Read

Are you Sure that Leaders are Readers?

I used to think that leaders were readers because I kept reading that they were and the belief just seemed right. Many leaders do read, sometimes quite a bit. If you want an example, just check out Bill Gate’s book list. Some leaders believe reading is so vital, they put reading on their calendar. What do they read? Just about anything and everything.
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I now believe the “leaders are readers” sentiment misses the point. Effective leadership requires more than reading. Leaders must not just be readers, they really need to be learners. I know from experience that reading many, many, books, doesn’t necessarily lead to learning. While focusing on reading seems productive, if we do not learn from what we read, then we certainly are not maximizing the potential of the book.

If learning becomes our focus, rather than reading, a new world of possibilities open for us. I hope to focus on other ways leaders might learn, but this post outlines four tips that have helped me to read better, remember more, and learn from what I read:

1) Take Notes

I can almost hear the groans! Yes, taking notes is my number one tip. I feel your pain. I hate to take notes, but I find when I do, I retain more of what I’m reading. Research confirms that I’m not alone, as this Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching Paper reports.

I suggest handwriting your notes as well. Michael Hyatt has written about the lost art of note-taking and some of his comments relate to hand-writing book notes too. Getting a notebook so you can keep a journal of your reading and learnings can help you as you read, but also becomes an archive of important discoveries. This LifeHacker article about perfecting note taking techniques gives great suggestions.

2) Review Your Notes

Why take notes if you don’t review them from time to time? When you take time to review your notes, the information has a chance to go from short-term memory, to long-term memory.

I have a tendency to forget what I read. There have been times I start reading a book only to realize I have already read it. At one time, I almost purchased a book that I not only had on my shelf, but I had made copious highlights and underlines in the text.

Perhaps you aren’t like me, but I find simply highlighting, underlining, and dog-earing pages, doesn’t help me to remember what I’ve read or learn much from the book, but reviewing my notes does.

3) Find “Actionable Items”

This tip requires more work than the others. I don’t always find actionable items as I read, but when I don’t, I wonder why did I even read the book? Why read a 150 or 200 page book if I’m just going to continue doing the same things over and over again? One goal of reading can be change and transformation. If I’m not changed by a book, then I probably haven’t fully engaged it.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to spend more time with one book than reading many books. Being more selective would help me focus on quality works with actionable items leading to new skills. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate to wisdom, but applied knowledge does.

4) Get Help

We live in a great era for those who want to “get to the point” and forgo all the extra “fluff” that many books contain. Services like blinklist and MinistryLibrary distill pertinent information from books leaving the stories and antidotes for those with more time and desire to read.

Blinklist is like Cliff Notes, but shorter. They compress each book into multiple “Blinks,” each usually less than a page long. A book may have seven Blinks or up to around fifteen.

MinistryLibrary creates 5 – 10 minute videos summaries for each book and also transcribes the video just in case you don’t have 10 minutes, or you want to pass the information along to a staff person. MinistryLibrary also has “Workshops” which lists action items from the book, designed for staff to hold each other accountable to applying the lessons from the book.

Reading is one of many ways to become a learner. In future posts, I will explore some of the other ways to learn.

Yes, leaders are readers, but if we never learn from what we read, we forfeit the full potential of our books and reading time. If you have other tips, please share them in the comments!

Peace!

Dr. David.

In With The Old

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Rob Bell is coming out with a new book at the end of this month. There’s been quite the buzz over the past week. There are some who are concerned that Bell is now a universalist while others are concerned that labels are being applied without first reading the book.

I have a different problem….

.there are just too many books. 

I like Rob Bell. I like his video series. I used to listen to his sermons via MP3s while driving in the car. But I’ve only read one book, Velvet Elvis. In fact, a friend and I did a podcast reviewing the book. The other books either didn’t interest me, or I thought they were too expensive for the content (that’s another issue however).

Anyway, I actually have a new problem now…I just not that interested. Over the past few years I have grown dissatisfied with types of books being published. I’m sure there are some very good books, but who has the time to read through them to discover which ones are good? I don’t. A lot of the books being published can be read through in a few hours. They are very ‘consumer’ oriented. They are meant to be consumed; read, marked up, discussed, and then put on a shelf. I’m tired of the consumer book.

It could just be me though. Perhaps it is how I approach reading. It seems, however, that books that were the ‘hit’ five or ten years ago aren’t that big of a hit now. We have moved on. But why? Why is the shelf life so short?

I find I am being drawn to books that have been around for a while. If a book that is over three hundred years old is still being published, there is probably a reason. I want to know why. Books by St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, John Wesley, John Cassian, etc. are not, in my opinion, easy reads. They are deep. They are thick. They have substance. Some I have read more than once and there are still depths left to explore.

Someone gave me the advice that for every new book you read make sure to read an old one. That is good advice. Be forewarned….you might find that as you read the old books you loose the desire for the new ones.

Maxims from Saint Isidore, Bishop of Seville

Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading.

If a man wants to be always in God’s company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.

All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned.

Read the holy scriptures confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man’s attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.

Two kinds of study are called for here. We must first learn the scriptures are to be understood, and then see how to expound them with profit and in a manner worthy of them. A man must first be eager to understand what he is reading before he is fit to proclaim what he has learned.

The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it. For it is a less serious fault to be ignorant of an objective than it is to fail to carry out what we do know. In ready we aim at knowing, but we must put into practice what we have learned in our course of study.

No one can understand Holy Scripture without constant reading, according to the words: Love her and she will exalt you. Embrace her and she will glorify you.

The more you devote yourself to a study of the sacred utterances, the richer will be your understanding of them, just as the more the soil is tilled, the richer the harvest.

Some people have great mental powers but cannot be bothered with reading; what reading could have taught them is devalued by their neglect. Others have a desire to know but are hampered by their slow mental processes; yet application to reading will teach them things which the clever fail to learn through laziness.

The man who is slow to grasp things but who really tries hard is rewarded; equally he who does not cultivate his God-given intellectual ability is condemned for despising his gifts and sinning by sloth.

Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. It makes a great noise outside but serves no inner purpose. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word, which has been received by the ear, sinks deep into the heart.

I might split these out and comment on them later.

Too Many Books….

A Christian bookstore nearby just went out of business. Each week they would increase the discount price by 5%. So, I was buying books anywhere between 30% – 50% off the cover price. So, now I have many books to read…perhaps too many. I also frequent the library and find books that I want to read there. Right now, here is my list:

Your God is Too Small – J. B. Phillips (I’m rereading this for a sermon series)
Mistaken Identity – Gaultiere (I’ve read it, but re-reading for a sermon series)
Uprising – McManus
Shaped by God’s Heart – Minatrea
On Loving God –
Madam Guyon
Shaped by the Word – Mulholland (Have read once, but wanted to read again)
Revelation – Mulholland (Been on my shelf way too long without reading)
The New Testament and the People of God – N. T. Wright (working my way through)
Rethinking the Church (Pastor friend of mine loaned me this)
Stories of Emergence (Same Pastor friend loaned me this)
The Last Word and the Word After That (McLaren)
Birth of the Living God – Rizo (??) (Again, for a sermon series)

Well, I believe that is about it…like I said, too many books, not enough time. I have other books I want to read, but the above is my “short” list.