Bruce Ashford has been posting on the subject of reading (one of my favorite topics). In part 3 of the series he offers tips on getting the most from your reading. He has much good advice here, something like Bookishness 101, including this, always carry a book. But of course you'll only do this if you've got a good book to carry, something you really can't wait to get back to. Something that makes you feel that everything else in life is an annoying diversion from the "real world" of the book. That's the book you're going to carry with you. But what if you've never enjoyed reading so much that you found it difficult to put the book down?
I know an awful lot of adults who have trouble reading. [BTW, what the heck happened to our schools that there were no teachers who could effectively convey the sheer joy and exhilaration of a good book?] Many of my friends who have trouble reading seem to think they really should read, they'd like to read, but they just can't seem to focus for very long. In short, they speak of reading the same way they speak of dieting. It's something they know they should do, and they know it's good for them, but the just don't seem to have the discipline. They admit this with shame and promises to try harder in the future.
Can I say, sheesh! Christians are not supposed to be fatalistic. We like to repeat after Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." [Phil 4:13] Except grow and learn when it comes to reading, apparently.
My mother instilled in me the joy of reading when I was a child. She made sure we visited the local library often, and she let us linger there as long as wanted. The point is, long before I knew that reading was good for me, reading was giving me pleasure. And that, my friend, is the key.
Now, most Christians I know who have trouble reading feel a little guilty about that. They first started feeling guilty about it in the early grades, when the other kids snickered and the teacher grew impatient as they stumbled through a reading exercise. That guilt might have been compounded when they became Christians, because all of the major Christian gurus write all those "life-changing" books, and here they are with their unchanged lives, unable to read past page 5. The thing is, reading is completely off their real-life grid (although it certainly is on their fantasy Christian life grid). What to do?
Here's my advice. Reading is never going to make it to the top of your to-do list if it's merely a chore, a good-for-me duty, like brushing teeth or watching PBS. What makes a kid love reading is the sheer joy of it, and what's going to make an adult love reading is for him or her to discover that joy also. You might say, it's time to start thinking like a kid again!
Now, admittedly, it's harder for adults to discover joy than it is for kids. We're jaded. We think in terms of future pay-off, kids think in terms of present experience. So this is going to to take a little shift in thinking for some. The question you need to ask is, what kind of book is going to give me joy?
I mean, really. Don't be embarrassed, answer honestly. Is it a comic book? Go ahead, get into it. Is it a children's book with big colorful pictures? Is adventure your cup of tea? Or do you just long for a good laugh now and then? I guarantee you, there's a book for you out there. No, a bunch of books. If you would really like to become a better reader, start here: Dude, read for pleasure!
Now, I've tried this advice on a few Christian friends, and I gotta tellya, nobody believes me! It's hard to crack through the Christian-legalism when it comes to reading. As good Christian types, doing something for pleasure sounds vaguely sinful. Instead, they they think they should read something useful (because we're all utilitarians at heart), or something "life-changing" (blech!), or perhaps that one book that the Christian consumer culture is buzzing about this month (also blech!), or maybe something the pastor recommended (that's a common one), and on top of all this, something quick and easy. The thing is, none of these books are likely to give you joy. None of them are going to capture your imagination, and therefore cause you to forget everything else and simply be enthralled!
I'm serious. Read for pleasure. Read for joy. Read to be enthralled.
One last point. You may not have ever stopped to think about this, but all your favorite movies are stories. That's what they are. Stories. Story-telling is perhaps the art form that undergirds all other art forms, it is a built-in inclination of all humanity. So if by now you're wondering what kind of book might give you pleasure (and I hope you are), my answer is, it's probably some kind of cracking good yarn, that's what kind. And by the way, your local library is full of these, for every reading level.
Look, I know I've had certain advantages. Namely, a mother and big brother who enjoyed reading and set the example for me. They instilled in me the love of reading and talked about it with me as I grew up. That kind of thing is huge. If you didn't have that, I'm sorry. The next best thing might be a friend who also enjoys reading, with whom you can sit down over a coffee (or a beer, a schnapps, or whatever) and recount the latest chapters in the book you've been reading. In other words, tell the story back to someone. I mean it. Look for a friend who likes to read too, and share your stories with one another. Try it. I promise you, you are going to love doing that.
Bottom line: go find yourself some reading joy!
[Update: Check out Why Should Christ-Followers Read Fiction? Lotta good points.]