I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are with my grandmother (a life-long avid reader) in the local library, perusing the stacks of books on display.
I kid you not when I tell you: I love books.
I have not always had a great reading life, however. Believe it or not, it is possible to read a lot and profit very little from it. There are good reasons to read and bad reasons.
First a bad reason.
Bad Reason to Read: Achievement
The seasons in my life where books become an item to check off a checklist are the times where my reading life has borne precious little fruit.
I read the book that is not very helpful or interesting, often, out of some misplaced sense of obligation or duty. Over time this sense of obligation to complete a book or read a book that doesn’t captivate your interest or imagination can actually give way to a prideful drive to make reading “an achievement”.
In his excellent book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, (see my breif summary here) Alan Jacobs tells a cautionary tale of what reading for the sake of accomplishment will do to someone. Jacobs cites a section from Richard Rodriguez’s memoir “Hunger of Memory” where Rodriguez confesses that his reading life had reduced books to “challenges to conquer”.
“I needed to keep looking at the book jacket comments to remind myself what the text was about. Nevertheless…I looked at every word of the text. And by the time I reached the last word, I convinced myself that I had read The Republic. In a ceremony of great pride, I solemnly crossed Plato off my list”.
Tip: When reading regularly ask the question: Why am I reading this book?
Good Reason to Read: Enjoyment
There is simply nothing like a good book. There is more suspense in the turning of a page than in every binge-watching Netflix marathon that has ever occurred.
Good books are soul-scrubbers. Stress-relievers. They allow us to be legitimately swept up in something bigger than ourselves.
Generally speaking, I have found that the books I have enjoyed the most have caused the most growth in me. Sure, re-reading a Michael Crichton novel from my pre-teen days may not stretch me like reading Vos’ Biblical Theology, but nevertheless, the enjoyment of the reading itself deepens my appreciation for the gift that reading is. And when I see reading a gift, I am more likely to do for the right reasons.
I’ll conclude with an appeal from Jacob’s book:
“So this is what I say to my petitioners: for heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens, or some fearfully disciplined appointment with an elliptical trainer of the mind in which you count words or pages the way some people fix their attention on the “calories burned” readout.”