Saturday, August 4, 2018

How to Read Books, Part 2

In the last post, I gave some advice on how to find a good book to read. I mentioned that you should find a book easy enough to stick with. You should use websites like, and you should consult guides in the book's subject.

Now, once you have found a few books, I have some ideas about how you can move through these books efficiently, through using different book lengths, reading levels, genres, and formats. Additionally, we will talk about maximizing reading opportunities through those formats.

So, you have read part 1 and you have collected a few books to read. Let's say you have three: "The Holiness of God" by R.C. Sproul (medium devotional reading), "The Hunger Games" (brain candy, as my mother would say), and "Your Brain at Work" (tough reading about neurology).

It is a basic fact that the brain likes novelty. We like to be distracted. Some people (those with attention disorders or who exhibit symptoms) have even more difficulty focusing. The key when choosing a few books to read is to use that tendency in your favor. At times of the day when you are most focused (for most people, late morning) read the toughest books in your list, such as "Your Brain at Work". Maybe a few dozen pages. Later in the day, maybe right after work, you are going to be tired, more easily distracted, and less able to find the willpower to pick up a book. The brain uses willpower like a reserve, and as you use it throughout the day, you have less of it. Use this. Don't read more of the same book you read in the morning, read an easier book, like "The Holiness of God" or skip it and go for the easiest book. You might actually feel more focused right before bed, and then you can pick up a tougher book.

There are many factors that can make a book "harder" to read, and these include: The style of writing,  (whether it is an obtuse style or simply an older style, which is why we don't like older classics as much), the subject matter (If you don't like reading about gardening, gardening is a hard subject for you to get through, or philosophy, psychology, etc), and the level of expertise the author assumes you have on the subject. For instance, church history might be a subject you like, and thus in that way an "easy" subject, but if you are reading primary source texts, or something translated, or something really specific (A specific history of the Anabaptists), then it can be "harder" (that is, requiring more willpower and focus) to read. So, once you have your list of books, make sure you have some easy ones and some hard ones, and list them from hardest to easiest:

1. "Your Brain on Work" (hard)
2. "The Holiness of God" (medium)
3. "The Hunger Games" (easy)

Now, we have maximized our reading so we are using our tendency to become distracted to our advantage. But here is another layer to all of this. There are many times during your day when you could be reading, but you can't be reading a physical book. Here is where E-books and audiobooks come in.  Make sure one of the books on your list is an audiobook. I wouldn't make it the easiest book since you won't have trouble getting through that one, but I also wouldn't make it the hardest, since it's harder to follow an audiobook if you are already driving, waiting in line, at work, etc. Something easy/medium. Let's say you add "At Home" by Bill Bryson to your reading list as an audiobook. It's a light read about the history of everyday objects in your home. Informative, but not too dense. I recommend Audible and also Librivox for public-domain stuff. So now we have:

1. "Your Brain on Work" (hard) (book)
2. "The Holiness of God" (medium) (book)
3. "At Home" (medium/easy) (audiobook)
4. "Hunger Games" (easy) (book)

And now you have a format you can access during times of day when you wouldn't ordinarily be able to read. But what about e-books? The great thing about e-books is that you can put them on your phone, and you always have your phone with you. Additionally, your phone is always smaller than the physical edition is, so it's easier to hold. You also don't need an outside source of light to read e-books (just make sure you set your phone screen to a warm light at night so you don't keep yourself up looking at blue light!) I read Kindle books at night so I don't disturb my family, and because the darkness helps me get ready for bed anyway.

So there again, e-books allow you to redeem some time for reading that you wouldn't ordinarily use for reading. So now our list might look like:

1. "Your Brain at Work" (hard) (book)
2. "The Holiness of God" (medium) (book)
3. "At Home" (medium/easy) (audiobook)
4. "Hunger Games" (easy) (book)
5. "Mere Christianity" (easy) (e-book)

It is better for you to read a dozen pages in some of these books each day, than try and slog through one of them at a time. You will find that you can read more pages each day (and thus more books per year) by reading 5 books at a time than trying to read 1 book at a time.

To summarize: Use different kinds of books, of varying "toughness" levels, to maximize different times of day according to your willpower/motivation to read and focus. Also, use different formats of books to maximize times of day when you can't read physical books. 

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