One of the great ironies of our age is that we read more words per day than any other generation in the history of the world. Yet, the national average for the number of books read per year is less than one per person. Os Guinness says we’re always snacking and hardly ever sitting down to a good meal.
Some thoughts on how to level up:
- Don’t pick books at random. Listen for the titles and names of authors that keep popping up on perennial lists of recommendations.
- Don’t read “just to get through it.” Books are meant to be savored not gobbled.
- Feel like you don’t have time? The difference between someone who reads zero books per year, and someone who is well-read is only thirty minutes per day. Set an alarm.
- Don’t read in order to notch your belt. The point isn’t to feel proud about the stack of books you read this year. The goal is to nourish and enrich your life–to acquire wisdom. A well-read fool is still a fool. This doesn’t mean you have to remember everything you read–it’s simply a call to mindfulness.
- Buy books so that you can mark them up. Engage the text with a pen or pencil. Underline, circle, star, write questions and take notes in the margins. Dog-ear your pages. Some of you are gasping right now at my sacrilege because you love pristine pages, you respect the text too much to mar it with your written thoughts. I say you respect the text more if you actively engage, and you’re far more likely to actively engage if you’re using a pencil.
- Don’t skip Children’s Literature. Go back and read your favorites from your childhood. You’ll be shocked at how profound some of them are. I can barely get through Arnold Lobel’s “The Letter” from Frog and Toad Are Friends without getting choked up. C.S. Lewis says that since you’re older, you’re able to put a lot more into these stories, and thereby get a lot more out of them. He’s right.
- Re-reading excellent books is more valuable than reading a wide variety of books. Before movies became ubiquitous, people quoted poetry and prose. A book that you’ve read many times becomes a part of you.
We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness. The children understand this well when they ask for the same story over and over again, and in the same words. They want to have again the ‘surprise’ of discovering that what seemed Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother is really the wolf. It is better when you know it is coming: free from the shock of actual surprise you can attend better to the intrinsic surprisingness of the peripeteia [sudden reversal of fortunes].C.S. Lewis, “On Stories” in Of Other Worlds, 26.