I used to devour fiction, reading at least four to six novels a month. All good ones mind you. Non-fiction, especially on the topic of Christian living however, was another story. I’d buy this book and that, with the best of intentions, and never make it past the third chapter. Although I wanted to grasp the concepts touted in these books, getting through them seemed unachievable.
Over the last few years, I’ve purposely become a better reader of Christian non-fiction. While I still read and enjoy fiction, it’s not unlike me now to finish at least two non-fiction titles each month. Several principles have helped me in my quest to become a better reader of non-fiction:
- Allow the Lord to direct your reading path. In what areas of your life are you struggling? Have you felt his gentle nudge to seek out the wisdom of other godly Christians? Trust that he can use certain authors to reinforce the principles in his word and to bring about his good work in your life.
- Set attainable reading goals. If you currently read only fiction, reading one non-fiction a month may be too lofty of a goal. How about one or two this year? If you read but one book this year, but that book enables you to grow in just one area of your life, it is well worth your effort.
- When choosing books, seek the recommendation of friends and avail yourself of the many reviews posted at sites like amazon.com and christianbook.com. Note authors of magazine articles you enjoy and check out the Internet to see what books they might have written.
- Read according to your personality. Are you a how-to person who loves lists and action items? Or are you a more contemplative person who appreciates great literary quotations interspersed in your reading? Can you relate better to books filled with personal stories? As you select books, keep your personality and preferences in mind.
- Get in the habit of reading the prologue, dedication and introduction to books. Doing so gives you personal insight into the author’s intention for writing that particular book. Getting to know the author a bit always whets my appetite for the rest of the story. In today’s Internet world, it’s easy to connect to favorite authors online via their personal blogs and websites.
- Read slowly. If you’re a slow reader, don’t beat yourself up. As a college student, I boasted a 2000 wpm reading level in a speed-reading course. That’s great when your goal is to complete hundreds of pages of required reading with only three days left before finals. It’s not so great when you come to the end of the book and realize you missed most of the author’s best ideas. I now purposely limit myself to just one or two chapters a day. If you’re new to non-fiction, perhaps just one chapter a week would be an achievable goal.
- Read with a pen and paper at hand. If you own the book, I encourage you to stop and underline parts that speak to you. Fill the margins with notes if you’re so inclined. Or jot down important thoughts in a notebook, remembering to note page numbers for future reference. If the author provides a study guide or questions for reflection, consider taking the time to contemplate at least a few of these questions.
- As the Lord leads, incorporate the thoughts you’re reading into your daily quiet time. Recently I’ve been reading If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, by John Ortberg. In Chapter 7, entitled “That Sinking Feeling,” Ortberg describes David’s run from Saul which leads him to the cave of Abdullam. Ortberg points to Psalm 142 as David’s great lament while in the cave. So for the next few days, I spend time meditating on that Psalm during my quiet time.
- Share your reading with others. Perhaps your church would appreciate a short review written for the church newsletter. Consider bringing a book you’ve enjoyed to your Bible study or Sunday School class for discussion. It might even be helpful to challenge a friend to read the same book you’re reading, and then meet occasionally to share your insights.
My journey into the world of non-fiction, especially that of Christian living, has opened up many doors of growth for me. Thanks to the Internet, I’ve “met” several favorite authors through their blogs and websites. My faith has been strengthened as I’ve read and been able to identify with others farther down the spiritual path. And I’ve been challenged in my walk with God in new ways.