How (Not) to Read Next Year

Are you thinking through your reading goals for the new year? I don’t ask in order to compound your sense of guilt with one more thing you should do. I ask because you’re going to read lots and lots of things next year whether you plan to or not. And if you don’t decide to choose what you will read, others will choose for you.

“If you don’t decide to choose what you will read, others will choose for you.”

The amount of information that will inundate you next year through an unmanageable number of communication channels is only going to increase. If you don’t give some strategic thought to what you will and will not read, large amounts of your life will be eaten up next year reading demanding, urgent-sounding, trivial, or peripheral things, and you’ll hardly notice how much time they consume. You’ll simply get to next December and wonder where all the time went and why you managed to read so little of what you wish you had read.

“Do Not Read” Principles for the New Year

If we don’t want that to be the case, we must make some sort of plan. But sometimes stating things negatively provides a different kind of clarity than stating things positively. So, I have compiled a list of “do not read” principles for 2018 in hopes that you might find it helpful.

Do not not read books.

Most of what will demand your reading attention next year will be articles, blogs, posts, tweets, bites, and ads. The vast majority of these will be ephemeral and a waste of precious time. Some will be very helpful, but short-form writing can never replace long-form writing in the form of books. Good books develop and exposit big ideas and lines of reasoning in enriching, informing, comprehension-expanding ways short-form is simply unable to do. Neglecting to read books is to allow your attention, deep thinking, and reflection capacities to atrophy.

Do not neglect to read The Book.

God wrote a book. In it are the words of eternal life (John 6:68). At the end of the day, this is the only must read you need to heed. This is “no empty word for you”; it is “your very life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). Keep looking at this book. If you look carefully, you will see more glory, and be infused with more hope, and ultimately feel more joy than any other thing you will read next year.

Do not read like the phenoms.

Theodore Roosevelt, while President of the United States, read a book every day before breakfast and often a couple more during the day. Charles Spurgeon often read 6 books a week, while pastoring a mega-church, overseeing dozens of organizations, writing 500 letters, and preaching up to ten times during that same week. And these men lived without most of the technological aids we consider essential for productivity.

View them with admiration and awe, but do not make them your reading models. They were to reading what Usain Bolt is to sprinting: genetic phenoms. Unless you too are in the top 1% of humanity, you will not be able to do what they did without letting other aspects of your life fall into criminal neglect. Know yourself and set reasonable reading goals.

Do not read too fast.

Remember how your mother told you to “slow down and chew your food”? Chewing well is important for good digestion. The same principle applies to reading. Information overload is conditioning us all to eat words too fast. Slow down and chew your food.

Do not read too much.

If eating too fast is a problem, so is eating too much. Now, statistically speaking, reading too many books is not a problem for most of us. But with all the articles, blogs, social media posts, emails, and texts competing for our reading attention, reading too much is a problem for most of us. If we eat too much junk food, we won’t have an appetite for nourishing food. And eating too much in general reduces our ability to enjoy what we do eat. Reading is not a quantity contest. It is an issue of soul nourishment.

Sometimes, do not read at all.

We all need to leave the world of written words and walk through the living library of the world around us. We must look and ponder, listen, and wonder. We must smell and, as Chesterton said, marvel at the God who thought up noses. Feel the texture-filled world and let sun, wind, and rain wash our faces. And engage in person with real persons and love them. Each person is a rich, complex living story that God has given us to study and know.

Do not read to impress others.

Don’t choose books or set reading goals to gain someone else’s approval, or posture and flex like a weight room show-off, or even just to appear within some respectable relative range. Reading for the sake of others’ perception will set you on the wrong course and suck the joy out of reading. This sort of reading isn’t of faith and therefore displeases God (Hebrews 11:6). Read to gain wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 16:16) and for the sake of joy (Psalm 119:111)! Read to make your heart burn with love and longing for God.

Do not read only in your narrow interests.

On the other hand, pay attention to what others are reading — not to impress them, but because you care about them. What is your spouse interested in? Your child? Your friend? Your pastor? Your co-worker? Read something about it. There is a world of glorious things outside the small circle of your familiarity. Explore! Read a book or thoughtful article that will help you see more than you do now. A humble mind knows how small and limited it is.

Do not read boring books — unless you’re required to.

While it’s good to try and broaden your interests, if you get a third or halfway into a book and just can’t engage either topically or because it’s poorly written, move on. We learn little when reading is drudgery.

But do not avoid reading difficult books.

“Boring” is not the same as “difficult.” Some books are mines of gold that require the hard work of digging. We learn little when reading is drudgery, but we can learn much when digging is required to discover gold. If credible sources tell you a mine has gold, put your back into it.

Do not read things that make you feel hopeless.

“Read mainly to strengthen your faith in, boost your hope in, increase your love for God.”

If the way you’re wired or your past experiences cause you to go into a spiritual tailspin when reading certain kinds of unnecessarily skeptical, cynical, or hope-draining fiction or nonfiction, don’t read them. Gifted believers such as Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Nancy Pearcey, William Lane Craig, and others have been despair guides for how I process skepticism. Perhaps you might push yourself, but you must know yourself. Read mainly to strengthen your faith in, boost your hope in, increase your love for God.

Grow in your not reading skills.

What you read will shape you. It will shape not only what you think, but how you think. Your life is short. You can only read a relatively small amount in the time you have. You will have to neglect reading far more than you will ever be able to read. So, resolve this year to increase your skill in how not to read.