BOOKS | Guan Un
Thursday 17 December 2015
I have a theory that there aren’t people who are non-readers, but just people who haven’t found the right thing to read yet.
This is not the article where I’m going to convince you that reading is one of the best things of life. If you’re interested, there are studies that have shown that reading makes you more empathetic and more wise in the ways of the world. Reading helps you understand that your story is not the only story. It can help you relax and escape the stress of an ordinary day—it can plunge you into experiences that you would never have of your own, it can tune you into the beauty of language—and make you a better writer and thinker.
Moreover, as Christians, we are people of the Book, and of the Word. Plantinga argued that reading makes for great preaching: but the argument could easily be extended to the rest of life. This is not to say that we should take up an elitism around reading—it doesn’t make you a better person—but it can equip you well for the acts of imagination necessary for living well in a complex world. Further, as Christians, reading Christian books can help outfit you for the multifaceted nature of Christian life in the modern world.
So, if you’re convinced that you should be reading more: how do you get about it for 2016? Here’s a way to make a plan.
Read the Bible and a book: It should go without question that reading a good book should never replace the reading of The Good Book. (And if you need help, we have plenty of articles including tips, and how ordinary Christians read their Bibles, or getting the Daily Bible in your inbox each morning.) However, it’s eminently possible to do both—daily readings in the morning, and other reading at night, for example.
Start slow: if you’re not a habitual reader, then, like anything worth doing, it will take a while to establish the practice. But the best part is, that reading doesn’t need to take up large patches of your day. Not-yet readers would be astonished by how reading just half an hour before bed everyday quickly adds up into a large swathe of reading by the end of the year—even an average reader will easily finish a novel in a month. Do that every month and you’ll have gone through a shelf’s worth by end of the year.
Technology is your friend: It’s possible to decry technology as killing the progress of reading, and be outraged about how it’s destroying our attention spans meaning that no one is able to wait two minutes without swiping to unlock. However, it’s equally possible to welcome technology: I can now read what I’m reading on practically any device that I own. I can listen to an audiobook almost anywhere that I am (there’s even a way to have your iPhone read to you). And I no longer have an excuse not to read because I left my book at home. Even the time I left my e-reader on the train, I could pick up my phone and continue where I left off.
Read together: The only thing better than reading a good book by yourself is to read it in community with others. It gets better when you’re able to explore the richness of literature alongside someone else—it’s almost always surprising what someone else will pick up on, or how differently they might respond to a character or a plot twist. Plus, they’re able to give you a gentle nudge if you let your reading trail off a little. Those especially keen might even start a book club: an excellent way to commune with Christians and non-Christians alike over something that will introduce deep conversations in a non-threatening setting.
Mix it up: I know I’m not alone in having a few books going at one time—for other people, even the thought of this might sound stressful. Either way, ensure that your book diet is mixed: Christian and non-Christian, old and new, fiction and non-fiction. If you only read one genre, then, like reading only one book of the Bible, or eating only one food group, things will get a little unhealthy after a while.
Prepare yourself: Despite what I said earlier about being able to read anywhere, it can be paralysing to reach the end of a book and not know what to read next. If you have at least a basic plan ahead for what you’ll read, and download, order or buy books in advance, then your momentum will be less hampered by decision-making.
If you really need help, here’s my suggestions for twelve books you could prepare to read this coming year. As per above, I’ve tried to have a mix of fiction, non-fiction, Christian and secular, old and new:
Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein—this is ostensibly a Young Adult book, but before you scoff, remember so was Harry Potter. This is one of my favourite books, a terrifically researched peek into young, incredible female pilots during World War II, and a plot that’s tightly woven as a noose.
Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ by Matt Papa—despite the subtitle that sounds like someone who texts in capitals, this is a wonderfully readable, and biblically rich book about how understanding glory helps us to walk with God. If you don’t usually read Christian books, this is an excellent place to start.
The Martian by Andy Weir—now known, of course, as the book that the Matt Damon movie was based on. I haven’t seen the movie but the book is wonderful, a sort of Robinson Crusoe in space, with an incredibly likeable narrator, well-crafted plot and humour in spades. Peek below the surface and there’s depth too: about what a man will do to survive, and the nature of sacrifice.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller—what can you say about Tim Keller that hasn’t already been said? Everything he writes is reliably intelligent and incredibly relevant to everyday Christian life: this is the book I’ve heard most people say changed their lives, but you could easily replace it or follow it with his others.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome—this is my Exhibit A for why we should read books from past our current decade. Originally published in 1889, this semi-fictional account of a boating holiday on the Thames is more hilarious than it has any right to be, and leaves every modern humour book in its wake.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr—this is another World War II novel, but it gently and beautifully explores themes around sight and knowing, trust and faith. Exhibit A for how well-crafted writing can wrap a memorable story.
Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks—Brooks was a 17th Century Puritan preacher, and here he writes against temptation in the Christian life. In doing so, he reminds us that some struggles are timeless. Don’t be put off by the age, it’s incredibly readable: indeed, he captures a certain fiery rhythm that only the Puritans could.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson—more than ten years ago, it would have seemed strange if anyone had suggested that a slow-moving book about an elderly preacher writing about his life and ministry would capture critical acclaim, even the Pulitzer prize. Now it seems strange that it took so long: to recognise Robinson’s genius, but also that a novelist should reveal the quiet, poetic beauty of the well-lived Christian life in the modern novel. Here’s Natasha Moore’s review of the sequel, Lila.
Growing Yourself Up by Jenny Brown—this is the book I’ve recommended the most in the last year, a non-fiction book about how a branch of psychology, family systems theory, can help us in our lives, relationships and self. Brown is a Christian, and does this from a gently Christian perspective—it’s refreshing, honest, and genuinely life-changing if you let it.
A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich—this is ostensibly a children’s book, but here that’s just another word for delightful. Gombrich was a celebrated art historian who turned his consdiderable powers to writing a book for his grandchildren. For those who don’t usually read non-fiction, for those who don’t usually read history, this is the best possible way for you to transgress those boundaries. Here’s Rory Shiner’s mini review of it.
The Turning by Tim Winton—Winton will be known by most as one of Australia’s best novelists, for his lovely prose, and unflinching depictions into the reality of Australian life. This is a book of interconnected short stories that has remained with me for some time, in part because of the title story, a book that depicts a Christian conversion unlike any in modern fiction.
One Forever: the Transforming Power of Being in Christ by Rory Shiner—Union with Christ is one of those theological terms that seems difficult to explain at the best of times. Somehow Rory explains it here with simplicity, a nuanced touch, and considerable humour as well—making it somehow a book that you could as easily gift to your pastor and your teenaged son. Here’s Tess Holgate’s review of it.
Of course, I don’t know if these will be the right things for you to read this year, or even the particular things to ‘convert’ non-readers to readers. You may like to ask the reader in your life for other suggestions. But I’m more than happy for you to try, and to prove me wrong. Happy reading!