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How to read well. . . or at least better

I am gifted (and I mean that word in the fullest sense of the word for it has nothing to do with me) with an ability to read fast and comprehend well. It made a very full schedule in seminary, work and ministry very workable in that I usually had all my semester’s reading done no later than the first month. I honestly had a sense of guilt when I would watch fellow students groan as they saw the reading requirements in each class knowing that it was a crushing burden for some of them.

Having said that I also read for a living. I have piles of books everywhere you might look. My kindle is full of them, not to mention my truck seat, my wood shop, my office both at home and church as well as scattered all around my house. So though I read fast and well I have also learned over the years to read better. That is what I want to share here.

There is nothing I can do personally to help a person read faster. The best tip is to not let yourself sound out the word with either your mouth or mind. Just let your eyes go over it. The moment you start pronouncing you dramatically slow down. See? Easy, just stop doing that.

But the reality is that it isn’t easy so I decided to give you a few pointers on how to read well rather than to read fast. For those of you checking out already because you are saying you are too busy read this.

1.    Have a pencil and take notes.
To those who are believers of keeping your pages clean I say in the words of Nero Wolfe, “Pfui!” Keep your fiction clean. But a serious book needs serious notes. Develop your own system but make notes. I have a hierarchy of marks I do in my margins. I seldom underline anything. An asterisk is very important. A check mark is a key point in a larger point in the paragraph so that I can find it quickly without rereading the whole paragraph. Draw a line down the side of the paragraph that is useful. If the author says that there are three reasons for something, stop reading and skim read to find where each of them are noted and highlight them. I usually circle them or make a small “1,” “2,” and so on. Then go back and read through carefully now that you know he is making and argument. Note conclusions (I usually put a “concl” in the margin). Just doing these little things will allow you to engage the author rather than be a passive reader led down any path the author desires.  Click on the image to see a larger view of a sample page.reading

•    Be awake.
Sounds obvious but it is amazing how many people will try to read near the end of the day after working hard. That is silly. Plan a time to read. For most at work it would be during lunch or one of the mandated 15 minute breaks. It means you stop working for just a short time and intentionally read. For mothers it means reading while naps are taking place or once dad comes home.

•    Don’t get too comfortable.
But don’t be uncomfortable. Reading is a task so get a good chair and sit properly. Don’t dismiss this too quickly either. I get better reading done on a dining room chair (all wood) than I ever do lying on a couch (which is my position for reading fiction). When I need to study I am always, always upright in a chair.

•    Good lighting.
Ummm, you have to be able to see the pages.
Four free, cheap ways to improve how you read. You are welcome.

We Stand on The Shoulders of Others

I am just finishing a book that surprised me.  When I bought Is there a Doctor in the House?: An Insider’s Story and Advice on becoming a Bible Scholar, by Ben Witherington III, I was somewhat expecting to be annoyed and disappointed.  I bought it because in the book he dealt with the nature of cultural blinders that Christians tend to have as they read the bible.  What I got though was a lot more than that bit of information.  It is an easy read that felt more like a conversation than a lecture or scholarly piece of work.  I have one more chapter to go and then I will say good bye to this new found friend.

All of this to say, I have several places that I highlighted where I found a comment he made to be helpful and useful in a blog post.  Today is one of those highlights.

There is a tendency by some Christian to eschew using research type books and study materials in their own personal bible study.  I actively teach against this but I have learned that it is hard to convince some to rethink their ways.  Dr.
Witherington makes this poignant comment that supports my position:

It is not enough to know the Bible well. Greater minds than ours have reflected on the Bible before we ever thought of doing so, and our reading of the Bible will only be enriched if we read the classic Christian works and so end up reading the Bible with the saints.

I liked his point.  When we pick up a book written by a brother or sister-in-Christ, we are meeting a new friend.  One we can read the bible alongside.  One we can listen to and learn from.  I am quite serious about this.  I have countless friends in my library.  I don’t agree with everything they may say, but that is what friendship involves, a willing back-and-forth style of communication.  Some of them annoy me more than encourage me, but then I do that to my friends.  Occasionally I find someone whom I thought would be a friend, but they weren’t.  But the breakup is easy, I just put them on a shelf or in the trash bin.

His point is my point.  We stand on other people’s shoulders and it is folly to think that we do not.  It is not humility, but pride, that prevents us from opening the labors of those who went before us that we might learn.  It is scary to make new friends sometimes, but it is always good that we seek them out.

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