Where did our healthy reading culture go?

As you have probably guessed already, I spend a lot of my time reading, but I also spend a lot of time talking about books. I talk about books through this blog, through this blog’s Facebook page and in person. I recommend books to tons of people and I really enjoy putting good resources in people’s hands. I do it so much that two weeks ago one of the members in my Small Group called me a walking library, I took it as a compliment.

But over the last three weeks I have had three separate conversations about books that are quite telling of our ‘reading culture’ today. The conversations can be described as three complaints.

 1. The book is too small.

The book was about suffering, it was supposed to be small (95 pages, printed A5) and it was supposed to be a short introduction to the topic of how to understand suffering in light of God’s Sovereignty. The person, quite rightly, said that the book wasn’t long enough to cover everything, and therefore was maybe not as helpful as it could have been. However, when I suggested a longer book that did explore the topic further the individual was reluctant to take it.

I hear people complaining about small books, yet they aren’t willing to take up the bigger ones and read, yes it will take longer but you’ll also learn more.

 2. The book is not deep enough.

I spoke to someone else about another book, that was slightly longer (approx. 200 pages) and the complaint was that it did not go deep enough, meaning that it did not deal with every aspect of the particular topic. Whilst I often share the same frustration about certain books, sometimes it cannot be helped.

Most authors do not write as a full-time job many of them have jobs, families, ministries to run and people in their care. Also, publishers need to play the game. Realistically the average reader will more readily pick up a 200 page book than a 500 page book, therefore, they need to publish what will sell and what will be most helpful to the reader.

Not all books are written with the purpose of giving an extensive examination or explanation of every topic, some of them are written to help the reader begin their own research.

 3. The book is too big. 

The last conversation / complaint was that a book was too big. Now to be fair sometimes a book is too big, authors can be verbose, sentences can be confusing and some books can jump all over the place. But the book in question is D.A. Carson’s The Gagging of God it is 640 pages long,  it is not an easy read but it is a very important book that will challenge the reader.
Just because a book is long doesn’t mean that we should give up, or not even attempt to read it. Authors work hard at producing helpful materials, publishers work hard at making them accessible to people and we have the freedom to read and learn.

The problem with these three conversations / complaints is not necessarily the books in questions, but the attitude and willingness of the reader. We live in a screen saturated world; kids grow up on iPads instead of colouring books, people play video games instead of going outside, people watch TV for hours yet have no time to read for 30 minutes a day. The problem is not the book, the problem is the reader!

We need to learn to read again, we need to learn to discipline ourselves to read and to not only pick the easy books that we know we will enjoy. I know that people are busy and that life isn’t always that simple, but if we really want to mature and develop in our faith and understanding then we cannot make excuses.

I have three categories of books, that you might also find useful to help you read more and read better.

 1. The Desk Book
This book is generally a bit thicker, a bit harder to read and it will stretch you more than other books would. I call it a desk book because it’s like you need to read it at a desk, you need to concentrate and ‘work at it’. I love these books and I try read at least one a month to help me stretch and grow in my understanding. These types of books can also be smaller and ones that you disagree with. I have found that I take longer to read a book that I disagree with than I do with one I wholeheartedly support.

 2. The Couch Book
This book is the kind that you can chill out with, hence the word couch. You can come home at night after work and enjoy a chapter that is not too taxing and yet not too easy. I speak a lot about Christian books because I have a library approaching 1,000 that I need to get through, but you do not have to be restricted to Christian books. I have a friend who often reads the current bestseller so that he can engage in conversation with others about the book and hopefully share the gospel with them.

 3. The Bed Book
Lastly, there is the bed book. This will not work for everyone, some people hit the pillow and they’re out for the count, others need to declutter their mind first. These are often the lightest of the three books, easy to read, simple ideas and enjoyable. Just make sure that it’s not a book that would hurt if you happen to fall asleep and it falls on your face.

I hope that we create a better reading culture and that people are more willing to tackle the bigger books that are out there. There are so many gems that people just won’t touch if they’re afraid of the number of pages, and we would bypass some of the great works from years gone by. I also hope that we will be a bit easier on authors and publishers for their hard work in creating great materials for us to get out teeth into.


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