Nine Tips for Becoming a Better Reader
Most of us wish we were better readers. And by “better,” I mean two things: we wish that we read more often and we wish that when we did get around to it we were more skilled at it. I know all about these frustrations and quite often feel them myself.
While reading does come more naturally to some than others, I do think there are things everyone can do to improve their reading in both frequency and quality. You can become a reader. Along with a few of my ideas, I’ve gathered insights from a few pastors on staff and collected our advice below. Here are a few tips for becoming a better reader:
Stop comparing yourself to others.
This advice works in almost every area of life. It’s not a contest. It’s easy to hear about someone else’s blistering reading pace and become discouraged about our own. Don’t.
Let it inspire you but not discourage you. Reading is for your own enjoyment and benefit. If it ever becomes about proving ourselves or looking good, it gets exhausting.
Read what you enjoy.
This is my go-to advice for people struggling to get through books. If you build your enjoyment for the act of reading, you will read more. So create more good reading experiences by starting with something you’ll definitely enjoy. If you almost never read, then picking up a 500-page theology textbook will be catastrophic. Build your skill and love for reading by starting realistically with things you enjoy.
This, of course, means you have to figure out what you enjoy reading. Do you like fiction? Biographies? Historical accounts? Find your favorite genre and start there. Maybe it’s a lengthy, erudite Jonathan Franzen novel or maybe it’s a graphic novel or manga. Maybe it’s The Hunger Games or maybe it’s a thick, nonfiction historical account. Choose whatever it is that gets you reading and keeps you reading, because the only way to get better at reading is to read. Don’t feel guilty or inferior because of the books you like. Reading builds on itself.
This is more of a goal to work toward. Per tip two, if you’re not a big reader yet, start small with something you enjoy and can get through, then start widening your scope. Read things by people of all races, genders, and ages. Read older stuff by people from centuries ago. Read new stuff by living people. If you’re comfortable, read things by people you agree with and disagree with. Read genres you normally wouldn’t. The bottom line is that your books shouldn’t all be coming from the same publishers or the same authors. Expand your library and your mind.
Get recommendations from people you trust.
I’ve discovered some of my favorite books based on recommendations from people I trust. Whether from a professor, a pastor, or a well-read friend, ask for suggestions. Ask your friends what they’re reading and if they would loan it to you. This includes authors you trust. If you like a book by a certain author, read more of their stuff. If you notice an author often referring to another author or book, check that one out. Getting one good recommendation is a gateway: it can lead you to another book, then another, then another until you’ve discovered a whole new author, topic, or genre.
Don’t be afraid to re-shelf.
A great piece of advice from Pastor Dustin is to put a book down if you’re not connecting with it. If something isn’t working for you, feel free to stop reading it. Of course, there’s a balance here; don’t be the person that is two chapters into 24 different books, but don’t be afraid to sometimes not finish. I think sometimes we avoid starting a book because we feel the weight of completing its 300 pages. Don’t get me wrong: it’s great to finish books, but it’s better to have read part of a book than to have read nothing.
The beauty of books is that they don’t disappear. You can always pick it back up at another time. I can point to a number of times that I’ve put down a book I couldn’t get into only for it to speak powerfully to me years later when I was at a different time in my life. Additionally, it’s okay to admit there are many books that don’t end up being worth your time. Don’t feel bad about putting some down.
Read with others.
Read with people. Join a book club or take some classes. Find a community of people who enjoy reading. Read a book at the same time as a friend so you can talk about it together. If your child is in high school, read what they’re reading in English class. Reading alongside others provides accountability, and they can also give you insights into a book that you may not have gotten yourself. I learned to love reading and analyzing novels by doing it with other people who enjoyed it in my classes at Ohio State.
Plan your reading times wisely.
Pastor Zac and Pastor Dustin both offered the excellent advice of carving out time when you will read. Reading is just like everything else: if you don’t plan to do it, you probably won’t. Plan a certain time. In addition, plan to read at a time when you know you concentrate best. Zac says he prefers to read between 12:00–4:00 p.m. so he doesn’t fall asleep. Many of you can probably relate. I personally like reading before bed. It doesn’t matter when or where as long as you plan to read.
Set goals and habits.
Start setting some goals. Figure out what you’d like to accomplish and plan to do it. Sometimes the only way to form a healthy habit is to be disciplined and intentional about it. Reading is like push-ups: the more you do it, the better you’ll get.
It’s also important to make goals that are realistic for you. Maybe that’s 15 minutes of reading per day, a book per month, or 5–10 books per year. The way to push through the tedium and into the joy of reading is to do it consistently. Reading well is a practice and a skill, so set some goals and work toward them.
Just read it.
This Nike-like advice comes from Pastor Mike: if you want to be a reader, then read. It’s easy to talk about but hard to do. If you really want to be a better reader, then you actually have to buckle down and do it. I’ll repeat what I said earlier: the only way to get better at reading is to read.
In the spirit of tips four and six, I’ve collected a very short, unofficial, “top of the head” list of nonfiction, Christian book and author suggestions from the pastors who provided input into this list. If you’re at a loss for new books to read, then hopefully these seven books and list of authors will give you a jumping-off point to kickstart your reading life.
- Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
- The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit by John Stott
- Basic Christianity by John Stott
- Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
- The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
- What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
- Philip Yancey
- Jerry Bridges
- C.S. Lewis
- Thabiti Anyabwile
- Francis Schaeffer
- A.W. Tozer
- Ravi Zacharias
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Danny Nathan grew up at Grace participating in the music and worship ministry. He’s currently a worship leader, leading people into worship in a variety of venues, including our modern worship service and student ministry gatherings. Danny is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in English. In June 2016, Danny married his high school sweetheart Alli.
Since this is the Pastors’ Blog on the church website and not my personal one, I’ll keep my recommendations to only nonfiction, explicitly Christian. However, I always have recommendations about numerous fiction works and would love to help you wade through the piles of garbage fiction to find the good stuff. Just send me a message and ask for recommendations. Include the type of books you like or have enjoyed before and the reading difficulty you’re looking for. If you’re at a loss for any of that info, that’s okay too. As an avid reader who has studied literature in college and also spent a year working at Barnes and Noble, one of my passions is to connect readers with good books.