In the past year I’ve learned something about myself. Maybe I knew, however faintly, all along. But it is confirmed: I’m happier, healthier, and more productive when I’m reading.
And, don’t get me wrong – I’m a busy person. At times an efficiency-freak. It can seem like taking time to read is frivolous. A moment squandered. While I don’t always have much time for reading, I have come to believe it is an essential life element for me. Allowing, even creating, time for reading has become an integral part of my daily routine. For me, the multivitamin, the nap, the returning of phone calls may or may not make the cut in a given day’s work – but a few minutes of reading is practically nonnegotiable.
We feed our bodies the nourishment they need, and our minds need sustenance too. As a person who at times teeters on the edge of melancholy, I’ve been awakened to the fact that so much of my fight for joy boils down to gaining victory in my thought life. Scripture teaches us to fill our minds with excellent things. I challenge my mind with fine literature and excellent thoughts, or else in it’s boredom and undisciplined natural state, it tends to drift inward – inevitably self-focusing for pride or discouragement – or to focus on whatever negative thing it lands on. Feeding my mind good, noble things and filling it with worthwhile thoughts keeps my mind active in a healthy way. I’m a healthier individual, a more interesting spouse, a more capable mother and a more satisfied homemaker when I have a hearty intake of reading material.
Many workers in their various fields have ongoing education courses, conferences, and meetings to help them advance in their field, to be equipped to better do their job. As a wife/mother/homemaker, much of my work is solo and I am, in many ways, my own accountability for doing my job well and with increasing skill. Continuing my education through reading helps me to take some measurable steps towards improving in various aspects of my ‘career.’
I miss being in school and having (mostly!) quality texts assigned to me, but it is also wonderfully freeing to choose to read a variety of things to keep it interesting. It’s fun to learn more about specific subjects, to soak in a story, and sometimes just to read for the sake of reading, knowing that great writing will rub off on me by helping me think sharply, develop a more expansive vocabulary, understand people better, etc. (“Wordsmithy” by Douglas Wilson really impressed this truth on me) Reading a wide variety of subjects, like ingesting a balanced diet, can lead to a strong, healthy mind and a solid understanding of the world.
Generally, I am reading (at least) one of each of the following kinds of books:
Spiritual Nourishment – An inspiring biography of a missionary or faithful saint (one of my very favorite biographies is “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.”) A challenging theological text (I’m particularly drawn to Puritans right now – Jonathan Edwards, Jeremiah Burroughs, etc.). Something I’m really spiritually hungry for or convicted about, like “Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full.“
Easy-Reading/Indulgent Fun Novel – Anything Jane Austen. The occasional light chick-lit. Young adult fiction. Whatever is interesting and relaxing!
Useful Non-fiction – A marriage or parenting book (“The Shaping of a Christian Family: How My Parents Nurtured My Faith” by Elisabeth Elliot). A home/family-related topic (nutrition, gardening or “Green Housekeeping“). Historical works (Susan Wise Bauer’s “Story of the World” sounds interesting). Noteworthy biographies. World-issues or current event topics (next up for me: The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution).
Nerdy Work – Sometimes I read something simply because I know it will challenge and stretch me. I recently bought a book on Latin for this purpose. Dictionary reading is also useful. Russian novels like “Anna Karenina” or anything by Dostoevsky…not my favorite, but masterful and worthwhile! It’s kind of like viewing incredible art in a museum – you might not choose to decorate your own bedroom with a certain painting, but you can appreciate and learn from it’s beauty.
Trendy or Classic – Sometimes, I want to read a bestseller just to know what all the hype is (other times I want to avoid the hype entirely! HA!). Also, often after reading a classic book I finally “get” references to it in other works. “The Great Gatsby” is one example that I read a year ago (when the movie was in theaters).
If you don’t already, I would really encourage you to begin the routine of reading something a little bit each day! Most importantly the Bible, especially early in the morning, but other great books too. There are seasons in life when more or less content is feasible. During the short-on-sleep months with a newborn I tend to stay away from anything too challenging or dark (“One Thousand Gifts” was uplifting around Ezra’s birth!). I have a few general rules of thumb for my own reading practices, and maybe they’ll be useful to you as well:
1) Read my Bible first. If I haven’t had time for devotions today, I don’t have time to read other things. It should be the “lived in book” as C.H. Spurgeon put it.
2. Don’t be afraid to quit. There are far too many wonderful books in the world to stick with one that isn’t great for too long. Time is limited, so choose the very best! If a book isn’t suiting my needs and interests at the time, I don’t feel like “quitting” or setting it aside (at least for a time!) is a ‘loss’. I’ve been “reading” the same biography of John Adams for almost a year. I’m in no terrible hurry to finish, and even if I never do, I’ve learned a lot about early America and our founders. There’s no true ‘failure’ as long as you’re reading and choosing worthy books. Finishing a book here and there is just icing on the cake! (Although sometimes it’s terribly sad to say goodbye to favorite characters! Like David Copperfield!)
3. Mix up length. Although I’m not afraid to start a book I’ll never finish, it is very satisfying to complete something now and then. If I just read a very long book, I tend to read a few short ones in between just so I feel like I’m “getting somewhere” and crossing a few things off my “to-read” list that I keep on Goodreads.com. If I’ve read mostly shorter books recently, it’s likely time to delve into something deeper and more involved that will take a few months to saturate myself in. For a change-up, try an audio book and listen while you drive or do household chores (most anything by C.S. Lewis is very enjoyable in this format!).
4. Aim for at least 15 minutes a day. You may find yourself quickly growing from there, but consistency is really key here. A weekend or relaxing evening may be a great time to binge-read, but you can squeeze 15 minutes into pretty much any day. If you have a mobile device, download the Kindle app and have something with you at all times to read!
Well that’s a little bit about my reading regimen…do you like to read? What have you enjoyed or been blessed and challenged by lately?