A Christian Guide to Reading Books
Publisher: Crossway Books
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
To be sure, Mortimer Adler had a lot of good things to say about reading in his seventy year-old classic How to Read a Book. But he certainly didn’t say it all. Authors and thinkers throughout the subsequent decades have weighed in, offering reading strategies and techniques to increase reading speed, reading comprehension and reading retention. Enter Tony Reinke with his first book, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books.
First, let me say that the exclamation mark in lieu of a colon pleases me. Second, let me assure you that although this book may be the author’s first publication, his book will do for any regular Christian what Adler’s did for everyone else who desired to read better. Lit! may not become a bestseller in the way that How to Read a Book did, but it ought not to be unduly overlooked.
Throughout the book, Reinke’s approach and choice of tone are best described as “gently encouraging.” He doesn’t expect those who read his book to delve directly into Calvin’s Institutes or Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. Rather, he hopes that his book will be a nudge to pick up another book after this one, and that the reader will be equipped to engage with that book in a more informed manner. And if you’re like me, you might read the second half of the book with pencil in hand, practicing the tips Reinke provides in chapter 8. But I am getting ahead of myself already.
Any book about reading from a Christian perspective requires a theology of reading. It may be explicit or implied, but it must be there. Accordingly, Reinke develops a theology of books in chapters 1 and 2, exploring how the gospel and sin shape our literacy. The rest of Part 1 takes up issues about the value of reading different types of books, including “secular” ones and “fictional” ones. At the outset of Part 2 Reinke explains how he prioritizes types of reading ‘ a very important matter for a culture in which we tend to amuse ourselves to death, to invoke Neil Postman.
Theology established, Reinke then offers a myriad of helpful practical tips to get the most out of your reading, from generating anticipatory questions to notching disagreements using a writing implement. All of the helpful tidbits are too numerous to mention here, so please read the book. Seriously, Lit! could just as well be titled A Miscellany on Reading (an HT to Reinke’s own blog) or How to Read Books for All Their Worth (an HT to the inimitable Gordon Fee).
For those of you who read little, here in bullet point form are six reasons why Reinke’s book is easy to read. Which is to say, here are six reasons why you should read it:
- He proactively self-edited so as to avoid overly cerebral vocabulary or references
- He is self-deprecating (almost to a fault)
- He gives easy-to-follow advice on how to read actively, which can be employed in reading the selfsame book
- The book is less than 200 pages long
- The book is divided into 15 short- to medium-length chapters
- The book demonstrates (by modeling, no less) the truth of Romans 10:14 ‘ namely, why faith is inextricably tied to language
Reinke’s book isn’t my favourite book about reading; that place goes to Argentine-Canadian Alberto Manguel and his A History of Reading. But I have already assigned chapter 6, “The God Who Slays Dragons: The Purifying Power of Christian Imagination,” to a class studying the theme of worship in the book of Revelation. Feel free to read into that.